Scott Summers, often known as Cyclops, leader of the X-men, was staring at Professor Charles Xavier in stunned disbelief. "You seriously expect me to tell the team that we're going to investigate a haunted house?"
"I've already told you."
"You think the *house* is a mutant. Excuse me, but theoretically, the house would have to be alive to be a mutant."
"It is. It is a living structure."
"A shapeshifter?" Scott asked hopefully.
"The house lives on fear, on terror, and on those who don't get out. It is a vampire, if you will."
"What sort of fear?"
"The deepest fear in your heart."
"And how can it be stopped?"
"Why should it? Consider it an experiment in self-knowledge."
"And what's to keep it from killing us?"
"I will monitor the situation."
"That is not giving me great confidence, sir."
"You doubt me?" Charles smiled. It was the question of a psychologist, not an angry man.
"I question your ability to monitor us within the structure."
"I have faith that I will not be needed. You and your team are capable of facing your fears. You will be able to do so together."
Scott took a deep breath. "Sir, I still don't think. . ."
"What do you fear?"
Cyclops froze. "Many things."
"The memory of Jack. Losing Jean. Losing my team." Scott shrugged.
That stopped Xavier for a moment. "Go brief your team. Perhaps they will face it better coming from you."
"Don't worry, Charles, I always place the blame exactly where it belongs." With that Cyclops left the office - shoulders stiff, chin angled up in almost arrogant disapproval. The door carefully didn't slam behind him. Charles leaned back, steepled his fingers, and smiled.
Gambit stared at the field leader. "Y' ain't serious, Cyke."
"Unfortunately, I am."
"Why?" Beast demanded.
"The professor's request. It must be done." Cyclops shook his head. "We leave tomorrow at ten. There will be no one complaining about missing breakfast or not getting enough sleep. Anyone who's late gets a one on one with Wolverine. Wolverine, if you're late Iím going to get Jubilee hooked up with a hacker I met in the City."
Gambit sat on the roof, cigarette dangling from his lips. He'd tried sleeping, but it hadn't done any good. He was restless and anxious. Storm floated up through her skylight, then landed gently on the roof.
"What troubles you tonight, brother?"
"Dis whole t'ing feel wrong."
Storm blinked. Remy rarely indulged his accent to such a degree unless he'd recently spoken to someone from home. "How so?"
"Jus' it's bad. Somet'in's rotten. Y' talk t' Cyke 'bout bein' support f' us?"
"Yes, and he has agreed to having me remain outside to monitor communications. Knowing my fear and my reactions, he believes I will be more helpful outside the situation."
"I'm worried, chere." He took a drag off of his cigarette. "I know plenty of fears but I don' see how any of dem gonna become the strongest. Who knows, mebbe there somet'in' I don' even know as fear."
"Hush, Remy, it will do no good for you to ponder it. Come to my loft. Rest awhile. Nine will come too soon."
Remy tossed his butt into the air and it exploded. He followed Storm into her room, landing on cat-silent feet. He kicked off his shoes and curled up next to her on the bed like a contented cat. They often shared a bed, but Storm suddenly, unaccountably, had the idea that she would never get to see him sleep again. She wrapped her arms around her brother and placed a kiss on his forehead.
"Don' cry, Stormy," he whispered.
Jean rolled over into Scott's empty spot. //Come back to bed, Scott.//
//In a minute. I just want to make sure Gambit makes it off the roof.//
//Are you spying on him again?//
//I take issues with the term 'spying'. I'm just watching over him.//
//Actually, with a security camera routed to my P.C.//
//You've gone high tech.//
//The better to blackmail with, my dear.//
//Okay, he's inside with Storm.//
//Safe as houses then. Come to bed or I'll tell him you spy on him.//
//He helped me set up the system when we moved in.//
//Did he know you wanted to spy on him?/
//Not in those terms. But he liked the idea of a redundant security terminal.//
Scott crawled into bed next to his wife. "So what are you afraid of?"
"The Phoenix," she answered without hesitation. "You?"
"We'll find out tomorrow."
Logan sat in quiet meditation. He knew he wouldn't sleep.
Bobby Drake tossed and turned. He kicked off his covers, trying to get cooler. He was going to rewire his room or get a window AC unit. This heat was going to drive him crazy.
Warren Worthington stared into the mirror. He flexed his biomechanical wings. "The house cannot be that smart," he said softly. In the bedroom his love - Betsy Braddock - slept peacefully.
Hank McCoy settled his glasses on his nose and leaned towards the monitor once more.
Charles Xavier considered the random thoughts of his students. He didn't truly believe this assignment would kill them, but it would force them to finally support each other.
Rogue peeled off her shirt. She started the bath running, then stretched. Maybe the warm water would make it possible for her to relax.
Ten o'clock seemed to come too early. The team settled into the airplane with ill-disguised impatience. Cyclops ignored them as he ran through his flight-check. "Well, kids, we're off to see the wizard. Next stop, East Bumblefuck, Kansas. Population 3,600 plus one theoretically sentient house."
"Who'd y' kill t' get landing permission?" Gambit asked looking at the field they were in, just across from the "haunted house."
"The mayor's mistress," Scott replied. Now that he was standing in front of the house, the claims didn't seem quite so outrageous. It was a large farmhouse, neglected yard overgrown by weeds. The stairs to the veranda looked off-kilter and warped by rain-water. The shutters were closed tight, like a child trying to hide form the boogey-man by putting the covers over his head. An old swing on the apple-tree hung by one rotting rope. The whole area seemed sad, mournful. As he started up the walk, team following slowly, the anxiety started to build in Scott's chest.
"What is this place?" Iceman asked.
"Room 101," Beast answered, analyzing his own heart-rate and respiration increase.
"Huh?" Bobby replied.
"The worst t'ing in the world," Gambit answered. "The worst t'ing in the world."
"Before we go in, I want you to all store this knowledge somewhere in your heart. You are not alone. No matter what you see, hear or feel. We will all be there. We can get out, if we can use the courage of our teammates." Cyclops took a deep breath, then opened the door. A burst of corruption - dust, mold, rot, urine, blood, flesh - came rushing out. He stepped into the dark maw of the door and into the Hell of fear. One by one, his team followed.
Scott blinked rapidly, but there was nothing but darkness. A few recognizable voices reached his ears, but overall, there was nothing. Scott's heartrate sky-rocketed. The smell was the rotting garbage and urine of the back-alley. "No, not this," he said to himself. There was a hand tangled in his hair and he tried to jerk away from it. A hard crack across the mouth stilled him. "Don't worry, brat, it'll be a quick twenty if you're good. These bastards aren't picky."
Pain was all Logan knew. It was bone shattering pain. There was no visible cause -- just strobe-lighted faces and shining glints of steel. Civilization slowly slipped away. Sharp claws slid free of their home. Wolverine was free of all controls. A small corner of his mind cried "no."
Betsy Braddock was on the cover of every cheap tabloid, every half-respectable woman's gossip rag. "Model disfigured in horrible accident." She stared at the faced in the pictures. One hand stole up to feel the scars on her cheeks. She scrambled to find a mirror. No, it couldn't be real. She'd remember something. The pile of painkillers on the table argued otherwise. She stared at the face in the mirror. Where was her new body? Where was the black hair she'd become accustomed to? Her roots were showing under the purple dye. Where was Warren? He'd tell her the truth. The magazines scattered. No! He's not dead! I don't care what those rags say! I'd know if he were dead.
Angel spun. Not the tunnels. Not again. They wouldn't get him again. Then, the agony pinned him to the wall. He screamed. The nightmare was so familiar that his mind was numbed to the pain in a few moments. His eyes roved the scene looking for salvation. His eyes widened in confusion. But Gambit wasn't there. How could he be here in my nightmare? It was Harpooner's biokinetic charge. Is that why I hate him? Am I that shallow?
Jean stood over Scott's fallen body. Her power crackled over her skin. How dare anyone try to take what was hers! She would destroy him. She would kill them both before she'd ever let Wolverine touch her lover again. Part of her, a tiny voice, wondered what the Hell was wrong with her. Logan had always loved them both.
Hank McCoy looked down at the bodies of his patients. The Legacy virus had stolen their vitality, their spark. Illyana's tiny face was dwarfed by the pillows. He felt the bug tugging at his own energy. He could never save them. He could never save himself. Beast collapsed heavily into his chair. He wept.
Iceman turned. Everywhere he looked there was fire. "Pyro, cut it out," he muttered. He tried to extinguish them, but the ice was immediately turned into steam. Panic overtook him. There was nowhere to run. All he could do was pray for Storm to start a rain. He sat on the floor, pulling into a ball. He rocked.
Rogue looked down at the still body of the man who had loved her from the first moment he'd seen her. Her hands glowed with the particular pink of his charge. His skin was still warm as she touched his face with bare hands. "No!"
Remy looked at the empty first floor of the old farm-house. It was fairly solid. He opened the shutters - letting in gray daylight. He looked out at the empty fields and empty street. The scene was a still-life of apocalyptic perfection. Storm was gone. All of them were gone. He reached out blindly with his charm and could feel nothing. He rushed through the house, throwing open the windows, hoping the light would reveal someone, anyone. He stared out the windows. There was nothing - no birds, no cars, no animals, no cars. He was alone. The world was dead. He ran back to the first floor. "Faith is believin' when it's foolish," he murmured. He closed his eyes. The world couldn't be dead without warning. He wasn't insane. He hadn't forgotten a nuclear war. He hadn't survived one.
"Scott, Scott, please, cher, I need y' help. Logan done lost it ain', Gods, y' the only one who can get t'rough. Please, Cyke, hurry."
Scott huddled against the trash dumpster. "Please, Cyke, hurry." What's Remy worried about? His own idle thoughts surprised him. He felt blood and cum on his lips. "Logan needs y' help." Why would Logan need a whore? No. I'm not a whore. Am I? No, no, I'm the leader of something. "Sil vous plait, Cyke. Be real good f' y'. Won' complain 'bout cookin' or not'in'."
"Okay, shut up already." Scott pushed himself to his feet. The cement was uneven. The scent overpowered him. He needed to throw up. "Logan? Where are you?"
". . .you." I know that voice, Logan thought. "Please, can't see where you are. Show me the way?" That's Scott's voice, I think.
"Scott?" Logan's voice was rough from screaming. The pain lacerated every ounce of flesh on his body.
"Logan? Can you find me? It's so dark."
The lights flashed around him. "It ain't dark, Slim."
"It is for me. Logan?"
"I'll find ya. Stay put. Keep talkin'." As he walked, the pain seemed to ease.
"I'm. . . I don't know where I thought it was alley, but don't know anymore." Scott's voice was shaky. "There was someone else here. He's gone, but I don't know for how long."
"I'm comin'." He could just make out the scent of Scott's cologne. With an almost audible crack the scene shifted. The pain was gone. He could see Scott leaning against a brick wall. Blood was trickling down his chin. Logan could smell sex in the air. His eyes narrowed, a cruel jealousy flickering through him at the thought of other men having this man when he could not.
He grabbed Scott's arm, a little rough, still partly primal. Scott jumped and pulled away. "It's me."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean. . . Logan?"
"Thought it was Jack coming back."
Logan frowned. "Yer blind," he said softly, gently. "Take my arm. I'll get ya out of here." Scott's hand was feather-light. He followed Logan. The Wolverine's heart jumped at the utter trust. The world crumbled and they were in the farmhouse. Scott felt the change in flooring, but didn't move his hand. He was still blind.
"Is there anyone?"
"No. Want me to take ya to Storm?"
"No, this is part of it. I've got to see it through. I have a team to find."
"Wonder who opened the shades."
"Gambit," Scott answered.
Logan blinked. "How do ya know that?"
"He called me."
"What? Yer com's working?"
"What com?" Logan looked at Scott. He wasn't in uniform. Logan himself was. He closed his eyes. Scott wasn't safe. He was still half in the mind of the street-rat he'd been.
"How'd he call ya?"
"He talked to me. Begged me to help you."
"I didn't hear shitall except form you."
"Look around. Maybe he's better at facing demons than I am."
Logan pricked his ears. The Cajun was singing to himself. He followed the sound to the kitchen. The thief was dusting. He had the windows and back-door open. A broom sat in one corner. His trenchcoat was across the table. A pile of dishes were drying by the sink. The young man didn't look up when they entered.
"There is a tavern in the town. . . non, can't sing dat one t'rough. Mebbe should try hymn work. Gospels. Might be I still remember some from Mattie." He shivered as something cold stroked down his back. "If'n I didn' know better I'd t'ink Robert was playin' tricks on m'. Got t' sweep some. Dis place a mess." The cold came again. He paused. "Ain' no one here, why y' getting' chills?" Cold brushed his cheek. He paused. "Logan? Yes. Non." He held up each hand. "Y' find Scott? Bon Dieu. Y' best find Roguie. She goes nuts she might take the place down. Not such a bad house, a mite lonely though. Wish y'all were here."
Scott listened to the running monologue. "He can't see us?"
"Nope. Can't hear us either."
"Damn. He's the only one who seems to have a clue about where people are."
"Maybe we can figure out a way to ask."
"See if you can shut him up."
Logan pressed a finger to Remy's lips. There was some confusion in the red eyes. But with continuing pressure, his voice trailed off. Logan touched the Cajun's right hand, then his ear. "Can't hear y', homme. Try some guessin'?"
"Yes." Logan made sure to talk so that Scott could track the conversation. Scott nearly smacked himself when he thought of it. "See if he can tell the difference between fingers."
"He reads Braille, right?"
"So do I. I might be able to touch words into his palm."
"You do it." Logan steered him to the patient Cajun. "He's solid enough to us." Scott was surprised to find that he could hear the younger man's breathing. Logan guided his hand over the Cajun's. It was bizarre to be letting Logan control him. He carefully formed his name against the Cajun's palm.
Confusion crossed the thief's face. "Y' upside down, I think."
Scott rolled his eyes. He used the Cajun's arm as a guide to turn himself.
"Scott? Bien. Y' got questions I ain't about t' guess."
"Where is Jean?"
"Non, y' two ain' gonna get t' her first. Y' can get Ange or Rogue easier."
"Jean's fears involve one of y, I'd bet m' life on it. Warren's losin' his wings. Rogue more'n likely killt someone an' jus' went int' shock over it. Betsy's fears got soemthin' t' do wit' her figure. Robert's fire. Bete, merde, I can't guess. Mebbe losin' his mind. He de most fearless homme I know."
"I'm alone." Remy's voice was simple, heart-broken. He strode across the room to get the broom. Logan saw the tears. "Jus' come back, mes amis. Ghosts are better'n jus' m' own head f' company."
Logan touched the tears, then the "no" hand.
"What y' mean 'no tears?' Ain't like y' real or somet'in'. Ain' not'in' good or real here no mo.'"
Logan growled. He saw Scott pull instinctively in on himself and froze. He'd gotten so used to the smell of fear that he'd forgotten both of the young men were still stuck in nightmares. "Slim, talk some sense to the boy. Three steps forward. There's a chair. One step to. . . the left. Two steps forward. I'm gonna take yer arm and guide ya."
"Remy, we'll come back. We'll find you. Don't be sad." Scott spelled the words more quickly as they both got more comfortable with the form.
"Tryin' t' keep faith, but it's hard."
"Will you stay in the kitchen?"
"Almost done cleanin' here. Goin' to do the pantry, then the front room. Ain' goin' upstairs 'til I've done all the first floor."
"Okay. We'll find you. Stay on the first floor."
"Y' so bossy."
"Gotta love me," Scott spelled but didn't say.
Remy made a face. "Unfortunately."
Jean felt the flames of power in her fingers, flowing through her body. She was the fires of the sun. She laughed as the power lifted her high. She would make them all pay for betraying her, leaving her. She watched her husband realize his surroundings. He looked up at her - not with fear, but resignation. She froze at the thought. Why did he believe she would destroy him? Scott always fought, even when the odds were against him.
Logan was shocked when Scott stepped in front of him, a look of hopeless acceptance on his face. He raised his head, hands spread to show harmlessness and waited for the blow to fall. Then, he could see her. She was beautiful and terrifying. The Phoenix was flaming brightly, hair a nimbus of fire around her face. Her soft features were twisted into a mask of rage that shattered in the face of Scott's calmness.
She touched down. She lifted Scott's chin with both hands and kissed him. Logan's nostrils flared. She pulled back at the taste of blood. "Did I do that?"
"No, honey. Jack did."
"Jack?" Her face clouded. "Oh, honey, not Jack?"
"Yes. Where is my guide dog?"
"I'm here, Slim." Logan put his hand under Scott's and let him find his own hold on his arm.
"Scott? What's. . . You're blind?"
"Yes. There's no physical reason, but. . ." he shrugged. "Let's tell the Cajun he was wrong."
As they walked towards the Cajun's voice the room fell away and became the wood floor-boards of the farmhouse. Jean stumbled. "My God, is this what it really looks like?"
"We think so," Logan answered. "Ya can see Storm from the front window. Just a word of warning. Cajun believes we're just ghosts."
"He's convinced he's alone." Scott's voice was softer than it had been in years. Jean stopped.
"And what do you believe?"
"That you're both here. That the team is trapped in nightmares."
"That's odd," Jean commented.
"You said 'the team' not 'my team.'"
"But they're not mine. Xavier gave them to Storm to lead."
Logan's muscles tightened.
"What? What's wrong?" he asked Logan. Jean was in uniform. "Did I say something wrong?"
"Yer still stuck in yer head, Slim," Logan explained, gently. "Jack's dead. Yer the leader of the X-men."
Scott laughed. "Who'd be stupid enough to give leadership of the X-men to a hustler?"
"Charles." Jean answered. For the first time she actually saw the jeans and tee-shirt he was wearing. He looked good, but it wasn't Cyclops with them, it was Slim, timid, shy, conciliatory, the boy Xavier had found being battered many years before. "You're the leader."
"Sure. Where did he go?" Scott frowned.
"Living room, I think. Watch yerself. We're by the stairs and there's holes in the floor."
"What sort of holes?"
"Big. Gonna go the long way."
"I can float us over. It's sturdy on the other side of the stairs."
"Smells better. He must've swept in here already."
The living room was full of dust-sheeted furniture. The window was open, letting in fresh air. Remy was emptying a dustpan into a trashbin he'd dragged from the kitchen. Logan set Scott's hand onto Jean's shoulder. Scott frowned. Logan ran his hand down the Cajun's back.
"Y' back?" Logan touched the "yes" hand. "Bien. Scotty too?"
"Yes." Logan remembered to talk this time. He led Scott to the Cajun, who waited patiently, palm out.
"Hi. We've got Jean."
"Really? Bonjour, chere. It ain't a bad house, once y' get used t' it. Wish y'all could see it."
"Didn' know ghosts could see. Where y' been? It's been ages. Finished the front hall an' the pantry. Getting' the dirt out of the wood's the hardest part. Found Pine Sol in the pantry. An' orange oil f' the furniture once I get the cloths off."
"You're doing a great job."
Remy beamed at the praise. "Y' gonna find Warren next? Gotta get Warren b'fore y' get Betsy. He the only one gonna get t'rough t' her."
"Where is he?"
"Morlock tunnels of course." Remy shook his head. "Y' ain't thinkin' yet, eh, cher? Heard bein' dead's such a shock y' can't t'ink."
"I'm not dead."
"Non? Then where'd y' go?"
"Do you remember why we came here?"
"House was eatin' folks. But it ain't a bad house. It's jus' sad. Wouldn' eat no one. Jus' took everyone away."
"And that's not bad?"
"Non, jus' tryin' t' take away de pain."
"By hurting people."
"Non! Makes y' see int' y'self. Most folks can't handle it there. That's what kills 'em."
"And what is it showing you?"
"Ah, cher, don' y' get it? Ain' no one here but m'. Not'in' in the world. No birds. No critters. No people. Ain't not'in' at all. It's nice and not at de same time. No pain. No joy. Jus' sadness. It's Limbo. Mebbe if'n I'd been a good Cat'olic boy an' actually believed in God. . . Ah well, y'all best go find Ange. Got t' make the place presentable."
Remy paused, confused. "Jus' somet'in' that got t' be done. Make it not sad mebbe. For the others."
"The ones that live here when I'm not."
"Non, y' don' I'm sure."
Scott froze. "How did you guess I was blind?" He only pressed the question, he didn't speak. His throat felt tight.
"Y' usin' Braille. Y'd never have t'ought of anyt'in' but a pen if y' could see what y' were doin'. Y'll come back, oui?"
"Yes. We'll come back."
Angel had pushed beyond the pain. He knew it was just a flashback. The professor had told him about Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He knew he was just re-living the past. But for some reason, it was finally a crystal clear image of the past. Time stood still as the harpoon entered his wing again and again. His eyes watched the rest of the scene. There, what was Creed doing? Gambit was fighting a punishing grip on his throat while Creed gave him a more than thorough working over that ended in a swipe of claws. He strained to read the Cajun's lips. "Not supposed to hurt them! You a fool, LeBeau, a right fool. Should've just walked away like you was told." The Cajun was propped in the corner of the room, cradling his wounds.
My God, Warren thought, he's just a kid. He's younger than Kitty.
The cavalry arrived in the form of Wolverine. Warren passed out in relief. When he opened his eyes, he was laying on the couch in an unfamiliar living room. Furniture polish filled the air. A pile of dust covers was in the corner. Scott, Jean, and Logan were drinking iced tea. Gambit was carefully treating a table-top with Orange Wax.
"The house?" Warren said as he sat up. He took the glass Jean offered him.
"Yes. It's been more than a day according to Remy. He's the only one who's time is running normally."
"He made the tea?"
"It was in the fridge for us, but he won't remember making it if we ask," Jean explained.
"Yes, he will," Scott contradicted. "He made it because I asked."
"Ask him," she challenged.
Warren watched the process in fascination.
"Tol' y' it's in the fridge. Y' are the most bothersome ghosts. Tell y' true, cher." Remy grinned a lopsided grin. "Don' mind y' too much though. I'd like t' have someone t' fuss over. Mebbe I see what's in the pantry. Meat's all gone off, course. Ain' like this place got a proper freezer. Got the power generator runnin' good now though, f' the fridge."
"We found Warren."
"Did y'? Good. Dat leaves Betsy, Rougie, and Bobby."
"And you." Scott added silently. Remy didn't respond to it. "How do I find you?"
"I ain't lost, y'all are. I'm here in de house. Gonna need a lick of paint. Got a house in the French Quarter. Two kids an' a dog. A gardener t' keep the roses an' gardenias an' magnolias bloomin'. Course the house an' garder are there. Never got the kids."
"Not all they're cracked up to be."
Remy laughed. "Want t' go home, Cyke," he said suddenly. "Don' t'ink I ever will."
"Keep faith. We'll pull through."
"Fait' ain't so easy. M' mem'ry's messed up. Remember sometimes. Goin' crazy me."
"No, it's just the house. You're not crazy."
"Yet. I keep talkin' t' ghosts I will."
"But who's going to care if there's no one else?"
Remy brightened. "Oui, cher. May as well be mad since everyone's gone. Maybe I'll get t' see y'all again."
"You will." Scott released the Cajun's wrist. Logan led him back to the sofa. Warren watched with undisguised concern. "You're blind?"
"Is *everyone* going to point that out?'
"Yep." Logan grinned. He sat next to Jean and put an arm around her shoulders.
"Hands off my wife, Logan. And no, I didn't miraculously regain my sight. I just know Logan too well." They all laughed.
Bobby curled in deeper on himself. It was going to destroy him. The fire would reduce him to steam. Even in his human form the fire would turn him into nothing. It was getting closer and closer. //Bobby, I'm coming to get you.//
//Jean!// The TK shield she wrapped around him didn't do anything about the heat, but the actual flames didn't touch him. Just beyond the flames the floor turned into wood. He turned around in shock and found the fire hadn't touched anything in the room. Dust clothes covered the bedroom furniture.
"But. . ." he began.
"It was a nightmare. Scott thought you'd be the easiest to get to."
"Where is he?"
"Downstairs. Bobby, one thing, he's still partly trapped. He's blind."
"No! That's not fair. I knew one of you guys would come for me. Who'll come for him? Where's Hank?"
"Oh, my God. We forgot. . ."
"It's okay, Red," Bobby soothed. "We'll get him and no one will be the wiser. Where is he?"
She concentrated. "Root cellar."
"I'll get him." Bobby realized he was shaking and hungry.
"You'll get a glass of water from the pitcher in the kitchen and a bite of whatever Remy found in the pantry. Oh, and Bobby, Remy can't see or hear us."
Bobby blinked. "Huh?"
"He's sure that he's alone in the house. Scott figured out how to talk to him, but he's convinced we're ghosts."
"That's fucked. I thought he'd be in a jail cell."
"He's not afraid of getting caught." Jean escorted Bobby to the kitchen, then the living room. "Oh, it's so much better in here." She looked at her husband. Scott was asleep in the wing-back chair by the window. Bobby did a double take.
"He looks like. . . like. . "
"Gambit?" Warren filled in. "or maybe the word is 'whore'."
Logan smacked Warren hard across the mouth. "Ya ain't got no right to judge or to talk ya self-righteous asshole."
"But I am a whore." Scott's voice was loud in the suddenly silent room. "I can still taste. . ." He shook himself. He rubbed his temples. "No, not anymore. Jack's. . .Jack's dead right?"
"Jack's dead." Jean spoke firmly. "He can't hurt you ever again."
"Where's Remy gone?"
"Upstairs. He wants to get the place aired out. Why?" Logan asked.
Scott shrugged. "I can't track his steps."
"No, why did you want to know?"
"Because he likes having me around. The rich-prick obviously doesn't."
Warren stared. He rubbed his jaw. "Fuck, you are sensitive, Slim."
"Maybe if I hadn't just been in a back-alley I wouldnít be as sensitive to being called a whore! I'm sorry. Didn't mean to snap." The defensive slope of Scott's shoulders gave Warren pause. He closed his eyes.
"I shouldn't have said it in the first place. I'm sorry."
Scott shrugged. "It's true."
"No, it's not. You're the leader of the X-men."
"I don't know why you keep saying that. There's no way Charles would give me that sort of responsibility."
"You're good at it," Warren stated. "Hell, why don't you ask your hauntee?"
"Maybe I will."
Hank dragged himself from the cot. He needed to make sure the IV's were functioning properly. Bobby was getting frail. He needed more and more liquid to maintain his form. Jean had to be confined because of the strength of her powers. At least Scott hadn't succumbed, nor Wolverine, which left some interesting questions about Scott's relationship with Jean.
Wolverine burst into the room. "Logan, what's wrong?"
"Slim needs ya upstairs."
Hank gave his patients a last glance, then followed Logan up the stairs into. . . a farm-house kitchen. "Oh my stars and garters! What has happened?"
"The house. Come on, everyone's in the living room. Well, most of 'em are. We still need to get Rogue and Betsy."
Scott was ranting at Warren. "And it was never a choice, you pretentious, over-grown pigeon! I didn't *choose* to be beaten for not wanting to fuck people for money. I didn't choose to be told I was a worthless piece of shit! But I *did* choose not to beat my wife. I did choose *not* to beat in your pretty-boy sneer!" Scott wavered, hand to his head. He blinked rapidly, trying to bring the world into focus. "And I would appreciate it if you'd try to wrap you bird-brain around the idea that I am married to the woman you insist on flirting with, despite the fact that you have a girlfriend!"
The world settled into focus so quickly that Scott lost his balance. Warren caught him. "Thanks, Wings," he murmured. He was finally back in uniform. "What a head-trip." He straightened up. He looked around the room. "Coffee-table doesn't look that big. I've got a sneaking suspicion that *someone* ran me into it on purpose."
Logan shrugged. "Had to make sure ya weren't fakin'."
"You're a psycho, Runt. Betsy and Rogue are left."
"Betsy's upstairs. Rogue's on this floor. Let me get Betsy. Bobby, you get Rogue," Jean said.
Betsy poured over the magazines. There was no mention of Warren's funeral. It was a small flaw, but enough to make her doubt he was actually dead. She looked into the mirror. "If I could get used to Kwannon's face, I can get used to this. I need to dye my hair first. The purple might make it less outstanding. Then, some proper clothing." She threw the magazines into the trashcan. There was a knock on the door. "Come in."
"Jean!" The ex-model's voice was buoyant. "Thank God! I thought everything had gone mad."
Jean hugged her. "Do you remember the 'haunted' house?"
"Yes. We're still there."
"Let's go to him. I need to see him."
Arm in arm, they left the room.
Rogue, it'll be okay," Bobby said softly.
"I killed him, sugah!"
"No, he's alive. I've seen him. This is a bitch of a nightmare though."
"Nightmare. It's time to get out of it. We're all down here. Except Gambit. He's in one of the bedrooms, cleaning up. We've got some peanut butter crackers and there's iced tea. And sugar."
"Sounds wonderful." Rogue took Bobby's hand and they walked out of the field and into the downstairs hall of the farmhouse. "You mean I've been in the dining room the whole time?"
"Yep." Bobby looked back at the room. "I wonder why Gambit hasn't cleaned that room?"
"It's pretty isn't it? A little run down, but pretty. Just. . . there's something off here, sugah."
"Must be the 'haunting' part of the house. A little dusting does go a long way though, doesn't it? Maybe Gumbo left some polish in the living room. I can clean up the dining room for him."
"Why is Remy cleaning?"
Bobby shrugged. "I haven't asked. I don't think anyone knows for sure." Bobby was suddenly enveloped by a dust sheet. Rogue sneezed, then laughed.
"Ain't ya ever heard of warnin' folks, Swamp-Rat?" She wasn't really surprised to not get a response. Scott's head peered out of the living room doorway. He started laughing. Bobby looked like a typical haunted house ghost.
Scott was soon joined by the rest of the team. It was more relief laughter than genuine amusement, but it was well needed. As they wound down, Scott cocked his head to the side. "I wonder. . ." He strode across the hall, stopping near the stairs. "Logan, didn you say there was a hole at the foot of the stairs? A big one?"
"Yeah. Jeannie lifted us over it. I had to help ya over it to get ya to Wings."
"It isn't there now."
"Look for yourself." Scott took the stairs two at a time. His stomach had twisted and he couldn't tell if it was head games or real nerves. He couldnít hear the thief. He found the younger man staring out an upstairs window. He set his hand on the back of the Cajun's neck.
"Y' back, mon ami?" He offered his palms. Scott identified himself. "Y' eyes better?"
"Bien. T'ought y'd let m'. Been more'n a day. Don' reckon I can handle it much longer."
"We're all here. Come with me?"
"Got t' finish up here."
Remy was amused. "Whatever y' can manage." Scott pulled the dust cloth off the dresser. Remy jumped, ending perched on the window sill. "Merde! Y' really are here ain't y'?"
"Yes. Please try to hear me." Scott spoke softly into the younger man's ear as he pressed the words into his palm. "Feel my touch. I'm here. You're not alone. It's time to go home."
"I can't. Not 'til this place smiles. It so sad. Got t' make it happy."
"So I can feel again. But Iím so tired. It's like I ain't got no energy left." Scott hugged him as hard as he could.
"I won't give you up without a fight."
"How y' gonna lead m', cher?"
Scott picked up the dust-cloth and folded it. "Can you see the cloth when I'm holding it?"
"Oui. Looks odd. Like the place got ghosts."
The cloth moved towards the door and Remy followed it. He stopped at the foot of the stairs. He laughed. "Look, another ghost." Bobby hammed up the role. Remy shook his head. "Must be, Robert. Ain't no one else dat goofy."
Bobby took the sheet off and dropped it to the floor.
"Pick dat up an' fold it." Scott set down his sheet.
Jean touched Remy's temple. He frowned. He held out his palm. "Jean," Scott informed him.
"What she want?"
"In your mind. At least to talk. Your shields are too high for her."
Remy tired to slowly lower his shields, but they crashed instead. He went white. "Shut up! Shut up!" He put his hands over his ears. "I done all I could."
Jean entered without hesitation into the tumult that was Remy's mind. He'd only half-believed the delusion that he was alone. The house had cracked his shields. A wealth of emotions swirled below the surface of his mind. //Oh, Remy, I would've helped you control it.//
She found his astral self sitting on a fence in front of a well-defended Southern Mansion. The very air pulsed with emotion. //We're real. I'll get rid of the mind-twist. That should let your shields rebuild.//
//What about him?// Remy pointed to a little boy with big brown eyes and sandy hair.
//Mommy's gone. Daddy's gone. Will you be Mommy now?//
//Where did they go, Sweetie?//
//Out back. They never came back in. No one saw me. I hid real good. I was afraid, but no one found me so I stopped being afraid.//
//You don't have to hide anymore.//
//They'll find me.//
//Come with us. Stop hiding. We'll take care of you.//
//No. They'll find me. I've got to stay here so Mommy knows where I am.//
//You can't hide in Remy's head.//
//He likes me.//
//I'm sure he does, but it's making him sick.//
//I don't understand.//
//If you stay here, he'll have to go away for forever.//
All the shutters snapped shut. No one moved. Betsy stepped forward. She joined them in Remy's mind.
//Hi, Sweetie. I'm Betsy. What's your name?//
//Christopher. Like Christopher Robin.//
//Very nice. Christopher, do you want to go on a trip in an airplane?//
//If you come out of hiding, you can go on our airplane. There's a very nice lady out there who loves children.//
//S-Stormy?// Christopher guessed.
Betsy laughed. //Yes, Remy's sister. We'll leave a note for Mommy about where you are,// Jean offered.
//Why donít you go with Betsy. Remy and I will join you shortly.//
//You'll make him okay again?//
Betsy returned to herself. There was a little boy, about six or seven years old standing on the stairs above her. "Christopher this is the team. You know them, I think."
"Hello," he said shyly.
"Hello, Christopher." Scott shook hands with the little boy. "Are you coming on the plane with us?"
"Can I really?"
"Yes. Do you want to sit in the cockpit?''
"You know the pilot?"
"I am the pilot. Why don't I take you on a tour?"
"That would be great! But what about. . ."
"Jean will take care of Remy and write a note to your parents."
"Hank, will you stay?'
"Of course, Fearless."
Scott smiled wryly at the old appellation. "I keep telling you not to call me that. Everyone else with me."
The team retreated to the plane. Storm greeted them warmly.
"You're Remy's sister?" Christopher was skeptical.
"Yes. We adopted each other."
Hank took Remy's pulse, worried at the rapid pace. Jean was still in deep rapport with him, so Hank contented himself with watching and waiting.
//Try to raise your shields, Remy.//
//I don't know how!//
//I'll help you remember.//
//I don't. . .//
//Try with me.// Jean gave his shields a nudge. They sprang to life, shining with prismatic colors. //I'll see you when you wake up. We'll have to talk.//
//Your psi capacities. They're untrained, but they're there.//
//Y' wrong, chere. I ain't a spook.//
Jean didn't argue. She broke off contact. "Hello, Hank."
Remy's pulse evened out. His eyes flickered open - not expecting them to really be there. His face betrayed his pleased shock. He hugged Jean as tightly as he dared. She stroked his hair. "It's okay," she murmured. "We're real."
"Been so long. Days an' days."
Jean blinked. "It wasn't that long was it?"
"Oui. It was. A week, chere. A full week in a dead worl'."
"Let's go to the plane."
Storm swept her brother into a tight hug. She leaned her face into the side of his neck. "Bonjour, ma petite Stormy."
"Don't call me 'Stormy.'" She laughed as she said it.
"How long we in dere, Stormy?"
"Eight days. My heart felt ready to break, but I could see you working in the rooms, so I knew it wasn't hopeless."
"Seats everyone. We're ready to take off. Our co-pilot today is Christopher Smitts."
Remy strapped into his usual seat. Ororo went forward as "navigator." Rogue reached over and carefully placed her hand into his. He squeezed it.
Charles Xavier greeted his students. "Hello, my name is Charles Xavier," he informed the new recruit.
"Christopher Smitt." The young boy clung to Scott's hand.
"Welcome to my home. I'd like it to be your home too, until we find your parents. Would you like Scott to show you around?"
Scott's smile was wan. "Maybe after a nap. What do you think, Christopher?"
"Come on. There's a room across form Remy's that's free."
Remy's smile was strained, but he didn't disagree. He reached over and put his hand on Scott's wrist. "Sometimes I hate you." He pressed the words in quickly. His only answer was a brief flash of red against the crystal visor - a Cyclops wink.
Remy collapsed onto the bed without bothering to undress. He closed his eyes and fell asleep. He opened his eyes. The Mansion was silent. He sent a tendril of charm down the communication link Jean usually kept open. She wasn't there. He sat up in a panic. He threw open the curtains. The sun streamed in, but it was utterly still. "Non, Bon Dieu, Non." He sank to his knees, tears running down his cheeks.
Hank poured himself a tall glass of water. He prepped the lab for multiple patients. Every member of the team needed a check-up, a few good meals and possible a fluid IV. As soon as he took a nap, he'd get to that.
Logan settled down to meditate, but all he could concentrate on was the smell of spunk on Scott's clothes and skin. Other men dared to touch his boy. He wanted to kill them. He wanted to throw Scott down and fuck him - use him as crudely as the faceless men of his past had. He'd make a whore of him. The thoughts let him sick at his own mind. Scott trusted him. He trusted Logan to protect him, to lead him blind out of the middle of a nightmare, and all Logan wanted to do was fuck him. Wolverine stood up. He needed to hunt. Maybe blood would drive the sickness from his mind.
Rogue lay down and hugged her teddy-bear close. She'd never forget seeing Remy's body at her feet. She'd have to break up with him as soon as he got a chance to sleep.
Bobby set the thermostat down. Fuck the rest of the team He needed some coolness. He turned the shower on as cold as he could make it and stepped in. That felt so good.
Jean curled up in the bed, hair still wet from her quick shower. Would she really kill out of jealousy? Was that really her and not the Phoenix? Am I truly that possessive? Logan's always loved Scott and I've always been okay with it. And God, the look on Scott's face. She shivered. The utter acceptance of her rage left her cold.
Warren stared out the window. Was that a real memory? Was Gambit really in the tunnels? Is that why I don't trust him? Warren's wings clinked as he moved them and he could feel the pain of his loss as sharp and real as if it were really happening again. But now there was a new pain. He watched the agony fill Gambit's eyes as Creed's claws tore into his stomach. His eyes were drawn to the diamond on the dream-Gambit's collar. He'd just have to ask. God help them all if it were true.
Betsy looked into the mirror. The scars were gone, but the red tattoo was back. Now she wasn't sure which was worse. Even scarred it had been a relief to see her own face for once. She took a deep breath and released it.
Scott scrubbed and scrubbed at his body, but he still felt the dirt on his skin. He shivered, sinking to his knees, letting the last of the hot water rinse him as the tears started. He couldn't stand the idea of sleeping next to Jean. The very thought made him want to retch. Luckily, there was nothing in his stomach.
Charles monitored Scott's thoughts. He closed his eyes. The bitter bile of guilt twisted his stomach. He'd sent Scott to the one place he'd promised to protect him from - the hands of his abuser.
Christopher slept. His body was unused to this form. He needed more energy. He tapped into Remy's shields more deeply. And then there was the new fresh energy from the old man downstairs. He smiled and snuggled into the pillows.
Storm lay staring at the ceiling. Perhaps Scott and I were wrong. But, no, we both know that I would be useless if I were to become any more claustrophobic. I do wonder why Remy went to his own room today though.
"Cable, we need coverage. The team's in no shape to go out."
"We'll take care of it. Do you need someone up there for security?" Cable could read the intense, visceral 'yes' on Cyclops' face and the fact that he could, made Cable mentally rearrange his schedules. "Nevermind. I'll come up personally. I'll need two days."
"With a really big set of guns?" Cyclops managed a smile. "Thanks."
"Get some rest, Slymm."
"Just a warning, it's not going to be a nice group to be around. I'm ready to knock Archangel's teeth in. Gambit and Rogue are having what seems to be the final blowout. Wolverine's avoiding me. Beast's got us all on restricted duty. The only normal people are Storm and the Professor. We've got a kid staying with us."
"It's a long story. We'll see you."
Cable nodded and shut of the monitor. Part of him said "what will be, will be," but the rest of him was scared of losing the team. The X-men were the first and longest lasting team. Losing them would be a serious blow to the community. "Why didn't he call Alpha Flight?" he mused.
"They aren't family," Domino answered.
"Scott gave me up."
"But was it willingly? Have you ever asked?"
"I don't want to know."
"Cable will be offering security support," Scott informed the professor. "Now, I'm late for my check-in with Beast. God forbid Hank gets his boxers in a twist."
"Scott, I want to apologize for listening in on your thoughts last night."
"Why should last night be any different than any other?" Scott's voice held bitter venom. "You've been spying on me since the first night."
"I didn't mean for you to face Jack again."
"Bullshit. If you'll excuse me." Scott left without waiting for a dismissal.
"Stop ignorin' me, sugah," Rogue screamed.
Gambit's eyes blinked up at her. "Didn' know y' was there. Sorry, chere."
"That's it. We're done, Swamp Rat. I can't take this silent treatment bullshit anymore."
"But y' already dead, chere. Can't blame m' f' not hearin' a ghost."
Rogue stared at him. "I'm not dead. Ya just been ignorin' me."
"Why'd I do that?" Remy shook his head, trying to clear it. "Sorry, chere, don' mean t' ignore y'. Jus' that I ain't followin' the world so good."
"Get Hank to up yer meds, boy." She turned on her heel and left. Bobby stared at the Cajun. The thief was wearing layers to stay warm in the now comfortable-for-Bobby-chill. Remy looked blankly towards the door, then went back to his book.
"Aren't you even going to go after her?" Bobby demanded. He stood. The Cajun didn't even react. Iceman scowled. He shook the thief roughly. He looked into wide, unfocussed eyes. "Gambit, look at me. It's Bobby. Come on, focus!"
Remy blinked rapidly. "Je suis desole, Robert."
Bobby's fingers were probably harsher than they needed to be, but he was angry, angry at the younger man's weakness, his numbness, his inability to focus. He was convinced it was just for attention. He was shocked when the tear slid down Gambit's cheek. The thief didn't even bother to erase it.
"Sil tu plait, don' be angry. Tryin' t' focus. Jus' like there's dis film in m' head. Can't see folks, can't hear 'em. Can hardly feel them at times."
Bobby's fingers loosened a fraction and Remy's eyes dropped. Hank had explained that while physically Gambit would be fine with a couple of meals, he'd been manipulated into a delusion so sweeping that not even birds lived in the trees. He'd lived inside the delusion for eight days. As Hank's best friend, Bobby regularly hacked his teammates' health records. He knew Remy was on a short course of anti-depressants and some sort of anti-convulsant to help mitigate the effect of the drugs on his powers. Bobby looked at the dazed eyes.
"I'm sorry, Remy. That was uncalled for."
"Non, realize I ain't with it, me. Got t' be frustratin' f' y'all. I'm tryin'. I swear, Robert. I'm tryin'." Bobby's eyes were crisp and clear, but the rest of him seemed watery and insubstantial - like an Impressionist figure in a photo-realistic world. All of them looked that way to Remy. Sometimes Scott came in clearly and Christopher too. Beyond that, they weren't always there when he saw them. Bobby lifted the Cajun's chin.
"Look at me."
Bobby's shoulder's drooped. "I'm not mad at you, Cajun. I'm mad at this thing that's stolen your mind. You were doing better yesterday."
"Come an' goes."
"Cable's coming. Maybe he'll be able to figure out what's going on."
Rogue was sitting on the marble bench near the roses, crying. Christopher crawled up next to her, little legs swinging about two inches of the ground. He snuggled as close to her as possible. She put her arm around him.
Jean touched Scott's shoulder and he flinched away. "Please, Red, just don't touch me right now. My head's all fucked up. Why don't you see if you can get Logan to talk to you. He's ignoring me."
"Only if you'll tell me what's going on."
Scott checked to make sure the door was closed. He looked up at his wife. She was leaning against his desk. "I was raped, Jean. I'd thought I'd dealt with it, but I haven't. Every time you or Logan touches me, all I can do is fight back the urge to puke from the slimy coating I can taste in my mouth and not to cringe from the memory of Jack's hands groping me in the middle of the night just before he tore into my body. That's what's wrong. Just give me time and enough hot water and I'll deal with it."
Jean put a hand to her mouth. "Thank you for telling me. I know that had to hurt." She reached out to touch his cheek and stopped just short of his skin. He took her hand and squeezed it.
"Tell Logan my reactions aren't his fault. Usually, I don't care if he touches me. But right now. . ."
Jean tightened her grip. "If Jack weren't already dead, I'd kill him."
Scott shivered, suddenly aware of Jean's sheer power. "I know."
Cable looked up at the Mansion. He didn't see the cloud of doom hanging over it, but he could feel it. There was a distinct coolness that shouldn't have been there on such a beautiful day. He walked through the front door just in time to see Cyclops haul off and punch Archangel in the mouth. Warren hit the floor with a satisfying thunk. Scott shook out his hand. He sucked at one bleeding knuckle. "Hey, Cable. Do me a favor and take Bird-brain down to Hank?"
"Second floor across form Wolverine." Scott looked at his son. "Greyer than usual, Cable," he said in concern. "Problems?"
Scott nodded. "Settle in. Meet me in my office. You need to know what's going on."
"And Angel?" Cable's brows rose.
"Let him bleed."
"I'll take him down," Jean said. She glared at her husband. "You didn't need to hit him."
Scott shrugged. "But if felt so good, honey. I should've done it when we were teenagers. Over-grown sparrow." Scott stopped just short of kicking the fallen man. "Glass jawed jerk."
Jean sighed. "Jealousy or what?"
"Called me a quote fucking whore with the morals of a slut endquote."
Jean's eyes flashed. "And the temper of a Wolverine."
"I didn't kill him."
"Which is why you're still standing. I swear, Slim, you're turning into Jack."
Scott's hands fisted. "Are you going to twist the knife now or later?"
"Later. Definitely later. I'm taking lessons from Rogue."
"Did you just imply that I'm acting like Gambit?"
"No, he's insane. You're just being a bastard."
Scott took a breath. "I'll be in my office. Maybe I'll ask Hank for a tranq so I don't kill someone."
"Maybe you should talk to Hank. The headaches are getting worse aren't they?"
Scott pushed past her almost roughly. "Don't push me, Red," he snapped.
She caught his arm. "You don't even want to start with me, boy," she snapped back - eyes flashing gold. They stared at each other. Jean held him until he dropped his head, anger diffused. She let go of his arm.
"You are such a bitch."
"Why else would I put up with you?"
Scott left without another word. Jean's shoulders slumped. "Redd?" Cable asked softly.
"My only warning is don't ask about why. Things are tense enough. Push anymore emotions on him and he'll break, Nathan."
"Were you serious about taking him down?"
"If I have to. Go put your bags up. Scott will try to explain."
Cable went upstairs.
Scott was in his office, head down on his desk like a kid in time out. Cable knocked before he entered. He sat down and waited. "Close the door behind you," Scott said. "It's only polite. Besides, this is a nasty business."
Cable snorted, but closed the door with a thought.
"Wish I had TK. Maybe I'd be able to control it." Scott laughed bitterly. "Of course, I'd probably be blind. According to Hank I should be. I shouldn't be able to see at all because of where the damage hit."
"What's going on?"
"We went to Hell. It's a little farmhouse in Kansas. At least it was. We're still recovering."
"A Christian concept of eternal torture and separation from God as created in the medieval Europe with the Devil as the central figure."
"I meant operation-wise."
"You didn't say that." Scott hadn't raised his head.
"Cyclops, I can't. . ."
"My name is 'Scott' use it." Scott sat up, one hand rubbing his temple. "We're a little frazzled. We lived out nightmares for 8 days. Gambit's still stuck halfway in his. I'm dealing, just barely. I haven't killed anyone. Logan's in the woods. Betsy's okay. Jean is, well, Jean only a little bitchier. The Southern states are broken up last I heard. Bobby's keeping the place one step above Artic. Doesn't bother me, but the girls aren't happy. Warren is, well, he's reverting to type. He hasn't called me a whore to my face in years. Christ, it feels wrong telling you this shit. You're my son. I'm supposed to protect *you* not the other way around."
Cable didn't react to that. Scott had always felt paternal towards him. He examined his own emotions. "Scott, I don't blame you. I know you had to leave. I was old enough."
"To become bitter and hate my guts."
Cable too that as a statement. "You're not angry at me."
Scott shook his head. "My fucking team's insane. I can't stand to touch my wife. The man whom I consider my right hand is hiding in the woods and won't talk to me. And there's nothing I can fucking do about it."
"I think I need something more concrete. What happened to you specifically?" Cable was shocked to see Scott collapse into himself.
"I spent a few days as a blind whore for my foster-father. I don't know how long it was until I heard Gambit begging me to stop Logan. Logan followed my voice and took me out of. . . of the alley into the farmhouse, I guess. The floor felt like wood, not concrete. I didn't get my sight back until I had a nice rant at bird-brain. Problem is, I thought I'd dealt with all of that shit and now it's back. I'm having sensory flashbacks when someone touches me when I don't see it coming. I flinch at loud noises. I'm half-a-heartbeat away form hitting my wife sometimes. I've got a thief that's become dependant on my presence so I can't bug out and the six-year-old who caused the whole thing is in an upstairs bedroom. I can't even hate him because he's just a kid."
"Why do you want to hurt Jean?"
"Because. . . because she scares me. She was the Phoenix. She wanted to. . ." Scott frowned. The memory was fuzzy, confused through the mind of a sixteen year old on the street corner. "She was going to destroy me so that. . . that Logan couldn't have me. And now when she pushes I react. I push her away so that she can't hurt me." Scott shrugged. "I know why. I know how. But I can't seem to stop."
"You back down from her though."
"Of course." Scott gave him a crooked smile. "Love, cherish, honor, and obey."
Cable's eyes widened. "You kept the obey clause?"
"Yeah. Okay, biggest deal right now is Remy. He believes that we're ghosts, that the world is dead. Maybe it's limbo. Maybe he's just meant to be a witness to the past. I don't know. But Blue's got him on two pills which someone has to remind him to take. He'll sit in the same room and not hear you. He'll look right through you. Rogue can't take it. The professor's diagnosis is Major Depression with Psychotic Incident. We just call it crazy. It's a sweet crazy, but. . ."
"You said he was dependant on you specifically."
"I'm the one person who can always get through to him." Scott shrugged.
"He believes in me, that I'm real."
Cable couldn't believe that. Gambit couldn't stand Cyclops could he? At that opportune moment Gambit entered the room. He walked directly to the file cabinet and fished out a file. He frowned at the inside cover.
"Who have you forgotten, Remy?" Scott's voice was gentle, affectionate.
"Betsy. Betsy don't look like dis no more, does she?" Remy shook his head. "Cyke, y' should've kept better records f' m'."
"Sorry. Didn't realize you were losing your memory so young."
Remy yawned. "She got black hair now, then, last time I saw her. Funny, non, dat I can't remember a woman? I'd sleep on y couch but y' always hated dat. Sometimes, I t'ink I can hear Charles talkin' t' me."
"He probably is. You remember the talk we had about reality?"
"Y'all t'ink y're real. Dat y' livin'. But de Mansion's jus' as sad as de house was. Weren't no one dere neither."
"Did you take your pills this morning?"
"What sort of pills'd ole Remy be takin'? Most of what was in Bete's storehouse is gone off."
Scott took a breath, then released it. "Remy, can you tell me who's in the room right now?"
"Me an' y', cher, like always. Wouldn' be the same if'n y' weren't here."
"There's someone else. Who is it?"
Remy glanced around the room, smiling. "Ain't no one else here. Y' watercolory t'day. Y' feelin' okay?"
Remy obediently came to the desk. "What's up, cher? Feelin' unloved?"
"You broke up with Rogue today."
"Y' know Roguie's been gone. She been gone f' what seems like ever."
"You talked to her today. Bobby too."
Remy shook his head. "Y' silly, cher."
"Remy, where's the bottle of little blue pills?"
The thief thought for a long moment, then pulled the pills from an inner pocket. He squinted at the label. He held them out. "These?"
"Yes. Did you take one at lunch time?"
"Because you should take one every day with lunch. It'll keep us from being watercolory."
"Should I wait until t'morrow then?"
"No. It's only two hours late. Take one now."
Remy dry swallowed the pill, then put the bottle away. "Y' sure 'bout this?"
"Very. Trust me?"
"Course. Y' ain't got no reason t' lie."
"I've got a question."
Cable watched, fascinated by the manipulation that was digging into the Cajun's shields and mind.
"If you look at the visitor's chair, can you see the person sitting there?"
Remy looked. "Ain't no one, cher." He kissed Scott's cheek. "Catchin' up on m' readin' t'day."
"Why not watch television?"
"Not'in' on TV t' watch. No one's broadcastin'." Cable's eyes narrowed. The worm-like line into Gambit's otherwise impenetrable shields was pulsing. It had to be causing him a pain just short of agony, but he had no reaction but to fall deep into his delusion. Madness or pain, which would I choose? He asked himself.
"You can nap in my office if you want."
Remy's smile was cherubic. "Merci." The Cajun curled up on the leather couch, Scott's afghan tucked around him. Cable realized that Scott's smile was a shade too possessive to be paternal.
"You like him dependant," Cable stated. Scott flinched at the sharp tone. "Oh, Slymm, is it that bad?" he said more gently.
"I'm just a little jumpy. Half of me. . . fuck, Cable, I like him like this," Scott said, voice soft. "He's calmer, sweeter. He stays home at night. He doesn't climb onto the roof. Of course, he doesn't eat, doesn't sleep and isn't particularly useful, but. . ." He shrugged.
Cable closed his eyes. "He's a pet."
Scott winced. "Like a cat. He has good days and bad days. Any emotional stress and he retreats. We'll have to get him to see you. He's still having trouble seeing the professor."
"There's a tick in his shields, burrowing deeper and deeper. Maybe I can just kill it."
"Jean can't. The professor's trying to trace it back. I know it's Christopher, but I can't prove it."
Remy opened his eyes to the darkened office. He looked into Christopher's dark eyes. "That ain't what y' look like," he said. The little boy laughed.
"You're perfect for me!" He clapped his hands. Then, he shimmered - body elongating into the twenty-something body that suited his mind better. He stroked Remy's cheek, brushing away the lingering tears.
"Why y' do this t' me?"
"Because you got Scott to believe you. I can't let you convert anyone else, silly." Christopher pressed a gentle kiss to Remy's lips. "We'll watch them die together. It'll be fun, sweetheart."
"I'm tired. Let m' sleep. Please, let m' sleep proper."
"You can live on the energy, same as em."
"It's wrong!" A spike of agony jammed itself through Remy's head.
"Say you're sorry!"
"S-sorry, Christopher, sorry."
"Don't piss me off, gorgeous." Remy's eyes closed and he was back in Scott's office - Scott's voice low and soothing to his ears.
Cable felt his anger building. Scott was being totally unreasonable. How could he protect them if Cyclops wouldn't give him a proper report. His hands fisted. He saw the tremble in Scott's hands that he was trying to hide - the weakness. Cable forced his hands open. He didn't really want to hurt Scott, did he?
Jean slammed into the house. She just wanted to scream. Logan was violently lusting after her husband. *Her* husband. She'd have to teach them both a lesson. She stopped short. Maybe Scott was right to move to the guestroom. She couldn't be trusted.
Betsy looked into the mirror, now used to the strange overlay of her old face over her new one. The delusion was fading. She'd taken Gambit's hurried warning and had kept Christopher away from her completely. Her shields were stabilizing. Now, she just needed to get Jean away from him. Together they should be able to contain him.
Christopher sat on the professor's lap as they read _The_Hobbit_. He snuggled back into the old man's arms.
Rogue caught the Cajun looking through the things on the top of her dresser. She backhanded him into the wall. He slipped down it, boneless. She trembled as she called for Hank. She couldn't stop the tears. She sobbed as Hank carefully checked him and took him down to the lab. Hank's eyes flashed with tightly leashed anger. He'd warned her and warned her about her strength.
Hank checked Remy's vitals. He was bruised badly and concussed, but as conscious as he got these days. "Y' so soft, Bete," Remy murmured. "Always remember y'r softness. Y' so gentle."
"Thank you. It's time for your other pill. The white one."
"So you don't blow up the building."
Remy laughed. "Too tired t' do dat, M. Jus' blow a couple rooms, mebbe." Hank set the bed to a seated position. He gave the young man the pill and water. Remy took it with a roll of his eyes. "What y' workin' on, M. Bete?"
"Oui? Ain't heard that term b'fore."
"Because I've created it to refer to genetically engineered viruses."
"Tell m' more 'bout it?"
Bobby looked at his nemesis the stove. He was on dinner duty and the team wouldn't accept sandwiches. He'd have to make something edible, something, *shudder*, hot.
Warren woke disoriented. His jaw ached. He remembered what had happened and cringed inwardly. He sat up. Gambit was on the other occupied bed. He looked tired, older than he should. "Remy?"
There was a long moment before the Cajun turned his head - exposing a dark bruise on his cheek. The red eyes blinked. "Keep talkin', Ange, please?"
"I'm here. To your left." The eyes finally found him. "What happened? A fight with Rogue?"
"Jus' wanted a squirt of her perfume. Helps m' sleep. Next t'ing I know I's wakin' up t' M. Bete. Don' rightly know what happened. Jus' that m' head hurts somet'in' fierce. Bete says concussion."
"Can you see me?"
"Barely. Y'all are watercolor t'day." The team had learned quickly. If Gambit didn't see you, he'd knock into you without every noticing. And if he did see you, he didn't always hear you.
"Remy, I have a question for you."
"What can it hurt t' ask? Don' mean I'll answer mind."
"Why were you in the Morlock Tunnels?"
"When they were killed."
Remy went white. "Y' saw?"
"I saw." The Cajun shrank into the bed a little. I could hurt him so easily, Warren thought. I could walk over there and make him OD on his pills. He'd never resist. I was Death. That's what a murderer deserves.
After a breath, Remy spoke. "I led them in. Remy was supposed t' leave while dey gathered samples. Figured it couldn' hurt t' stick around even if dey was kidnappin' a few folks. Maybe we'd get a drink or somet'in'. But I felt it. Felt it clear t' m' bones when de first folks died. Was like acid on m' soul. Ran t' see what was done. They weren' supposed t' kill no one. Tried t' get Hunter t' listen t' me, but Chat grabbed m'. Knocked m' silly an' cut m' t' keep m' quiet. Stolt a chile an' ran. Tried t' run at least. Got her clear, but Chat found m'. Beat m' f' runnin'. Took m' near t' a mont' t' heal b'fore M. Essex started his punishin'. Another two mont's t' make it out of de lab."
"And the thing you're afraid of is being alone?"
Remy gave Angel a sad smile. "Pain only lasts f' a lil' while. Loneliness lasts f'ever." The low lights of the room couldn't hide the silvery trails of tears on the thief's cheeks. "Y' t'ink y' gain more peace by knowin'?"
"Yes," Warren said quietly. "Yes, I do."
Warren climbed out of the bed. His head spun. Remy wasn't the only person with a concussion. He made his way across the room carefully. He took the Cajun's hand. "Rest. I'll watch over you. I promise."
The red eyes closed obediently.
Xavier looked down his nose at the young man seated in front of him. "Your behavior is totally unacceptable, Scott. I have always worried about your violent tendencies and you have proven me correct. You will remain in your room until I tell you otherwise."
"I'm assuming you'll be having this little talk with Rogue as well?"
"No. Why should I? She's not my son."
"I'm not a child."
"You've been acting like a teenager, Scott. You're irrational. I cannot and will not allow your irrationality to affect this team. You are restricted to your room, effective immediately. This discussion is closed."
The mental order slammed into Scott's mind - sparking off a migraine. His eyes watered from the pain as he tried to make his way up the stairs. He'd never make it to the boathouse, not that the professor would allow him to be that far away. Scott collapsed onto the bed. He punched the mattress, frightened by the weakness in his arms. It was going to be a full migraine. He'd have to relax and ride it out.
Bobby served up ice cream for himself and Christopher. They settled in front of the television to watch cartoons for the rest of the day.
Logan breathed a sigh of relief. He'd managed to get his head around the change in perception. He'd always loved Scott as well as Jean, but he'd just never seen Slim as a sexual creature before. Scott was stiff, quiet, and, well, prim. Logan now recognized the actions for what they were. Scott was trying to run from his attractiveness. He was afraid of being wanted.
Logan also understood that despite feeling jealous about other people wanting Scott, he wasn't going to hurt the boy. He wanted to tuck Scott into his arms and protect him from the world. Even in the midst of his fear, Scott had trusted him completely. And in that back alley, Scott would've done anything to please him in exchange for protection and a little tenderness. Even at his most jealous, Logan hadn't taken.
That much resolved, Logan left his self-imposed jail, no retreat. He closed his eyes for a moment, grounding himself in the rustling of leaves and the sharp smell of apples. He made one last resolution. He would tell Scott the truth. It was the only way Logan could repay the trust Scott had given him.
Jean was sitting on the pier. Scott was in the middle of a full-blown migraine and she could feel the residuals of it though the link. Part of her, the vicious, petty part, was glad he was hurting. That meant he was suffering too. Of course, there was the depression he'd always suffered from there resonating in the link.
Tears slipped down Jean's face. She could see him standing there, arms open, hands palm up, just waiting for her blow. He'd let her kill him. He wouldn't stand still for Logan to gut him, but he'd be willing to die for her anger. She'd never hit him before, but she'd always threatened him.
Her stomach twisted. Had she really threatened him yesterday? She wiped at her tears. Yes, she had and he'd backed down the way he always did. Scott was always backing down form their fights, even when he was right. Do I love him because he. . . a thought froze her. He's actually holding to our vows.
Remy curled up in the library - eyes focused somewhere beyond his book. Storm sat down next to him. He hadn't seen her in over a week. He hadn't seen her since they'd hugged on the plane. "Remy?" She tried again. "Padnat?" She touched his hand. He didn't react.
"Stormy?" he whispered, what felt like years later.
"Why ain't y' moved on, petite? Always thought y'r Goddess'd take y' soonest."
"I'm not dead, Remy."
"Den mebbe I is. Mebbe dat makes de most sense. Dat explains everyt'in'. I can't feel, Stormy. Like I'm dead an' cold inside. I jus' wanna be real."
"You are loved, Remy. You are real." Storm looked at the book in his hands. "Read it to me, brother?"
He smiled and turned back to the front of the book. "There was once a velveteen rabbit. . ."
Hank rubbed at the bridge of his nose, then settled his glasses back into place. Remy and Warren were well enough to rest in their own rooms. He was slightly relieved to be able to concentrate on his research. "Yo, Blue. Chow time!" Bobby called as he bounced into the room.
Betsy looked into the mirror. She was herself once more. She stepped into the shadows and eased into the living room of the boathouse. She watched Jean process things on the pier. In a few more minutes she might actually be useful again.
Cable looked into Scott's room. Slymm was awake. He whimpered low in his throat and tried to burrow into the pillows as the light fell across his face. Cable stepped in and closed the door behind himself. How has he been able to hide this sort of pain? Cable wondered. The same way you do, he answered himself. Dual tracks of thought.
The older man felt the TO virus surge and be restrained automatically. If it weren't for the future technology, Cable wouldn't have survived long enough to learn to control it with TK. And if Slymm and Redd hadn't worked so hard, he would never had had the will to survive among the Askanni. Cable bent his head.
"Thank you for saving my life, Slymm," he said quietly. "I don't hate you, Scott." He sought out the professor's forced compulsion. He didn't lift it, he couldn't tip off his prey that way, but he could modify it so it didn't hurt quite so badly.
Rogue watched Remy toss and turn in his bed as she hovered outside his window. The bruise on his cheek was angry and dark. His mouth was forming words. She could almost hear them. She focused on his lips, but she wasn't a lip reader. She watched the agony replaced by exhaustion. Remy sat up. He held a pillow to his chest and stared towards the door, tears leaking form his eyes. She pressed her hand to the glass of his window.
Angel perched on the roof, thinking. He had to tell Scott what he'd learned, but the very thought of doing so made him want to throw up. Scott hated Sinister with a killing passion. Could Warren really take away Remy's support like that? He thought about that drawn face and soft, broken voice. "No," he whispered to himself.
Charles watched his students eating lunch. Christopher was chattering away brightly to Bobby. Storm was wearing her heaviest sweater. She was encouraging Remy to eat, but he didn't seem to hear her or anyone else. His eyes were unfocussed, his skin exceedingly pale against the bruise on his cheek. Rogue was trying to get his attention, but couldn't.
Hank had taken a plate down to the lab. Cable was on his third cup of coffee. He was talking to Jean telepathically and Charles wouldn't dream of disturbing a mother-son conversation. Betsy was watching the battle over vegetables being waged by Bobby and Christopher. Her face was an unreadable mask and her shields were high.
Charles frowned. Where is Scott? he thought irritably. In a flash of blinding guilt the answer came to him. He's in his room, you old fool. He's trapped there until you give him leave. Charles felt a tiny spark of jealousy, petty but true - that thought it was mete punishment for the boy who had stolen Jean. He touched Scott's mind and mentally flinched. Scott was in the middle of a migraine spike. He wouldn't be eating today. He was barely able to make it to the bathroom and back.
Charles mentally commended Cable for the subtle adjustment to his enforced orders that allowed Scott to seek out the refuge of a hot bath. He was startled to sense another mind there. Logan had drawn the bath and was carefully attempting to massage away the pain. Charles dismantled the order carefully, gently, afraid of causing more harm.
Scott curled into Logan's arms, grateful for the heat of the water and the darkness of the room. Logan was trying to ease the tension with his fingers. "It's okay, Slim. I got ya," Logan whispered. "You can cry. Ain't no shame in it."
Logan set Scott's glasses aside carefully. The quiet click was enough to set Scott shivering. The younger man sobbed silently against Logan's shoulder. The hot tears were a good sign. Logan stroked Scott's hair gently. Scott wound down, still as sleep. Logan held him until the water cooled.
"Come on, kiddo. Let's get ya dry and into bed."
"Letch," Scott muttered. Logan snorted in answer. He propped Scott up against the wall and dried him briskly. The house was frigid. He coaxed Scott into his old sweats and led him back to bed. Scott hadn't bothered to get his shades. Logan shook his head and went to fetch them. He put them on the nightstand where Scott would look for them.
Logan pulled up the blanket and comforter as Scott settled himself onto his stomach. "Sleep well, Slim."
"Stay?" Scott patted the bed. "Just don't touch."
"Sure." Logan settled on the bed. When we was sure the young man was asleep, Logan whispered. "I love ya, Scott."
Remy had wandered into the garden. Christopher took his hand and they walked together. //Lover, you've been very good. Can't you just feel the agonies? You're a perfect foil. We'll be together forever. Isn't that wonderful, my beautiful?//
//I ain't y' lover.//
//Don't be silly, gorgeous. You do need to sleep. I'll make you do that tonight.//
//Why won' y' let m' go? Why won' y' let m' see 'em?//
//You are mine. There's nothing else you need in your life.//
//Mebbe Remy'll jus' kill himself.//
Bobby stepped into the afternoon sun and forced himself not to shake. He couldn't take more than five minutes before the heat drove him indoors. He wished for winter.
Jean settled on the pier next to Betsy. //What's up, Betsy?//
//What's been happening to Scott?//
Jean blinked. Psylocke was rarely that blunt. //He's regressing, that's all. He'll probably be himself. . .//
//Stop lying, Jean.//
Jean flinched at that. //He punched Warren. He can't stand my touch. He lashes out - verbally at least - at anyone who pushes him. He's got this need to please me that I never saw in him before. Warren's right, partly at least, Scott's thinking like a hustler. He's stuck there. He's trying, but the memories are nasty.//
//What did you face, Jean?//
//I was going to destroy him so that Logan couldn't touch him.//
Betsy's eyes widened at that. //You're jealous of a man who hasn't made a move on either of you since the wedding? A man who doesn't even flirt with your husband?//
//He flirts. They both do.//
//They're just friends, Jean. Even if they had . . .//
//Stop drooling. It's unbecoming.//
//Consider the possibilities.//
//But if he has Logan he doesn't need me.//
//He'll always need you.//
Jean blinked rapidly.
//He loves you enough to stay with you come Hell or high water. He'd kill for you. He'd die for you. He's made you his world.//
//It's so hard. After all these years. Those twelve years we spent in the future were the hardest thing in the world. I almost hit him, Betsy. I'd have done it just the other day. I actually had my arm pulled back to do it.//
//Jean.// Betsy's voice was gentler than usual. //That's a normal thing. He's always reacted like that. He's always pushed to see his limits. He just needs boundaries.//
//He's not a child!//
//You said it yourself, he's thinking like a hustler. He's a teenager emotionally. He's scared, Jean.//
//But I don't know how to reach him.//
//Let him rage a bit. Let him scream. Let him yell. Let him destroy half of the Danger Room.//
//I better go check on him.//
//Charles grounded him.//
//Didn't Cable tell you about the compulsion he tweaked? The professor put him in his room until further notice. That's what started the migraine.//
//Charles never grounded Scott. Other punishments - chores, that sort of thing yes. But Scott's suffered from depression for years. He might have to be forced out of his room, but to allow Scott to brood? That's against his treatment plan. Unless he's got a migraine or something, he needs to be part of the general life. He's not even supposed to close his office door unless he needs to talk to someone privately.//
Betsy stared at the red-head. //I thought Scott was just a shy people-person.//
//He's a shy introvert.//
//The things you learn. Does anyone else know about these little quirks?//
//Hank, Bobby maybe Warren. The professor had us help keep track, with Scott's permission, of course, but actually remembering, not just being in the habit? Probably me. Maybe Hank.//
Betsy considered. //But they'll notice if Scott hides away?//
//Definitely. They'll act odd if Scott's office is closed for too long.//
//That may help.//
Warren watched as Christopher went back into the house. Gambit was in the garden, sitting on the marble bench by the roses. Warren swooped down to stand in front of him. He lifted the thief's chin. "Focus, Remy. Focus."
The red eyes blinked once, twice. Beyond that there was no reaction. Warren could feel the trembling of an adrenaline crash in the sharply angled jaw. "You need rest, Cajun," he said softly. "Remy, please, hear me."
Remy cocked his head to the side. Then, he stood. The fatigue was most evident as he stood, swaying. He forced himself to move. Warren shadowed him. He'd examined his heart through the night and found he couldn't hate the thief. Remy had been a child when he was a Marauder. It had been a cruel twist of fate. If they'd found him first, maybe he would have. . . but those were worthless thoughts. What mattered was that Remy was an X-man and he needed help.
Cable cleared his throat, trying to attract Beast's attention without startling him into dropping his test tube. "Sit down," Hank ordered. Cable obeyed, sitting on the doctor's chair. Hank finished his set-up and started the gels running. He turned to his visitor, settling his glasses on his nose. "What can I do for you today, nephew?"
Cable bristled at the appellation. He saw the smile and knew he was being baited. "What is the strongest pain medication Gambit can take?"
McCoy blinked. Then, he grimaced. "Our Cajun compatriot is unfortunately allergic to every pain medication I have available. The only thing I can give him is muscle relaxants and the occasional hypnotic or anticonvulsant depending on the severity of his condition. His aunt sent me 'zombie powder' but I will only use that if he needs major surgery as the after-effects are emotionally damaging to him. Why?"
"I think his delusion is the result of pain."
McCoy leaned forward. "Explain."
Remy looked into Scott's office. It was empty. The whole house was still. He forced himself to keep moving despite the acid-flames of pain in his muscles. He collapsed into his seat at the kitchen table. He put his head down in his arms. Christopher, why y' do this t' me? Why'd y' take Scotty away? There was no answer and he'd expected none.
Storm looked at the little boy nestled against her side. There was something strange about his eyes, but that was often the case with mutants. He closed his eyes for a nap and she smiled.
Remy woke tucked into bed, panicked by a dream he almost remembered. He felt the sharpness of Christopher's touch on his mind. //Go to sleep,// the voice ordered, ignoring the silent scream that elicited. //I'm very upset with you right now. Go to sleep.// Remy descended into sleep, too tired to resist.
Logan woke quickly as Scott whimpered. "It's okay. I'm here," he said softly.
//Logan,// Jean asked //are you with Scott?//
//Yeah. He ain't sleepin' good. Think the head-ache's got him.//
//How bad is it?//
//He was dry retching when I poked my head in. Got him a bath and into bed. Got me worried though, Jeannie. I ain't seen him this bad in years.//
//I'll ask Hank to give him a shot of something.//
//Think it'll help?//
//I don't know. Honestly, I think it just makes him sleep.//
//Maybe that's enough.//
//True. Will you make sure he doesn't hurt himself?//
Betsy looked down at the Cajun's sleeping face. There were creases of pain around his mouth. His hair was damp from sweat. She looked closely at his shields. They were starting to crack from the stress of the connection burrowed through them. God help them all if they shattered. "Remy, wake up," she said firmly.
His face twisted a bit as he fought the layers of compulsion that trapped him. Betsy stroked his forehead.
"Try, Remy, I need to talk to you." //Rogue, I'm going to kiss your boy, try not to explode,// she informed her. //Warren, I'm going to kiss Gambit to get his attention. Stay calm.//
She leaned down and kissed him gently, deeply, until he responded with desperate enthusiasm. She felt his craving for attention there, his need for contact. She broke the kiss reluctantly. He looked up at her, the pain in his eyes making her heart ache. "Is it him?"
"Oui. Please help m', chere. Can' even charge a card. Ain't got the energy."
"Fight the compulsion. I'm here. I'm real. You're alive. Don't let him win."
"I need t' sleep. Real sleep. I need t' feel. T' touch. T' laugh. He's mad at me. Gonna punish m' soon as he realized I'm talkin' t' y'. He ain't six."
"I know. Warren will be watching over you."
"What he do t' Scott?"
"Just a migraine." Betsy's soft smile was a surprise. He touched her lips in wonder. "He'll be fine."
Remy whimpered as she started to fade. He lost touch first. She faded like mist.
//You are mine. That means no kissing.//
Betsy watched his focus fade. She blinked away a tear. There would be time enough in the future for mourning.
Rogue wanted to wrap her arms around her lover's body, but she'd broken up with Remy. It's a good thing I did or I would've killed him for kissing Betsy, even if I do know why. She held her favorite teddy bear as a substitute.
Charles looked in on Scott. He frowned at the unmoving body sprawled out under the blankets. Scott was rarely still in his sleep. "Blue just gave him a shot of somethin'," Logan informed him, as he walked in from the bathroom. "Good thing too. Boy needs to sleep deep for awhile. You come to apologize, eh, Chuck?"
"For what exactly?"
Logan snorted. "Fer sendin' yer son to Hell."
Charles didn't flinch. There was no anger in Logan's voice, only weary acceptance. "I sent him to do his job."
"And sent him to his room like a little kid. Yeah, yer doin' a fine job of fuckin' up his head. Not ta mention I know yer what caused the migraine this time."
Xavier stared at the stocky man, waiting for further explanations. What actually happened was that Logan stretched out on the top of the blankets, as unconcerned as a dog on his master's bed. The professor's brows rose, but Logan had closed his eyes and folded his hands on his stomach.
Bobby settled into Hank's thinking chair. "So, catch me up on the details?"
Hank looked over his glasses. "No change in any of the samples. I may have found a way to keep it from mutating, but unfortunately, I will be unable to test the results in a living being because it may kill them. Still, it is progress."
"Let me start the burner for the next phase." Hank lit the gas bunson burner. Bobby went into a full panic. He tried to bolt from the room, but found Hank's arms wrapped around him. "Bobby, it's okay. Bobby, what's wrong? Talk to me, Bobby." Hank rocked the terrified young man. Bobby buried his face in Hank's fur.
"Fire. It's going to melt me."
"No, Bobby, no. It's just a little flame. It won't hurt you. It won't even warm the room."
"It will. I know it will."
"No, Bobby. Remember, even Pyro couldn't burn you in ice form? He tried but it didn't work. You made a shelter and protected us all."
"No, it will! I'll melt all away and there won't be a way to get me back into one piece when I'm steam."
"Bobby. . ." Hank paused. He just held his best friend until he stopped shaking.
Cable snapped at Scott in frustration. "Just talk to me!"
Scott flinched back - away from the sound. "Lower your voice." His voice was quiet and deadly as the "snikt" of Logan's claws releasing. "I will have you in the Danger Room so fast your head will spin if you ever take that tone of voice with me again."
Cable stared at the field leader. Scott was staring straight back at him. His shoulders were up, voice clear and firm. His hesitant fear and burning rage had compacted into an icy cold that Cable could almost feel against his skin. He had faced mercenaries with softer countenances. He'd never seen the rumored killer before.
"Sorry. How's your head?"
"I'll live, but you won't like it much." Scott's smile was mirthless. "I'm beginning to agree with Gambit's suggestion."
"Drown the bastard in the lake and let the fish and birds devour him. But he might slip into the shadows so that won't actually work."
Cable's brows rose. "I thought the X-men don't kill."
Scott snorted. "Charles doesn't think I should be allowed the option. Sometimes I think we are the only non-violent military force in history. But it's personal, not professional."
"I'm working on a different solution, Slymm."
"Too bad. I was looking forward to seeing his body lifeless on the pier."
"That's a frightening sight," Logan said from the door. "Cyke turnin' into a soldier. Ya ain't done that in years have ya?"
"And I haven't given head since I lost a bet to Warren the first year we were here."
"Is that why he's been stuck on the idea that yer still a whore?"
"Probably. Should have said no, but I was young and eager to please."
"Damn. I showed up a few years too late." Logan shook his head.
Scott's cheeks were turning an appealing shade of pink. Cable's eyes widened when Scott ignored the sally. Then, he smirked. "So the two of you haven't consummated your relationship yet?"
"What relationship? He just likes baiting me."
"Like watchin' ya squirm," Logan agreed. "Lemme rub out yer shoulders. Cable can tell ya his thoughts." Logan kicked the door shut. Scott's shoulders tightened. Cable saw the fear flash across his face, then be ruthlessly crushed. Logan's fingers were stern but gentle as they traced out the tensions and eased them.
"We're going to contain him in the psi-chamber downstairs."
Scott's brows rose. "And how do you plan to get him there?"
"He's still pretending to be a child. One of the women will lead him in and Hank will activate the field?"
Scott frowned. "So why tell me?"
"He's been in my mind and maybe still is."
"I need you to look after Gambit. You need to give him something to knock him out."
"Like what? Sedatives and pain killers put him into shock."
"Hank's made a formulary. It looks just like his other pills so it won't tip him off."
"Why don't I just hit him?"
"Because I don't think you can."
"Probably true. Fine. Just tell me when."
//Christopher, please, I'm so tired. Remy's sorry he tried t' run. Please don' hurt him again.//
//Sorry, gorgeous, but you need to be taught to obey me. I am all that's left in your world. I am your life. Remember that.// Christopher's fingers were gentle on Remy's jaw as they traced the line of it. He kissed the Cajun's cheek. Then, he pushed.
A trickle of blood dripped unnoticed from Remy's nose.
Betsy set up the psi-chamber for a long-term guest. The bed was made up with a soft comforter. There were books in the bookshelf. The dresser was empty, buy once Christopher's from actually finished they'd bring him clothing. Then, God willing, they'd figure out how to transfer him to Scotland.
Warren caught Gambit's arm to steer him to the kitchen. The thief needed to eat, but he wasn't even willing to go to the kitchen. Blood ran down his face. Warren wiped it away with his handkerchief. Scott looked out of his office. "Bring him here for me, Wings. I've got his meds. He hasn't been taking them since I got my migraine."
Warren nodded. He had to use a little more force than he liked to get the young man there. Scott guided the thief to a chair. He held the Cajun's chin in his hand, frowning. He stroked the younger man's tangled bangs out of his eyes. "Remy?" he called softly. He lifted the Cajun's hand palm up, then crouched down beside him. Warren blinked as Scott fell back on the Braille that had gotten through before. Remy didn't respond. Scott sighed.
He lifted Remy's chin again. He placed a pill from his pill-box onto the Cajun's tongue hoping the thief would automatically dry swallow it after so many days of pills. Remy did. It didn't take long for his eyes to droop closed. Scott caught him and draped him over his shoulder. He carried the thief down to the lab. Warren followed wordlessly.
Hank directed Scott to the closest bed. He immediately set up a monitor bank for the Cajun. If he had a reaction, it would be in the next two minutes. Hank adjusted the psi-shield to set over Remy's head.
There was a blood-curdling scream from upstairs. "No!" Then, Christopher was in the room as adult as any of the other men. "What have you done to him!" he demanded. He stroked Remy's cheek. "Come on, gorgeous. Wake up," he begged.
Scott tapped him on the shoulder. "Christopher."
"What, Scotty?" The young man was panicking. "Remy, please wake up. I won't let you leave me!"
Scott tapped his shoulder once more. Christopher turned with an angry scowl. "Wh. . ." His question was cut off by Scott's fist. He went down. Scott flexed his hand.
"Damn, I think I broke my knuckle. His chin's harder than yours."
Warren stared. Hank simply picked up his newest charge and settle him in his room - prison actually. He closed the door behind himself. Jean, Betsy and Cable stopped at the front of the med-lab. Jean couldn't help but giggle. Scott frowned at her. "What?"
"We were going to drug him. That was the plan," Cable stated.
"My way was just as effective and a Hell of a lot more satisfying." Scott couldn't help but smirk. He stroked Remy's hair absently.
"He took the pill?"
"No resistance. Hank has Christopher settled in his room."
"And what does he look like?"
Scott shrugged. He flexed his hand. "About my height. Brownish hair. Brown eyes. Thin as a beanpole with a permanent scowl on his face. Jealous little shit."
"Scott," Jean warned. "You know how I feel about that kind of language."
"In the perky words of Logan's sidekick, 'whatever'."
Warren grinned. "Valley girl suits you."
"Shove it, Wings."
"Let's try this name thing again. Warren Worthington the third." Warren offered his hand.
Scott sighed. "Scott Summers." They shook hands. "Ouch."
"Sorry, Slim. Where's Hank?"
"Preparing an ice pack for that hand before it swells up." Hank strapped the ice pack to Scott's hand with an ace bandage. "Stop squirming or I'll keep you for observation."
"Be good," Hank warned. "Although your right-cross has improved tremendously."
Scott brightened. "Really?"
"Yes, it used to take two shots to bring someone down to my lab with a concussion."
Charles surveyed the room. "What exactly is going on here?"
"We're trying to save Gambit's life," Scott snapped. "And I haven't killed anyone, yet, sir. Christopher has been contained until we can get his powers to become less volatile. We may have to send him to Moira."
"Cyclops, I want a full report on my desk by three p.m."
Scott frowned. "Cable, see to it. My computer has a login for you."
Cable nodded and left the room.
Charles Xavier felt his rage growing. "I want your report, not Cable's."
"Sorry, *sir*, I've been in my room for three days. Cable's been running this operation. My only part was to get Remy down here for treatment."
"Scott," Charles' voice was a warning.
"Have Hank knock me out. It's quicker than your psi-bolts. Or maybe you'll just order me to punish myself for disobeying orders."
Charles Xavier considered himself a reasonable man. He took a breath to get a leash on his temper. "My car is a bit dusty. It could do with a good wash, don't you think?"
"Bobby'll get right on it."
"I'm beginning to understand why Jack beat you."
"Oh no, sir, Jack beat me because I wasn't a good enough whore for him. Or is *that* what you really want from me?"
Xavier's face was a nice, bright red. "Why are you pushing me, Scott?"
Scott considered. "If you continue to treat me like a 16-year old with brain-damage, I'll continue to act like one. Honestly, sir, next you'll threaten me with grounding, or a book report. I'm in my thirties, sir. If you act like it, I will."
"You punched out a teammate, Cyclops."
Scott glanced at Warren. "He deserved it."
"It was payback. Besides, the only reason he gets to call me a whore is because he actually did have to pay for the one time he had me."
Jean's jealousy flared. Scott smiled at her.
"It was before you got here, honey," he assured her. "Now, let's get out of here and let Gambit sleep. Cerebro, let me know the instant anyone tries to open L01. Lock room L01 voice code Cyclops - Alpha - Blue." Scott brushed a kiss over Remy's forehead. "Sleep well, kiddo. You've earned it."
Warren slung his arm around Scott's shoulder. "We've got to talk."
"Oh?" Scott asked as the door closed behind them.
"Yes. Why are you suddenly so close with our thief?"
"Jealous?" Scott was well-rested and the morphine was keeping his headache at bay. Therefore, he'd finally fallen into his most dangerous mood.
"Yes, actually. How'd you manage to go from hating him to kissing him goodnight?"
"I never hated Gambit. Everyone just assumes that because I yell at him on a regular basis, I hate him. I just see wasted potential in him. If he weren't spending so much time playing Don Juan, he'd make a good second."
Warren's fingers tightened. "I hate to tell you this then. Especially when he's sick." The others had already gotten onto the elevator. Scott waved them on and turned to face his once-best friend.
"Just tell me."
"Gambit was a Marauder."
"You thought I didn't know. Logan told me he'd been in the tunnels and I confronted him, oh, four, five months ago. Then, we got roaringly drunk and passed out in the storeroom off of the hanger."
"Because I knew I'd be able to keep him locked there for long enough to get some help if I needed to."
Warren's wings twitched. "You scare me, Slim. And I mean that in the best possible way."
Scott grinned. "But if you *ever* call me a whore again - even as a joke - I will take your ass down, Wings. And you'll be damned lucky if I leave you well enough for Hank to cure. Understood?"
Warren nodded. "Got it, Slim."
"Let's go up before Jean's convinced herself that we're having an affair. It's hard enough getting her to believe I'm not fucking Logan."
"You aren't?" Warren teased as they got on the elevator.
"Don't make me hurt you, Wings."
Christopher woke. He rubbed at his jaw. He reached out in shock. Where was Remy? Where was everyone? He couldn't feel anyone. He went to the door, but it wouldn't open. He tried to meld into the walls, but he couldn't. He looked at his hands. He was normal. He could still feel his powers, but hey wouldn't activate. "Oh, God, what is this place?"
Hank watched Remy sleep. The young man was frail, exhausted, and he was willing to bet undernourished and anemic. His skin was exceedingly pale. He sighed and started the IV's. Maybe glucose and saline would give the young man's body the start it needed to even itself out. Remy woke - eyes wide and frightened. "Henri?"
"Yes. I need to fix this needle into your arm."
Remy made a small noise that Hank accepted as assent. The Cajun touched the psi-shield. "Dis keep him out, non?"
"Yes. You can rest now, Remy. I'll watch over you."
Remy sighed. He closed his eyes and finally slept.
Logan offered Scott a beer.
"From your private stash. What exactly did I do when I was drugged up?" Scott asked.
"Yer the most boring bedmate I've ever had. Figured I'd clear the air a bit."
Scott was beginning to get distinctly worried. Logan'd never seen him as a teen. The one thing he'd always counted on was Logan's loyalty. Even at his most feral Logan had supported him. Logan's nostrils flared.
"It ain't nothin' bad, Slim. Calm down and drink yer beer. Just let me talk .This don't need anything from yer side yet."
Scott nodded. His nerves were jangling - telling him to run far and fast and right now. Logan put down his beer. He put his hands on Scott's shoulders and kneaded. Scott leaned forward into the touch. He relaxed. Logan wasn't disgusted by him.
"Listen then. When we were there in that Hellhole, I discovered I was jealous. Took me awhile to get my head around the fact that I love ya and that I want ya. Shush. Lemme talk. I wanted to hurt ya in that alley. Ya smelled like sex and I wanted it to be me that had ya and no one else. Then, when ya stepped up to offer yerself up ta Jeannie's rage, I wanted ta throw ya down, hide ya, protect ya. I probably woulda killed her fer hurtin' ya. That's why I went to the woods. I weren't mad at ya. I ain't disgusted by ya. I was scared that I'd hurt ya. Took me a while to assure myself I weren't gonna hurt ya, rape ya, do any of the slimy little things my head came up with. I just hope, wish that yer still gonna trust me when ya have a chance to think."
There was a moment of silence. Finally, Scott's voice filled the void. "You love me?"
"Don't *ever* scare me like that again," Scott ordered. He took a long swallow of beer.
"Huh?" Logan cocked his head to the side, non-plussed.
"I thought you were leaving the team, asshole. That was the only reason I could see for the insulation."
"Ya don't mind?"
"No, but I'm still married."
"Shit. I know that. Just didn't want it to be used against us."
Scott smiled. "You're my best friend, Logan. I actually trust you with my wife. Hell, I don't trust Warren with Jean. This doesn't change anything."
"The fact that I'd fuck ya if I got the chance don't mean anything?" Logan's brows rose.
"Logan, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, I'm perfectly aware of my own sexuality and I probably have the most highly attuned gaydar in the place. Call it survival instinct."
"When did you. . ."
"You jumped into that well to keep me warm. You were feral at the time."
"What did I do?"
"Held me close. Licked away the blood and had a raging hard on." Scott shrugged. "Actually, you're lucky I was barely conscious. I'd have started fighting to get away if I'd been more awake." Scott smiled ruefully. "But you didn't try anything feral, so I'm not worried about you doing anything conscious."
"Well, shit. Ya knew before I did."
"Yeah. But thanks for actually telling me. Now, I can cheerfully manipulate you and blackmail you with possible future favors."
"Yer a brat and a menace to society."
"But I'm cute. And if I were well-adjusted someone would have to shoot me. Just don't tell Jean. She'll get jealous."
There was just a hint of the nervous teen in those words and Logan could sense a lingering hurt there. "What did she do, Scott? Last time she got jealous?"
"Nothing." The answer was too quick.
"Just tell me."
"She said. . .she said she'd leave me."
"Hell, it was forever ago, but her face was. . . I won't ever forget it."
"Slim, I ain't a busy-body much, but ya gotta talk to her."
"What am I going to say? Sorry, honey, but I'm an insecure, neurotic mess who's terrified of you? Just claw me. It'll be neater."
"Slim, don't make me play marriage counselor. I'll just lock ya up in a containment room together until ya hash it out or die."
Scott stared at him. "We'd probably end up dying."
Remy woke, sensing Christopher's distress. He rubbed at his eye with the heel of his hand. Hank frowned at him. "You've only gotten an hour of sleep."
"I'll speak with him. Go back to sleep."
Remy pouted, but closed his eyes.
Hank activated the two-way video phone. "Hello, Christopher."
"Hank?" The young man's brown eyes were wide. "What did you do to Remy? Where is he?"
"He's sleeping. I'm afraid you can't see him until he's stronger." There was something very childlike about Christopher, no matter his real age.
"No! He's mine! You can't take him away!"
"You've been hurting him. I cannot allow that to continue."
"But he's mine. He's like me. He can feel the energy. He can feed on it when he needs to." Christopher sat on the bed. He drew up his knees and wrapped his arms around them. "I was so lonely. But he kept trying to get to the others. They wanted to make him leave me. Especially that woman with the white stripe. She's mean to him."
Hank smiled ruefully. "People are not possessions. Just because Remy has similar talents, does not mean you own him. He's not some toy made for your amusement. I'm going to call Scott. If the two of you can come to an agreement, perhaps we can arrange to let you out of there. Until then, you'll have to stay."
"I want Remy."
Hank bit back his sharp retort of "you can't always get what you want" and shut off the microphone. He called Scott to let him know Christopher was conscious.
Scott considered the bruise on his hand. Did he really want to see Christopher now? Or should he send someone else in to talk to him. Scott sighted. No, he had to do it. Tomorrow though. Let the boy have a taste of his own medicine.
Rogue sat by Remy's bedside, reading a romance novel. Remy was far too still. Every time she looked up stomach clenched with the fear that he was dead. She took his hand. He woke, smiling sleepily at her. "Hey, sugah."
"Hey, Roguie. Rumor was y' broke up wit' me."
Rogue blinked at the softness of her his accent. It hadn't been that non-descript since well before his delusions. "No, Remy. Well, yes, I did, but it's not the same if you don't remember it."
Remy snorted. "Why'd we break up dis time? Was I flirtin' with Jeannie?"
"Scott. But no, you just couldn't see me or hear me. You wouldn't try even. You swore I wasn't there."
Remy's hand shook. He didn't want to think about the dead world. "Y' were dead t' me. Christopher don' like y' neither. Hurt t' even t'ink y' name. I can feel him. Even with dis t'ing." Remy tapped the shield. It looked like an oxygen tent without the front closed it.
Rogue frowned at that. "Feel him how?"
"M' charm. It feels him. He's worried, upset."
"Y' know. The t'ing that lets m' talk folks int' doin' t'ings?" Remy was amused by her apparent lack of understanding. "Makes folks want me?"
"What?" Rogue squeaked.
"Oui. Used t' get me plenty of work when I was on the streets."
Rogue was quiet for a long moment. "Why didn't ya tell me about it before?"
Remy snorted. "Like y'd have even wanted t' try t' love me. Y'd always have wondered if I was charmin' ya."
"Why tell me now, sugah?"
He smiled at her, eyes losing focus. "What's the worst that happens, eh, chere? I lose y'all again? Y' ain't got that power over me. Y' know I ain't charmin' y', girl. If I was, y'd never question me." His eyes drifted closed.
Rogue watched him sleep, book forgotten in her lap. "I love ya, Remy," she whispered.
"Jean, can we talk?" Scott asked, feeling as awkward as a teenage boy. Jean looked up from her magazine. She smiled, eyes betraying her fear.
Scott shifted from foot to foot. "This should be easier," he told her. "I've had you in my mind for years. I shouldn't be afraid to tell you anything."
"Sit down, Scott. I don't bite."
He raised his brows.
"Often." She smiled at him, more relaxed now.
He summoned up a smile for her. He perched at the edge of the chair, hands resting on his knees. He found himself kneading his knees like a nervous cat and forced himself to stop.
"What is it, honey?"
"Are you planning to leave me?" Scott's voice came out softly. Jean leaned forward.
"Did I hear you correctly?"
"I don't know." He watched her face.
"Did you ask if I was going to leave you?"
"I'm not giving you up, Scott. It took me too long to get you."
"Who are you jealous of?"
Jean sat back quickly. "How do you know Iím jealous of anyone?" Her voice was harsh and Scott forced himself not to react to it.
"Because I know you, honey. You're angry at something and it's not me exactly, which is normally that you're jealous of someone or something. And I don't know what I'm doing wrong."
"You're not doing anything wrong. It's me."
"Please, Redd, don't do this. Just give me an answer." Scott crossed his arms across his stomach and hunched over so that she'd have a smaller target if she blew up.
"Why?" Scott blinked at that. "He's never made a move on me."
"But he's in love with you."
"I've been dealing with that particular situation since he first saw you."
"But I didn't know he was in love with you before," Jean said quietly. "Besides, you have more practice at this than I do. Hell, there was Warren and Logan and Remy, even. I just need some time." She settled a gentle hand on the side of his neck. "I love you, Scott. I don't want to be without you. I'm not going anywhere. I promise. Just give me a little time to get over this."
Scott nodded. He stroked her cheek with feather-light fingers, feeling the softness of her skin. He liked her best this way, freshly washed skin with no make-up. He could feel the warmth of her through his fingertips. He leaned forward and kissed her. "I love you," he whispered.
Christopher pulled at the door. "Fucking door. Why the fuck won't you open?" he screamed at it. "I want out of here!" He battered at it until his hands were bruised. He sank down to the floor, staring at them. "Let me out, Hank. Please let me out," he said quietly.
Hank didn't respond. The young man started to cry. He felt an echo of his link with Remy sooth him. He curled up under the covers and hid his head under the pillow.
Xavier cleared his throat. Scott's hand jerked, sending his pencil flying. "I'm sorry, Scott. I didn't mean to startle you."
"That's alright, sir. I've been jumpy for awhile now." Scott shrugged. "Nothing personal. What can I do for you?"
"I wanted to discuss the options for dealing with Christopher before you confront him today."
"Well, there's poison, knives, guns, rope, water, and fists, did I miss something?"
Charles looked down his nose at the young man. "Scott," he said mildly.
Scott sighed and settled back in his chair. "I know. I know. It would just be so satisfying. We can keep him here or send him to Moira. Those are the options. Since you won't let me kill him."
"What would keeping him here entail?"
The field leader looked at his mentor for a very long moment. "The loss of Remy and likely the sanity and cohesion of the team. We'd have to train him and teach him morals. He never had any. I did some research. His parents were murdered in the back lawn. He was never found, but the house gained a reputation of being haunted and eating people's souls. It was the house of the Devil." Scott shrugged. "We'll have to teach him how to process real food. And deal with the fact that emotionally he's probably still six. His powers developed early, I think. In reaction to his parent's murder. He's been warped by seeing the dark sides of people, but he still doesn't know that it's wrong to hurt people. Remy always said the house was sad. Not bad or evil or any of the things his normally superstious self would come up with. My guess is that Christopher's real issue is greif."
"And why did he latch on to Remy do you think?"
"Because of Remy's empathy."
Charles blinked. "He's actually admitted to his empathy?"
"He still calls it his charm, but that's what it is. He can feel other people's emotions and manipulate them into doing what he wants. I've known that since he got here."
"How did you know?"
"He told me. I got him drunk."
"When we discussed his history. It was necessary to assess the threat level of his past."
Charles steepled his fingers and looked at the young man. "Why was I not informed?"
Scott blinked at him. He didn't seem to understand what the professor meant. "Sir?" he said finally.
"Why was I not informed that Gambit his psi abilities?"
Scott didn't respond. He frowned as Charles pressed against his mind. "What are you doing, Professor?" he asked. He rubbed at his jaw.
"Answer me, Scott."
"Not while you're acting like a prick, sir. Let one of our psis check out what tracers Chris left in your mind."
Charles frowned, anger sparking deep in his chest. He reached out to force compliance. He froze. "Very well. Ask Jean to meet me in my office."
"Of course." Scott's smile was thin. There was anger in his jaw. "You aren't all powerful Charles, you should think about that. It's the trick he's played on you. He's got us set up against one another. We've done nothing but pick at each other since the team got back. It's not our normal shit either, sir. You've been out for blood and so have I. Don't let him catch you out."
"I'll think about what you've told me, Scott." Charles' tone was soft, but still sharp. Scott's jaw twitched and the professor couldn't hide the little thrill of pleasure that gave him. He was still in control of this relationship and always would be. He shook his head. He needed Jean as soon as possible. "Ask Jean to join me immediately."
Betsy relaxed in the chair next to Remy's bed. He was still, but she knew he was awake. She watched his shields shifting to repair the damage that had been done by Christopher's attachment. It was fascinating. She'd never seen such intricate shields. She saw scars of old damage on them. "Remy?"
"When did you make your shields?"
"When did you make your shields? How old were you?"
"They always been there. M' master taught m' t' do it when I was small."
"Master?" Betsy wondered what sort of teacher he meant.
"Oui. He owned me when I was small. I runned away from him when I was six. But he taught m' t' hide m' mind so folks couldn't get in. Never stopped him t'ough. T'ink Christopher feeds like m' master did. Feel just as drained as I used t'."
Betsy blinked. She'd never thought the Cajun would be so open to talking to her. She had a sinking feeling that he still didn't believer she was real. "Owned you how?"
"Had me stolt and kept m' as the crown of his collection." He smiled at her. "Y' kissed me."
"I did. Warren nearly had a heart attack and your girlfriend wanted to kill me, but it was fun. And it worked."
"It did. Christopher got mad at me though." Remy shrugged. "Hank tell y' why I feel so tired all the time now?"
"You're exhausted, ducks. He thinks you might be developing Mono. You need to eat, sleep, and get better." Betsy straightened the blanket. He smiled up at her, looking like a sleepy child.
"Why y' fussin' over me, Lizabetta? We don't normally get on like dis."
"You saved my life, you idiot. You got me to block Christopher." She shook her head. "You're tired, go back to sleep."
"I ain't sleepy. I'm tired, not sleepy. Will y' talk t' me some?"
"Of course. Did you want me to read to you?"
"Oui. Got a magazine on the table." Remy leaned over. Betsy pushed him under the psi-shield.
"Don't get out from under that shield."
"D'accord. Got the page marked."
"Okay. Let's see." She laughed. "This isn't a magazine. This is a manual."
"Got t' keep current."
She sighed and started reading.
Logan set a cup of coffee on Scott's desk. The young man looked up. "Thanks." The smile Logan recieved was gentle and relaxed. It was a wonderful sight to see. Scott had been tense and snappy since they'd returned from The House. Logan always thought of it in capital letters.
"Don't hide in here too long. Yer girl'll start wonderin' if yer pissed at her."
Scott snorted. He took a sip of coffee. "We're working on it. Logan?"
The soft voice stopped the Canadian by the door. "Yeah?"
"Will you... Forget it. Thanks for the coffee."
"Will I what?"
Scott stared out the window for a pensive moment. "Will you watch my back for a little while? You're the only one that doesn't set me off right now. I'm tired of being jumpy."
"Course I will. Lemme get a beer and the paper and I'll be back. Okay?"
"Any time, kiddo," Logan said gently.
Jean worked dilligently on dinner. She missed the clatter and noise of the house's usual activity. Everyone seemed to be walking on egg-shells. She's just spent two hours with Charles removing the suggestions that Christopher had implanted in his mind. He had offered her his sincerest apologies and had locked himself in his study to start rectifying the mistakes he'd made. Cable had joined him about half-an-hour after that.
She sighed to herself. She was still working through the jealousy she felt toward Logan. "Hey, Red," the object of her musings said as he got a beer from the fridge.
"Logan. Isn't it a little early?"
"Nah. It's after noon," he responded. His voice was a good-natured grumble. "Smells good. What ya making?"
"Chicken noodle soup and fresh rolls. I stole Gambit's roll recipe."
"Good. We ain't had much in the way of good cookin' lately. I ain't known fer it." He gathered his beer and the paper and left her cooking.
She sighed to herself. What am I going to do about this? He's the one of us who seems content now. I can't tell Scott to keep away from him. They're friends. No, I have to deal with this. Maybe I should talk to Rogue. She can tell me how she deals with Remy and Storm.
Rogue straightened up her room. She shuffled through the bills on her desk. She fussed with the arrangement of her stuffed animals. She sighed as she sat down heavily on the freshly made bed. She closed her eyes and all she could see was Remy laying lifeless at her feet. "Oh, sugah," she murmured, "I'm so bad for ya."
Bobby felt the panic welling in his chest. "Hank, I can't do this."
"Yes, you can. The case of the lighter is plastic. It won't get warm. Just pull the trigger."
"Hank. . ."
Hank enveloped his best friend in a bear hug. "You can do this, Bobby. I promise you."Bobby shuddered in the embrace. "Just pull the trigger. I know, close your eyes and do it." Bobby settled against Hank. He held the butane lighter in a death-grip. His knuckles were white. He screwed his eyes shut and pulled the trigger. He released it and pulled the trigger again. He couldn't feel any heat. He opened one eye as he pulled the trigger once more. There was flame at the other end. He couldn't feel the heat of it, but his heart thudded against his ribs. He let the trigger go. He let out a ragged breath. "Great job, Bobby. We'll do a little bit each day until you can handle it."
Bobby nodded. He felt Hank's soft blue fur under his cheek. "I'm going to get something to drink. Thanks, Blue." He didn't move for a long moment though and Hank didn't push him away.
Christopher looked up at Scott with large brown eyes. He tried to reach out, but he couldn't sense anything from Scott. "What is this place?" he asked, scared of what this man could do to him if he weren't under control.
"It's called a containment chamber. It keeps your powers from activating. We need to talk Christopher. You've been hurting people."
"So?" Christopher sulked. "They're mean. They want to take Remy away from me. You do too."
"Remy is not a possession. We are not toys any of us. We're human beings and you've been using us." Scott's voice was harsh.
"I want to see your eyes."
"Because I can't control my blasts."
"Doesn't the room do it for you? I can't blend into the walls or anything."
Scott pushed his glasses up to the top of his head. His eyes were screwed closed. He opened them cautiously and Christopher saw the fear in his jaw. Finally he blinked. His eyes were dark black, empty. The younger man stared.
"Where are your eyes?"
Scott shrugged. "That's been a topic of debate for years. Christopher, do you remember what happened to your parents?"
The quick change of topic made Christopher blink. "Mommy and Daddy went out back and didn't come back in."
"Do you remember why they didn't come back in?"
"There were men out there who hurt them." Christopher frowned. He wasn't used to his memory being this fuzzy. "I want Remy."
"Well you can't fucking have him," Scott stated. Despite the profanity his tone was quite even. "What happened to the men who hurt your parents?"
"They tried to come into the house. But I wouldn't let them in."
"You closed the door?"
"I made it disappear. I caught them like the spider on the back porch caught flies. Mommy never came back. She told me to stay in the house until she came back, but she never came back."
"Do you know how long ago that was?" Scott's voice was more gentle now.
"It's been sixty years, Christopher."
"No! Mommy's still alive!"
"No, she's dead, kiddo."
"Why would I?"
"Just to be mean. That's why you're keeping Remy from me. He's mine! He's my love. No one else can have him."
"Christopher, where did you learn about lovers?"
"There were these creepy poets who came to the house one day. There were all wrapped up in each other. They kept playing funny games in the upstairs rooms and I listened. I learned everything I could from them. I made them not afraid anymore. They'll never be without each other." He waited. Maybe if he just played along, Scott would let him out of the room.
"Don't lie to me, Christopher. You knew exactly what you were doing by then didn't you? They came because the house had a reputation for being dark and foreboading." Scott's voice was silkier now.
Panic welled up in they younger man's chest. He hugged his knees more tightly. Scott was dangerous. He knew that. He'd seen it. He'd seen the agression in him, the anger, the danger that lived inside of him. He was as wild as Logan, but twice as cold. Remy liked him, but Christopher couldn't figure out why. "Why do you care? They're dead!"
"That's why I care. You killed them. You killed people before them. You killed the people who wanted to help you too!"
"You didn't want to help me. You just wanted to get your team and leave me all alone! You deserved it. You deserved everything Jack did to you!"
Scott's eyes narrowed.
"You're a killer. You're a demon. He should have killed you! He should have beaten you to death before you could kill him."
"Be careful, Christopher, we're the same you and I. We're both mutants. We've both killed. Don't claim I'm evil. You're scared of me. Why?"
"Because you're mean!"
"How am I mean?"
"You hit me."
"You made me believe I was an abused whore, we're even." Scott sighed. "I want to help you, Christopher. I'll be honest, part of me thinks that I should hate you, but I don't. I want to send you to someone I think can help you."
"I don't want to leave Remy."
Scott sighed. Christopher looked up through his bangs. "I'm sorry. That's not a consideration. I have to act in the best interest of all of us. You hate me, that's obvious. You think I should have died. Well, too bad. I'm here. I'm not going to let you do anything to hurt any member of my team ever again."
"I'm not hurting them! I'm making them stronger."
Scott snorted. "I'm not that easy to manipulate, Christopher. You can do it with your powers, but not with your words. I've talked to Remy. He's told me about the fact that you want to watch us all die. You want to use our energy. That's murder, Christopher and I will not allow it. Hank is going to work with you until you process regular foods properly. Then, we're going to send you to Scotland so that Moira can help you. She's a specialist in training powers. She's also a lot more patient than I am. She'll make sure you get all your schooling done properly too."
"No. You can't send me away! You can't! I won't let you. I'll disappear into the walls!"
"Christopher, I won't let you run away."
Christopher cringed away from the flat voice. "I want Grandpa to talk to me, not you."
"The professor?" Scott asked. He nodded. "Fine. I'll call him for you."
"Don't leave me alone!"
Scott sighed. He sat down on the edge of the bed. He put his hand against Christopher's back. It was warm. Christopher bit his lip, then turned. He wrapped his arms around Scott's neck. Scott hugged him fiercely. He rocked, murmuring soft words that the young man didn't try to decipher. It wasn't Remy, but it would do. "No, you won't be alone. Not here. Not Scotland. Don't worry, kiddo, it'll be okay."
"I want my parents back."
"So do I, Chris, so do I."
Charles watched his son on the montior. Hank was fussing over Remy's medication on the other side of the room. "Oh, Scott," he murmured to himself. It was such a shame that Scott and Jean had never had a child after Nate. There was still time, but it was growing tight. In another year or two it would be too dangerous for Jean to carry a child. Charles closed his eyes. What did I do to them? I took away any semblence of a normal life. That was what I was supposed to give them. Scott was supposed to have a chance to be a normal child, to grow up safe. I made him a soldier. Charles laughed bitterly at himself.
Bobby stood in front of the stove. He took a deep breath. He turned on the burner under the soup. He released the breath shakily. Warren was watching him with a little frown. "You okay, Popsicle?"
"Fine," Bobby snapped.
"Bullshit," Warren responded just as sharply.
Bobby ran a hand through his hair. "Sorry," he said. "I'm just having a case of nerves. I'll be fine."
"Have you talked to Jean since we got back?"
"Because I think you need to. Christopher even got to the professor. Talk to one of the psis and have them make sure his tracers are out of your head. Trust me, it'll make a difference."
"Betsy did you?"
"Every night possible."
Bobby threw a snowball at the older man, laughing. Warren grinned and winked.
Cable joined the professor in the med-lab. He looked in at Christopher. The young man was talking to Scott, tears on his face. //He looks innocent. I know what he's done, but he looks innocent. Even Slymm looks like he could cause trouble, All-American boy or not.//
//True. But Christopher, for all his age and experience, is a child. His first form was probably truer to his emotional age. Scott wants to send him to Moira.//
//That would be the best. The team needs to be in fighting shape. They've been run ragged.//
//It would cause him great distress.//
//What will be, will be.//
//He needs to understand the consequences of his actions. The bruise on his jaw isn't enough of a consequence. Look at your team, professor. Scott's jumpy. Jean's afraid that she's going to hurt Scott. Bobby's afraid of the flonquing stove. Gambit's developing a lovely case of Mono. Hank is wearing himself out looking for a cure to a disease that may have no cure. If Magneto came to call, he could wipe you out in an instant.//
//Thank you, Nathan.//
Cable shrugged at the professor's sarcastic tone. //I've never seen Scott this jumpy, professor. I've never seen Gambit so still. I don't even like the arrogant bastard, but have you really looked at him? He's been in agony for weeks. You'll have to send one of them away to break the link between them.//
Charles grimaced and Cable knew without having to check that the professor didn't want to acknowledge that he'd missed the pain his students had been in. He'd seen the carelessness that had given Scott a migraine. He may have had his differences with Scott, but there was no excuse for harming anyone in your own clan. He watched Scott comforting the person who'd just put him through Hell and wanted to scream. Not one day ago Scott had been contemplating murder and now he was trying to reach the man and get him to agree to the transfer to Scotland.
Hank took a small sample of blood from Remy's hand. "Why won't nobody let me out from under this t'ing?" Remy asked, batting at the plastic that surrounded him.
"Because you are still linked to Christopher and we don't want him interfereing in the process of your treatment. If you break the link to him, perhaps we could consider removing it. Until then, it is for your own safety. Why do you dislike it?"
"Reminds m' of somet'in'," Remy said quietly. "I hate bein' in this lab, Henri. I just want t' go back t' my own bed. Can't sleep right here."
"Unfortunately, I cannot allow that. You know I have always let retreat to your room to recover. I am not doing this out of spite or to be cruel. Quite simply, you are too ill. You're system is too weak for you to rest in your own room." Hank put a gentle hand on top of Remy's. He smiled. "Please, just let me take care of you for awhile. Once you've overcome your exhaustion and I'm sure that your illness is controlled, I'll allow you to go back to your room with Storm as your nurse."
"Mais, I'd prefer Roguie, but she ain't like t' do it."
"True. I doubt that she would enjoy getting soup on her gloves."
Remy snorted. "That girl's gloves got t' be bleached every night, cher. I know. I done it for her a few times. Strange not t' see y'all as water-colors no more. Almost f'got what all of y' looked like. Scotty, I remember. And ma petite Stormy. But Jean and Betsy, they almost completely gone from m' head."
"There was significant damage Remy. My formulas were only able to minimize some of it. I wish that I had been able to better serve you."
"Non, Henri, y' always take good care of this fool Cajun. Y' always so gentle. Mais, it ain't you I get scared of."
"I know. I have my suspicions. And one day, when you're well-rested, I'll sit you down and ask you point blank."
"Ah, cher, why not now? Least give m' the opportunity t' use m' pathetic and sad puppy-dog eyes 'gainst y'."
"Exactly why it must wait, my friend. I refuse to give you any devestating weapons. You look like a waif. You've lost more muscle weight than I like, but a few weeks of regular meals and some conditioning should bring you back to yourself. For now, rest, even if you don't sleep."
Hank turned back to his desk to process the sample. "Henri?"
"You're always welcome."
Betsy snuggled into Warren's arms. "I've been thinking," she said, then stopped. Warren's arms tightened around her in a brief hug. "I've been thinking about wedding dresses."
"Yes. And flowers. I want purple flowers."
"And cake? There's got to be cake or none of my friends will come."
"Of course cake. Angel food cake and devil's food cake. With Twinkies for Hank and Bobby on the side."
"Sounds good. Ballroom?"
"Yes. And I want Ororo to officiate."
"She's not legal."
"We can get a judge to do it then. I want her to do a blessing at least. That way I'm sure the weather will be good."
"What sort of food?"
"Chicken, beef, shrimp."
"I didn't realize you were that into meat."
"Ah. You have a point. And the Scotland crew has some serious meat-eaters too. We'll have to have veggie dishes for Storm and Gambit."
"Do you think we could con him into cooking?"
"No kissing Cajuns. Got it?"
"Got it. So, did you two work out whatever it was?"
"Will you tell me?"
"No. Go back to planning."
"Hmm. Gold table-clothes to set off the purple flowers. Candles all over the place. What songs?"
"I don't know. Something sweet and sappily romantic, I guess. So when are we doing this?"
"Sometime after you get off your arse and propose, I'd guess."
"I'll have to find a ring."
"Do. I'll be waiting for it." She turned to straddle his lap. "Until then, though, lover," she grinned. Warren smirked up at her, hands on her thighs. "You're over-dressed."
"Scott, are you sure he needs containment?"
"Moira, for once, believe me the first time?" Cyclops snapped.
Moira McTaggert frowned at his image on the video conferencing screen. "What's wrong?"
"That boy!" The X-men's field leader took a deep breath, obviously pulling himself together. That was a bad sign. Cyclops was always in control. She hadn't seen him look this frazzled since the Phoenix died. "Moira, if you can't contain him, I'll kill him instead. Your choice." His voice was cold and flat now. She frowned more deeply.
"All right then. Fly him to me."
The young man's posture slipped. "I can't. I need you to come pick him up."
"I can't simply. . ."
"I ain't allowed!" Scott snapped. He took a deep breath, then released it slowly. "Hank's been feeding me morphine for my migraines and Rogue doesn't have enough air time to take up the Blackbird. I'd send Cable, but then we're all dead here if there's an attack."
"What about Storm? She can fly."
"Gambit's in the med-lab. Hank's still not sure he's going to survive the loss of the parasitic link Christopher has with him. So, no, Storm can't fly."
The sheer exhaustion that inched into Cyclops' speech decided her. "I'll send Kurt right away. Get your boy ready."
Scott knocked on Christopher's door. Then, he entered without waiting for an answer. The young mutant scowled at him. "Let me out!" he demanded. Scott studied him for a moment.
"Let me put this collar on you and I'll let you out of the room."
That stopped the sulking. "Fine. Do it. I shouldn't be surprised that a whore is into that sort of thing."
"You can't hurt me with that name, you know." Scott locked on the suppression collar. The small green light came on, indicating the completed circuit. Christopher stomped out the door. He froze a few steps from the doorway.
"No! No! It isn't fair. You can't do this!"
"I can and have. There's someone I want you to meet."
"You can't make me."
Finally, Scott couldn't stand it one more moment. He gave Christopher a wallop across his ass. The young man gaped at him. "Listen to me, Christopher. You will do what you are told, or you will suffer the consequences. Am I understood?"
"You aren't my father!"
"Your father is dead."
The brunette went ashen at that. Scott took petty satisfaction in that. He took the boy's hand and led him to the hanger. "Here you go, Moira. He's all yours. And Christopher, if you act up or harm her in any way, I will let loose all the things you fear about me." The brown eyes widened.
"I want Remy. I won't leave without him!"
"Remy is not yours. You have no right to him after what you've done to him. And if you think putting someone you profess to love into the hospital is proper behavior, I need to give you a proper spanking before she takes you to your home."
"Home. Moira's going to take care of you the way we can't." Scott sighed. He brushed a lock of hair out of Christopher's eyes. "Let me give you a gift. You know we all have mutant names, right?"
"We chose our own names. I have a suggestion for you, if you want it."
Christopher looked at him for a long moment. "What is it?"
"Crucible. Do you know what it means?"
"It's a pot you use for transforming substances that need a very high heat. But it's more than that. When you put something in a crucible and heat it, it reduces to its core elements. You see how it reacts. I won't say I'm happy about what you've done with your powers, but you've stripped us down to our base selves. If you can learn to control your powers, you might be able to do a lot of good. Let Moira help you. Find out who you really are. Then, if she agrees and Hank agrees, we'll see about a teleconference with Remy. It's his choice though. And you have to do the work first. No guarantees."
Christopher's eyes were filled with tears. "I don't want to go."
"But you can't stay. We can't take care of you."
Moira put out her hand. Christopher took it. His reluctance was obvious. Scott watched him leave. The brown eyes looked at him. He didn't let anything disturb his poker-face. He could show no weakness. Once the door was closed behind him and the plane was in the air, Scott sank down to the floor. They had a lot of rebuilding to do, but at least they'd survived. He didn't leave the safety of his hanger until Cable came to get him. "Come on, Slymm."
"I never wanted to give you up."
Cable didn't move. "I know," he said finally. "You did what was best for me. And you did what was best for your team." He offered his hand and Scott used it to get up. "Let me stand watch a few weeks more."
Scott nodded. "I need a drink."