Wolverine finds Gambit in New Zealand, Christchurch to be exact, huddled on a bench under pretty trees in a lovely park.
Gambit, hunching over the cold in his gut that the tattered trench coat he still wears cannot warm, is staring at the path in front of his feet.
A shadow crosses the spring sun and a weight settles on the other side of the bench. Gambit sighs, as quiet as he can, and prepares to unfold himself and find another place to - exist, he supposes - until the hostel opens again that evening.
He straightens. Shifts his weight forward.
"Where you going?"
The rough voice freezes him. Gambit turns his head to look, right hand reaching for the handful of rocks squirreled into the inner pocket of his coat. He doesn't need the waft of tobacco smoke carried on the chill spring breeze to identify this trouble.
"Think you're looking for different kind of company, homme." Gambit debates taking his hand away from the pitiful projectiles in his coat, but leaves it there. Maybe, at the last, he might find enough pride to make a last ditch defense. That way he can go to his cell or his death feeling a mite less spiteful towards his own self.
"Nah. I think I found it," Wolverine says. "You eat today?"
Gambit shakes his head. He truly has not been hungry since the Ice. He forces something down himself when he feels any kind of energy returning, but that's not often.
"Come on. There‘s a place I know." Wolverine stands up.
Gambit wants to say something scornful. Wants to walk away, but has nowhere to go. Doesn't care to keep fleeing, at any rate. That leads to nothing in the end. He creaks to his feet, watches Wolverine turn toward the street.
“What’re you waiting for? I didn’t fly halfway around the world for my health,” Wolverine says over his shoulder.
Gambit follows in his wake, catches up to him at a street crossing. He doesn't ask where they are going, just walks at Wolverine's shoulder, until Wolverine opens a door.
Steam drapes the windows of the tiny Vietnamese restaurant. Inside it is warm, so warm that the few other customers are in shirtsleeves, despite the chill day. Wolverine leads the way to a table in the back, near the rear exit and kitchens. The tall booth shields them from the other diners. They can talk if they choose, but Wolverine isn't a talker, and Gambit doesn't think his own bon vivant nature returned from the Ice.
The waiter, an old man, probably the owner, Gambit thinks, brings a menu, but Wolverine ignores it and talks to the man in Vietnamese.
In a few minutes, the old man puts a bowl of broth down in front of Gambit, and a tiny cup of green tea.
Something in Gambit's stomach shifts. The soup is clear, has nothing solid to tear him up, but it smells like meat. Like land. Like energy, and perhaps, the future.
"Drink up, mon ami," Wolverine says, his voice almost gentle. "Don't waste it."
No. Wasting food, that cannot be allowed, Gambit thinks. That was an early lesson from the streets.
So he sips the soup. Tastes onion and chicken and garlic and spice. The soup tastes the way good food should taste. His stomach twists a bit, but not terribly. Drinking slow, Gambit takes it bit by bit into him. He does not care whether the soup comes back up as long as it does not twist his guts and make him feel.
This liquid is the first meal Gambit can call as such in longer than he can figure out - on the Ice he ate raw penguin, and chewed on fish, and swallowed down skua eggs, and in the jungle lands, he ate what he could when he could for fuel. Food was not a priority then.
Meal times, with his friends or colleagues or guild mates gathered around, they had always meant something to Gambit. He has always considered himself an essentially solitary creature, not by choice but circumstance, and meals with company have been a bright spot in that singular life.
Wolverine is barely looking at him, here in the small shop, and Gambit is grateful. This time he has no interest in conversation or camaraderie Has no idea how to get back to that. He does not want to set up expectations of more, of getting his old life back.
Gambit does not let himself buy into a rescue fantasy.
When Gambit is halfway through the broth, the old man brings Wolverine a bowl. Wolverine dumps in some rice and makes a mess of it all with the chopsticks. His food smells fishy and spicy.
Gambit's curiosity sparks, a tiny flare.
Wolverine takes a mouthful, chews, swallows. "Want a bite? Squid and chilies," he says.
"Is it hot?"
"Might even be hot hot, the way you like it," Wolverine says. He holds out the chopsticks.
They've never been best pals, or even good pals, but they've eaten out together, and Wolverine likes to share his food around, sometimes to see if it's too spicy for everyone else, sometimes because he's feeling friendly, but mostly, if he has something good, so you can be jealous of what he has.
Gambit takes up squid and rice and sauce, sucks it off the end of the chopsticks. "Needs hot sauce," Gambit says.
One shoulder lifts in a shrug, and Wolverine digs into his food. "The old man thinks you should eat it how you get it."
Strange to have such a normal conversation with one of his betrayers. Stranger still that this small talk feels natural. He hasn't had a friendly conversation with anyone for months. Since before the Ice.
Human connection has been lost to him. He had accepted that his past, his friendships, his loves, his comrades, were gone, erased, untraceable and unrecoverable.
Wolverine does not appear to be of the same view, acting as if nothing has changed.
The ice riddling Gambit, if only in his thoughts, still dominates, does not miraculously and symbolically thaw under the slow assault of hot broth and Wolverine's care. He expected nothing else.
The soup disappears into him, bland since the bite of spice off Wolverine's plate. He takes the tea, because it is in front of him, and drinks it off. He sets the tiny cup down. This is kind of a hole in the wall place, but there's a pale green cloth over the table.
Civilization once again. He should feel something about that.
The food brings enough energy back that Gambit rouses himself to ask a question when Wolverine leads the way out of the restaurant. "Where are you taking me?"
"Where do you want to go?" Wolverine stops, turns. Curious.
Wolverine rolls his eyes. "Don't try that cat who walks by himself shtick with me, Gumbo."
"There is nowhere," Gambit says, searching for words that convey facts, not self pity . He wants to say this right the first time. "Where I was welcome before, where I was just tolerated, I am no longer. Where should I go?"
"You're coming with me." Wolverine beeps open the door of a rental car, a big truck. "Get in."
"Where?" Gambit repeats, while wondering at his own vehemence.
"Not the mansion. Okay with you? Get in the fucking car." Wolverine does not wait for him, but takes Gambit by the back of the neck, opens the passenger door, and puts him inside.
Wolverine does not speak or tell him their destination. He just drives.
If Wolverine were going to kill him, he would not play with him. Gambit can trust him in that. If he were planning on turning him over to another tribunal, well, there is little Gambit can do to stop him. Does not want to stop him - as long as they intend to finish it clean this time.
He tries to summon the resentment he'd felt during his trial, that these mutants, all of them sinners in one way or another, dared to sit in judgment on him, but can not rouse a flicker of indignation from his own brain.
So be it.
He is in Wolverine's hands.
There are worse places to be.
The truck comes to a stop at a small cabin hours from the city, in a remote, rocky dale that is too small to be called a valley. The road for the last hour has been nothing but green hills and rocks.
The spring is colder here than in the city. Gambit wraps his coat around closer, and wonders why he feels the cold like this, when heat seems to have no effect on him.
The one room cabin is stocked with basic food, left on the table in cardboard boxes. The open space holds a big bed and a couch, a shelf of battered books, an old TV, old videos.
Wolverine drops a duffel bag on the bed, takes out a stack of clothes, and presses it to Gambit's chest.
"Go get a shower. It's through there." With that, Wolverine goes outside.
The worn-soft jeans, thin black tee shirt, gray wool socks, these are his, Gambit realizes, gear he'd kept at the mansion. Wolverine has brought him his own things. He clenches his hands around the fabric. Does this mean he is forgiven?
With a shake of his head, Gambit abandons that thought. If Wolverine had come to take him back, he'd have taken him off directly, or to a hotel to wait for their flight. Gambit's abandoned gear was convenient, no doubt, and Wolverine isn't one to take extra trouble over trifles like clothing.
He takes himself into the shower and washes quickly. Works snarls from his hair with shivering fingers, and throws on the fresh clothes. Slides the trench over top that.
A fire burns in the iron stove. Wolverine has claimed the couch and the remote. There's some kind of sport on the screen.
"Get some shuteye," Wolverine says. "You look like hell."
Gambit does what he is told, and gets under the blankets, fully clothed except for his boots. He dozes, though he doesn't expect to. He half dreams, of frozen mountains and jungle valleys, of enemies he has no name for. In his sleep, the ice creeps closer again, extending fingers of cold throughout his torso, into his legs, through the narrowest blood vessels of his arms.
The cold brings Gambit awake. He huddles closer into the quilts, but they don't warm him. At least he can sleep a little, here where no one can get at him without going through Wolverine.
The neutral tone of a nature program mutters from the television.
Wolverine stirs. "You warm enough, kid?"
"Non," Gambit says.
The television clicks off. Wolverine comes over to the bed, kicks his boots off and slings his jacket onto the bedpost. He frees the covers from around Gambit's shivering body and gets into bed next to him.
When he joins Gambit under the blankets, Gambit immediately turns to him. He knows it's futile, but Wolverine is just so warm. He knows that heat is there, he can sense it, but that fire that burns in his friend cannot cross the barrier of his own skin.
Wolverine puts an arm around him and tugs him near. Gambit closes the gap, eliminating all space between him and Wolverine, who just grips him closer. "Why you? Why are you here?" Gambit asks, blanket half over his head, his voice muffled in Wolverine's shirt.
"I don't believe in kangaroo courts or throwing stones, kid," Wolverine says. "Go to sleep."
Gambit sleeps, to wake, and sleep, and wake again.
Maybe Wolverine does the same. He always seems to be awake when Gambit shudders out of unconsciousness.
Sometime later, Gambit again swims out of confused sleep, stirs. "Why?" he says, not entirely certain he actually asked the question earlier, not entirely certain Wolverine had answered.
"Lot of people have forgiven me a lot of things, a lot of things I actually did. Maybe you're not pure, but you did less than me. Maybe life isn't fair, but maybe it needs some help to even the odds," Wolverine says. "And I'm here because I want to be, not because someone told me to come. Now would you shut up and go back to sleep?"
In the morning, Wolverine shoves a couple of sandwiches in his jacket pockets, throws a thermal shirt at Gambit and some thick socks, and announces they are going for a hike.
Gambit has two solid hours of sleep under his belt and hell, he's spent the last however long walking over frozen wasteland, a lot. Hiking he can do. In a way, it's perfect, an activity where they don't have to talk, he doesn't have to think, just pick up feet and put them down again.
Wolverine sets a hard pace. Gambit welcomes it. His lungs work hard, his muscles loosen. He's surrounded by green, not endless shades of white or black.
When Wolverine allows a halt at midday and hands him a sandwich, Gambit almost remembers what desire for food is like.
"Why come here?" Wolverine asks. He tears the crust of the bread into shreds and lets the wind take the crumbs.
"After I got off the Ice, ended up back in America," Gambit starts. He takes another bite and swallows. "Nothing was right. I wasn't welcome anywhere. Not put up with, neither, it felt like. Despised, even. So I came here. Closest you can get to the Ice without going there."
"That either makes a hell of a lot of sense or none at all," Wolverine says. He shakes his head. "On your feet, soldier."
A bit after lunch, they reach a rocky ledge on a hillside. Wolverine stops and looks out over the countryside. There’s a bit of space here, like it’s a local beauty spot, and the trail extending away is barely a scar on the grass.
In the distance, a glacier glints and beckons. One broad hand on his chest forestalls the step Gambit wants to take, and Wolverine shakes his head.
"You really want to go visit? Throw yourself on the ice until you die?" There's curiosity, not censure in his voice, but it's not like Wolverine approves.
Yesterday, today, it's been like coming into the heat with frostbitten toes, and the thawing flesh hurts.
"Thinking on it," Gambit says, but he's already hesitated, and Wolverine drops his hand.
"It'll still be there tomorrow, if you want it," Wolverine says, and turns back down the trail, leaving Gambit to make his choice.
Gambit lets his feet carry him after Wolverine. That night, wearing two thermal shirts and Wolverine's favorite sweatshirt, the one with the X symbol that doesn't yet have any holes in it, he heats food from cans at Wolverine’s command and fakes watching a movie.
He remembers that he's never liked the Dirty Harry movies, but doesn't complain, wrapped in a blanket on the couch next to Wolverine.
The days become marked with tiny milestones: on the second day, they hike in a different direction, and Wolverine stumbles into a cold mountain stream while telling some tired story Gambit's heard at least five times before, soaking his jeans to the thighs in mountain snow melt water. The indignant look on his face makes Gambit's lip quirk up.
On the third day, they wake together, and lie in bed for half an hour, Gambit's hand on Wolverine's hip, Wolverine's hand stroking through Gambit's long hair.
The frost inside him has crumbled, eating away at the ice. He’s almost warm.
That day they hike back towards the glacier, and Gambit looks at it hard. From here he can see how the ice color changes, can tell without thinking what the shadows and dips mean, where to walk and where to edge around rotten ice.
He turns away before Wolverine does.
They talk in the night, throughout Gambit's broken rest. He drifts to sleep on those gruff tones, that big hand stroking down his back, the muscled arm thrown casually over his side.
Wolverine talks in general about the cabin, the hikes, New Zealand and the places he has been, some of their shared good memories, at other times pushes Gambit into a half-hearted debate on the best way to fix the brakes on a motorcycle, or whether the Saints will win a Super Bowl in Gambit’s lifetime.
And Wolverine gives him the gossip of the life he left behind, the couplings and fights and pranks that come with life in a communal setting, life in a subculture whose members are more different than they are the same.
Gambit never asks about Rogue and Wolverine never mentions her.
On the fourth day, Gambit gets up before Wolverine, throws on most of the warm clothes they have between them, and goes for a run over the hills. His legs could be in better shape. He can feel the long muscles of his thighs stretching sore at the angle of the slopes, the hitch in his breathing as his lungs fill deep. His natural grace creeps in and takes over, and he rediscovers the ease of not having to watch every step.
Wolverine is waiting for him in the doorway of the cabin when he returns, sweating and flushed.
“Looking good,” Wolverine says, and drags him in for a fast embrace. Gambit, more alert than he’s been in weeks, can feel Wolverine’s relief at his return.
Inside him, the ice begins to wear away around the edges in great chunks.
On the fifth day, Gambit pushes his way through a training kata, following Wolverine‘s usual practice, and that afternoon, they spar.
Wolverine holds back, but that's not new. It's so familiar, Gambit could weep.
Gambit is sure to get in a couple of good shots, that at least drive the breath out of the big man, before he ends up yielding, with Wolverine’s knee in his back.
Gambit is starting to feel like half the man he was.
His reflexes are sound, his agility untouched. It's not his body that is frozen, it's his brain and his heart, his trust and his loyalty, he realizes, nursing his bruises in the shower.
On the sixth day, rain pounds against the cabin. Wolverine builds the fire up and they play chess, then watch movies on the couch, Gambit under Wolverine's arm, their sides touching everywhere they can touch. When the second movie is over, Wolverine says, "What happened in Antarctica?"
What should he say? That he was abandoned, betrayed, in the harshest place on Earth? Wolverine knows that. Does he mention how it feels to be ridden by a spirit? To ally oneself with an enemy - again? Should he tell him of the surreality of finding a jungle in the center of the Ice? Or what all that white did to his eyes?
Or the lighter moments, when he realized that he could charge ice, that Emperor penguins are huge, or the discovery that taking a leak in below zero conditions was an adventure?
Gambit tells him all these things. He pours out whatever he can think of, whatever stray thought or immaterial event pops up from his brain with the serious events, the main story.
It is not a coherent narrative.
Gambit talks until he runs out of words, lulled by catharsis, distracted by Wolverine’s fingers running through his hair.
“You really get around, kid,” Wolverine says. Then: “You shouldn’t have had to go through that. I’m sorry.”
Great frozen crystals calve from the iceberg weighing down Gambit’s gut.
On the seventh day, the next morning, Wolverine hands him a pack of cards. They're not his favorite brand.
"Something you want blown up?" Gambit asks. The cellophaned encased cards tap onto his palm. With expert fingers, he frees the cards and weighs them against his palm.
"Since when did you ask for permission?" Wolverine takes out a cigar and pretends not to watch him.
Gambit maps the thick rectangle shape with his fingers, shuffles through the thin pasteboard images: two of clubs, nine of hearts, Queen of Diamonds, his Ace of Spades.
Without thinking, his hands shape the cards into a perfect cascade, catches them in his left hand, works them back into a deck. He flips over the top card - the Queen of Hearts - and walks it over his knuckles.
Gambit concentrates, imbues that single card with a whisper of the energy churning within him, and snaps the Queen of Hearts into the air. The card blows at the top of the arc, and he catches his breath at the fireworks. His fingers hum with power, the need to work that energy into reality from possibility.
Instead, Gambit stows the deck in his pocket against the future, something he has dismissed as irrelevant for months. He is coming back to himself, under Wolverine’s hands off care, and now Wolverine has decisively reminded him of who he was and who he should be, and Gambit is grateful.
That night, with that pack of cards on the nightstand within touching distance, Gambit lets Wolverine love him.
In the near complete darkness of a half-moon night, Wolverine pulls the quilt over both of them as always, and Gambit rolls close, toward his warmth.
Wolverine leans in and Gambit shifts the last few inches and their lips meet. He tangles his hands in Wolverine’s thick hair. Wolverine kisses him deep and slow, taking the lead. Gambit wraps a leg around Wolverine’s hip and levers him closer.
Wolverine stretches over him, still bestowing open-mouthed kisses with the concentration of an artist. His heavy thigh brushes Gambit’s cock through the old sweats he‘s wearing. Gambit’s cock rises at the touch, cautious, it seems to Gambit.
It’s been months since he’s been hard.
Calloused hands find their way under Gambit’s sweatshirt to explore ribs and belly, to push against nipples. Cool air follows Wolverine’s hand, and Gambit squirms a little.
Wolverine shifts back and shoves Gambit’s sweatshirt over his head, drags his sweatpants down, and tosses his own clothes off. Then he covers Gambit with his bulk. “It’s alright,” Wolverine murmurs. “I’ll keep you warm.”
“I know,” Gambit rasps. “I know.”
Wolverine lowers his head to bite at Gambit’s jaw, nip his throat - not enough to leave a mark - and Gambit tips his head over, craving more of that sizzle of pleasure. His collarbone is next, though here Wolverine uses his tongue.
Perhaps Wolverine has a plan mapped out, and is following it, Gambit thinks, breath coming faster, his skin warming, under the big man's thorough investigation of his pleasure spots. Every stroke or nuzzle is deliberate, unhurried. Wolverine's touch carries a pledge of later pleasure, not an edge of tease, even as he is nuzzling Gambit's cock and lapping at his balls.
A hand on Wolverine’s shoulder to guide him back, and Gambit touches his muscled chest, feels the harsh hair under his fingers, test the shape of him against his imaginings. He fancies he can feel the metal encasing his lover's collarbone and ribs, under his lips when he kisses the man's sternum. He thinks he can taste who Wolverine is, lips, teeth, and tongue testing biceps, pectorals, trapezius.
Wolverine ducks his head to capture Gambit’s mouth again. His movement brings their cocks together, and together, they groan.
Another shift and sensitive flesh glides against sensitive flesh. Hips move of their own volition, setting a perfect cadence.
It’s not long, though, before Wolverine moves back. “Not so fast, kid. Something else I want. Been thinking about.”
“Anything you want, cher. Just don’t stop,” Gambit says.
Wolverine reaches for something, and then slick fingers stroke into him. Gambit pulls one knee to his chest to give his lover more scope for action. The fingers curve. They expand. Gambit sighs.
"Come on. Please." Gambit catches at Wolverine's shoulder.
"Bossy," Wolverine mutters. He sits back on his heels and urges Gambit's legs wide. With a long arm he retrieves his jacket from the bedpost, fishes out another packet of lube, rips it open with his teeth, and gets himself ready.
"Been waiting for this," Wolverine says and kisses Gambit’s chest right over his heart. He shifts forward, and his thick cock nudges at Gambit's entrance.
Gambit reaches for Wolverine, grips his hand. Gambit has forgotten this, too, but he's glad he can't remember the others. He is glad that it is Wolverine's touch and his movement and his body that will stay with him, now, when he thinks of sex.
Wolverine presses forward, opens him by half inches. With his free hand, Wolverine strokes Gambit's cock, in time to his own movements. Gambit's hips jerk towards him, pushing his cock against Wolverine's calloused palm. Gambit's short nails dig into Wolverine's shoulders, brings an under the breath growl from his lover.
The cock stretching him retreats, returns. Gambit rocks to meet his lover, and they move together like water against a shore, unhurried and inevitable.
"Perfect," Wolverine says, muscles straining to move slow, sweating with the need to draw this out.
Wolverine leans forward to kiss him, stills his hips. Gambit makes a protesting noise against his mouth, and Wolverine thrusts again, rougher, irregular, losing his hold.
Gambit drops his hand to his own cock. The stutter in Wolverine's thrusts heats his blood. The flame leaps higher in him, and Wolverine responds, the drive of his cock urgent, in the grip of a feverish need.
Waves of pleasure surge through Gambit. Wolverine drops his hand to Gambit's cock, and together they build the fire until it burns him up. A cry escapes his throat and his nails dig deep into Wolverine's shoulders at the roil of pleasure.
Wolverine, looking into Gambit's face as he combusts into orgasm, features twisting in pleasure, comes with a groan that might be Gambit’s name.
Gambit puts his hand against Wolverine's pounding heart. Wolverine drops his head to Gambit's shoulder, breathing hard.
"Thank you, cher," Gambit says. "First time I felt good all over since the Ice."
"You're welcome," Wolverine says. He pulls away and drops on his side next to him. "Though I should be thanking you."
"If you must," Gambit says. He stretches, long and lithe. He is tired, but the sheer weariness he has been fighting has all but dissipated.
Wolverine puts an arm over his chest, gets up close to him. The room is not that warm, and the sweat drying on Gambit's body doesn't help, but Wolverine at his side does.
Gambit drowses, but he can feel Wolverine wakeful next to him, keeping watch. At length, Gambit turns on his side and burrows into Wolverine's bulk. Wolverine lets himself be arranged to Gambit's liking.
"I want you. Want to be with you." Wolverine says, in the dark.
"You think we can do that?" Gambit is not certain whether Wolverine wants the outcast, the project, the man who needs justice; Wolverine feels the tug from all those aspects, he imagines. That's okay. Gambit is all those things, and no matter what happens, whether the X-Men take him back, or the Thieves Guild, none of that will change. Gambit will forever be marked by Antarctica.
"If that's what you want, too," Wolverine says, hesitant.
"Yeah, cher. You and me together. I want that," Gambit says.
The ice inside him is gone.
On the eighth day Gambit climbs to the rocky outcrop alone and looks at the glacier.
That river of ice holds no power over him now.
It's time to go home.
Wolverine is in the yard, splitting wood, stripped down to a tank top in the mild spring sun. He straightens when Gambit turns into the yard from the rocky trail.
"Will you help me seek justice?" Gambit wraps long fingers around Wolverine's forearm.
"Non," Gambit says. Takes a deep breath. "Revenge don't change nothing. I want - I need - to move on. To live. Justice continues. Revenge just ends."
"I'll do whatever you want." Wolverine tosses the axe away, pulls Gambit close so that their foreheads touch. "Though I hope you don't want to go right this second."
"Couple days, maybe," Gambit says. He's made his decision. He feels strong enough to confront his false accusers. But today, tomorrow, these are for feeling alive, with his lover. His ally.
Justice will come at the time of his choosing, not that of his enemies.
“I’ll be standing next to you, whenever you’re ready,” Wolverine says.
Gambit grins, the particular cocky grin that bodes ill for his enemies. "Question is, cher, are they ready for us?"