"Pic'a card - Pic'a card and win de pot." Remy kept up his cheerful patter as he shifted the three bent and creased cards on the little folding table he'd set up on the sidewalk. "Win it all. Win every'tin. Jus' pick de diamond."
He flashed the Ace of diamonds and a grin at the crowd he'd pulled. Then he dropped the card, palming it at the same time, and shifted the three dummy cards rapidly on the table. Three card Monty was a modern descendent of the old shell game -and as honest. Most folks knew it too, still the crowds always gathered around when he started his patter. They'd put their money down and Remy would gather it up.
It the patter people came for really and Remy figured he deserved something for entertaining the crowd, most of whom wouldn't throw a dime down. And he could run this line in his sleep; he'd been fishing in folk's pockets like this since he was eight.
"Der you go." Remy grinned at the lanky young black man, who'd been fidgeting at the side for several minutes, then scratched his hair through the knit cap he had on. "Put down w'at you want and maybe you get it all eh?"
A five joined the pile of mixed bills on the table and Remy ran his line then lifted his hands away. This time he'd even left the winning card in - giving the kid an honest chance. Still, he picked the wrong card. "Ahh - bad luck dat."
"Fuck you, cheater!" He snarled. "I bet the card ain't even in there."
Remy rolled his eyes behind his dark glasses and folded his arms, glad he had left the card in this time. Two minutes ago the kid would have been right. "Turn 'em over den, monsieur, and look for yourself."
The man flipped the cards and snarled another curse as the diamond came up, he glared at Remy who gave him a smarmy grin and held up his hands. "No'ting in Remy's sleeves eh? Maybe you play again and have better luck?"
The man only glared at him and pushed his way through the amused crowd. Soon enough he had a nice little pile. Remy chose one or two people to 'win' and keep the crowd interested; giving the pretty girl a smile as she collected her money and left. He watched her go in that little pleated skirt and wished she'd stayed around. Then he shrugged. Even in a city like this - it was a small world. Maybe he'd see her again. Maybe not.
When Remy did see her again he really wished maybe not. The girl in the flirty skirt was a nick - and he hadn't caught on. She came back in her uniform and didn't look nearly so pretty while the crowd scattered like flies from shit.
"You might want to re-think your career." She said, tapping the rickety table. "Three-card Monty is illegal in New York City."
"Officer - Reese. Remy new to dis wonderful city." Remy gave her a placating grin. "Dis no con. You saw for yourself eh, mademoiselle? Dat man - he jus have bad luck and you have good luck."
She snorted; sweeping her hand across the table and making the money on it disappear nearly as neatly as he could. "Maybe so but the only luck you're going to have here is bad."
"Ouai." Remy nodded, uncomfortable grin not budging an inch as she stole his honestly stolen money. It looked like he wouldn't be going to jail today though and that was worth half his take. "Remy see dat."
"Why don't you move along and get in trouble on someone else's time." She said.
Remy didn't wait for the nick to change her mind. He scooped up his cards and table and was off with a cheery wave and an extravagantly blown kiss. "T'anks Mademoiselle Officer! Remy be your best friend."
Officer Reese scowled at him and he wisely kept on moving.
Whistling, Remy strolled down the crowded New York streets, table tucked under his arm. The air was hot and smelly, the people rude and he had a death sentence hanging over his head. The last though, was nothing new and Remy didn't give it a passing thought. The hair dye and the cap - he scratched at it again - should keep him suitably invisible as long as he kept a low profile.
All around him the buildings, and the people, were comfortably sleazy. He'd never been to New York before but Remy had lived almost all of his life in places like this. The traffic was heavy as all the cubicle drones headed home or to the local bars and the fall sun was beginning to set. Remy squinted in the dull orange light, even behind the dark glasses it bothered him.
Juggling the table, Remy rolled a cigarette and he was just getting it lit when movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.
"Hey, mister -" The young voice wavered between fear and false seduction. Remy's mouth thinned as the girl sidled onto the side walk from a the stoop of an abandoned hotel. She was young and frightened. "- you look like you could use a friend. I can be friendly."
The lanky thief's mouth ticked up as she up to him. Closer he could she was jailbait and pretty in a pale kind of way with huge cornflower blue eyes and stubborn turn of her chin that the streets hadn't beaten out of her yet. She was also a mutant with that milk pale skin streaked by powder blue, faintly iridescent stripes like a fantasy kitten. "Yes? Remy new to dis lovely city. No friends me."
She smiled at him and canted a hip more confidently at his interest. The pink halter top was tight and low and revealed the small curves of her pale breasts. She'd be popular enough with all the old men who dreamed of young girls and Remy's stomach clenched with anger and pity. "I can show you something then. If - if you like - "
She trailed off uncertainly and Remy kept his smile to himself. She needed to work on her street patter, too much of the well bred schoolgirl showed through. He didn't think she'd been on the streets for more than a month or two and probably less. Now that he was paying attention, he could see the boy on a nearby corner in his dropped jeans and low cap watching them. Her pimp was as young and uncertain as the girl and Remy couldn't help but be sorry for them both. They were both hungry, he could see it in their eyes, and desperate and afraid. He didn't have any doubts that they'd both end up with someone older, more experienced and crueler soon enough. That was the way of things and there wasn't anything Remy could do about it.
Remy tried to turn away but the sink of despair on their faces - he couldn't leave. He'd been there and known that same crushing helplessness and anger. He'd watched too many people turn their backs. Instead he tossed head with false cheerfulness. "Ouai, cherie. Remy could use a friend and maybe you too eh?"
He held out his hand but she slipped under his arm to press against his side. This close he could smell the cheap perfume and practically taste her fear. Remy kept his smile bright and oblivious. "'Ow about some food first, cherie?"
The girl tried to look casual but he could feel her tense with eagerness against him. Remy had eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world - but tonight was Kentucky Fried Chicken bought with the last of his scammed money. They sat in the dented plastic booth and Remy divided his attention between the crowds outside and the girl across from him gobbling down greasy chicken, potatoes, salad and - he'd insisted - the brownie dessert.
"W'ats your name, cherie?" He asked gently when she'd slowed down a bit.
Those startling blue eyes lifted to his for a moment, even her pupils seemed to be a particularly intense shade of violet rather than the more normal black. Remy wondered if she saw the world differently than everyone else.
"Randi." She said blushing.
"Ah - Randi it is then, cherie."
No more her name than the little pink halter or the stretch red velvet skirt were her clothes. "'Ow about you show Remy around the city?"
She looked surprised, the bit her lip. "I - thought you might want to see something else. Something more - private?"
Remy smiled gently and put a gentle hand on hers. "Remy told de truth, cherie. He's new here and wants to know the city. Mebee we walk a bit eh?"
Randi's face crumpled with warring fear and hope and Remy's hand shivered slightly on top of hers. Skin to skin, he could feel her conflict like it was his own. She was afraid to believe that was really all he wanted. "Remy can make it worth your time eh? He knows - you're a working girl."
"How much?" She mumbled, clearly embarrassed.
"Forty dollars - an hour of your time, cherie. Show Remy around dis big city."
Randi nodded so eagerly her flyaway pale hair fell into her eyes. Remy leaned back with an smile. He didn't have a cent on him, after their dinner, but he'd change that by the end of their ramble.
Randi wasn't the best tour guide for the city - Remy found out with gentle, indirect questions that she hadn't been here very long herself. Instead they explored the nearby city blocks together, walking along some of the fancier streets and pressing their greasy fingers to the glass. It was worth every stolen penny to have Randi tugging with normal adolescent impatience at his hand as they went from place to place; looking at the skyscrapers or the newest display of high fashion in a window.
But it couldn't last forever and Remy's cheap SRO had a 10 p.m. curfew. Their steps slowed as they came back to the familiar corner with the Kentucky Fried Chicken, the crooked streetlight and her pimp - waiting restlessly.
"'Ere Randi." Remy pulled out a billfold he'd stolen during their stroll and opened it to find about sixty dollars in mixed bills. He handed her forty of them. "And you tell him you did your bit eh? No need to tell him w'at I wanted, cherie. De pimps don't care - so long as dey get der money."
"He's not my pimp." Randi said defensively. "He's - he's my brother."
"My name is Rachel." She said suddenly and defiantly, glaring up at him. "Not Randi. Rachel."
"Bon Notte, Rachel." Remy said with a genuine smile. He bowed extravagantly over her hand, he could feel her real pleasure and her relief. As he straightened up though, her misery returned. The night wasn't over and Remy couldn't hold back the cruelty any longer. She tried to pull away but he held her a moment longer.
"Be careful, Rachel. Remy said seriously. "Dis not a good t'ing you're doing. Make dem - make dem wear rubbers at least eh? And -"
But she jerked away, angry at him for reminding her of her fears. She ran off, towards her brother, yelling over her shoulder. "You just mind you're own fucking business!"
Remy let her go. He couldn't offer her much more than what she had, he had to remember that. He had no place to stay, no more money than he could steal and no future.
It wasn't by accident that Remy was at that same corner the next night. Rachel was there and her tired face lit when she saw him.
"Bon Notte, cherie." Remy said and pretended he didn't notice the blue shadows under her eyes. Forty dollars, in this city, didn't buy a place to sleep. She and her brother were probably sleeping in the same alley she was working out of. He had more money today. Remy had made a point of it. "Dinner and den some more exploring eh?
"Alright." Rachel said, slowing down as she came close and tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. The pink halter top looked a little worse for wear and so did Rachel. Remy sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. Clearly she'd continued working after he'd left. Remy could do so little for her.
"Eh, Rachel - you're frere can come 'ave a meal too."
Remy shrugged and smiled wryly. He was very far from the gutters he'd grown up in and the Big Island patois was nearly a foreign language here. "Your brother. Bring him along, we all go walking."
They didn't come back for a few moments and her brother was clearly dragging his feet when they did.
"Ra - Randi says you'll buy us some dinner." The boy watched him suspiciously from under the brim of his Red Sox cap. "I ain't giving you nothing for it."
"Ouai." Remy nodded casually. They turned to the KFC. "Remy don want dat sort of thing. Like he said yesterday - he's new here. Aint' got no one to talk too. 'Ow about you trade your name, homme?"
Rachel snorted. "Stefan. I told you he's alright -"
"Shut the fuck up, Rachel!" Stefan hissed.
"No problem, eh?" Remy said with a shrug. "Remy don care what names you use. He used a few himself."
Remy held the door to the KFC open and bowed the two in. "What tonight? Remy's treat."
He couldn't offer much more than this. Remy paid for their food and his own. He'd never been to New York City before - and he'd been cut off from all his resources. What could he do for Rachel? And her brother? And all the other children he hadn't met, whoring or starving, dealing drugs and dying in alleys. Remy couldn't change the world. He couldn't keep parents from throwing their own kids out like they were garbage. He could only offer a meal and a little time, a handful of bills that might buy a few more days of food and let one girl turn one less trick.
Stefan - Slice - was clearly suspicious but that didn't stop him from getting the family size meal and filling his pockets with the biscuits for later. Only when they'd mostly finished did anyone speak again - they were all hungry.
"Why?" Slice asked around a mouthful of pudding.
"Why w'at, homme?"
"Why'r you - helping us. Her. Especially."
"Mmm - " Remy studied the boy. He had the same stubborn chin and pale blonde hair and was perhaps a year older than his mutated sister. There was no sign of anything abnormal about him. But there was loyalty in him, and love, and Remy knew without them saying a word that he'd followed his sister onto the streets to protect her. He could see it in the bitterness in the boy's eyes and the guilt in the girl's. He lifted his glasses and gave them both a wink. "Remy got his reasons, eh?"
"You're a - you're one too." Stefan yelped then dropped his voice, glancing warily around as Remy winced and made shushing gestures
Tears welled in Rachel's odd eyes and she clutched at Remy's hand. "Like me." She whispered. "Like me."
"Ouai." Remy said softly, returning the grip. Very much like her.
"Are you - " Rachel's voice broke and her hand tightened, desperately hopeful. "Are you from the school?"
Slice shoved at his sister. "I told you that was just bullshit."
"W'at school? W'at are you talking about, cherie?"
Rachel scowled at her brother and shoved him back, which made Remy smile at the sheer teenage normality of it, then turned back to Remy. "I heard on this pro-mutant chat - there's a school. Just for mutants - no humans allowed. You can do what you want and everyone there is a mutant, even the grown-ups. It's not really a school it's like - like a special neighborhood. It's big and there are a lot of mutants, all different kinds and no one cares."
"We couldn't find anything like that we - we looked." Rachel was still looking at him and the hope in her eyes wasn't yet dead and Remy wished, longed that he could tell her she was right. That he was from a place where everyone was a mutant and everyone was safe.
"Cherie -" Remy said, voice wrung with helplessness.
Rachel focused on her food and stabbed at her brownie dessert. "Yeah, I know. It's bullshit."
This time, Remy had a goal and they made his way, as if by chance, up a few blocks to where the streets were little better but a cyclone fence protected a small struggling garden and some brightly painted wooden benches. The roar of a highway could be heard nearby and there was a blue and purple sign painted on the wall said 'Heart's Hope - Making the Journey Together'.
"Dat's a shelter for kids." Remy said, nodding at it as he rolled then lit a cigarette. He'd seen the sign in his rambling through the city and there was no cross, he didn't think the place was religious. He could only pray to Mamma Erzulie that the kids weren't too proud. "Place to sleep. Place to get food and medicine."
But Slice scowled and Rachel hugged herself and bit her lip.
"W'at?" It wasn't outraged adolescent pride they felt but anger and misery.
"They won't -" Slice broke off.
"They won't take me." Rachel said sadly. "'Cause I'm a mutie."
Smoke shuddered out of Remy's nose and his fingers trembled with rage but his voice was mild. His vision blurred briefly with Rachel's tears. He stared at the place - it had seemed nice - a little piece of hope in this terrible city. But not for everyone. Guess muties didn't even deserve hope.
"And Stefan won't go."
Remy rested a hand on Rachel's shoulder and on Slice's. "Dat's 'cause the frere loves you. And dat's a good, good t'ing to have. Der ain't many who get dat - mutie or monkey."
Slice shrugged his hand off, blushing. "You're fucking weird, you know that?"
Remy chuckled. "Ouai. You ain't de first to notice."
So later, Remy turned over his money and watched them go. So little. He could do so little.
The next day, Remy rolled out of bed at noon and staggered sleepily down the hallway to the shared washroom. Wrinkling his nose at a lingering odor, he brushed his teeth and washed up. Dressed in a pair of worn military cargo pants and a T-shirt advertising a drink he'd never heard of, Remy settled his glasses and his cap, swung his long coat on then went out to find a cup of coffee and start his rounds. At least it was cloudy out and the light wouldn't be a problem.
Lunchtime was the earliest Remy bothered to get up. In the morning, people were too rushed to be easy marks for a pickpocket and in New York everyone wore coats in the morning which made it harder. Remy was a lazy man and he'd much rather wait until lunch when everyone had slowed down a bit. By the time he reached the hole-in-the-wall Turkish specialty store he had enough money for his coffee and next week's rent as well.
"One, eh?" Remy held up a finger to the old man behind the counter. "And - dis - and dat. And dat too."
He had to point. Between his accent and the man's less than perfect grasp on English the two of them were reduced to sign language. Still, it wasn't long before Remy was sitting at one of the rickety tables on the sidewalk, watching the marks go by and having a breakfast of thick, dark Turkish coffee, a manakesh and bitter chocolate. Remy smiled at the cloudy fall day, feeling almost civilized.
When he was done, Remy slipped into a deserted alley and organized his take. He moved all the money into one wallet - choosing the best of the bunch - tossed the credit cards, cursing the new thumbnail photos that made them useless for a quick purchase and threw the billfolds, photos, and other junk into the gutter. Once upon a time - when he'd been a prince among thieves - he'd drop all that personal stuff in a mail box to be returned to their owners. Nowadays he couldn't risk being traced by his prints.
Since his arrival, Remy had been familiarizing himself with New York - the good and the bad. He'd been 'moved along' but the police in the new - sanitized for the tourists' protection - Times Square and propositioned more than once along several red light streets. Someone had tried to mug him; Remy had just laughed and suggested she find someone with a little money next time. He knew Grand Central now and Ground Zero. Today he returned to the homeless shelter with the little garden and the false promises it made.
"'Allo?" Remy sidled into the waiting area and smiled at the young woman behind the second hand desk. The little room was painted pale blue and covered in posters reminding people to use condoms, schedules of support groups with titles like the 'Getting Ready to Leave the Street Life' and similar things. It only made Remy angrier - if this place had been some fundamentalist facade their rejection of Rachel and her brother wouldn't have bothered him so much.
"Hello?" She smiled back. Remy thought she might even be pretty but she had that social worker's wariness in her eyes. He watched her take his measure - seeing the ragged clothes and the narrow build and neatly pegging him as a drifter. "What can I do for you?"
Remy tugged off his glasses and watched her eyes go wide. "Want some help, me."
The girl shuffled some papers nervously then, clearly uncomfortable, looked back up at him. Remy's pulse jumped with sudden anger as he sensed her rejection an instant before she opened her mouth. "I'm truly sorry but we aren't equipped to handle mutants at this facility."
She really was sorry but Remy was too angry to care as he heard her confirm what Rachel and Slice had told him last night. He leaned forward, looming over her, sick with rage. "Ah? Where den do I go? Starve on de street like a dog? T'ought dis place to help people! But - wait - dat's right. Muties ain't people are dey? Okay to die, okay to be killed."
The receptionist slipped quickly out of her seat and backed warily up. "That's not true! We can't - "
"Non? Den why you turn kids away eh? 'Cause they look different? Dat going to keep them warm at night? Sorry?" Remy shoved her desk over in a crash of breaking glass and scattered papers, breathing in furious snorts through his nose. All he could think about was Rachel getting pawed over by old men and boys starving to death on the streets and this spoiled, rich white girl telling him sorry. "Sorry don't feed no one! Sorry don't keep no one safe! Dis place - dis place a lie!"
"That's enough!" The bellow came out of one of the back doorways and Remy spun around. The receptionist took that moment to dart away and out a door behind the desk. "Out! Out of here - you need to leave!"
The man barreling through the door was built like a linebacker; big, black, determined and wearing a clinic coat with the rubber snake of a stethoscope spilled from one oversized pocket. Remy snarled and swung around.. He wanted to make them open their eyes, make them help. Remy wanted to make them see him, force them to help Rachel and all the desperate others.
"You take yourself out of here, we can't help you and you need to leave. Or be arrested for property destruction."
"W'at? You actually need dis crap? Ain't it all for show? Just to make all you rich folks feel good - "
The man's mouth clamped in anger but he didn't say anything, just yanked the door open. "Get out! If you're injured the Martin Luther King General Hospital still accepts mutant emergency admits. I'm sorry but there isn't anything else I can suggest and you need to leave. Now!"
Remy stalked past him, still shaking with rage and disappointment. He glared at the man who narrowed his eyes but didn't look away from Remy. "Someday - someday t'ings are going to be different and you monkeys are gonna pay de price for spitting on us."
The man jerked his chin at the sidewalk, refusing to rise to the bait. "I'm sorry but you need to leave."
"Sorry -!" Remy spat on the floor and turned his back on the man, the place and it's empty promises. Outside, he paused on the sidewalk, hugging himself and still shaking with anger. His eyes burned and he fumbled out his glasses. He should know better - he did know better. Remy knew there was nothing but closed doors for mutants in the world. Nothing but hate. But he kept hoping. He kept hoping and no matter how hard he tried - he couldn't stop.
"Fuck dem." Remy whispered, squeezing his stinging eyes shut for a long moment. "Fuck dem all."
He pulled out a paper and his tabbaco pouch, rolling a cigarette to calm his nerves but hurried footsteps behind him made Remy swing around, spilling the leaves. It was the receptionist and faint pink sparks danced over the paper in his fingers as all of Remy's anger came rushing back. "W'at de fuck you want? Dis sidewalk public property. Remy can stand here all he w'ants."
"Fuck you, couchon."
"Dammit!" She snapped, voice heavy with guilt. "We tried! We tried to help. Do you think we want to turn you away? Anyone away?"
"Non? Don' look like dat to Remy."
The woman's full lips thinned. "We had a kid explode in our clinic. Explode! She killed one of our doctors and herself. Or the boy who was an obligate carnivore - we couldn't feed him enough, not without letting others go hungry. We can't help everyone. There isn't any money. We have to chose and - half the mutants we see are so different. So dangerous. We had to chose."
"Fine." Remy snapped, fingertips burning as he tried to control the charge he'd built in the paper. "Fine you chose and dey chose and every other place chose too and some people - some kids gon' die on de streets b'cause you afraid."
They glared at each other and Remy could feel something - something from the woman that made him step closer. As if she were measuring him. As if she wanted to say something more.
"W'at?" Remy moved closer to her, voice softening. "Jus need help, dat's all. What you wanna say, cherie?"
"There's a place, maybe." She whispered, glancing at the sidewalk, at the street. Anywhere but at him. "That helps mutants. A school. For mutants."
Remy's eyes widened. The same story as Rachel's. A school. A refuge. Bullshit, Stefan had said. But maybe, maybe not. Maybe something more than a fairy tale and Remy felt again that treacherous hope.
"Where is it, cherie?" Remy asked urgently. "W'at school?"
But she shook her head. "I don't know anything else. Just the name. I'm not sure it's real but - I've heard about it. That the school takes mutant kids in. Helps them. Takes care of them."
"Baisez -" Remy shoved the phone book off the rickety desk and onto the floor where it slid to join the newspapers, printouts and other books. Rubbing his face wearily, Remy listened to the nearby sirens. He hadn't known there were so many schools in New York. "And so many called 'Xavier's' eh?"
There were at least two or three in every burogh of the city; there was Xavier's Preparatory School on the west side and Xavier's Montoressi uptown. St. Xavier's run by the Jesuits and Xavier's International School where the Chinese diplomats sent their children. Remy had visited every one.
He'd passed by playgrounds and watched fresh-faced white girls bound along playing soccer, he'd loitered on sidewalks and seen bus loads of suspicious black kids lounge their way through another day, kids in blue plaid polyester uniforms, kids in jeans and two-hundred dollar Nikes. And human, every one. No kids with green hair, no kids with webbed hands. No special school just for mutants.
"No surprise, la chienne was just lying to Remy." Remy sighed, pulling on his coat. He needed to find some money and see if Rachel and Slice were at their corner today. He was going to make them have fun if he had to kill them first. "Dey go and open a school for queer kids, Ouai, but not for mutants."
It wasn't a good day for money. Most of the wallets Remy managed to pull were full of small bills - or nothing at all. Grumbling about the economy, and the bright sunlight, Remy organized his take and went to find the kids.
He hadn't seen Rachel or Slice for a couple of days but Remy wasn't worried just yet. Leaning against the crooked lamppost he lazily rolled a cigarette then blew smoke at the clear blue sky. They were just making sure that he knew he wasn't important, didn't have any say in their lives, wasn't someone they depended on. So Remy didn't worry and casually loitered in the area to see if they'd show today.
"eh - Bonjour, Rachel." Remy said, smoke gusting out of his nose in a sigh of relief as she came up to him with a shy smile and a brightly striped stockings under a pair of far to short shorts.
"'Ow about we all call in sick eh?" He suggested with a grin, tipping his head to Slice who sidled up casually after his sister. "Take de day off. Go to de park?"
Slice was doubtful but Rachel gave him a desperate look and he gave in with a sigh and a smile. Remy paid the hot dogs they bought along the way to the small, local park, and the purple and pink icy Rachel wanted, using his hard stolen money before it even had a chance to warm up his pocket. That was the deal with Slice; nothing for free, and if he wanted to buy them food and fun instead of taking Rachel off to a cheap hotel room it was still going to cost him. Because anything else would be charity and Slice didn't do charity.
But the sun was free, the air was free and if anyone looked at them funny while Remy coaxed a teenage girl dressed like a whore and a boy dressed like a desperado into playing on the jungle gym with his own exuberance, none of them noticed.
They played Frisbee - 'Ah, look w'at Remy found, eh?' - until they were too tired to stand, then chess until the afternoon warmth pulled them back to the grass.
"Ah - non - no more upside down for Remy, 'less you want to see dat purple ice again?" Remy, shirttails hanging into his face and his narrow belly bare to the fall sun swayed on his hands, heels kicking lazily in the air, before he flipped neatly back to his feet. With less grace, Slice mimicked him, hat falling away and blond hair shining.
"Show me!" Rachel bounced onto her hands and spilled back onto her knees as she lost her balance. "C'mon, Remy - show me how!"
"Ouai, cherie." Remy laughed and grabbed her ankles as she threw herself back onto her hands. Her ankles were thin and the bright striped stockings torn at the knee, revealing a bit of blue downy fur. She wobbled on her hands as he held her upright. "Stretch up, bebette, don' be scared, Remy got you."
All the fun was scared away by sudden, mocking laughter. Rachel jerked, tumbling down as Remy pulled away to avoid her shoes. His head snapped around to glare at over at the noise through his glasses.
"Got yourself a pretty pussy," the boy grabbed the crotch of his pants and leered at Rachel. They were all boys, not worth Remy's time, not in his mind but Slice lunged for them, sputtering curses. Remy lunged after, 'cause Slice didn't move like he knew what to do with his fists. There was a little dance, him holding Slice back while the kids - some wearing uniform ties - danced around them both wailing like cats and calling 'kitty, kitty'.
"Sister needs you now, en?" Remy grunted as Slice lurched again. "Remy take care of dese boys."
He shoved Slice to Rachel who clutched at him and stalked the kids who suddenly looked a lot less brave at the crooked grin on Remy's face. He flicked a card out, letting most of the charge burn off in pink smoke. "Der more dan kittens here to scratch you."
"Remy is a big kitty," he snarled and slung the card at the group; the firecracker pop made them all shriek and scatter. Remy straightened up with a mocking crow of satisfaction, grinding the last of the pinkish smoke out with his foot. The yellow and red of a school tie caught his eye, dangling from the strap of a backpack dropped at the base of a nearby tree. His grin widened and he sauntered over to the abandoned schoolbags. They were the boys and losing their homework and - Remy pawed through the bags, finding an Ipod - their toys was a small, pleasant revenge.
His grin failed when he found Slice and Rachel, hearing her before he saw her, feeling her sobs like his own.
"Cher -" he dropped the bags at her feet, sinking onto the wooden bench. But she shoved him away, leaning into Slice.
"You're a pimp aren't you!" She wailed, face screwed up like the kid she was. "Just - wanna - wanna have my p-pussy!"
"Non!" Remy recoiled. "No, cher. Remy jus wanna - "
"- be friends!" She shoved at him, all the hurt in her finding the wrong target and even if Remy knew it he still felt it. "Go away! Friends? You wanna play with kids, huh?"
"Non! Non! Dat ain't it, cher and you know it! Remy got no hots for young girls!"
"Go on," Slice muttered with an unhappy glare when Rachel only shoved him again and Remy slipped off the bench to be away from all that misery. "Just go on will you? Jeez. Like we can't take care of ourselves."
Remy wanted to be responsible and Remy wanted to say the right thing but what came out, sharp and hurt, was, "Ouai, cher, Remy believe dat - when you not living in a back alley!"
"Go away! Go away!" Rachel leapt up and shrieked. "You make it worse! Trying to be nice to me! And then some - s-s-some old man fucking me! Petting his 'pussy'! I don't wanna have fun! I don't wanna have friends! You just go away!"
All that pain, he knew it wasn't for him but it hurt like it was. And Rachel was pulling attention with her yelling and wailing. Slump shouldered, figuring maybe he'd catch them later, Remy walked off, scowling hard enough to scare the pigeons. He wished he hadn't driven the boys off, because he could use a target for all of Rachel's anger boiling inside him. He rolled a smoke with shaking fingers, hating the world to make a girl feel like that. Hating that he had to feel it too.
There had to be some other way, something more than the streets and being a freak; hell if Remy knew what it was.
Remy wasn't worrying. No, it was just habit that brought him back to the KFC and the corner where Rachel never was. Not worrying because there were lots of corners in the world for a girl to hang on, lots of alleys to sleep in and in a city like New York, not finding people happened all the time. Best he could hope was they went home. Remy hoped they went home and their momma opened the door for them and there was dinner on the table and clean sheets on the bed and they never paid no mind to the streets they'd lived on or the stranger's they'd met.
Remy spun that line, walking the streets with no one to talk to, no one to feed, no one to say his name. The house would be warm and the air would be sweet with paprika and the voices heavy with Cajun slang. There'd be good wine and a place to lay his head with no fear. The warm rain would kiss like a woman, Remy pulled the collar of his army coat tighter with a grimace as water ran down his shades, not like New York rain. Remy was so sick for home he wanted to lay down and die.
"Remy! Remy-y!" The tackle came with the name and Remy - heart hammering at being discovered - flipped his attacker over his shoulder, knee in his belly and knife at his throat before he recognized Slice's wide, terrified blue eyes.
"Bioque!" Remy stood, hauling Slice with him, tangled in the thin white cords of the kid's Ipod. Shouting in his face because he'd nearly killed the brat. Adrenaline was sour in his mouth and he spat onto the sidewalk. "W'at you thinking eh? Jumpin' sombody like dat gonna get you killed -"
"Shut up! Shut-up - dammit!" Slice's tears weren't new and the fear wasn't of him as he dragged in a desperate breath and shook Remy's arms so they were doing a strange little dance on the sidewalk.
"W'at, w'at -?"
"W'at you mean, gone?" All Remy could think was Rachel lying cold in an alley. Dead. Gone. "How gone? When? What de fuck happened?"
"Someone t-took her - this big fucking car - dammit!" Slice started crying again, gasping out his words between sobs. "I h-hate this fucking place! Sh-she didn't come back, figured - figured it was a john."
Remy shook him again, and pulled them both into the shelter of an alley. Needing the shadows at his back instead of the blank, carefully neutral faces of New York passing them by. "Talk to Remy, cher. Start at de top. 'Ow long she been missing?"
Every hour, he thought, shaking with nerves. Every hour was one less hour Rachel had. The longer a girl was gone, the less chance of her ever coming back. He let Slice go, stroking the boy's shirt back into order with fidgety fingers before pulling out a smoke and lighting up to calm his nerves. The thief in him woke up, finally, questions sharp on his tongue.
With someone to talk to, someone who sounded like they'd help, Slice pulled himself together. Remy watched him settle his cap and drag the sullen, hard street mask over the fear and the love he could feel boiling in the boy.
"One night," Remy hurried Slice out of the alley and turned back to his SRO once he'd dragged every bit, every memory Slice had from last night out of him. "Dat not too bad -" and maybe still too long. Remy racked his brains for the recent news, trying to remember if he'd read anything about someone out killing prostitutes - or mutants. All he could recall was Xaviers, a list of useless schools. "And dat a SUV you're talking about. Dat a whole different kinda person than what drive a van."
It was easy enough to get Slice into his room and sit the kid down on his rumpled bed. "I got some of the plate number -"
"Hmm?" Remy grabbed a piece of newspaper and a pencil, scratching down the half-number. "No more? Close your eyes, cher, and t'ink about de back of de van. What else eh?"
"It was kinda dark," Slice closed his eyes obediently, brow furrowed and grubby face looking young with the tear streaks and pinched with fear. "Um - there was a bumper sticker -"
"W'at it say?" Remy breathed, leaning towards him as if he could somehow pull the memory out of Slice's head. He was counting his own heartbeats, measuring them against Rachel's. Every one could be one less she had. If she wasn't dead already.
"I c-can't remember -" Slice pressed his fists to his face, breathing harshly. "God, I wanna go fucking home!"
"W'at it look like, cher. Don cry, dere's lots to do still. It be okay."
"It was red and yellow - oh - and one of those 'Honor Student' things, I think. My - my dad had one -"
"Red and yellow?" Remy's eyes fell on the white ear-buds dangling around Slice's neck. "Eh, where'd you get dat?"
He tugged on the cord.
"The ones you left, the bookbags," Slice said, confused. "Had this and some school crap and some money even."
"Did you keep de books? De homework and stuff."
"Nah, it was all crap …"
And a red and yellow school tie tied around one strap, Remy remembered. It was his turn to shut his eyes, waving off Slice's questions. Red and yellow and an Ipod and him trying to remember if there was a school name stamped on anything he'd spent a few moments rifling through a week ago. He'd been trained to remember details, because everything was in the details but he couldn't be working every minute of every day. It was Rachel's tears he remembered. The boys' harsh words and the gratifying fear on their faces. Not boys, Remy built the day in his head again. Some of them old enough to drive, seniors in their school. School uniforms with kaki pants and red and yellow ties half undone over white shirts.
"Red and yellow -" he muttered. "Red and yellow."
"Yeah, Rachel liked the tie," Slice muttered.
Remy's eyes snapped open. "Was she wearin' it las night?"
"Uhh - think so."
"Hastings!" Remy scrambled for the phone books still scattered over his floor. "Dat's w'at I saw, Hastings High."
There wasn't one in New York. Like the mythical Xaviers, it couldn't be found. Remy threw the book across the room to slam into the wall. A moment latter, his neighbor hammered back, shouting through the thin wall for him to beat people up somewhere else.
"Fuck you!" Remy yelled.
"Maybe it's a suburb." Slice piped up uneasily. "There's a lot of suburbs in New York. And what does it matter anyway?"
Remy scowled at Slice thought fully. "Remy t'ink mebbe dose boys from de park are what got Rachel. 'Cause of de sticker and de ties - de same color."
"That seems kinda -"
"Makes sense, non?" Remy broke in, because if he was wrong, then some random stranger had picked Rachel up and they'd never find her. So, he had to be right, or right enough to make Slice easy in his mind. "De boys was pissed but too scared to do nothing open. And Rachel - they remember her non? And de books, I remember de name on 'em. And she wearing de tie. De park - not so far from where you two hang out."
Slice believed him and listening to himself, Remy thought maybe there was a chance he was right. Enough chance to find this Hastings and find some pictures of the students and find some addresses. Then ask some questions.
"Non!" Remy shook Slice off - again. "Not coming wid me, Slice. Remy take care of dis."
"She's my fucking sister!" Slice snarled.
"An you not know your ass from a pry-bar!" he snapped back.
"I can take care of myself!"
They were arguing their way down the street from the 'Boyzone Internet Café' and Remy was blessing the city that never sleeps with every step. Even at three in the morning, he'd found an Internet connection and from there, he'd found Hastings High School, Westchester NY. Now all he needed was a car and to get rid of Slice. He wasn't going to lose the brother while trying to find the sister.
"Look," Remy turned on him, expression hard enough to make Slice step back, surprised at how thoroughly the casual, easy-going Remy had disappeared. "Not coming wid me. You staying at de SRO and waitin'. Remy jus askin' some questions and getting' som addresses and he not got time to argue wid a punk! Neither do Rachel, eh?"
Rachel's name quieted Slice and Remy used it ruthlessly to get him away and back where Remy could lay hands on him again. Remy stopped at a late model four-door.
"Didn't know you had a car," Slice said.
"Remy don't," he muttered and smashed the window with an elbow. The car alarm began to wail but he paid it no mind, just like everyone else. After years of the nightly chorus of false alarms, there wasn't anyone in America that responded to the sound of a car alarm going off. Reaching in and opening the door, Remy brushed glass off the seat and gave Slice a final warning.
"Be at de SRO," he said. "Your sister, she gonna need you."
He drove off.
This late, even New York had clear highways and Remy put the pedal down and flew out of the city, slowing only when he reached the kind of places experience told him a cop was likely to loiter, looking for speeders. Westchester wasn't so far and Remy could see a bunch of bored kids coming into the city after school. What they were going to do with a mutant girl, Remy had too many guesses, he hoped they'd just scared her then abandoned her out here with no way back to the city.
Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, Remy alternated between watching the streets and reading the MapQuest instructions until the flat brick and concrete buildings; complete with baseball field in the back, told him he'd found Hastings High. A spotlit sign, in familiar red and yellow, confirmed it. He wrenched the car to a stop in a side street and got out, bits of glass plinking to the tarmac.
The suburbs were quiet, eerie, when Remy was used to the sirens and the arguments, the occasional gunshots of the city. It made him nervous, like there were eyes on him, as he skulked across the street where a cyclone fence kept the kids in their place during school hours. It was a moment's work to swarm over it and drop down onto the neatly mown grass. Slipping in and out of the shadows, Remy found the Administration Building and broke in.
The student records room was neatly labeled for a thief's convenience and the button lock was nothing but a pause with his leatherman tool. Tucking the end of a mini-maglite into his mouth, Remy put himself at a computer and began the irritating process of searching the student database. Again, the beating of his heart reminded him of the minutes passing and he scowled and muttered his way through the passwords and firewalls to the pictures that most every school kept of their students these days - for safety, of course.
"Der's my boys!" Remy crowed softly in a few moments. There were the faces he remembered, all buttoned up and looking sweet for the cameras. He memorized names and addresses with narrowed eyes and a hard face. Those boys weren't going to be so pretty when he was done with them if they'd taken Rachel. Underneath the rush, rush of looking for her there was the bitter taste of frustration; another mutant gone missing, another bunch of monkeys thinking they could push somebody around because they were blue or green and no one to care. He snorted angrily and slapped the computer off. Remy cared. This time, the monkeys were in for a surprise.
It was only because it was so dark back behind the school that Remy noticed the dim light in the gym building at all. He almost passed it by, figuring it for a forgotten light but the flicker of a half-seen shadow caught his attention. Someone was in there, someone too careless to be a thief - and what was there to steal in a high school gym anyway? Footballs? He hesitated, torn between finding Rachel and his sense that something was going on over there that shouldn't.
"Won't take long, non?" Remy muttered reassuringly to himself as he darted silently to the light.
The light spilled out from a bent gap in the aluminum blinds on the other side of the glass; it had to be dim even inside. The window was slightly above his head so Remy gripped the edge with long fingers and hoisted himself up for a peek with a soft grunt. Sneakers scrabbling on the bricks for purchase, he peered in past the blinds to see a face he'd just left behind in the computer. "Merde -" he breathed silently. One of the boys, then another, and both of them not so clean cut in the middle of the night with eyes bright with excitement. Remy couldn't see enough, the room was bigger than his view, to know what they were doing. They were too far for him to get a sense of anything about them.
"Doin' something you ain't supposed eh, brats?" Remy murmured and dropped silently to the grass. Circling the building, he found a back entrance, already open for him. He slipped inside, drifting like a lanky ghost in the dark, past the locker rooms - with the smell of sweat and water seeping from them - and towards the back of the building where he'd seen the light. Voices first - one voice especially.
"I'm sorry!" it was Rachel, crying. "I'm sorry! I didn't take your stuff. S-someone else did. He gave- gave it to me! D-don't hurt me, please, don't hurt me!"
"I heard muties don't feel pain like real people -" laughter and a yelp that had Remy racing silently to the door, cards caught between his fingers, shining vaguely pink in the shadows. "Guess that ain't true, huh."
"I heard muties make lousy fucks -"
"Wonder if that's the truth huh?"
More laughter. Rachel whimpering.
"I heard monkeys feel pain real good!" Remy shouted as he crashed through the door, pausing just long enough to mark the targets. Rachel on the floor, torn and bloody. Five of the boys, with the look of sharks in their eyes, eyes that went wide at the sight of him.
The flash-bang of his cards, scattered the bullies, and Remy leapt in to straddle Rachel. The boys were screaming, Remy caught one, flipping the edge of his sneaker under a knee and sending the kid down with a choked yell. "Get up, cher!"
"There's only one!" Someone from the back, egging on his friends. Fear thick in the air, they rushed him, more because Remy was between them and the door than any courage.
"I c-can't!" Rachel's hands on his pants pulled him to an unwilling halt. A fist smacked his arm then the crush of bodies were on him. They were clumsy, Remy put his elbows and knees where he needed too, dancing over Rachel, keeping her safe. Blood spattered his knuckles as he knocked someone's teeth out. Screams reminded him these were only kids and Remy hesitated then took a punch to a kidney for it. "My leg -"
"Remy got you!" A card thrown to clear the floor in an explosion of rose smoke, the glint of light on cold steel made Remy reach down to haul Rachel onto his shoulder with a panting curse. Her grunting in his ear and clutching his jacket while he swept someone's feet out from under them. Someone had a gun and Remy wasn't staying to find out who. "And you bastards too - ! You ain't playin' wid little girls no more!"
He kicked his way to the door, paying no mind now to the fact these were kids, hearing a real shriek of pain as one of them went down. Remy was running from the gun, running from the moment when whoever had it remembered to use it. Thanking all the spirits that these kids were dumb, looking for nothing but a helpless kid to push around.
Remy hit the door with a jolt he felt all the way to his shoulder and sprinted down the hall to the corner and safety, Rachel getting heavier on his back every step of the way.
"Non!" The burn and the bang! of the gunshot hit him at the same time. Remy tried to twist, tried to make it safe for Rachel but he was going down, leg buckling. Her wail was chopped off when she hit the ground.
"Got the fucker!" Someone crowed in triumph.
"Jesus -! You shot - shot him!" Someone not so excited.
Remy rolled back to his feet with a groan, teeth clenched he threw his cards down - kings and queens all - they went off with more than a bang and a flash this time. The ceiling tiles shattered and rained down in the stretch of hallway between the boys and Remy. When he pulled Rachel up, she groaned.
"Ah - cher," Remy panted, feeling the warm, wet seep of blood down his leg. Carrying her, he hobbled awkwardly for the door. "Stay wid Remy, s'v plait."
No surprise that the boys didn't follow but Remy still hurried to jump the car and get the hell out of there. There would be police soon enough and he was bleeding and, Remy glanced over at Rachel as the streetlight slid across her face. He needed to find a place to get help, a hospital.
"Rachel, cher - you still der?"
Vague mumbling. All one side of her face was black and blue; blood matted the fine fur on her face and still dribbled slowly from her nose. Licking his lips, Remy reached out and pinched her arm, steering one handed. "C'mon, cher, don sleep on me now."
"Don't - don't feel good," Rachel whispered then moaned. Remy jerked back as she heaved onto the seat between them. She hardly seemed to care - or even notice - and Remy hit the gas and the car raced down the dark streets. He didn't know where he was going but they had to go - somewhere. Somewhere safe.
His leg, Remy could handle on his own, bullet had hardly more than grazed him. But Rachel, she'd hit her head and Remy didn't like the way she was limp and moaning. His hands tightened on the steering wheel. He'd been clumsy and he'd been stupid and Rachel was paying for it. They needed help and Remy knew how little help there was out there. Still he pulled over to a pay phone in a parking lot. Leaving the door open and the engine running - Rachel wasn't going anywhere - he slipped out to page to the hospitals.
"Eyah - listen, got a girl hurt -" he said into the phone for the fourth time. "She a mutant -"
"Fuck you, sorry!" he shouted and slammed the phone down. Feeling the burn of tears in his throat, Remy leaned his forehead against the cool plastic. The early morning breeze ruffled the pages of the phone book and he heard the first of the early birds. Turning his head, Remy could see Rachel's slack profile. He had to do something, it was his mistakes that brought her out here - the boys had picked her up because he'd been stupid. It was like he'd hurt her himself.
"Cher - " he whispered. "Cher - it be okay. Remy, he find a way to make it right."
His fingers found their way through the pages of the phone book as Remy thought about suburbs and schools and stupid fairy tales about a special place for mutants. "Xaviers," he muttered. "Xavier's -"
Only one in Westchester. 'Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters' and in neat red print below it; 'Dedicated to equality and to encouraging the potential of all children in today's changing world'. Remy squinted at the small add like it was in code. The burn of hope in his belly was strong enough to make him feel sick. Remy tore the page from the book and limped hurriedly back to the car. The driver's side was sticky with blood but he paid it no mind.
Rachel was motionless in the seat. Remy leaned over her, breath held, until he heard the faint raspy sound of her shallow breathing, nearly drowned out by the sound of his own panicked heartbeat. Tucking the paper between his teeth, he spun the car around and roared out of the parking lot.
"Don get lost," he begged, to anyone that was listening to a thief in the night. Palms slipping sweaty slick on the steering wheel and the air blowing ice cold from the broken window. It was hard to focus, between the cold and the listening to Rachel beside him, listening for every small breath. Counting his heartbeat again, moment and moment and moment - each moment lost. "Don get lost out here. Please - come so far, come so far -"
The roads were winding and he cursed every suburban planner who dreamed them up as he took the shadowy turns and curves at crazy speed. Huge old trees whipped by, half seen, and the sky was navy blue with approaching day. A brick wall reared up on one side, iron teeth gleaming dully at the top. Shivering with sudden chill, Remy nearly missed the glint of a small brass sign beside the iron gates - but the huge 'X' worked into the iron was unmistakable. He slammed on the brakes and skidded to a halt in the turn-off.
Getting out of the car was a struggle that put Remy on his knees, gravel biting into his skin. He pushed himself up in a surge of pain and dizziness. His pants clung wetly to his leg, sneaker soggy - but the wound didn't hurt much anymore. Remy felt as drunk as a sailor as he staggered to the gate. The call box was obvious enough, small button luminous in the dark.
"Allo?" he shouted, hammering on the button. "Wake dose asses up in der! Allo!"
Crackling silence then - "H-hello?"
The sleep foggy voice made Remy crow in triumph. "Come out 'ere, s'v plait!"
"Who are you? Why -"
"Got me a girl - " Remy stumbled, leaning hard on the gate and staring through it at the lights that had sprung alive in one room. "A hurt girl, a mutant girl. Heard - dis a place for mutants -"
"Please - s'v plait!" Remy cried, desperation breaking his voice. "Dis a place for mutants? Jus for us? Please!"
Because he had nowhere else to go. Nothing else to do. This had to be the place. The special place. If it wasn't - if it wasn't - Remy didn't know what he do.
"De hospitals -"
"Yes," the voice was awake now, grim, while lights sprang up like smiles in the house - big, big house across the big, big lawn. "We know."
A splash of yellow across the lawn and figures in the shadows, running towards him. Remy backed away from the gate as it groaned to life, swinging open. Even staggering and clinging to the car for support, Remy recognized the reinforced bolts and the heavy-duty hinges; something made for a prison - for a fortress than a house.
A voice like gravel out of the dark, "Dammit, Jeannie - be careful!"
"Logan it's -"
"Non - " Remy cried back. "S'okay - no harm here, homme! Please - de girl, she hit her head. Bad."
Darting into the light, the most beautiful woman Remy had ever seen. Tangled red hair and white skin, rumpled nightgown and bare feet. Doctor's bag and that was the most beautiful thing of all.
"Cher - " Remy breathed shakily, all his strength suddenly gone. He sagged to his knees, palms sliding over hood of the car. She was beautiful like the sun and everything around her was dark, getting darker, farther away.
"It's alright now, I'm Jean and I'm a doctor."
"Mademoiselle -" he could rest now.