Chapter 1: Spin
He kills the Harley and sits quietly in the ten o’clock darkness of a Sunday night alone in a parking lot in Westchester New York. The air is still, not a breeze, not a sound, just his own wheezing breath as he slowly un-hunches from over the bars of the bike.
He closes his eyes and breathes deep, testing to see how badly he is actually hurt and decides that the twinge of pain in his chest is not so terrible that he can’t stand it for a few hours. He doesn’t want to go back to the mansion yet, not after what happened. He’s too tired, too humiliated.
He carefully climbs off the bike, clutching his ribs protectively and swearing under his breath as the twinge becomes a flare.
He’s been sloppy lately. Unforgivably so.
Time was ten times out of ten he’d escape a scrape without a nick, but these last few weeks...
He’s been off balance. And as a result he nearly got himself blown up during tonight’s training session.
By his own fucking card.
He takes a measured breath and slowly makes his way towards Harry’s telling himself he can handle anything as long as what he wants is still on the other side of that door. What he needs, what he’s been waiting for all day today even before what happened this morning is waiting for him, and he ignores the white-hot flash of pain in his side as he forces himself to straighten, push open the door, and step inside.
Honeyed light and body heat immediately welcome him with a soft warmth he can feel on his face and through his clothes. People are laughing, clinking glasses together, their voices tumbling over each other making a kind of music that is familiar to him now. The man with the belly laugh on his right, the woman with her sexy slow s’s in the far booth and the guy who always sounds like he’s delivering a monologue no matter who he’s talking to near the door melting together into a medley of thoughts and opinions, come-on’s and questions. He knows most of their faces by now and they know his. They nod, smile if they catch his eye. He is a part of this place now, a fixture like the lone pool table at the back, the smoky jukebox that plays the kind of songs that speak to him, blues and jazz and singer/songwriters with ragged straining voices howling pain and lust and everything in between. Already he can feel the women in the room automatically shifting in his direction like compasses, their knees soft curved arrows aimed at him from under tables, their eyes tracing his features and asking him to look.
He doesn’t mind the attention. He’s used to it, their interest, and even if he did resent it, he’d still come. He likes it here. The lamplight is soft and welcoming, the drinks are hard and they come quickly and that’s exactly what he wants, what he needs, what he’s been waiting for.
“What’s yer poison kid?”
“What isn’t, mon ami?
Same question, same answer every night. Hasn’t gotten old yet. Harry grins every time, slides him a shot, and he downs it the second it meets his fingertips.
Tonight he swallows hard, almost choking in his eagerness to get that burning down down down deep into his cold cold insides. Harry thinks it’s funny, that he’s green, that he hasn’t been knocking them back since well before his 21st. He mistakes his urgency for some kind of post-teenage rebellion. He certainly looks the part, all leather and slouching insouciance, but this is something he’s cultivated, this you can look if you want, this you can touch if you want, I’ll let you emanating from him like the scent of whiskey and cigarettes. What this version of himself that he shows the world, that he parades down the streets and alleyways, in bars and discos, says is you have no idea what I’m thinking, I could snap any second. It turns them on, this not knowing just how much of a bad boy he really is. They all want to find out.
A brunette at the other end of the bar watches him drag the back of his scarred had across his mouth and he licks his lower lip once - slowly for her benefit, and Harry winks in her direction, looks at him with raised eyebrows and you lucky bastard...
He stares at the bottom of his glass.
You have no idea what I’m thinking...
Liquor and women.
He’s over that. All he’s really looking for when he comes here is a little anaesthetic for his aching heart, a little tonic to chase these feelings away, these feelings and these memories that haunt him, that confuse and torment him until all he can do to stop it is sit here night after night, courting numbness with dollar bills, dulling the sharp edges of these past few months until he is broke and stupid and can barely remember his name let alone her face.
He slaps the glass upside down on the bar and gestures loosely for another, pressing his other hand hard against his aching ribs when he moves the wrong way. Harry doesn’t notice the flicker of pain cross his face, the sharp intake of breath. He chuckles, pours him a new one and he takes it greedily, desperately.
He thought he saw her today. This morning in the park.
Almost stopped his fucking heart.
He knocks it back, swallows hard, letting it hurt.
She was sitting under a tree reading a book. She wore a green bandanna over her hair that was caught suddenly by a gust of wind... deep reddish mahogany like firelight flickering across wood streaming against her cheeks, her neck, closing his throat. She put down her book, gathered her hair in her hands and twisted it into a ponytail. She felt him watching, she met his eyes.
Hers were green just like he’d needed them to be.
He looks at the overturned glasses flickering like jewels in the smoky lamplight.
It wasn’t her.
She smiled and he saw that the mouth was wrong.
He swallows hard, making it hurt.
This morning wasn’t the first time this has happened. Something strikes him – a girl’s hip, her stance, her profile, the curve of her fucking ear in one case, her laugh - which is completely ridiculous because he doesn’t think he ever heard her laugh once – and he gets lost in a memory he’s been trying to forget. Like how she stared at the floor when she asked him to dance, her hair falling against her cheek, a streak of white dyed red and then pink and then orange by the revolving lights, how he wanted so badly to smooth it back, away from her eyes, astonished by her uncertainty and feeling so protective and warm towards her for it.
She had thought there was a chance of him saying no and he had wanted to tell her, no one will ever say no to you, chere...
Empty jewels on the bar lined up in a sloppy row one after the other after the other after the other as the singer’s rusty-nail voice gasps his desperation over the speakers echoing in his ears and closing his eyes.
“Since you’re gone ain't nobody else gonna save me...”
He should be face down in the pretzel bowl by now. He usually doesn’t have to work so hard to reach oblivion.
“Cause I can't trade a bottle for an empty room...”
“I just pray that the lord is gonna come down and take me...”
Cold glass meets his lips and then that burning, burning, burning...
“Sweep me off this floor with the devil's broom...”
He slaps it down, leaving a trail of liquid on the bar, slides his finger through it, making lazy circles while Harry shakes his head with a smile, pours and pours and pours.
“Where are you..."
He feels warm suddenly, sleepy, the pain in his body has receded and the world has dimmed slightly, the world has dimmed and her face looking up at him, her face always looking up at him, the blood on her white white dress blurs but he’s not quite there yet. He has faith in Harry though. Soon there will be no more thoughts of her at all, there’ll just be the glass in his hand, the fire down his throat and the swaying hips of the brunette as she makes her way to him with a click click click of heels across the floor. Nothing else but the concrete, the things he can hear, taste and touch. Like a soft voice saying “hi”. The smoky taste of his drink. A hand brushing his, skin on skin. No more ghosts of a girl he never knew anyway making him into someone he’s never been.
Someone who can’t let go.
He takes the drink, he turns his head. He says hello and doesn’t mean it but she smiles, she smiles and thinks, he’s mine. He entertains the idea of fucking her. Not so long ago he wouldn’t have thought twice about it. A (possibly) cracked rib wouldn’t have stopped him no matter how much it would kill but he’s hesitating. His head is just starting to swim, she’s starting to disappear, but the fact would still remain that the last woman who had lain naked beneath him had been her and all he would do tonight is chart the differences and think of her pale pale skin and then he’d be right back where he started which is the last thing he wants.
So he gets up without a word, he stumbles to the jukebox leaving the girl staring after him, confused and a little hurt. He leans against it, staring down at the track listings through the smudged window and watches the record change, finds himself trying to count the grooves before it starts spinning and then a song starts up, his song, the one he and Belle never danced to and he laughs and it hurts and he digs in his pocket for a quarter needing to change it, needing to change everything.
Chapter 2: Circle
He gets a lecture. This is expected, it’s part of his new routine – wake up, get yelled at, almost kill self in training session and/or mission, get smashed, pass out, wake up, get yelled at-
“What the hell is wrong with you, LeBeau?”
“Y’wan a lis’?” it comes out even more muddied than usual, his tongue heavy in his mouth, fuzzy. Morning came and went and he’s still as drunk as he was yesterday. He doesn’t remember yesterday. He slides down deeper into his chair and winces.
Scott paces back and forth, back and forth and back and forth.
His stomach heaves.
“Cyc, you gon’ wan’ stop doin’ dat...”
“You better thank God no one got hurt last night-“
“- paying for that jukebox! Why the hell did you charge that quarter?!”
“Guess I din’t like what it was playin’.” Scott stares at him and sputters. Actually sputters and he tries not to grin. It’s the only thing that’s been giving him anything approaching satisfaction lately. Scott’s buttons are there for all to see, he can’t help it, he has to push.
He doesn’t remember blowing up Harry’s jukebox though and he feels a little bad about that. He doesn’t remember how he got back here last night either. He doesn’t remember a time before Scott started talking, and the back and forth, back and forth...
“Harry’s a friend of ours-“
“Seri’sly you gon’ hafta stop pacin’...”
“Or what LeBeau? What are you gonna do about it?”
He’s going to vomit.
“Jesus Christ!” Scott yells, jumps back, and he stays doubled over, his hair falling into his eyes unwashed and smelling of stale cigarettes, stale beer, or whatever the hell puddle of liquid he’d rested his face on last night.
“I... can’t believe you just did that...”
“Lay off the kid,” and the flare of a match, a short puff of smoke comes from the corner of the room. He didn’t know Wolverine was here too.
He lifts his head, scanning for any more audience members, expecting Betsy by the window, sunning herself like a cat and stretching her nails out, bored out of her mind. Jean sitting in that leather chair with her green eyes, sad disapproval and the disappointed downward tilt to her mouth. Stormy and all of her concern leaning against the door, barring it slightly with her body, always knowing when he has the urge to bolt. Hank with his hands folded, peering at him over his glasses, politely interested in today’s round of what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-the-newbie, and Drake on the couch trying not to laugh at the mess he’s made...
But the room is empty, none of them here. Just the wolfman and the dictator talking about him as though he isn’t sitting right in front of them and hearing every fucking word.
Scott says, “it’s been three weeks”.
Logan takes a long pull, sucking in his cheeks with a squint.
Scott says, “This behavior is unacceptable. If he doesn’t snap out of this he’s going to have to go”.
Have to go...
He should have gone months ago. He would have gone months ago... But then she had shown up again. His last night, his last free for all in the city before he went back to the mansion and packed his bag. He had been bored with it, the training, Scott dangling the prospect of his becoming an official member before him as though it was something he actually wanted. He was done, but then she was there, appearing out of nowhere like he had conjured her out of the smoke and the lights and his own want.
And then he had kissed her.
And her lips... warm and lush through transparent cloth had kissed him back, had kissed every thought of leaving New York away.
He should have left.
Always trust y’ gut...
He would have been long gone by the time he took her to his room, by the time he tasted her and fell into a coma that kept him out of commission and seriously fucked up for two weeks. By the time he suggested the double ops mission with the hope of erasing every memory of who she had pretended to be but hadn’t worked because she hadn’t been pretending at all. Long gone by the time she died in his arms.
He stands, stumbles into a cloud of Logan’s exhaled smoke and automatically breathes deep, sucks in that familiar burn, his jaw suddenly aching for another drink, another something to make everything warm and dark.
“What’re you doin?’”
“You wan’ me gone, I gone-”
“Sit down and shut the fuck up.”
It crosses his mind that if he was at a hundred percent he could take the both of them. Or at least knock out Logan long enough to get away. But he’s not at one hundred percent. He hasn’t been for a while now.
He sits back down, sullen, swallows a wince as he jars his ribs again.
“...going on is too important for this crap...”
“...doesn’t give a rat’s ass...”
Scott’s words circle round and round in his head and he sits here, he takes it, quietly fuming and staring at the ruined rug.
This is not who he is.
This... mess waiting to be swept out the door.
When things get bad he cuts and runs. When there’s nothing left he moves on to the next big thing. And there is most definitely nothing left.
He’s an outcast among outcasts here.
And he’s in some serious fucking pain.
He decides when he goes goddamit.
He stands up again and Scott moves out of his way, happy to be rid of him, but Logan stays put, warningly pointing at him with his lit cigar, a snake of smoke uncoiling from it tauntingly.
His chest hurts. Just breathing hurts.
He can’t take anybody.
“Fuckin’ give me one,” he says instead and Logan’s lip curls but he doesn’t snikt out the claws.
He doesn’t know Logan very well. As far as he can tell the only thing they have in common is the opinion that Fearless Leader has had a stick up his ass since birth. Mostly they’ve ignored each other, but lately Logan’s been taking an interest, he’s been sticking up for him, cutting him more slack than he deserves. Like now. Anyone else he’s seen giving Logan attitude has gotten stuck like a pig or has been threatened with the prospect of being stuck like a pig. But not him.
He has done nothing to deserve it, least of all ask for any kind of help, and a huge part of him resents it. He can take care of himself, he always could. He-
Logan holds out a cigar.
He stares at it and Scott stares at him.
“You want it or not Gumbo?”
He takes it and Logan nods at him.
“You and me boy, we’re havin’ a talk.”
“Why’re you here, LeBeau?”
“Cuz I ain’t got nowhere else to go.” He doesn’t know why he’s admitting this except that it’s easier to not lie for once. To just answer the questions as they come and hope that it won’t take too long. He needs to tape his ribs. He needs an aspirin. He needs to get back into his bed and sleep until it’s not his anymore. Which could be any minute now.
“That the only reason?”
He thinks about that night with Jean when he first came here almost a year ago. They had stayed up all night watching some marathon on the BBC, and he has since come to appreciate how rare that moment of normalcy actually was. They hadn’t talked about anything particularly personal - even if he was capable of telling her anything about himself beyond the usual (vague) details, he was too busy feeling her out, testing how far he could push and tease and flirt before she got uncomfortable, and she was too concerned with making him feel like he was welcome to hang out than to really talk about anything beyond the genius of Ricky Gervais's The Office and the wearability of 1960's mod wear. They kept it light and flirtatious until he attempted to push his luck a bit more than he knew she'd like and she responded by doing the same and asking him something personal. Or, at the very least, something she knew to be fairly loaded.
"Why are you here, Gambit? I mean with the X-men…?"
And what was the answer he had given her then?
“Cause I'm 'fraid of who I turn out t'be if 'm not here... 'M making a choice t'try an be better den I am...”
It hadn’t been a line. He had been dead serious for once.
He stares down at his open hands, at those old scars, silvery lines spiderwebbing from the explosions of shining skin in the center of his palms. He curls them shut, makes fists.
Better den I am...
Logan leans against the railing of the front porch still waiting for an answer and he doesn’t say a word.
“This ain’t a halfway house, kid. We took you in cuz you were in bad shape, but we asked you t’stay cuz Storm vouched for you, believed you had potential an’ she was right. You’re a good fighter. You an’ I know it, Cyclops knows it. He tolerates you for the same reasons he tolerates me. We’re good at tearin’ it up. We can take care of ourselves and get the job done. That’s how people like us earn our keep, but you ain’t been pullin’ your weight, boy. And that’s a problem.” He finishes his cigar and tosses it over his shoulder onto the grounds.
“Litterin’s what? 10 d’merits? Scotty not gon-”
“You gotta let her go.”
Logan was the first person he saw that night when he came back to the mansion.
He hadn’t been able to find Mystique. The bitch had disappeared and he’d had no choice but to report back. Covered in her blood. Logan knew who’s it was. He’d smelled it before. When he cut her.
It was nothing really, that little sliver of blood on her throat... It was barely a scratch, but Wolverine may as well have gutted her the way he was feeling when he leapt over the locked gate and stalked towards the mansion.
Logan had stepped out of the shadows and he had launched himself at him. He didn’t even charge anything. He went at him with his fists.
And Wolverine hadn’t beaten the shit out of him. He’d shoved him off but he hadn’t fought back. He hadn’t asked what happened either, but he told him anyway.
He didn’t tell anyone else but he knows they know. They’ve been careful around him, not sure what to say. None of them knew what had been going on with him and the girl in the first place. Even he hadn’t known.
All they knew was that he had been willing to use her the way she had used him.
He told them he wanted to do it to prove his loyalty.
To atone for what Scott called his “bad judgment”.
He offered because he was angry. Because he wanted to prove to himself that she was a liar, she was evil, and he was better off knowing that. Somehow she had gotten inside of him and the only way to get her out was to see her for what she was, to know her for what she was.
But he didn’t. He didn’t know anything, not even her name.
Of course they don’t understand why he’s a mess. He doesn’t understand.
“That night, you remember you got back here and came at me like an asshole?”
“Do you remember what else happened?”
“Not really,” he snaps.
“Emma Frost. College student from NYU. She led a troop of protesters to that damn party. You remember her?”
“I had other tings on m’mind dat night, Wolverine. What’s y’point?”
“My point is, Gumbo, that her an’ those kids were rounded up and carted off and if we hadn’t gotten a heads up from Chuck we would never have known what was going on outside and we wouldn’t have been able to stop it. My point is that more than half those kids weren’t mutants and they were takin’ a stand. They didn’t have powers to protect themselves and the ones that did were probably too green to know how to use ‘em. My point is there’s innocent people who are gonna get hurt if we don’t help...” He shakes his head, says almost to himself, “You didn’t even notice those kids. You were only thinkin’ of that girl.”
“I was playin’ both sides-“
“That shit’s easy for you so don’t give me that. You were focused on her and only her. The mission was secondary. It’s still secondary. You left your post that night before you were cleared because of her. We lost an opportunity to get into Charmichael’s files. We might have been done with this shit three weeks ago but you threw it away. That girl made you stupid LeBeau, reckless.”
“An’ she’s fuckin' gone now. What do y’want from me?”
“I don’t want nuthin’ you ain’t willin’ t’give on your own. Neither do the rest of us. ‘Ro likes you but she ain’t gonna be cryin’ in her coffee if you decide this life ain’t for you.”
Logan pushes himself off the railing, finished, but he stops before he reaches the door, turns back to him one last time.
“You can make a difference here. Take it from somebody who’s been where you been. I wasted years of my life living day to day, moment to moment not givin’ a shit about anything or anybody. A man needs a purpose in life and I’ve been lucky enough to find mine. Whether yours is here is up to you, but you gotta make that decision for yourself and you gotta make it soon-”
A car door slams and they both turn to look.
He watches Logan as she opens the trunk of the car and takes out a large garment bag. A streak of wine-red hair whips across her cheek in the wind and she smiles broadly carefully lifting the bag away from the ground and clear of the trunk as she closes it again.
“When is de weddin’ anyway?” he asks, and a muscle in Logan’s jaw clenches. He doesn’t answer as Jean makes her way towards them.
“Hey, guys! Have you seen Ororo?” She trots up the steps, the garment bag draped across her arms like a body. She tilts it back and forth enticingly, giggles breathlessly, excited, “I can’t wait to show her this...”
“I ain’ seen her dis mornin’ - Is dat de dress?”
“It is The Dress.”
He opens the door wide for her, still watching Logan out of the corner of his eye who has not moved and he can’t help himself, he says to Jean as she passes him, “I don’ tink I ever really congratulated you - You an Scott make a real nice couple. I ain’ never seen a more perfect match.”
She smiles at him, warm, sweet. “Thank you, Remy. I’ll tell Scott you said so.”
He shuts the door behind her, turns back to Logan whose eyes follow her movements through the windows.
“It ain’ so easy, neh?” he says quietly.
Logan doesn’t answer.
He looks at him for a long moment and nods, just once, before turning his back.
“Make yer choice, kid.”
Logan leaves him alone on the porch and he stares out at the grounds, the vibrant summer green of the grass, the fountains and statuary all framed by hundred-year-old trees feathered with spade-shaped leaves and everything smells so good and clean and he tries to breathe it in, clutching his ribs hard, holding himself together while his head spins with too much alcohol still in his system, too little sleep.
When he first came, when Ororo first brought him here, they had stood right in this spot together looking out at Xavier’s estate and he remembers thinking, Dis is a place t’make a fresh start... And he had needed one. He hadn’t realized how much he had needed one until what had happened with Essex. If she hadn’t rescued him he doesn’t know where he would be. Dead probably. Or worse.
He thinks about what Logan said about those kids. Kids nearly the same age as him getting their heads busted because they took a stand for what they thought was right.
He thinks about that girl, Emma.
He had been in a fog that night but he remembers she had come to the mansion. He and Logan had been standing right over there in that circle of trees. He’d told him that... Rogue... was dead and Logan had started to say something - maybe “good riddance”, maybe “sorry” but he stopped because Storm had finally come back from the mission, and she had Emma with her.
She was the reason Xavier knew what was happening outside. The girl was a telepath and, according to Charles, an extremely powerful one. He had heard her call for help and when he had let her in every thought but hers had been pushed out of his skull, his mind flooding with a barrage of images and impressions tangled together, knotted in panic. Not since Jean, he said, had he felt so much telepathic power in one so young and untutored.
On the professor’s behalf, Scott invited Emma to stay, to learn how to control her powers and use them safely, but she had turned him down telling them she had work to do at school. She had started a club, Students for the Preservation of Mutant and Human Rights.
“Things are only getting worse...” she’d said. “The world has just started learning about mutants this past year. They’re afraid of us, what we can do. These people I go to school with... we can make a difference... and we’re in the perfect place to do it, to educate. I can’t give that up... I have a responsibility to make things better for people like me and I think the best way I can do that now is to stay in school...”
He hadn’t thought much about what she’d said then. He’d been too wrapped up in his own problems, his own pain to care about anyone else’s.
Take care o’ y’self, cuz thass all y’ have, was the first thing Fagan said to him after he joined his racket. That and, If y’ try t’ cheat me I’ll tear y’ fuckin’ throat out. One lesson stuck more than the other. Fagan was psychotic but stupid, and after a year he was already a master at not getting caught.
He slowly makes his way down the porch steps still cradling his ribs and makes a left, stepping off the path and into the woods.
It’s not that he doesn’t understand how wrong it all is, what’s happening out there. He knows he can help... knows he should... he just doesn’t know if he can handle being depended on like that.
And he’s not particularly good in groups.
If he learned nothing else during his time with the Guild he learned that.
He was officially inducted when he was 17, and during those four years before he was kicked out he had pissed them off in every way imaginable, following protocol only when it served his purposes, openly fraternizing with the “enemy”, taking unnecessary risks because it was fun and he didn’t take any of it seriously and he wanted them to know he didn’t. He loved watching them squirm and having to hold their tongues because he was Jean-Luc’s son. Adopted son, but Etienne had told him once that that was an even bigger honor.
He had been chosen.
Jean-Luc saw something in him, something special, something worthy. And so did the other members of the Guild. For all their bitching and official meetings about his “behavior”, they cared for him, respected him. Loved him.
And he walked away from it. Away from the only family he’s ever known.
He chose romantic love over duty, over honor, over brotherhood and it bit him in the ass. Hard.
He walks deeper into the woods towards that little circle of trees where he had tried to pick a fight with Logan in the early morning dark of one of the worst nights of his life. He'd needed to hit something. The fact that that something was almost definitely going to break every bone in his hand on impact had mattered little at the time.
Logan was there.
He'd spilled her blood.
It was enough.
He hasn't been out here since, doesn’t know why he needs to be here now but he follows the pull anyway, finds himself remembering the silence, the stillness... and then Rogue. Rogue lying in a pool of white silk and red blood... silent, still.
He closes his eyes tight, walking blind, fighting off the memory with no weapon now but his own will which has never been strong enough when it comes to her.
He'd liked her, yes... wanted her, God yes... but somehow that turned into... whatever the hell it turned into that's making him feel all this shit he has no need to be feeling because there's nowhere for it to go, there never was anywhere for it to go and it's pissing him off.
There's no happy ending to feel cheated out of because he doesn't believe in riding off into the sunset, not anymore, and there's no resolution fuck that would finally get her out of his system because even if he could have touched her... once wouldn't have been enough.
He promised himself long ago he wasn't going to do this again. Want like this again, ache like this again and yet he'd sought it out. All those nights at the club waiting, watching the door for chrissakes. It was humiliating and still he kept doing it, kept looking. It was like he couldn't help himself, like he had no choice. And it's still happening. He's still looking for her and tormenting himself with remembering...
Remembering that he kissed her.
That he held her in his arms and dipped his head to press his lips against hers.
That he held her so tight, kissed her mouth, her closed eyes, thinking take me chere, take alla me... because then when he felt it, felt that drawing sensation begin to pull and then yank him into darkness he would know she wasn’t dead, and knowing that, having that hope was worth being violated by her powers again.
But nothing happened.
She was gone.
And he knew it - he knows it - but his heart still stops when he catches a glimpse of some girl on the street ducking her head, pushing her hair behind her ear. He still thinks maybe... when he sees a girl standing with her hip jutted out and one foot turned in slightly in a way that's sexy and awkward and lovely.
It's fucking killing him and he knows he only has himself to blame.
When you lose everything you walk away from the table. You try to retain some amount of dignity. You don't do this. Not anymore and not ever again.
He takes a breath, forces himself to pull it in deep and bites his lip hard against making a sound.
He looks at the circle of trees, the mansion looming over the tops, his roof where he smokes, where he watches Ororo water her plants naked as the day she was born.
And he looks at the gates, the bright strands of bronze elegantly twisted to resemble branches and ivy and cradling an "X" in an oval. An X for "Xavier". For "X-Men".
He looks at the dusty brick walls with plenty of chinks for handholds.
A few steps and a painful climb and leap over and he can be gone.
She was the reason he stayed for as long as he did, and it's been weeks... three weeks and 17 hours...
So why are you still here?
He swallows hard, lifts his face to the sun and closes his eyes still breathing long slow breaths.
B'cuz Stormy b'lieves in me.
She looks at him and she sees a good man.
He’s not - far from it, but if he leaves now he never will be.
“You can make a difference here... A man needs a purpose in life...”
And deep down he wants to be worthy of Ororo’s good faith. Deep down a part of him wants Scott to not look at him with such... disdain. He doesn’t want to see disappointment when he looks into Jean’s green, green eyes.
He takes a final deep breath and he holds it, the mansion to his right, the gates to his left.
Always trust your gut.
That was the second thing Fagan said to him, the only words of advice that have ever really mattered.
He starts to walk, his arms around himself, his eyes still shut tight and when he steps out from the shade and into the sun he still keeps them closed. When he opens them he’ll have his answer, he’ll-
“Umm... what are you doing?
He opens his eyes. His held breath leaves him in a soft whoosh and he caves in on himself slightly still cradling his ribs with one arm, but he's smiling a little.
He is standing at the bottom of the porch steps, the gates far behind him, and Bobby is staring down at him with one eyebrow raised, a skateboard under his arm.
What is he doing.
Chapter 3: Fall
Betsy gives him a look, a Don’t you dare try anything complete with a sneer on her pretty red lips. He smirks in response, bites back the urge to whisper against her ear, Don’t flatter y’self as he quickly loops his arm around her waist and holds her tight against him.
He caught her when her cable snapped. He reached out a hand, caught her wrist as she fell, and she climbed up his body, clung to him until she was able to catch hold of his line.
He saved her life and instead of Thanks he gets Don’t even think about copping a feel…
It crosses his mind that he could say the same to her.
Logan isn’t the only one dreading Scott and Jean’s upcoming wedding. The evening they had announced their engagement he had found Betsy at Harry’s. This was before he blew up the jukebox, when he was still a welcome customer. He had sidled up to the bar as usual, not realizing until he heard her clipped voice asking for another gin and tonic that he knew the woman sitting next to him.
They sat side by side for over an hour, silently competing with each other over who could get drunker faster. Eventually they ended up in the parking lot on his bike, her in his lap, his mouth on every bit of skin he could find, his hips between her thighs and her lower body rocking against his in such a way that left no doubt in his mind how far she was willing to go...
He likes the way she bites a little.
He likes this... sex on a motorcycle with a woman he can touch, who can touch him and his body wants it, is screaming for it.
He holds her to him harder, harder, licks her neck, tastes her perfume.
This is easy and simple and uncomplicated.
She moves against him, her hands yank up his shirt, slide across his skin.
This is an itch being scratched.
He shoves her jacket off her shoulders, he unbuttons her blouse.
This is no-strings-attached fucking a woman who wishes he were someone else, a woman who knows she's being used too and doesn't care. It's the deal they've made. As long as he doesn't think about her and she doesn't think about him they can do whatever they want to each other.
It's exactly what he needs but when she gasps "Scott..." he pauses.
She rakes her nails down his back, still rocking, still sucking at his skin and it feels good, it feels really good but he sighs against her neck, his hands coming to rest at her hips.
Betsy's a hardass, she gives him a hard time. She pisses him off and she tries to make him look bad. They aren't friends. But when she said Cyc's name... breathy and desperate and so completely un-Betsy... he felt for her. A flash of tenderness, an ache of understanding. Which has no place here in what they're doing and is explicitly against the rules.
He lifts his head, he touches her hair that's bone straight, not wavy, looks into her eyes that are violet and he knows there's no getting her back now.
She shifts in his lap impatiently and he says "Betsy...", shakes his head with a rueful smile as she lifts her head to meet his eyes, her lips parted and bruised looking.
He wants to kiss them once and say goodnight.
So he does.
She blinks, she gives him a look, an incredulous are you kidding me?, and then pushes herself violently off of him, stumbling a little as she backs away and turns, walking briskly if somewhat crookedly back to the bar.
They never talked about it.
He hadn't even thought about it until she wrapped her arms around him, her thighs on his hips again. But she’s not saying a word now, just giving him angry looks as though it was his fault her line snapped which is fine with him. He likes not particularly liking Betsy more than he likes feeling sorry for her.
He's had a lot of practice with the former and it's nice, comfortable.
This is the eighth office building they’ve broken into this month and the eighth job they’ve worked together. Each time a mission calls for anything as unseemly as information retrieval by way of “nicking”, he and Betsy have been assigned. He knows full well that Scott saves these types of jobs for them on purpose. He would never ask any of the others to steal.
Remy doesn’t particularly mind being pigeonholed - he’s not doing anything now that he hasn’t already been doing for most of his life, but he resents the fact that Scott regards what he does for the X-Men as a necessary evil. Something to be ashamed of. He doesn’t know how Betsy feels about the jobs and he’s not going to ask.
If he gets embarrassed disapproval from Scott whenever he calls himself “a thief and proud of it”, Betsy gives him outright disgust. She makes it very clear at every opportunity that she’s only working with him because she has too. A thief is the lowest of the low, a bottom feeder, and, as she’s muttered more than once, not fit to die by her katana.
He’s been biting his tongue from pointing out to her that no matter what she calls herself, “ninja” or otherwise, she’s a thief too. All they do on missions is steal. And she’s good at it. She’s easily as good as he is, and he gets the feeling she may have been doing this for as long as he has. Because as much they irritate the hell out of each other, when they are working, when they are alone together in the dark, they could be each other’s shadow. They compliment each other perfectly and this doesn’t surprise him.
He gets Betsy. He understands her. She holds her cards close to her chest, never giving anything away unless absolutely necessary, secretive to the point of being pathological. She draws the eyes of everyone in every room, and just like him she uses those looks, makes promises with her body she has no intention of keeping after she’s gotten what she wants.
Every move the woman makes says you know you want me even when she’s scaling a building with someone she abhors. She even plummets to her death with a kind of sensual grace, a giving in that loosens her limbs, her mouth open and gasping, but not for help. She enjoys the fall.
He understands that too.
He guides them safely down to the ground and when his feet find the pavement she quickly disentangles herself from him, grabs her fallen cable coiled sloppily on the wet ground and stalks off, disappearing into the shadows, her footfalls making no sound.
He shakes his head with a smirk and follows her to the jet, patting the pocket over his heart, double-checking as he trots silently up the ramp. It closes behind him with a hiss and he feels nothing there. The disc he stole is gone.
“Gambit and Psylocke infiltrated Margaret Barrington’s offices in Chicago this evening. They have retrieved Barrington’s “Green Light” files, which we believe contain a list of mutants that have been passed on to the MCA's head scientists for research. This is a more complete listing than the one we acquired over a month ago as these past few weeks they have begun to appeal directly to parents of children who have recently manifested. It is our understanding that the majority of these mutants have been fitted with tracking devices, but others with more “dangerous” or… obtrusive mutations have been taken in. They have also retrieved The MCA’s client contact directory, an exhaustive list of backers and affiliates including all of the independent physicians, scientists, and geneticists that have been put on payroll this past year. Iceman has been researching Barrington’s real estate records, which were retrieved last week…”
Remy leans back in his chair, grins at Betsy who ignores him. He had bet her he could get to the 57th floor before she did. And then he had bet her he could disengage the alarm, get the records, engage the alarm again and be strapped into the Blackbird in under 10 minutes while she played lookout. Never mind the fact that he had done both – the first just barely and the second by a good two minutes shy of his original estimation - he wasn’t getting any congrats from Psylocke who sauntered in two minutes and 3 seconds after he did, took her place at the console and flew them home muttering under her breath all the while.
He can now say “It wasn’t a fucking race you fucking prick” in Japanese. With a British accent.
“A number of buildings were purchased recently that are potential bases of operations. We have another team checking on these locations and will be hearing back from them in the next few days. Our primary concern right now is linking the mutants we believe are being held in these facilities to the scientists in the directory that may be working on a particular mutation. We want to get an idea of how many facilities may be active and where they may be based by cross checking the location of the scientists themselves with these new buildings the MCA has purchased.”
Scott turns to Remy, the overhead lights glinting off his visor as he holds out his hand for the disk. Before he can say a word Betsy murmurs, “I’ve got it,” and shifts sideways in her chair, slides a hand down her calf. Her fingers slip under the tight leather of her boot.
She pulls out a disc.
They had split up on the mission agreeing that they were both more than capable of looking after themselves. “I don’t need you to watch my back,” was what she had said and he had muttered a “ditto” before turning and making his way down the hallway to Barrington’s office. Betsy had decided he would download the Green Light files while she infiltrated the company’s mainframe and retrieved the directory. Her job sounded like more fun, harder anyway, but he had conceded sensing that if he pushed her she’d knock him unconscious and just get both of them herself. Short of the unconscious bit, that’s what ended up happening anyway because she lifted his disc when they were tangled together hundreds of feet above the ground.
You know you want to save me…
She gives it to Scott not even looking at him. She thinks she’s holding all the cards, and he lets her. For now.
Scott slips the disc into the computer and pulls up the first file marked 2004. 20 thumbnails stare back at him and he scans them quickly. Second file. 2005. 52 thumbnails. Third file. 2006. 106.
Scott stares hard at the last image, shakes his head, and Jean’s hand slides across the table finding his as he mutters, “Lensherr’s not here.”
He wasn’t on the last list either.
“We knew he probably wouldn’t be in the files with everyone else,” Jean reminds him. “We know they consider him a special case…” she trails off as he withdraws from her, takes the disc out of the computer, not answering.
“Are y’sure dey de ones dat got him?” Remy asks. “De MCA I mean?”
We haven’ been able t’find nuthin’ on dis guy de whole time I been here...
“When Charles first spoke to Carmichael posing as a possible investor he asked him what the “jewel” in his collection was,” Hank explains. “Carmichael described a man who could manipulate magnetic currents. He bragged about how difficult it is to keep a man like that under control. He had to build a special cell made of plastic to contain him.”
“The Professor knew who he was talking about right away,” Bobby adds. “They were friends once, him and Lehnsherr. I guess that’s why he’s a priority.”
“That and he’s fuckin’ powerful as hell. When he gets free, there’s gonna be hell to pay an’ if we ain’t there to talk him down who knows what the guy’s gonna do.”
“Don’t forget the Brotherhood is interested in him as well,” Ororo murmurs. “We can’t let them find him first.”
“Be nice if we had an in there so we could keep tabs on what information they have that we don’t - ” Ororo gives Bobby a sharp look. He blinks a what? at her, and Remy stares at his hands, knowing it wasn’t pointed, that Bobby’s just a kid, but he bristles anyway, mutters, “Too bad I fucked dat up huh?”
“I spoke with Charles today,” Jean says quickly. “He contacted me through the usual means and said they are allowing him to visit their facility on Muir Island. He was told there isn’t any mutant testing being done there, but perhaps it will lead to something.”
“We’re just not going to be much help in that corner apparently.” Scott folds his arms across his chest, his mouth set in a hard thin line. “Everything’s been turning into a dead end.”
“In the meantime it ain’t like we don’t got a shitload to do.” Logan jerks a thumb at the screen still displaying the face of the last mutant. A young Asian girl who looks both pissed off and scared out her mind stares back at them. A number is stamped across her photo. 178. “Pull up the directory and let’s get these kids the hell out.”
Betsy tosses Scott the second disc and he catches it in midair, pushes it into the computer without missing a beat. A file immediately comes up titled “Black and White Ball Surveillance.”
“What is this?” Scott asks Betsy and she stares at the screen, her eyes narrowing.
“I thought I downloaded the directory…this isn’t-“
“You thought you downloaded it?”
“Don’ worry mon amis, I got it covered.”
He stole Betsy’s disc on the plane, switched it with another.
He takes the directory from his breast pocket, slides it calmly across the table to Scott. Betsy follows it with her eyes and then slowly meets his, stares hard. “What you got dere,” he says nodding at the screen. “Is a bonus I foun’. De file was created a few weeks ago – I ‘tought it might be of innerest seein’ as how we were dere – see if dey got any footage of us, or at de very leas’ we can track who some o’ de guests were, see if dere’s anyone else we can get to. All de bigwigs were dere dat night - one o’ dem prolly knows where Lensherr is.”
Scott nods and ejects the disc. “Good work Gambit.”
“You made me look like an incompetent fool.” Betsy hisses at him as they exit the meeting. She grabs hold of his sleeve, pulls him into the front room where the others can’t see.
“Maybe you should trus’ y’teammate non?” he says quietly, plucking off her fingers.
“I bet you took mine before I took yours you bastard.”
He looks at her standing before him, her hands on her hips in her dominatrix/Fredericks of Hollywood ninja garb looking pissed off and beautiful and he hates her suddenly. Her self-righteousness, her disdain. She knows how hard he’s been working to prove himself, to truly earn his place here. She’s never had to earn anything. Scott’s probably the first thing she’s ever wanted that she couldn’t have. She’s been stuck in bitch for the past few weeks as a result, and he’s been getting the brunt since they keep getting paired up. He’s used to catching shit, used to tossing it off with a smile, a wink, but goddamn he’s tired of her I’m-worthier-than-you bullshit. He’s tired of everyone’s bullshit.
“Y’know you absolutely right. All I been tinkin’ ‘bout dis whole assignment is ‘how can I make Psylocke look bad in front o’ her lil’ crush?’”
She whips out a hand to slap him and he stops it a second before it connects.
He grips her wrist tightly, leans in closer, his voice low, dangerous, right in her ear.
“You wan do dis we do it in de Danger Room, not here.”
Part of him is hoping she’ll take him up on it. He needs to blow off some steam in a bad way.
It was my fuckin’ disc, I should be de one t’go tru it…
She yanks herself away from him, her hand clasping her wrist and he hopes it hurts.
She tosses back her long purple hair, red lips twisting in disgust.
“You’re not worth it.”
“Neither are you Betts, neither are you.”
He closes his eyes, breathes deep, counts and counts and counts and nothing happens. It’s been hours since he first crawled into bed, turned off the light.
He tosses, he turns.
He thinks about taking something to ease the mind-numbing boredom of his insomnia but he promised Ororo when he came here that he was going to lay off the heavy shit. He’s either sold or flushed most of his stash anyway.
Wait a minnit…
He sits up suddenly, swings his legs over the side of the bed remembering he still has some pot left, and rummages until he finds the bag in one of the hidden pockets of his new trench. He doesn’t know what happened to the old coat and that disturbs him, but he’s not missing anything else that he can’t easily replace and that’s all that really matters. He likes this new coat anyway. Even with the “X” on it.
He palms the bag of weed and grabs some Rizla papers from his dresser, telling himself that he isn’t breaking his promise to Ororo as he steps out onto his balcony and reaches up to grab the overhang.
Pot don’ count…
He neatly pulls himself up onto the roof and the night greets him with a warm breeze that whispers across his bare flesh and brushes his hair back like fingers stroking, fondling.
He tilts his head to look up at the moon sitting high above him, full and huge and blinding white, and he squints at it reaching up a hand suddenly to cup it in his palm. He traces the crags and valleys with his fingers, his thumb circling the craters.
"Jus you an me 'ole man", he murmurs and closes his eyes as another breeze comes and kisses him gently, softly.
He balances himself on the seam of the roof and tightrope walks to the northwest chimney, arms held out wide, fingers spread, head tossed back, eyes still closed tight feeling the depth on either side of him, the yawning blackness of a long way down.
He thinks about Betsy falling and how she knew he'd catch her.
Next time she won't be so lucky.
The black can fucking have her.
He opens his eyes two steps away from the chimney and he turns, the bricks scraping his bare back as he slumps down to rest against it. He takes out the baggie and papers from the band of his boxers, expertly rolls himself a joint humming a Stones song tunelessly to himself.
Scott assigned each of them two scientists to research as well as copies of the mutants Barrington had on file, their biography’s, photos, etc. He could be working on that now, get a head start and everything, but he already earned his points for the day by getting that surveillance footage – which he’s not allowed to fucking look at. He doesn’t really feel like going through mug shots tonight anyway. The idea is to pass the night somewhat peacefully. He doesn’t need any more bad dreams.
He slips the joint into his mouth and holds his finger to the tip ready to light up, but a flicker of movement catches his eye from Ororo’s attic across the way and he pauses.
Her light is on. She’s still awake too.
Scott gave her the Black and White Ball surveillance disc. He’d said it would be best if one of the X-Men who had actually been in attendance go through it. Logan hadn’t spoken up, and Scott had pointedly looked away from Remy when he had been about to offer himself. Ororo had already been out of her seat and on her way to taking the disc when he opened his mouth, but he hadn’t been willing to give it up that easy. Before Betsy practically frogmarched him out of the meeting he told Scott point blank he wanted to be in charge of it and had pretty much been told “for his own good” it wasn’t ever going to happen.
He’s been bouncing off the walls ever since, but what’s been keeping him awake tonight is not so much his anger at being denied something he wants and should by all fairness be allowed to have, but the knowledge that she is here, that he can see her, and the only thing that’s keeping him from her is an order, and a stupid one at that.
It’s not like he’s going to blow up the TV. He can handle looking at a few pictures without downward-spiraling again.
He twirls the unlit joint through his fingers, no longer interested in getting high.
He wants that disc.
He wants to look at it so he can prove to himself, to them, that he’s over that night, over her. That he has no intention of o.d.-ing on guilt, on longing, again.
He wants to be able to look and say, “It’s done.”
He thinks he can. He’s pretty sure he can. 90 percent sure.
89 and a third percent sure.
And dat’s good enough…
He’s not going to steal it back though, not from Stormy.
She’ll give it to him.
He tucks the joint between the bricks for later and gets to his feet, lazily falls into a handstand and walks gripping the peak of the roof easily, one hand after the other, until he gets to her window. He taps on it, balancing the entire straight-lined weight of his body on one palm and waves as she comes to the window.
She opens it for him with a smile and he tumbles through, ending on his feet with a “ta-da” and a sweeping bow.
“You realize you’ve never used my door?”
“Dis way more fun.”
“Primo. We got some good stuff t’night neh?”
“Yes – I’m sure we’ll be able to move by the end of the week.”
Ororo sits down beside him on her bed where he has unceremoniously flopped and taps his knee lightly with her fingertip, gives him a little scratch.
“Did everything go alright? Betsy seemed anxious to speak with you after the meeting…”
“Y’know me an de femmes – dey all wanna piece o dis.“
She grants him a small smile and he forgets about looking for the laptop, suddenly wanting to reach up and touch it the way he had tried to touch the moon, the curve of his hand and her mouth to his palm. He loves the way Ororo looks at him with so much gentleness, so much patience.
He was right, what he thought when he first saw her. She is a kind of angel.
“She looked upset.”
A nosy angel.
He shrugs disinterestedly, not really wanting to get into it. “She don’ like me.”
“I gathered that.”
“She tink I got no honor cuz I’m a thief, but far’s I can see de only difference ‘tween a thief an a ninja is an extreme lack o’ clothin’. I ain’ even gon’ ask where she keep her lock pick…” He rolls over onto his belly. The laptop is sitting on the bedside table to his left.
Dere you are…
“You goin’ tru dat surveillance file now?” he asks casually, reaching out to capture the trailing vine of one of her hanging plants. It slips through his fingers as she stretches out beside him. He can feel her eyes on his face. He doesn’t look.
“I thought I’d get a start on it tonight as I have the research on Dr. Morgine and Professor Wilton to get through. I didn’t think going through the surveillance images would be quite so daunting, but there’s a lot more there than I thought… It’s boring to say the least… a lot of stuffy people with too much money looking entirely too pleased with themselves…” She stifles a yawn and he grins.
He couldn’t have asked for a better opening.
“’Ro you look like you gon’ fall over. You need any help?”
“I’m just doing some preliminary work on it,” she says quickly, “Nothing too exciting yet – just extricating some of the clearer images… It’s really not going to take me much longer to finish.”
He catches the vine again, twirls it around his finger.
“I ain’ gon’ be sleepin’ any time soon. It’d gimme someting productive t’do…”
She bites her lip, her eyes flickering over to the laptop. He traces the heart-shaped edge of a leaf with his fingernail still not looking at it.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
She doesn’t answer and he reaches out to her now, tugs gently on a lock of her snow-white hair, softly, softly, “You don’ gotta be worried ‘bout me Stormy. I always land on m’feet. No matter how far I fall…"
He tucks her hair behind her ear, rests his chin on his fist, smiling ruefully.
You know you gon’ say yes cherie…
“Don’ call y’Stormy?”
“Well… that as well, but I was going to say… I never told you how pleased I am you decided to stay with us. You’ve been a great help.“
“I can be more…” He tilts his chin towards the laptop keeping his eyes on hers and she laughs, shakes her head.
“If I say no you’re just going to get a hold of it somehow anyway.”
“Now dat’s true.” He swoops the laptop off the table and plops down on a papasan chair near the window as she sighs, “Just don’t tell Scott,” and climbs into the bed he has rumpled.
“By de way,” he opens the laptop and winks at her around the screen. “Wass wrong’ wit “Stormy”?”
“Makes me sound like a stripper...” She settles down to sleep on her side, pulling the sheets up over her body, and he looks at her for a moment, at the voluptuous curve of her hip and grins.
“Well, you know girl, if dis hero ting don’ work out dat is an extremely viab-“
“Remy Lebeau don’t you dare finish that sentence.”
“I’m just saying-”
“I know what you’re saying, and there will be no stripping.“
“Now, why you gotta go an break a boys heart like dat?” He unsleeps the monitor with a pout, holds his breath as it flickers to life. “Not like you got a problem wit nudity…”
She raises an eyebrow at him and he laughs
“Where I smoke on de roof dere’s a clear view o’ y’attic – I ain’ spyin’ but you hard t’miss.”
“Perhaps it’s the idea of strange men leering at me that I find unappealing.”
“No leerin’ where you concerned belle - dey be worshippin’…”
His eyes are glued to the screen, the windows she has left open popping up one after the other after the other.
“an den keelin’ over wit lust…”
She flips off the light, knowing he can see perfectly well in the dark, and chuckles softly, a low tumbling sound that he finds indescribably sexy and he looks for the girl, pale as a candle in her white silk dress as Stormy admonishes him sleepily, “If you’re going to stay you have to be quiet. Not all of us are insomniacs...”
“You won’ even know I’m here…”
There you are…
“Sweet dreams Stormy.”
“You too Remy.”
Chapter 4: Angel
“Can I talk t’ya minnit?”
Remy closes the door to the Professor’s study quietly behind him and makes his way inside automatically taking stock of his surroundings. Last time he was in here it was the middle of the night. He had been snooping around the mansion a few months ago making sure to hit every room Scott had labeled “off limits” and had popped his head in just long enough to see if there was anything valuable and unobtrusive enough he could hock if he needed to. The room looks different in the daylight, and he decides that he likes it, the dark chocolate-brown desk, the navy circle rug, the walls of books on everything from Science to Shakespeare and the beautiful cream curtains, almost translucent now with sunlight streaming in through the bay windows. He still has yet to meet Charles as he’s been undercover for the past few months, but based on the décor alone Remy likes him.
Scott has been working in here lately but he doesn’t sit at the Professors desk. He’s been camped out in the corner of the room on the sofa there, his papers splayed out on the coffee table, a laptop within reach.
“Y’know de Prof prolly wouldn’ min’ ya usin' his desk...”
Scott glances at it as though it hadn’t occurred to him and shrugs, motioning for Remy to take a seat.
“I don’t want to disrupt anything. How’s the research going?”
“Dat’s kinna what I wanned t’talk t’ya ‘bout.” He sits down across from Scott and takes the copies he’s made from the inside pocket of his coat. “You gon’ be pissed at me but before y’start lecturin’ I wan’ ya t’see what I foun’…” He hands him the print outs, keeps his eyes on Scott’s face as he looks them over.
Scott turns to the next page.
And the next.
And the next.
The papers slowly crunch under his fists.
Remy swears his visor flashes and he braces himself.
“What the fuck is this LeBeau?”
“Dey from the surveillance disc-“
“I can see that. I thought I told you to stay away from it!”
“Y’didn’ really tink I was gon’ lissen did y?”
Yes, definitely a flash that time.
“I suggest. You tell me. Why. I’m looking at these pictures.”
“Dese're of Rogue - De firs’ few are from early in de evenin’ – iss all peripheral shots – she jus’ a face in de crowd…”
“Now look here – dere’s times recorded on de bottom – dis one here say nine forty. She touch Kingston by den… and dis one… ten o’ two. She had jus’ finished wit Barrin'ton. Now look at dese…” He takes out another pile of images, tosses them onto the table, “alla dem were taken after ten twenty-one…”
Remy sits back in his seat, waiting as Scott studies the pictures.
A flash of red.
He looks up, he understands.
“She’s the focus,” he says.
“Dey knew, mon amie. Somehow dey foun’ out someting wasn’ right ‘bout her an’ it happen’ some time after she touch Charmichael. I tink he woke up an’ tol’ his people t’ keep an eye on her.” He reaches into his pocket, pulls out the final print outs and hands them over.
10:25, Rogue reaching out to the Professor.
10:27, The Professor, unharmed by her touch.
10:32, The Professor, sipping a glass of champagne.
10:37, The Professor, speaking to a sleek black woman with a black bob, Storm in a wig.
The Professor at 10:42 during the riot outside, eyes closed tight in concentration.
10:47, The Professor.
10:52, The Professor.
10:57, The Professor.
His picture was taken every five minutes from the time Rogue touched him until the time he left.
“Dey may be on to him Scott. Why else dey focus on him like dat? Rogue died 'fore dey could get to her… but de Prof… if dey suspicious, he may be walkin’ right into dere hands.”
Scott stands, the papers clenched in his fist, and nods once, his jaw set. “I’ll tell Jean to contact him immediately.”
He turns to go and stops.
He holds out his hand.
“Thank you, Gambit.”
Remy takes it.
“No problem, Cyc.”
Scott leaves him, and after a moment he picks up the first batch of images from the table where Scott has left them. He flips through the pile, takes just one and slips it back into his pocket.
He exits the Professor’s study and wanders down the hall, passing by the kitchen. He hears Hank knocking things over in the fridge, muttering something about honey mustard, and his stomach growls but he keeps walking. Hank will want to talk. And talk and talk. He likes the good doctor, and most of the time actually enjoys listening to him go on and on about subjects he has no knowledge of and no real interest in, likes that he assumes he’s smart enough to understand phrases like “inositol biosynthesis”, but right now he’s not in the mood to play student.
A training session is going on in the Danger Room, the muffled explosions shaking the paintings on the walls, and he checks the names on the monitor as he passes. Betsy and Jean are in there now. He toys with going up to the command center to watch but Logan is moderating and he doesn’t feel like dealing with him at the moment. Things have been weird between him and the Wolverine. There’s a tension there and he doesn’t know where it came from, he just knows it isn’t him. He acts as he always has around him, showing off and generally behaving like a king brat, but Logan isn’t calling him on his shit anymore. No matter what he does that warning glint in his eye, the one that says I’m two seconds away from shoving a claw up your ass, doesn’t come, and what’s the point of being around the man if he can’t irritate him within an inch of getting run through?
He makes note of when the room will be free for a session and continues on his way.
What he really wants to do is go up to Ororo’s loft for a while, but she may be there working and although she would give him space without him having to ask for it he’d really prefer to be alone. She would glance over at him every so often as he stared out at the sky, sprawled in her chair by the window, twirling vines between his fingers, being completely idle, and he’d feel her asking him, What are you doing, Remy?
M’avoidin’ gettin’ down t’business, ‘Ro.
He knows he should get on the research he’s been assigned but he can’t bring himself to do it.
M’not de research type...
He gets twitchy if he’s anywhere for too long, that instinct to keep moving overtaking him even if it’s just a different hall, another room.
De last ting I wan’ iss t’be chained to a computer f’hours on end...
Last night was an exception. It hadn’t felt like hours, and he knew seeing her again wouldn’t plummet him into bowel-loosening terror.
He pushes open the front door, plops down on the porch steps and whips out a cigarette, lighting it with a pink fzzt. He takes a long drag and slowly exhales a plume of smoke, watches it curl in on itself until it disappears.
The X-Men will find those people, save them. It’s what they do - in spandex no les - and he’s all for it, the rescuing, the bursting in, a flurry of crackling Hearts and cartwheels, somersaults and Jacks on fire… It’s the homework he’s not up for. If he’s honest with himself it’s because he’s scared. He doesn’t want to stare into their haunted eyes, transfixed and forced to remember what he’s tried so hard to forget.
He absently puts a hand to his head, his fingers sliding into his hair, finding the scar and tracing it, the long wicked line a reminder of a hell he had begged for.
He had made a deal with a devil to stop his head from exploding, and he knows it did what it said it would, cured him of the incapacitating headaches, the uncontrollable bursts of power. He hasn’t seen evidence of anything else being done to him, and he’s grateful for that. He knows the only reason he escaped relatively unscathed is because he’s a lucky bastard and Stormy got to him in time. He had heard too many things in his lucid hours to be so naïve as to think the thing would not have experimented on him if it had gotten the chance.
Dat ting was a mutant…
He wonders if that’s even worse on some level, because in a way he can kind of understand why the MCA is doing what it’s doing. They’re threatened, so they’re keeping those people locked up… But that thing… that mutant… what it was doing with all those… parts... He doesn’t want to think about its why because the only thing he can come up with is the sadistic pleasure it must have gotten out of torture, out of tearing other mutants, his brethren, apart and putting them back together in the most monstrous of ways…
He shivers, suddenly retching with the memory of the blood and antiseptic smell, his head starting to spin with the sound of its instruments clicking coldly together and the screams…
Dieu, de screams…
He tosses the cigarette away with a shaking hand, tries to force it out of his mind, all of it.
Jus’ do de job. No mo’ ‘scuses. De longer y’put de research off, de longer iss gon’ take t’get dem out…
He watches his spent cigarette fading into a last streamer of smoke, tells himself, right now you responsible for deir lives, you made de choice to be by stayin’ here… but still he can’t bring himself to move.
What if Stormy hadn’t moved?
Y’d still be dere… Y’d be rottin’ in some cell while dat ting strapped y’down and cut as deep as he could wit out killin’ ya outright… and dat mouth would be laughin’, dose teeth like needles… all dose needles… knives and saws….
He’s starting to shake. He tells himself to stop, Don’ tink ‘bout it goddammit! but he can’t. He feels like he’s going to be sick.
He quickly takes the folded up piece of paper from his breast pocket, his hands trembling, and carefully smoothes it out on his knee. He looks down at her looking up at him and breathes deep, breathes her in with his burning eyes, counting on her to chase his devil away. No more mouth full of needles, just white white skin like silk and green green eyes like jewels stolen in his other life, slipped into his pockets only to be lost, given away.
He traces her face with his thumb over and over until the paper in his hand is still, he is still.
He went through each image last night, tirelessly seeking her in a sea of faces, a checkerboard of bodies. He was able to find her quite easily most of the time, almost as if he knew where to look, remembered where she was at every moment. He unconsciously started charting her movement across the room using the times printed in the corners.
He stopped when he reached the image that had been taken at 10:21, finally finding what he had been hoping for.
This picture, this one right here.
Her, no longer a blur in the crowd, one of hundreds of people swathed in black, in white and almost invisible. Just her and her only half-turned towards the hidden camera, lips parted, one hand sliding into her hair, her palm cupping her ear, looking right at him. He had touched the screen then, slid a finger along the curve of her jaw, down her long white throat, his heart beating hard in his.
He had stared at her until the sun came up, memorizing every detail of her face, the unexpected flecks of gold in her eyes, the perfect brushstroke of her eyebrows, her lips, full and lush that he had ached to kiss, to really kiss with nothing between them, no ulterior motives, no misunderstandings. He said goodbye to her for the millionth time, intending it to be the last as the morning spilled its light across Ororo’s floor. He had closed the window about to quit the file but the next image that came up had been her again, five minutes later. And then there had been another five minutes after that. And another and another, all the shots close-ups. He had hoped to find at least one when he started looking, accepted early on that he probably wouldn’t since the whole purpose of the mission was to stay under the radar, which they thought they had done, so when he saw that first picture of her he had thought he had gotten lucky, that they had taken it by accident. He realized the second he saw the next one that this was not so, and had followed her trail with a sinking in his stomach that dropped through the floor when it merged with the Professor’s.
Discovering that Xavier may be in danger had been an accident, but he hadn’t told Cyclops that. Scott doesn’t need to know that he hadn’t been going through the files looking for clues or whatever, that all he had wanted was to see her one last time. Nobody needs to know he’s still emotionally jerking off at every opportunity.
At leas’ y’got someting productive outta it dis time.
He gave the disc back to Ororo last night after printing out the images he wanted to show Scott. He left a note tucked into the delicate strap of her nightgown, the paper set softly under her collarbone, a thank you, a I’m finished with it, Stormy.
He doesn’t want to lie to her.
It was stupid to take the picture.
He doesn’t want to keep looking at it and he knows he will.
So he sets it alight.
He turns it to ash, does it before he can stop himself, change his mind.
He looks at it in his hands, the dove grey powder and feels a flash of regret and then relief. It’s done. He’s done.
The wind comes, he feels it on his face.
He lifts his palms, he sets her free and decides to just fucking do it - face his fears, confront his demons.
True he's been running from them, true he's been taking solace in one shitty time in his past in order to keep away from another, but it has to stop. He told Scott he was willing to be present, to stand with them. To be an X-Man if the offer hadn't expired.
Scott had said it hadn't. That they'd be glad to have him. And because Scott really isn't as much an asshole as he sometimes likes to think, he'd been genuine in the offer, had smacked him on the back and told him to get to work with a smile.
He sighs, claps his hands on his thighs and gets to his feet. He crushes the carcass of his spent cigarette under the toe of his boot and trots back up the steps, back into the mansion, determined.
Let's do dis den...
He finds Bobby in the computer lab, his fingers flying over the keys, feverishly typing, pausing, then typing again.
Remy leans in the slightest bit, unnoticed, and reads over his shoulder, So how big is it?
Bobby jerks back with a yelp, closing the window.
“What the hell man! You scared me!”
Remy shrugs and sits down beside him at one of the free monitors, switching it on.
“Sorry, mon amie. T’ought y’heard me come in.”
Bobby snorts, glances at the computer as it blips and a bubble comes up, you still there?
He quickly closes it, blushing.
“You know I didn’t hear you. No one ever hears you. You need a bell or something.”
Remy smiles a slow smile looking Bobby over, his arms crossed defensively in front of his chest, his toe tapping on the floor, obviously anxious to get back to his “work”.
“So who’s “Frostbite”, Drake?”
He blushes harder, turns back to his monitor and quits the instant messenger program completely.
Remy shakes his head, tsking.
“You ain’ even gon’ say goodbye? Dat tres rude…”
“Guess you’d know.”
Remy chuckles softly and inserts his disc while Bobby fidgets, his curser swirling around the desktop, purposely avoiding the AIM icon.
“Frostbite’s a girl?”
The arrow stops.
“Shut up. Yeah.”
He flushes again and Remy realizes for the first time how young Bobby really is. He remembers seventeen, being in a constant state of want and he suspects unlike himself at that age, Bobby doesn’t get.
“You wan’ her t’be?”
Bobby shrugs, a smile easing over his lips and he shrugs again.
Folder after folder pops up on Remy’s desktop holding images of captive after captive. His stomach starts to twist, his resolve weakening before he even looks at the first picture.
He turns his swivel chair until it faces Bobby’s, forces a smile, a wink.
“Tell you what – you do m’research f’me an I help you.”
“Dude I still have the rest of mine to do…”
“Okay den, good luck wit Frosty.” He turns back to his computer but still doesn’t open any of the folders. He won’t have to. Not ever. Because after a moment Bobby sighs like he knew he would and says, “How’re you gonna help me?”
“T’ought y’weren’ innerested.”
“Don’t be a dick. I’ll do your stupid research, just tell me what to do.”
“How you meet? Inna chatroom?”
“No… she… you know that girl that was here like a month or so ago that we were gonna recruit? That Emma girl?”
“Ahhhh yeah… Emma Frost… “ He whistles under his breath, “Vous avez le bon goût mon ami…”
“You got good taste. She hot. Aaaaaaaan it soun’ like she innerested… so dat’s a good start.”
“How do you know she’s interested?”
“’How big is it?'”
“She was asking about my room.”
“No, really – she was complaining about her dorm room and she was curious how big mine was.”
“Bobby, Bobby, Bobby. Y’job as a man wit a sex drive is t’turn de conversation inta someting a lil more… stimulatin’. She gave y’de perfec’ openin’ and y’ didn’ take it.”
“Well, I might of but you came in and interrupted me…”
“Y’wouldn’ a taken it.”
“How do you know?”
“Cuz you shy an’ dat’s sweet but it ain’ gon get you any. Now how long you been talkin’?”
“I dunno… a few weeks.”
“Well…e very other.”
“An' you ain’ made no plans t’meet?”
“I dunno, it never came up.”
“Drake, you want dis girl or not?”
“Den you have to make it come up. M’gon’ let ya in on a lil secret dat might make dis easier f’ya - women like sex jus’ as much as we do.”
“Iss true, mon amie. Chances are you will get lucky wit dis girl if you say an’ do de right tings.”
“I don’t want her to slap me…”
“Dat’s what I’m here for.”
“I get the feeling you’ve been slapped a lot.”
“On’y when I’ve wanned t’be.”
He reaches past him and clicks on the AIM icon.
“What are you doing!”
“We gon’ get you a date.”
“She may not even be on any more – she said she has class soon.”
“You screen name is Popsicle24?”
“An hers is Frostbite…”
“Suckin’ an’ bitin’.”
“You are so immature.”
He clicks on her name in Drake’s list and types in, You still there Frosty?
“I never call her that.”
“Nickname’s term of endearment.”
Frostbite: Hey, I thought you left me
Popsicle24: technical difficulties
Frostbite: Good to hear – punishment’s no longer in order then
Remy turns to Bobby with a grin.
“Now what we have here Drake is ‘nother openin’. You wan’ take it o’ should I?”
“Punishment, mon amie… Dieu, you are green…”
“Umm… what do I say?”
“Flirt wit her.”
Remy sighs and takes command of the keyboard.
Popsicle24: punishment? what kind of punishment?
Frostbite: Wouldn’t you like to know…
Popsicle24: is it of the whips and chains variety or…
Bobby punches his shoulder, “I can’t believe you just typed that!” and stares at the screen in horror as nothing happens.
“She’s not answering! You asshole!”
Frostbite: More whips than chains… I have a nice leather one that I haven’t broken in yet…
Remy ignores Bobby’s convulsing, types, you looking for a test subject?
Frostbite: You offering?
Frostbite: Then maybe I am
Frostbite: Didn’t know you were into that sort of thing Drake…
Popsicle24: i’m full of surprises…
Frostbite: Hmmm I guess so ;)
Popsicle24: so you want to meet somewhere sometime… a little coffee, a little bondage?
Frostbite: What took you so long?
Popsicle24: guess I’m shy
Frostbite: We’ll have to work on that…
Frostbite: I have class until 2:30 this friday, but after that I’m free to play all day…
Popsicle24: an all night?
Bobby groans, “Cheesy man, cheesy”
Frostbite: We’ll see…depends on whether or not you’re a good boy…
Frostbite: I have to go, european history awaits!
Popsicle24: see you friday emma
Frostbite: Yes you will Bobby
“How the hell did you do that?”
“All I did was pick up on her cues. She wanned y’Drake, all y’had t’do was let her know you wan’er too.”
“She soun like she gon’ be a good time. Y’ll hafta lemme know how it goes…”
“You a virgin right?”
“Shut up. Yeah.”
“Nuthin’ t’be ‘shamed of, jus if y’wan’ I can give ya some tips on how not t’embarrass y’self by losin’ it de second she touches y.”
“I’m not going to lose it the second…” Remy looks at him with a raised eyebrow. “Shut up.”
“So you wan’ get a beer or get started on all dis?” he asks knocking his knuckles lightly against his computer screen still displaying folder after unopened folder.
“I thought you were banned from Harry’s.”
“Harry’s ain’ de only place t’drink.”
“Okay, but you do know I’m eighteen right?”
“Huh. T’ought you were younger.”
He knows Bobby was nervous about drinking with him. He knows he’s heard about the shit he had gotten himself into before, so he took special care to be on his best behavior. Only three drinks, nothing harder than what was on tap. He took care of Bobby, got him tipsy, gave him some tips on how to be a sexual powerhouse and now they’re sitting on the porch as the sun comes down and it’s starting to rain, just a light mist and he’s smoking as usual, but feeling alright with the world, feeling alright with himself. He’s successfully avoided having to revisit his worst nightmare, and he actually had a good time with the kid. He can’t remember the last time he had been able to just kick back like that.
“Can I have one of those?”
“I said can I have one?”
“You smoke before, Drake?”
“Why the hell not?”
“Cuz I never give nobody dere firs’ smoke. Iss a bad habit.”
“You really think she’ll sleep with me?”
“Don’ be so insecure. She said she likes you. Trus’ dat. If y’don’ fuck each other senseless on Friday you’ll do it some other time. Now go do my research.”
Bobby snorts, shoves his hands into his pockets.
“One more ting…”
“No chattin’ wit her until Friday. An even den fin' out where you gon’ meet an den sign off.”
“Leave her wanting more?”
Remy grins, points his cigarette at him, “Now y’catchin’ on.”
Bobby mock salutes him and leaves him alone on the porch. He finishes his cigarette, tosses it over the balcony and glances at his wrist. It’s after nine. The Danger Room should be free now. He’ll have to find someone to moderate though as going it alone is strictly forbidden. Maybe he’ll ask Jean. He knows she likes watching him and he can ask her about the Professor, if he thinks he’s safe.
The wind picks up a little chilling the once warm air and the rain starts coming down harder. There’s a rumble of thunder far off in the distance, a flash of lightning. He smiles to himself remembering the last big storm to blow through. He and Ororo had watched the show from her loft together. She had written her initials in the sky with ropes of lightning and he had watched her, lit from within, drawing power from the air around her, laughing and playing with it like the goddess she is.
“I thought that might be you…” she smiles, opens her door and lets him in.
“Even dough I used de door dis time?”
She lets him have his favorite chair and sits at his feet before the great windows stretching from the ceiling to the floor. The rain comes streaming down, torrential and fierce and he knows it excites her, this display of power, knows it’s thrumming through her body. He looks at her and she glows. He loves that. He takes a flower from her floor where it has fallen free from its vine and weaves it absently into her hair, keeping his eyes on the sky as she hums to herself, puts her hand over his foot.
“And what did you do today, Remy?”
“Hmmm… lessee… Might’ve saved de Professor’s life – dat was in de mornin’. Dis afternoon I got Bobby a date… den in de evenin’ got him drunk an’ gave him tips on how t’give de girl multiple orgasms in one go.”
“Sounds like you were productive.”
“Well, I try.”
“And your research?”
He smiles down at her, tugs gently on the braid he has made. “Taken care of.”
“I finished with mine earlier this evening. I believe Scott will have us convene tomorrow morning with our findings-“
She turns to look up at him.
“Why does this project bother you so much?”
He looks away from her, watches the rivulets of rain making their way down the glass, reaches out and touches it, cold cold against his fingertips.
Because I’m weak… weaker den I t’ought I was…
A flicker of movement above the trees outside catches his eye and he stands, goes to the window, staring hard.
What de hell was dat?
“Someting’s dere… outside… someting… too big t’be a bird…”
The figure dips down towards the courtyard just low enough to set off the alarms and then jerks back up again erratic as a butterfly. Ororo immediately gets to her feet, flings open the windows with a gust of wind and pushes the storm back with a wave of her hand.
She stands beside him and they can see now without the downpour blurring their vision… a person… a winged… an angel descending from the sky fast, fast.
He looks down, sees that the others are outside now and already on the defensive as the alarms continue to sound throughout the mansion a wailing he can feel in his teeth.
Storm lifts him with another surge of wind and sends them both out the window, down to the courtyard where the figure has finally landed in a heap, its great white wings heaving with exhaustion, splattered with mud. A long pale arm reaches out from beneath them, the hand splayed open and unmoving.
Scott attempts to come closer and Wolverine quickly stops him with a hand on his arm.
“Wait a minute. I know the scent.”
“Who is it?” Bobby asks trying to peer around the protective arc of its wings cutting the face and most of the body off from sight.
Remy feels Wolverine’s eyes on him, turns his head to meet them.
“Nobody touch her,” he growls. “Y’hear me, Cajun?”
And he knows then.
It’s the way Logan is looking at him. The way his heart is beating way too hard, the way his skin is tingling with anticipation the way it always used to when-
“I can’t read anything,” Jean says.
“She may be seriously injured, we should bring her in." Hank steps aside with a sweep of his arm, "Ms Grey, if you would do the honors?”
She nods, closes her eyes in concentration and a pink halo of power surrounds the fallen angel, lifts her up, and he can see her now, her face streaked with mud, her face, her face…
He whispers, “Mon dieu…” stares at her limp form as she floats past in a haze of Jean’s power and if he hadn’t known all too well every detail of her face he’d never have believed it…
The others follow each other back into the mansion, he can hear their whispered voices, Bobby’s confused, “I thought she was… y’know….”, and he stands there in the courtyard unable to move as the rain starts falling again, Ororo’s hold on the storm released.
He stares at the single white feather lying in the mud at his feet, bends down to retrieve it, half expecting it to disappear when he touches it, half expecting to wake up in his bed tangled in his sheets, his heart racing in his chest.
He picks it up, holds it in his hand.
It’s real. This is happening.
He turns his head.
Wolverine stands on the porch, watching him.
“Come out of the rain, kid.”
“She died Logan. I held her in m’arms and watched her die.”
I kissed her… pressed m’lips 'gainst hers so hard an’ nuthin’ nuthin’…
It can’t be her.
It’s a trick.
Of course it is… dat bi-
“It ain’t Mystique.”
“It has t’be! Dere’s no poss-”
“Scents don’t lie. It’s her.”
Remy stares at him and Logan won’t look him in the eye. He gestures loosely at the open door, Come on now, get inside.
He swallows hard, the feather clenched in his fist as he steps under the awning and out of the storm.
“You don’ soun’ surprised, Logan.”
“Nuthin’ surprises me no more.”
Chapter 5: White
He’s a religious man. He believes in God.
She blends in with the sheets, white, white angel.
This is a gift.
This shouldn’t feel like pain.
But she’s so white.
The wings that she shouldn’t have rise slightly with her soft breath and they’re so perfect, so beautiful...
Had he been alone and saw her he would have thought she was an apparition, a hallucination, a sign from God that meant… what?
What does it mean that she’s here?
He looks at the dried blood on her shoulder blades where her wings had burst forth. She is so still, and he wonders, do I have to watch her die again…
He has done bad things. Many bad things… but God would not do this to him…
He watches silent and taut with tension as Jean holds her suspended with telekinetic power, flushing her body in a cloud of magenta energy, the ragged raspberry swirls of her hair and the hot pink of her skin making her look charged like one of his cards. He holds his breath as Hank peers at her limp form assessing her condition as best he can while Jean turns her slowly, gently. The torn shift she wears clings to her skin with damp and Scott paces, trying not to unleash a bolt of sizzling red frustration on a wall.
"Are you forgetting what happened the last time she was here? She took two of us out and could have easily finished the rest of us off-”
“But she didn’t,” Ororo says softly from Remy’s side, her voice low and melodic, soothing as always despite the quivering thread of irritation running through it now. Her hand is against his, hidden between their bodies, offering him support with the lightest of touches which he does not acknowledge.
“Jean talked to her, Scott. She said she didn’t know who we were… she thought we were the bad guys.”
“Then why’d she run when she found out we weren’t?”
"Dude, wouldn’t you?” Bobby murmurs and taps lightly on the window, ice crystals frosting the glass over her image, an ice angel that melts beneath his fingertips. “I mean if it was me and I’d just knocked out the wrong people, was alone on their base without back up… man, I wouldn’t think twice about bolting… You so would have blasted her to death and you know it...”
She had leapt out of a third-story window.
Jean had watched her disappear into the crimson blaze of the sunrise, the stolen pink fire cradling her, carrying her away, and had collapsed shortly after feeling as though all her strength had been pulled out of her along with her mutant power. It had felt like dying. Slowly. She had told him this when they were together side by side in the MedLab, victims.
“She’s too dangerous,” Betsy murmurs, and Jean’s power is a fading blush on Rogue’s skin, reminding Remy of colored lights, of throbbing music.
Betsy lifts her chin, raises a perfect eyebrow, a brushstroke of skepticism, a slant of a frown.
“I agree with Scott.”
Henry finishes his assessment. She lies motionless on the bed.
“What do you propose we do then, Psylocke? Treat her like a criminal before she has a chance to explain her presence here?”
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to tie her down, Storm.”
Shackles on those wrists, small thin wrists, pinned to the bed like a butterfly.
Hank had said it wasn’t necessary, but if Scott pushed it…
Scott runs his hands through his hair, a steady flush working it’s way up from his collar. “You can’t blame us for being cautious…” He glances at Logan, a flash of overhead lighting glinting off his visor. Half his face unreadable, the set of his jaw and the downward curve of his lips makes his expectations clear: Back me up, Wolverine.
Remy waits for it, the low gruff voice crawling it’s way up from his belly like an animal growling in English, muttering “cuff the bitch,” but Logan stands silent watching Remy watch the girl. Storm’s hand is gone and he barely notices.
“Treatin’ her like she’s guilty’ll only lead to problems later, Cyc. We’re gonna want her to cooperate when she wakes up.”
Scott wordlessly shakes his head, can’t believe he’s not getting back up from the man who had sworn the next time he saw the girl he’d gut her. His fists clench with his jaw, tighter, tighter, I-am-right-goddammit.
Jean enters the observation room, closes the door to the MedLab gently behind her. The woman carries an aura of calm with her. Remy feels it like a breeze, a whisper, a breath. He doesn’t know if she is doing this on purpose, radiating, or if it’s just who she is. This is the first time his defenses have been down in a long while, which means she can probably feel him too, but he refuses to believe the soothing wave of her mind is for his benefit. Nobody looking at him would be able to tell how close he is to absolutely losing his shit, and he doesn’t broadcast. His walls may have chinks in them right now, but unless Jean’s actively trying to read him she won’t be able to tell either.
This is important to him, the illusion of being untouched, unaffected. It is and always has been integral to his survival, but he can’t look away from her, he has not said a word and they all know.
“It will be alright,” Jean says and Scott snorts, opens his mouth to start up again, but she cuts him off. “She’s not evil Scott… She trusted us by coming here, weakened as she is. We can’t betray that.”
She stands beside Remy, her shoulder touches his as he watches Hank carefully draping a sheet over Rogue’s hips, trying to keep her as warm as he can. Another wave of calm, of comfort and he knows for sure this time it’s directed at him. He struggles to rebuild his walls distracted as he is, and she faces Scott’s disbelief, his stubbornness, for the both of them. “We’re the ones she touched. We were in and out of consciousness for weeks. If we’re okay with this you should be too.”
He is not okay with this.
He is a mess.
He can barely breathe.
She still hasn’t moved, what the fuck good would tying her down do anyway?
Remy tears his eyes away from her, meets Scott’s reflection in the glass beside him superimposed over her prone body, a ghost of disapproval hovering over her helplessness. Her delicacy. He speaks to him in the glass, says, look at her, Scott…and he stares him down until he does.
He understands Scott’s concerns, knows he doesn’t know Rogue, has no reason to trust her. His word on her behalf means nothing. Neither really does Jean’s in this case. She has a good heart, is willing to trust at the risk of herself. Scott knows this. He is protective of her, of them all. He can’t hate Scott for that and he tells him so, his eyes say, I understan’ but just look, mon ami…
The visor flickers once, twice.
Scott watches Hank carefully check her pulse, hook her up to a machine that sings her heartbeat, and the tension spills out of him slowly, a fine-lined crack in a china cup, releasing his anger, his frustration, and Remy knows he sees her now instead of Jean lying on that very same bed.
He sees a girl who needs help.
Remy turns his attention back to her, satisfied now that Scott will give it.
Scott is decent, Scott is good. Scott will always do what is right.
Hank gently wipes the mud from her skin with a cloth and Remy wants to ask him if she would hear him if he spoke to her, if he whispered in her ear, wants to ask if she would feel him if he touched the damp fabric at the small of her back, if she would know it was him, that he was waiting for her to wake up as he should have waited before.
“I want someone with her at all times,” Scott finally says and Jean gives Remy’s hand a little brush with hers just like Ororo had done, the curve of her palm lightly grazing his knuckles.
“I’ll do it,” Remy murmurs, speaking for the first time in over an hour, and Scott looks doubtful, turns his head to Logan again but he stops him with a hand on his arm, forces him to meet the red on black burn of his gaze.
“I do it,” he says and enters the MedLab without another word, nodding briefly at Hank as they cross paths. He sits down beside her and knows they are watching him now through the glass as well. He can feel their worry, feel their doubt as to how capable he is where she is concerned but he doesn’t care. He
needs to be here when she wakes up. He needs to know where she’s been, why she didn’t tell him…
Why she let him think she was dead.
Why she’s here now.
Why there’s a barcode on the back of her neck.
Her long hair had been chopped into an awkward bowl cut, long on the sides and angling up sharply in the back, jagged. He leans forward and he can see it there now beneath the tangles.
He sucks in his breath.
Feels like he’s going to be sick.
The MCA barcodes their mutants, tags them like cattle.
He turns to the observation room to wave someone in, but they have all gone. He knows he should find Hank, Scott, somebody, but he can’t move from her side, he can’t leave her…
“Je ne vous laisserai pas…”
He looks down at her face in repose, innocent as a child’s, and he is suddenly struck by how young she is. She couldn’t be more than eighteen, but he isn’t sure. He never asked.
He doesn’t know anything.
“Je veux savoir tout...”
He doesn’t understand how it happened, how they got to her…
“Je dois savoir…”
He had left her lying in a pool of her own blood deep in the heart of Raven’s compound. He seriously doubts that if Raven had returned and found her alive she would have handed her over to the enemy no matter how pissed she was that Rogue had refused to have her mind ravaged for the sake of mutant terrorism.
It made no sense.
None o’ dis makes any sense…
His eyes catch again on the barcode.
Black stripes in a perfect block, random numbers stamped into her skin.
All dis time…
All this time she’s been in hell.
He clenches his fists, wanting to find the men who did this and charge them until they burst in a shower of sparks and blood-
Her eyelashes suddenly flicker against her cheeks, heavy and dark and he drops to his knees beside the bed, pushing the chair back with a scrape.
He holds his breath waiting, keeps his eyes on hers wanting to be the first thing she sees, wanting to assure her she is safe, he is here. She is safe.
But she doesn’t move.
He leans closer, whispers against her ear, “please, chere, come back… iss’okay now… you okay….”
But he doesn’t know if she is. He has no idea what she’s been through, what they’ve done to her.
He looks again at the wings, the blood, and he reaches out before he can stop himself, rests his hand lightly along the arch, feeling it rise slightly in his palm with her breath.
He knows he shouldn’t, knows he has no right…
But he strokes her gently, softly, his fingers tracing the feathers, lightly, delicately.
Wake up… please… please… wake up… be okay… iss okay…
Her lips part, she sighs in her sleep and he holds his breath.
He knows she feels him and his heart is pounding and he should stop, he should stop…
But she feels him, she’s here with him.
Both hands now, fanned out and sliding along the silky inside, she feels him, she feels him… Her hand beside her face closes, gathering the sheet beneath, and he looks at her mouth, her lower lip caught behind her teeth and the soft sounds she makes makes his heart beat harder harder…
He leans forward again, wanting to taste her moan and stops, rests his face on the bed beside hers. He closes his eyes, breathing her breath, so close to the oblivion he has been seeking for so long… her mouth, a paradise…
He whispers, “Wake up…”
He sits up as Hank enters the MedLab and quickly takes his hands from her.
He shakes his head, swallows hard, “Non… but look at dis…”
He motions for Hank to come closer and carefully moves her hair away from the nape of her neck. He shows him. “Did y’see dis when y’were checkin’ her out?”
Hank frowns pushing his glasses up on his nose and peers closer.
“Dey got to her, Hank. I don’ know how, but dey got to her.”
“Scott told us what you found on the surveillance disc. It does seem likely that this is the MCA’s doing since we now know she was a target at one point, but we cannot be sure of anything until she wakes up.”
“It was dem, Hank. Dey do dis to people.”
Hank says nothing, knows he is right.
They stand silent, looking down at her together. Remy’s fingers trace the edge of the bed. He makes a move to brush back a ribbon of hair that has fallen across her cheek and stops himself.
Hank says so quietly he can barely hear him, “You’ve been here for a while, Remy. I could take over…“
“Non. M’fine. T’anks.“
“You’re not looking well-”
“I know you are worried, but I promise you there is no one here who will harm her, least of all me.” A gentle pause, Hank’s heavy hand light on his shoulder. “You don’t need to stand guard, my friend.”
Remy can’t look at him, can only nod uncomfortably. He knows he’s right, knows-
There’s a feather on the floor.
He bends to pick it up, hoping to end a potentially embarrassing conversation about trust and teamwork and eventually, probably, microbiology, and another floats down from the table, brushing his cheek as it falls.
He picks that one up too and stays down there for a second trying to think of a way to get Hank to leave that won’t require physical force or nasty language. He likes Hank, appreciates what he’s done but he needs him to go-
Another feather falls.
And then another.
There’s a soft sound like a bundle of snow falling to the ground and he straightens with a handful of feathers.
Her wings look like trees in the dead of winter, painfully barren, a blanket of feathers covering her body, covering the bed, falling softly over the edges…
“Oh my stars an-”
The wings are moving, they are folding into themselves, and they watch speechless as they sink into her back leaving two gaping wounds gushing fresh blood, staining all the white just like before, just like before.
Henry moves first but Remy is on his feet a second later, vaulting himself through the doors of the MedLab.
He tears down the hallway, throwing open doors, and where de fuck did everyone go...
He turns a corner, hears voices.
“I know you’ve made yer choice, Jeannie, I know I can’t-“
He whips open the door.
Jean and Logan freeze, inches from each other, Logan’s hand a breath away from her cheek.
Telepathy and heightened senses and neither had felt him coming, felt his panic.
“Remy-“ Jean coughs, steps away. “I was just about to come and-“
He cuts her off, meets Wolverine’s eyes flashing with annoyance, a snarl curling his lip.
“I need y’ healin’ factor,” he snaps. “Now!"
Chapter 6: Safe
He stuck a lit card in Wolverine’s belt once.
It was during a training session. Logan had been giving him shit for being too showy, for taking unnecessary risks that someone like him, i.e. someone who could actually die by death-ray or whatever the hell those things were Scott had shooting at them, shouldn’t be taking.
He’d somersaulted over one of the machines, getting right in its path, and waited until the last possible second to shove his bo staff through its sensor. The robot’s dying blast had shot over his head, caught the flapping end of his trench as he ducked out of the way. The damn thing caught fire and Wolverine had watched with a smirk curling his lips as Remy flung it off, whipped it at the ground to stop the flames.
“If yer determined to play with fire, kid, you better damn well make sure you can handle it…” Logan had picked up the coat, his bare hand making direct contact with the still sizzling cloth. The smell of smoking flesh filled Remy’s nostrils and Logan had looked right at him with that I’m-tougher-than-you-could-ever-hope-to-be-you-little-shit grin and he had smiled tightly back, nodded at Logan’s charred skin that was already starting to heal itself and said, “I guess you de man den. Nothin’ can stop de Wolverine… 'cept I burn my hand too, neh? Burn dem a million time worse den dat over an' over an' I still goin’ strong. How 'bout you, Logan? You tink y’can take m’kinna power? Really take it?”
“Kid, anytime.” Logan had tossed him the coat. The lights came up, the session ended, and as Remy had stepped past him, his arms full of the smoking cloth, he deftly slipped a charged card into Wolverine’s belt.
He had paused on his way to the door, turned his head the slightest bit to look over his shoulder and said
“Don’ call me kid.”
He watched Logan go up in a burst of flame, watched as he threw himself to the ground and started rolling, screaming obscenities, promising mutilation and then slow death.
He had stood there still holding his ruined coat as Logan came toward him, the blackened skin peeling off his face, new cells crawling over the sheen of metal bone, feverishly rebuilding itself until by the time Logan got to him he was as good as new. He had pressed his knuckles hard into Remy’s chest, growled “Any last words?” and Remy had looked him in the eye and grinned.
“Dat was so fuckin’ cool.”
That blast would have decimated anyone else, but Logan’s skin had grown back, had completely healed itself until not a mark was left.
He wonders if it was the same with her. If the skin cells had knitted themselves back together right before Hank’s eyes.
He stands frozen, halfway between the bed and the door, one hand still gripping Logan’s shirt by the collar. He had intended to force him into giving her his power. He knows Logan knows this, and in the midst of his worry, his relief, his confusion, it occurs to him that Logan hadn’t fought him when he jerked him down the hallway, hadn’t so much as popped a claw.
Rogue hadn’t needed him anyway.
Beneath her torn and tattered shift, beneath the thick smears of blood, her skin is clear. The wounds from her wings are gone, not so much as a bruise remaining to suggest that they had been there at all. If it weren’t for all the feathers he’d have trouble believing their existence himself.
Henry picks them up, holds in his large hands a bouquet of crimson and white and shakes his head, clearly astounded.
“I was trying to staunch the bleeding and when I switched the gauze I saw that she had healed.” He sets the feathers down on the counter beside the haphazard piles of stained bandages and looks pointedly at Remy, says almost accusingly, “I wasn’t aware she had that ability.”
Remy cannot speak, cannot tell him that he wasn’t aware either. He can only stare at that smooth, perfect skin, the swirls of drying blood that have made patterns on her back. He lets go of Logan and picks up a cloth with a shaking hand, dips it into the bowl of water beside her.
The last time he had seen this much blood… it had been hers then too.
He gently wipes it away, the water sliding down her spine in pale pink rivers. He hears Jean say his name but he still can’t answer, still can’t speak.
This is wrong.
He remembers so clearly his hand pressed hard against her breast over the wound, trying to stop the blood. He remembers the way the silk felt, a thin barrier between his flesh and hers. How her life had seeped through it, ran between his fingers, spilled over the back of his hand a seemingly unending waterfall of dark red. When he had finally laid her down, his shirt and jacket had been soaked. The bullet had ripped right through her. She had been bleeding from her back as well.
He presses the cloth against that place, that place she had bled from, as Hank says, “You had only been gone about thirty seconds when I realized the bleeding had stopped…”
The bleeding never stopped.
No matter how hard he pressed her to him. She never opened her eyes. The blood never stopped.
“Is she alright Hank? It looks like she’s lost a lot…” Jean comes closer and he can feel her like heat. She is always warm like he is always warm, but he is feverish now, he is on fire. He feels himself taking in her energy like a sunburn, feeding off the strength she is sending him and he doesn't want to, he doesn't want to but he needs it.
“She appears to be fine… Vitals are strong. She’s in better health right now than she was when she arrived…”
And Remy can see this is true. Her color has returned, she is no longer terrifyingly pale. A faint blush has moved throughout her body, making her look warm and alive.
He wipes the last of the blood from her back and stares hard trying to see what is not there, some… trace of the wings. Of the bullet.
He knows Logan didn’t touch her, didn’t give her his power. Logan wouldn’t do that, not on his own, and not for her, but he’s having trouble accepting this miraculous recovery as a mutation of hers he was not aware of.
She had broken her fingers during his Brotherhood initiation, had not been able to heal herself then.
At least he doesn’t think so.
He had been keeping his distance at that time, half worried that if he allowed himself to get close to her again he’d forget what he was there for. Half worried he’d throw away all sense of self-preservation, honor, and loyalty for another taste.
That night at the pool he’d actually gotten out of the water. Took two or three steps in her direction, reached out to stop her from leaving him. But he hadn’t let himself catch her and he’s wondered more than once if things would have been different if he had.
He picks up her hand, rubs his thumb gently between her knuckles. He remembers these fingers bandaged. Splinted. He can’t believe she has a healing factor.
Because that would mean she woke up in a pool of blood, thinking he had left her to die.
But she did, didn’ she?
A smudge of red decorates her wrist, curves around the bone.
He follows the pale streak of it into her palm, automatically reaching for the cloth again and stops with a jerk, his hand knocking into the bowl and sending rose-colored water sloshing over the sides.
“What is it LeBeau?” Logan comes and stands beside him, looks down at her hand resting palm up in his. He is silent waiting for an answer and Remy knows he doesn’t understand, doesn’t get it… How could he? He never saw…
Because Remy always wears gloves.
I burn my hand too, neh? Burn dem a million time…
All it takes is once though, to leave a mark.
“Dis healin’ a new ting.”
He looks over his shoulder at Jean who has never left his side, who is now caught between himself and Logan. He sees her trying not to be so aware of Logan’s proximity, trying to focus on the matter at hand, and catches the almost imperceptible undulation of her throat as she swallows and asks, “How do you know?”
Remy peels one of his gloves off, shows them, and Jean’s eyes widen as she looks at the ruined skin, the map of scars. Logan mutters “Jesus” under his breath and Hank blinks.
“When she firs’ absorb me she couldn’ control de blasts. Tore up her hands pretty good… not as bad as dis, but you can still tell.” He nods at her palm, the star of white a sharp-edged flower just paler than her skin, and maybe it would feel slick and smooth against his fingers...
He’s partly ashamed that his powers have hurt her. And partly thrilled that there is evidence of him and only him on her body. They share the same mark, are connected by scars and the knowledge of what raw power building up from deep inside of you and desperate to escape feels like. That rush of release… She only got to feel the bad part of it. After a while she might have liked using his power. Liked it like he likes it.
“She don’ have de healin’ on her own. She musta got it from someone pretty recen’ly… But if she was captive, de MCA wouldn’ have her frat’nizin’ wit oder mutants neh? She be too dangerous. An healin’ power… don make sense dey’d let her absorb somebody wit healin’…”
“Unless they gave it to her so they could do whatever they wanted for however long they wanted without her dyin’ on them.” Wolverine mutters, his hand fisted at his side, droplets of blood forming on his knuckles as his claws fight their way through his skin with a faint shuck.
“Or perhaps she acquired the ability after she escaped?” Henry offers. “She may have found someone with the gifts she needed on her way to us.”
Remy shakes his head, “ She wouldn’ have risked hurtin’ ‘nother person if she was already free.”
“Well, I don’t know about the healing factor, but she definitely got the wings from there…” Jean murmurs, “There was a man in one of the files... I think she got them from him. She wasn’t there though. There's no trace of her in any of the "Green Light" documents, not even a photo.”
“Well, we don’t know how long she’s been with them,“ Logan says, “If she was just captured there probably wouldn’t be any-“
“She been wit’ dem de whole time.”
“You don’t know that, kid.”
“She would’ve come here.”
Logan is silent.
“How long does the absorbed power last?” Hank asks.
“I don’ know. Not too long I tink… although she was usin’ Jeannie’s powers t’keep her steady when she was absorbin’ all dose people at de Ball… but it didn’ seem to be workin’ too well. I tink she only got full access to de power for mebbe a few days at mos’, mebbe less… and den it fades - it not as strong when she use it again. Why?”
“If she only has full access for a short while she could have been held near here for all we know. After all, she was able to make it to the institute before she lost the wings.”
“She lead us dere. When she get better she tell us where dey had her.”
“You sure ‘bout that, Cajun?
“F’im wrong y’can have m’bike.”
“Can I get that in writi-“
“All this speculation is unnecessary right now,” Henry interrupts. “We won’t know anything for sure until she’s awake.”
Logan leans against the doorframe and tumbles an unlit cigar over his fingers.
“Any idea when that’ll be happening?”
“No, but I’m sure all of this commotion isn’t helping to speed up the process. The best thing for my patient right now is peace and quiet.” Hank pushes his glasses up on his nose, folds his arms across his massive chest. “That means no more than one person in here at a time.”
Jean nods in agreement taking a fresh hospital gown from the cupboard, says, “I can take the next watch,” but Remy puts a hand on her arm stopping her.
“C’n I talk t’ya a minnit firs’?”
“Of course, Remy… Hank, I’ll be right back.”
As he leads Jean to the exit he hears Logan’s quiet, “You sure she’s gonna wake up?” at his back. The door closes behind them before he can hear Hank’s answer.
He tells himself he doesn’t need to hear it.
She will wake up.
He’s going to make sure of it.
“You goin’ in.”
“You wakin’ her up f’me.”
“Remy…” Jean shakes her head as he comes closer. Her back presses against the wall, and he’s right there, right in front of her, eye to eye not letting her look away. “Remy, I can’t.”
“Why not?” he whispers.
“You heard Hank, she needs to be left alone… Anyway, Rogue’s mind… I may do more harm than good if I attempt to get in right now.”
“I doubt it. She got people in dere who ain’ as nice as you, neh? I’m one o’ dem…’Sides you been dere b’fore.”
“It’s too dangerous.”
“What’s dangerous is her bein’ stuck in dere. She could be tryin’ to get out, tryin' to get to us an can’t.”
“Or she’s taking a much needed rest from everything she’s been through.”
“Jeannie…” He reaches up, curls a finger around a lock of flame-red hair, tugs gently once, twice. “I ain’ askin’.”
She stares at him and he stays where he is, close enough to feel the warmth of her through her clothes, no emanation now for his benefit, just her and the tension in her body.
He takes a breath, knowing it would come to this, but feeling sorry for it anyway.
“Den it seems like ‘m gon’ hafta have a lil chat wit Scotty.”
She turns her head sharply, her hair slipping from his fingers. She lifts her chin, looks him dead in the eye.
“Oh, I dunno… How ‘bout dat lil tête-à-tête ‘tween you an’ de olfman I innerupted?" He shakes his head with a tsk. “Poor Scotty so stressed out wit all dat’s goin’ on… de las’ ting he need ’t’be worryin’ ‘bout is his fiancé cheatin’-“
“I am not cheating on Scott!”
He lifts his eyebrows, forces another smile, hating this, hating the look on her face.
“Den I guess dere’s no problem wit me tellin’ him I saw you two lookin’ very cozy all alone in de library…”
He steps back and starts off down the hallway towards the Professor’s office. He takes his time, knowing she’ll stop him.
And she does.
He looks at her over his shoulder, at her hands in fists on her hips, her tight jaw, her green eyes flashing angrily, sparks almost coming off her.
“Not because I have anything to be ashamed of, anything to hide, but because you’re right about one thing and one thing only. Scott doesn’t need you messing with his head right now.”
“You absolutely right. Tell de others you got her covered. I’ll wait out here till dey go.”
When he reenters the MedLab Jean has Rogue suspended in the air and is tying the strings at the back of the new hospital gown. It’s too big for her, the neck sliding down her shoulder a little bit, the strings at her waist wrapping all the way around to meet at the back. He looks away as he catches a glimpse of the barcode at the back of her neck.
He knows Jean has a point about her body needing this rest, but he can’t believe it’s good for her in there. They’ve never exactly had a heart to heart about her powers but he knows, he knows from the look on her face when Raven had told her what her assignment was, knows from the concern on Dominick’s as he reached out to her, letting it be known with the simplest of gestures that he would be there for her in a way Remy could not…
He knows it’s bad in there.
And he won’t leave her alone to fight her way out. Not again.
Jean gently sets her back down on the bed, the fresh sheets, and he sits down beside her lightly tapping the side of his head with his index finger.
“No peekin’ in here when we link up. Do I gotta hol’ y’hand or sumthin’?”
She stares at him and he nudges her.
“C’mon Jeannie les’ get dis show on de road. We don’ know how much time we got ‘fore Hank comes back to check up-"
“You are not coming with me.”
“Yes, I am,” he says calmly. “She be more incline to lissen t’me, she trus’ me.”
Jean snorts derisively, looks away from him, and he knows it’s deserved after what he’s pulled but he still feels a twinge.
“We came to an unnerstandin’ ‘fore she… got hurt,” he says softly. “She know I’m on her side now. She don’ know dat ‘bout you guys. She took a big chance comin’ here, you said dat y’self. It be easier if‘m dere. De faster we can get it done de better.”
She doesn’t say anything for a long moment and he touches the back of her hand.
“Remy… you…” She shakes her head, turns her hand over, taking his. She still won’t look at him. “Just… don’t touch anything when we’re in there.”
“Touch anythin’? Like what?”
He doesn’t know what he expected. Something more… diaphanous, maybe. Like smoke. Thoughts like smoke, memories like gauze, dreams like sunlight, nightmares like moonshine…
Everything is so… solid.
Don’t touch anything.
It hadn’t occurred to him before that he could, but now…
Rogue’s mind is a little girl’s room in yellow and white.
He wonders if he was wrong as he looks at the bed, a handmade afghan draped over the edge, a butter-colored bear with slightly matted fur settled between the pillows.
Maybe she is safe here. Maybe that’s why she’s here. Maybe her unconsciousness really is an escape and not a prison like he had thought.
“Rogue?” he calls out and his voice echoes disconcertingly in the small room. He turns to look at Jean, a what de fuck we do now? and she is kneeling on the floor, her hand pressed flat against it.
“I’m… here… down there, and you…” She stands, stretches one arm towards the window on her left and one towards the closet on her right, her palms open, feeling the energy in the room.
“You tink she wit one of us? Um, m’mean one o’ de us-es she absorb before?”
“I don’t know.”
“She can’t jus’ be gone. She has t’be here somewhere, right?”
Jean frowns, “I’m going to talk to my psyche.”
“Dis is so weird.”
“Just stay here for a minute – I’ll be right back…”
He watches her dissolve like champagne bubbles as she melts below the floor and he stands there a moment completely still, completely silent, waiting for something to happen.
“You don’ hafta hide from me, chere…”
He had expected this to be easy. He had expected to be surrounded by her, wrapped in her memories the way he had wrapped her in the gauze drapes. He had expected to unwind her, free her from… from whatever was keeping her here.
But there is nothing. No sign of anything beyond what he sees with his own eyes. A little girl’s room, that really could be any girl’s room. There is nothing that explicitly says Rogue.
Did she grow up here? Was dis hers?
He looks at the bear, the button eyes, it’s sweet crooked sewn-on smile.
Do I hafta touch t’see her? Jus’ like she had t’touch to see me?
His hand hovers above the afghan so carefully folded and lined up right along the edge of the bed…
No! Put y’hands in y’pockets and don’ take ‘em out. You gon’ end up lobotomizin’ her. Or Jean. Or y’self.
He goes over to the window instead, cramming his fists down as far as they can go, and looks out at the Mississippi River. He watches it tumble over itself on its way to the Gulf, and warmth fills his chest, a smile eases across his lips.
“Are y’out dere, cherie? Dat’s where I’d be…”
Laying flat on the banks feeling his skin burn under that blistering sun, his feet in the water, squishing in the mud as the dragonflies hover and the bullfrogs croak...
He hears the wind whisper through the branches of the tree, the creak of the tire swing that suddenly revolves in a wide arc over the river. He swears he hears laughter too but there is no one there.
He wants to see her, seven, ten, twelve years old laughing like he’s never heard her laugh. He wants to see her dancing under the branches of that tree, swinging on that swing and howling in delight. He wants to see her swimming in the river, reading her favorite books beside it. He wants to see her climb out of this window on some secret rendezvous with a boy who knew what he had when he had her.
He thinks a part of him was hoping for that when he made Jean take him here, hoping for the complete knowing of her in an instant… but it hasn’t happened.
He still knows absolutely nothing about the real Rogue except that she’s a southerner, like him. That she smells like sun-drenched flowers and has a whiskey voice, husky and lower than you’d expect it to be and sexy as hell. That her eyes are so green… so unbelievably green, exactly the same shade as the emerald he snatched in Prague all those years ago… That her skin is softer than anything he’s ever touched.
It didn’t feel good, the losing of himself, the onrush of darkness, the pulling sensation that at first was disturbing and then outright painful, but those few seconds just before… They kept him awake at night wondering what it would be like to be surrounded by that softness, surrounded by her and her uncertain kisses that made his heart pound and his blood…
It still keeps him awake at night.
An issa problem. Rememer dat.
He steps away from the window and turns back to the room. He catches his reflection in the dresser mirror and blinks at how drawn he looks.
He barely recognizes himself.
The guy who fucks women he’s said less than 10 words to, who drops acid out of boredom, steals a wallet every time he gets half a chance just because he can, the guy who lives in his own little world where what he does and who he is doesn’t matter is gone, burned up like one of his cards, engulfed in the flame of a desire to be worth something.
He tells himself it's a good thing, this new version of himself, but he has to admit he looks like shit.
He turns away from the mirror, looks again at the room that doesn’t have her imprint. He wonders why that is, why this place doesn’t really feel like hers and decides it’s better this way, the not knowing everything in an instant.
It shouldn't be like that, the knowing of someone. It should be a choice. The peeling away of layers, the revealing of oneself until all that's left are the parts that need the most care... It should be given in trust, not just taken, snatched like a prize.
His jaw tightens, his fists, still shoved deep into his pockets clench and he realizes he's still angry about what she'd done to him, taken from him. He knows she couldn't help it, but there are things... things he never would have shared even if he was capable. Things she knows about him that she has no business knowing...
And yet he came here half hoping he'd be able to glean some of her secrets, hoping to know her...
Bit hypocritical, non?
But it's not the only reason he's here. It's not even the primary reason. He's concerned. He wants her to be safe, he wants to know what happened and he wants to try and make it better. He feels like he owes her that, he wants to give her that.
But this is wrong. This being here uninvited is wrong.
He wants to tell Jean that she was right.
They should go.
Rogue will come back when she is ready.
"Hey, Jean?” He crouches down, calls to the floor, “Come back up, belle-“
He lifts his head, startled.
What de hell..?
It’s coming from the closet.
He straightens and makes his way to it, pausing briefly as the sound comes again, shaking the door on its hinges.
Something is trying to get out.
He whispers, Rogue? and there is a moment of excruciating silence before the crack and howl of splitting wood fills his ears.
The door explodes outward knocking him on his ass and sending him skidding across the floor. He stops when he hits the wall, the back of his head slamming against it, and he looks up squinting past the pulsing black spots dotting his vision to see what the hell-
An angel stands in the shattered doorway, it’s great white wings almost spanning the entire room and heaving with the effort of breaking down the door.
Rogue is in its arms, curled up against its chest.
Remy stares at her hand clinging to its shirt, holding on tight, so tight. He stares at the angel who is looking at him now, eyes narrowed, a dangerous flash of sky blue darkening, darkening.
“You don’t belong here,” it says and starts for him in great stalking steps that rattle and shake the room. “Get out!”
A blur of white feathers, a streak of mahogany hair and he is falling, falling through the floorboards, falling through stars and darkness… and into Jean’s arms.
She wraps him in the warm haze of her power and he floats there beside her thinking of the way the angel cradled her, the way she had her arm around its neck, her hand in its hair…
“Are you okay?” she asks.
“We have to go,” he says. “Now.”
She doesn’t ask him questions, doesn’t say, I told you this was a bad idea. She nods, just once, and lifts them up, holds onto his hand even though there’s no danger of him falling now.
The pink fire crackles and snaps around them as they speed through constellations, past planets…
His chest hurts.
and it all looks like a faded photograph from some ancient textbook…
Her hand in its hair.
a child’s mobile of a galaxy made of cardboard and strings…
until they burst through the floor and into the almost blinding yellow and white of her bedroom...
Her hand in his hair, and his splayed against her back. Protective. Tender.
which looks as real as it ever did.
He has been taking care of her.
The angel lifts his head and meets his eyes, the ceiling is getting closer and closer and he closes them tight, bites his lip hard waiting for the impact.
“You with me?”
He blinks, turns his head to find Jean sitting beside him, her hand still holding onto his.
“We back?” he murmurs and she nods, frowning.
“Nothin’." He swallows, takes his hand from hers. "You were right. She was fi-“
An intake of breath, a gasp from the bed.
Rogue sits bolt upright and he nearly falls off his chair.
She stares straight ahead and he follows her gaze to the pile of stained feathers Hank has left behind. She starts to breathe faster, faster, and Jean’s hand finds his forearm, her fingernails sinking in; this is bad…
Rogue clasps her arms around herself, her fingers frantically sweeping up and down her shoulder blades as far as she can reach.
Remy says her name and it’s smaller than a whisper, barely a sound at all but she hears him and slowly turns her head to look.
She finds him, she finds him and those eyes, those eyes…
They look right at him, they constrict his heart, choke off his breath, strangle any words he might have to calm her.
She has no idea who he is.
He tries to smile, to look kind, wishing to fuck he had his shades with him, wishing to fuck he didn’t scare the shit out of half the people he looked at on a daily basis.
“Iss okay,” he says and his voice, his accent sounds seedy to his ears, malevolent.
So he closes his eyes, he shuts his mouth.
He holds out his hands, naked and scarred as they are, to show her he has nothing, no weapons, no strength.
He makes himself vulnerable like she is vulnerable.
And when he opens his eyes again she is looking right into his when she screams.
Chapter 7: Awake
She isn’t afraid.
He realizes this about a split second before she lunges at him, screaming with rage, eyes flashing, teeth bared. She barrels into him, sending them both crashing to the floor, the chair breaking beneath him and digging into his spine as she straddles him, fists curled in the lapels of his jacket so hard he can hear the shriiip of the cloth over her shrieking, “What did you do to me!” over and over, “What did you do?”
He stares up at her, at her face so close to his and her eyes aren’t green anymore, they aren’t gree-
The weight of her body suddenly disappears as Hank loops one arm around her waist carrying her away from him in a single bound, and he lies there for a moment, breathing hard, still feeling the bones of her knuckles digging deep into his chest, her knees on either side of his ribcage pressing, squeezing.
Her eyes were blue.
Hank sails over his head and into a wall leaving a crater of cracked plaster and he springs to his feet, blinking at the groaning crumpled heap on the floor as adrenaline surges through his body, making him shake, revving up the sparks under his fingertips that are constantly trying to burn through.
Three hundred pounds and she tossed Hank over her shoulder like a Styrofoam-stuffed teddy bear.
Who de hell we dealin’ wit…
“Now settle the fuck down!”
He hears the faint shuck of Wolverine unsheathing his claws, turns to see him holding them before him ready to dance and Scott is here as well now with a hand to his visor lining up his shot and he wonders where the fuck everyone came from before noticing Jean to his left, eyes shut tight, sending out tidal wave after tidal wave of calm.
She called to them.
They don’t know, they don’t know this isn’t her, that this isn’t her fault, that someone else is pulling the strings-
He twists his body to avoid shards of chair knifing through the air, holds his hand up to stop Scott whose visor glows threateningly. He vaguely registers that Hank is on his feet again and ready to get back in there, but it is Wolverine he is worried about, Wolverine whose claws are dangerously close and he whispers, “Logan, don’t…”
It crosses his mind to pull out a card when he doesn’t stand down, to light it, to hold it close enough that Logan will feel its heat and know that he will do it for real this time, he will kill him if he doesn’t
“Get away from her.”
Logan doesn’t move and his hand slips into his pocket, the sparks catch fire, burning the tips of his fingers, melting the plastic-
“Mr. Worthington?” Jean asks and he sucks in his breath.
He sees her again, sitting bolt upright in the hospital bed which is now overturned, the sheets crumpled on the floor like discarded paper, her arms wrapped around herself frantically running her hands up and down as far as she could reach and feeling nothing.
What did you do to me? What did you do?
“Warren?” Jean asks again and Rogue blinks. She clutches the remains of the chair she has just smashed against the wall so hard her knuckles are white and she shakes, fine tremors overtaking her as she meets his eyes again.
Slices of razor-sharp metal are half an inch from her throat but she is looking at him, maybe seeing him now and he takes a step towards her murmuring, “I ain’ gon’ ask y’gain Logan,” but pulls back on his power, forces it back into the palm of his hand where it releases, sending little shocks through his arms and up to his brain. He shakes it off, puts his hand on Logan’s shoulder and feels it tense as his forearms clench slightly and the claws retract.
Logan steps back, he lets him through.
Remy doesn’t reach out to her, he stands before her taking her in, the hospital gown slung low on her shoulders, the sharpness of her collar bone, the violent slashes of her hair now twisted like ribbons with sweat as her breasts rise and fall in bursts of breath and he lets her make the first move whatever that may be.
Her mouth opens, she gasps “You…”
And then he sees it.
He sees it in those blue eyes that aren’t hers.
Something taking a step back, turning away...
Come back to me, chere…
She blinks again, green now, green, she sways on her feet and he automatically reaches out to her but she stumbles back against the wall, drops the chair with a clatter and holds out a still shaking hand to stop him from coming too close.
“Rogue…” his throat is hoarse, he barely makes a sound but she hears, she lifts her head.
Her eyes are wet and she bites her lip beginning to look afraid again.
“You’re not real…” she whispers, but tentatively reaches her hand towards him, and he finds himself leaning into it...
And then she crumples.
He catches her before she hits the floor. Spilled across his arms, he lifts her, holds her tight against him, presses his lips to the top of her head and her hair soft like he remembers, smelling of flowers and sun.
He hears Jean get to her feet, murmur, “Sorry about that,” as she rubs her forehead with a wince.
“What did you do?” Remy demands and she flinches at his tone before her eyes narrow, her mouth sets.
“It’s okay. I forced her to go to sleep… She was confused, disoriented. I was able to get in for a second and… well. She’s calm now.”
Jean takes her from him, lifts her from his arms with her power and carefully sets her back on the bed as it rights itself.
She glances over at him, the hardness gone for just a moment as her eyes say I’m sorry, Remy and she begins to strap her down.
“What happened?” Scott’s voice is deadly calm, an I-fucking-told-you-so rant simmering just beneath the surface.
“She woke up,” Remy says.
“And…” He looks at the shattered chairs, the plaster dropping off the wall. “… she upset.”
He gives Jean a look that says Don’ you dare say what we been doin’. She shakes her head, opens her mouth to argue, and he cuts her off pointedly glancing at Logan, then back at her with a cocked eyebrow
Don’ push me, Jeannie.
“Worthington…” Logan mutters. “You called her that… He’s one of those kids ain’t he? From the files…” He glances at the pile of feathers on the counter, the red-flecked white.
“I took a guess... the wings… Her signature felt different, it didn’t feel like her. I was trying to find her, to tell her it was all right, but there was interference…”
Worthington… The angel in her head…
“I tink he gone,” Remy murmurs. “Dat was her… jus’ before you… Dat was Rogue.” He tries not to sound accusatory but it comes out that way anyway and Scott tenses hearing it.
“What were you doing in here, LeBeau? Hank explicitly said one person in here at a time-"
“I heard yellin’. Came in to make sure Jeannie okay.”
Scott looks at Jean for confirmation and she nods, busying herself with picking up the discarded bedding. “He wasn’t in here Scott. I… thought I could get in, but I couldn’t and she… she woke up. That’s all. I shouldn’t have been messing around in there. It was wrong.“
“Scott!” Ororo’s voice clicks on over the intercom. “The professor is requesting conference immediately.”
“He found a secure line?”
“I believe he’s on a comlink” Ororo’s voice sharpens slightly, exasperated, “There’s some difficulty with the reception on the Island – he doesn’t know how long it will hold up.”
“That means get a move on,” Logan growls already making his way out of the MedLab as Hank starts sweeping up the chips of plaster, the shattered pieces of chair.
“I’ll stay,” he says. “When she wakes up I’ll let you know.” He looks at the mess and shakes his head at the floor, rolls his shoulders with a crack and a wince as he sweeps everything into a pile, his hands too large for the broom, looking as though he could break it without a thought. Like he wants to break it. He catches Remy's eye as he passes making it clear he knows what he and Jean had done. “She needs to be left alone,” Hank says and the broom cracks slightly under his fists as Jean’s hand presses flat against the small of Remy’s back guiding him out the door.
She expected to see his face.
When she opened the door, she thought… she thought it would be him.
No, she knew it would be. She had felt it, felt him, so strongly that even when she saw them, men wearing strange suits, their faces completely covered, guns in their hands standing outside her door, she thought she was imagining it. And so she didn’t run. She stood there, blinking like an idiot, and the first one lifted his gun, just like Raven, calmly, coldly…
And he shot her.
She remembers looking down at herself, seeing the dart sticking out of her chest and thinking it should hurt more than it did. The world turned upside down then, one moment she was standing and the next she was lying on the floor as the men in their funny suits lifted her roughly by her arms and took her from her room, Remy’s room. She remembers the rug beneath her knees scraping her exposed skin as they dragged her down the hall. She remembers not being able to fight back, she remembers her limbs feeling so heavy, useless, her knees burning, her arms feeling like they were about to be wrenched out their sockets by the dead weight of her body. They didn’t speak, not to her, not to each other and her mouth wouldn’t work just like her body wouldn’t work and she welcomed the darkness, sank into it willingly not really caring if she ever woke up.
But of course she did. Because they didn’t want her dead.
They tied her to a chair in a white room with a mirror, behind which she is sure they are watching her like an animal in the zoo, and she wonders how much they expect her to do when she is restrained, wonders if it’s a test, if they don’t know what her powers are, if they expect her to break free on her own.
Her head throbs from the drugs that had invaded her system, her knees are bruised and bloody from when they had dragged her down the stairs of the Place d’Arms, her arms still aching, thumbprints stamped into her biceps...
She should have known this would happen sooner or later.
Charmichael had woken up after all.
The alias Raven had given her had been flimsy, easily discredited with a 2-second phone call to Oxford, but Raven hadn’t anticipated her being unprotected like this. Hadn’t anticipated her up until now successful break for freedom.
The night of the Black and White Ball she had been so terrified at the thought of getting caught, but now… now that she is she doesn’t much care. They can’t hurt her any more than she’s already been hurt. By Mystique. By herself.
So she’s not scared. She’s pissed off.
Her wrists hurt. Her restraints are too tight and she shifts uncomfortably in the hard-backed chair. It’s been over an hour and no one has come.
She glares at her reflection.
“Ah hafta pee!”
“Ah mean it!”
“Jus’ remember ah warned ya-“
The door to her left slides open. One of the men in the stupid suits comes in and she can see herself reflected in the visor that covers his face and she smiles tightly because she doesn’t know what else to do.
He pulls out a needle and she forces herself not to flinch as he slides it into her forearm and injects her with something that once again clouds her head, makes her weak. He cuts the ropes securing her to the chair and leaves her.
A moment later a hospital pan is shoved through the flap at the bottom of the door. She stares at it.
“Ya gotta be kiddin’ me.”
She stands up and then promptly sits back down again her head swimming. She drops down at the waist, her forehead on her knees waiting for the room to stop spinning a carousel of the blurred white walls and the metallic sheen of the mirror. And then slowly her head begins to clear and she realizes what they gave her had been intended to incapacitate her just enough to keep her from attacking when he released her from her bonds.
It wears off quickly and she sits up.
“So what d’y’all want?”
She stands up again, she goes to the mirror, taps on it.
She crosses her eyes, sticks out her tongue.
“Your name please.”
She traces her face in the mirror.
“Your real name please.”
“That’s all y’gettin’.”
“Your cooperation is expected.”
“Fuck you,” she mutters. “Do ah get a lawyer o’ sumthin’? a phone call?”
“This isn’t prison.”
She shivers, tries not to let them see.
“Ah know it isn’t,” she says softly. “Ah know who ya are.”
“And we know what you are.”
The lights come up behind the mirror and suddenly she can see them all. Men in white coats staring at her, making her feel like a lab rat…
And in the middle of all that white is Charmichael in a charcoal suit, looking rich, looking pleased with himself.
Hello again, he mouths…
She comes to herself with a start, wrists jerking against restraints, heart hammering in her chest, mouth dry, gasping.
She blinks wildly at the ceiling above her, winces against the light, the white.
There is the smell of blood, tangy and metallic in the air and a sob catches in her throat, choking her, making the tears come, hard as she’s fought to keep them back, to always keep them back.
There has been fear.
There has been terror.
And now despair so complete she bites her lip until she tastes the blood and this is what breaks her.
Because there is so much white… white everywhere, walls and ceiling, bed and floor…
…the scent of freshly spilled blood overwhelming the insistently "clean" smell of a lab, an operating room…
…once again strapped to a bed, waiting, waiting for him to come and-
She doesn’t understand…
It had been so real… that night… the collar heavy on her neck, but not warm, cold, no faint buzzing against her skin…
The satisfying thwack of Cesar’s head against the wall, the clatter of dishes and plasticware on the floor…
Keys in locks, frantically twisting, Kitty’s empty cell, Warren weak, heavy with metal…
She touched anyone who came near them, she touched and let her skin do what it would, and they were so surprised to see two captives loose that it wasn’t very hard at all. She touched them with punches, slaps and scrapes. She wanted them to hurt, even the ones she’d never seen.
And then suddenly there was fresh air, wind in her hair, in her mouth, clean and cold… and Warren’s arms around her, holding her up, holding her so tight she could barely breathe… his body warm, trembling with exertion, weak but trying so hard to be strong because he was the only way, she could only get them so far….
There were shouts from below. And then gunfire.
Warren cried out, his grip on her slipped and she shut her eyes tight waiting to fall.
But he caught her hand.
Her hand that wasn’t covered.
She heard him cry out again overlapped with more gunfire and then the roaring in her ears as he poured into her. His hand slipped free and there was pain, excruciating pain in her back as she finally did fall and then there was nothing at all.
She awoke in her head on the bed she’d had when she was with the Bennett’s and Warren’s smooth voice was telling her everything was alright, we’re free, we’re safe…
Warren in her head, Warren’s ghost beside her looking at her memories, searching for a safe place, somewhere he could take her.
She told him where they could go, remembered the way she had gone before with that boy who rode his motorcycle fast and hard with her clinging to his back, face pressed between his shoulder blades, not from fear but from the desire to be close, closer than she had ever been, closer than she could ever be.
Warren said to rest, he would take care of her the way she had taken care of him.
But she’s tied down again, she can’t move again and the smell…
She never escaped after all.
It was just another dream, another cruel mindfuck… right down to Remy… reaching for her, trying to bring her back to him… she should have known when she saw him that it wasn’t real.
It was justa dream… like all the others…
But… she feels different… crowded. That feeling of someone watching she always has when she’s absorbed someone, that heavy presence in the back of her mind is there. It can’t be Carol. It has to be Warren… and if it is…
She calls out to him now, desperately says his name over and over because if he answers, if he answers the memories are real, that night was real…
He’s not answering.
He’s not there.
She never absorbed him.
She never escaped.
A noise to her left.
She shuts her eyes tight, she holds her breath, she tries to get back into her head, to crawl inside, to hide again while they do what they want, make her what they want… what he wants -
She freezes, her body painfully taut on the cot, she pretends she is atrophied, diamond-hard, touch me and bleed…
“Everything is going to be alright…”
The voice is unfamiliar. The voice doesn’t make her skin crawl, her stomach heave, but she is afraid to open her eyes and see...
A damp cloth is smoothed across her brow, soothing words encourage her to be here but she can’t trust it, she can’t trust anything anymore…
But the someone she doesn’t know is murmuring assurances, he is patiently waiting for her to be ready.
The other would never wait like this. He would pry open her eyes, slap her face in frustration when she wasn’t there behind them and she would hide herself, curl her body against leather and the scent of cigarettes and cayenne and him…
But he’s gone now.
She’s all alone.
I’m here, Rogue.
Warren! Oh God, Warren…
She sobs with relief, and the voice she doesn’t know says her name again.
She reaches out to him, finds his hands and holds them to her heart, rests her forehead against his chest.
Ah thought… ah thought it was another dream… ya weren’t here an’ ah thought…
I…had a shock… but I’m alright. I know what’s what. You can take over now…
Are ya okay?
His soft voice in her head, I’m not real. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re okay. Open your eyes, hon. We did it.
We… we’re really here? They didn’t get us?
Nope, he grins.
Then why the hell am Ah tied down?
That’s my fault, sweetheart. Don’t worry about it. Everything is fine. It’s time to wake up.
You trust me don’t you?
Of course Ah do.
Then good morning sunshine…
She takes a deep hiccupping breath, her heart pounding hard in her breast.
She has dreamt of escape so many times only to wake up to a needle in her arm and that slimy voice curling around her ears, crawling inside…
He can’t do nuthin’ to me no mo’…
Ah trust ya Warren.
She opens her eyes and there is a man, a big man sitting beside her. His brown eyes are warm and calm and smiling at her, nodding at her, pleased she has decided to join him.
He says, “Hello, Rogue.” He says, “I don’t believe we’ve met. My name is Henry McCoy. Hank.”
He is so cordial, so polite, and she feels a tremulous smile easing across her lips because she knows this name… and yes… yes, she knows this face.
This is Hank…
“X-men?” she whispers and her throat is sore as though she’s been shouting but she hasn’t spoken outside of her own head for days and he says “yes, you’re with us, you’re safe” and hot tears roll down her cheeks and she thinks, there ain’ no such thing… but she is here, she is finally here and that’s close enough.
Chapter 8: Saved
He is warm, all skin and heat and sunlight. She is too and they curl into each other smelling of sweat and mud and her and him. He wants to say something. His hand is splayed against her lower back, her lips are at his throat. He wants to say I love you, he wants to say this is how it should be all the time, but he is silent just like he always is when it matters too much.
He listens to the breeze, the bayou, her breath on his skin and he strokes his fingers through her hair, gently, gently.
She lifts her head up to look at him, he tilts his chin down to look at her and she says,
I wish this could be true…
He smoothes a lock behind her ear and says, softly, it is.
She shakes her head and she moves, peels her skin from his. She sits beside him naked like he is naked, and he has this perfect image of her back streaked with mud and bits of grass from where he pressed her into the ground, pressed her into himself that he will carry with him when he leaves this place, leaves this version of himself behind.
He says her name and she looks at him over her shoulder. He reaches out to her, touches the curve, draws a circle around a freckle with the tip of his finger and she leans into his hand that opens and cups and pulls her close again even as she refuses to melt back into him, as she holds herself apart, because really, her eyes say, this has to stop.
And he thinks it won’t, not ever as she twines her fingers in his hair, her nose brushing against his, her lips brushing against his.
She whispers, this is going to hurt and then she pulls she tears she rips she shreds as her blue eyes bleed into red like his are red and he is jolted awake, his body jerking off a cold metal table only to be wrenched back by the cuffs around his wrists and ankles as his head throbs and burns, lava churning in his brain, pushing behind his eyes, making them flare through his eyelids lighting them up, making them spark.
His mouth falls open in a silent scream, every muscle taut every vein corded under the skin with the effort of not exploding with pain and fire and oh holy god, oh mother, oh father, oh Belle make this stop. Kill me. Kill me, make it end…
He prays, he pants, he cries and then, like a wave pulling back into the ocean, everything is suddenly calm and smooth and still.
A shuddering breath, his muscles liquefied, he is spilled across the metal table weak and trembling and the sheen of sweat covering him from head to toe drenching his paper-thin clothes turns cold and he’s shivering, tears streaming from the corners of his eyes into the hair at his temples as he waits, he waits for it to happen again…
“Is everything alright?” The professor’s disembodied head floats before them in 3-D and Remy twitches in his seat disturbed and impatient. It’s serious, whatever the professor has called them in for, important enough that he is risking communication outside the safety of Jean’s mind, and he’s trying desperately to care about that but is failing miserably. He shuffles a deck of cards in his lap again and again and again, a blur of an arc, a blur of an arc, a fanning of reds and blacks and blacks and reds and that soft pfft pfft pfft sound that is doing nothing to calm him.
What he needs to be doing right now is running through a training session.
Or having sex.
Or blowing something up.
Or taking off at a dead run until his knees shake him to the ground and the only thing he can think about is how tired he is and how good it feels to be able to give up control like that and just be the exhaustion, be the trembling limbs and the hard asphalt.
As it is, this sitting here is driving him crazy.
Dat was her…
Just before Jean knocked her out she saw him, knew him.
That was her.
What he needs to be doing right now is pacing the MedLab’s observation room until she wakes up again.
He watches the blur between his curled hands, half listens as Charles runs through the pleasantries remembering how light she had felt in his arms, like her bones were hollow like a birds, and the scent of her hair tangled with rain and mud against his mouth –
Logan kicks the underside of his chair sharply, not-so-subtly suggesting he cool it with the cards and he softly claps the deck shut between his palms. Bobby glances at him, concerned, and he forces himself to become stone-faced and still as Betsy stares at his hands searching for where the deck of cards disappeared to, because if even Bobby can see the mess he’s made of himself he’s in some serious fucking trouble.
He meets Betsy’s violet eyes and gives her a grin, licks the corner of his mouth as she turns her head with a tsk, a curl of her lip, and he tries tries tries to concentrate on the fucking meeting.
“I tried to contact you, Jean, through the usual means-"
“I’m sorry Charles,” she says quickly taking a seat beside Ororo. “There was an issue but it’s resolved now.”
“Everything’s fine here Professor,” Scott adds. “Are you safe?”
“Yes. Thanks to Gambit I was well prepared for my arrival on Muir Island. The MCA neglected to mention that one has to go through a series of tests before entering the facility – tests that detect mutation. I was able to bypass it all quite easily having been warned beforehand. What disturbed me however was a kind of collar they presented me with when I arrived. I made them think I was wearing it while they took their blood samples, which were, of course, empty, and later asked them about it once they were satisfied I was “clean”. They explained to me that it prevents its wearer from using their mutant powers. It was created by a man named Dr Ethan Windsor.”
“Windsor?” Jean murmurs. “He’s one of the MCA’s scientists – a geneticist. I have his file.”
“We’ll see what we can find out about the device, Professor.”
“Thank you, Scott.”
“Everything is alright then Charles?” Ororo asks, “They do not suspect your true motives?”
“They believe I am an investor who is interested in keeping “the mutants in line”. They introduced me to their head scientist this morning, a doctor Moira Mactaggert, who is working on a “cure”.”
“A cure?” Bobby chokes out after a moment of stunned silence that makes him want to whip out his cards again and Logan raises a heavy eyebrow at his incredulousness.
“What? Yer surprised?”
“It was only a matter of time wasn’t it…” Jean shakes her head disgustedly and a whip of dry lightning flashes outside the window illuminating the room like a floodlight.
Remy closes his eyes as Ororo coughs delicately, “Sorry,” and his fingers start to itch.
“I don’t believe they’ve been successful at this point which is why they need me. I believe I’m here not only so they can satisfy themselves that I am not a mutant but so they can prove to me how close they are… and how my backing could help them attain their goal.”
“Of a world without mutants.”
pfft pfft pfft
“They said there was no testing being done at the facility?” Jean asks.
“That’s what I was told initially, but once my “non-mutant” status was confirmed they admitted to me that they do have a handful of subjects they are holding for experimentation. After all, they need to be sure the “antidote” works before introducing it to the public.”
“Antidote…” Bobby mutters to himself, shakes his head at his lap. “It’s not a fucking disease,” he whispers.
“D’y tink dey holdin’ Lensherr?” Remy asks and a couple of the X-Men glance at him, surprised at his sudden interest. He watches Bobby out of the corner of his eye, his fists clenched in his lap slowly icing over, cracking apart, then icing over again.
“Muir Island makes the most sense in terms of security. Not only is it heavily guarded from both the mainland and the island, but the facility is a labyrinth in and of itself. It takes up almost 95% of the island and the portion I have been given access to is not even a fraction- “ Charles’s image flickers once, twice, his voice crackles over the feed, “- been allowed to stay a week. Hopefully by that time, I will have located Eric if he is here at all... I’m not picking up on any mutant signatures, least of all his… I have to assume they have all been fitted with “dampeners” like the one they tried to give me, which is going to make it considerably harder to locate-” *crackle, flicker* “- be checking in with Jean regularly. If I am able to find Eric and the others the extraction will have to be…“
“We’ll be ready to move on your word, sir.”
*crackle*- made any progress detecting the locations of the other facilities?”
“Yes, sir.” Scott answers. “We’ve contacted X-Force, The Avengers, and Alpha Flight for additional assistance. We’d like to hit the facilities simultaneously, get in and out before the MCA has a chance to regroup.” Scott pauses, looks at each of them sitting down at their version of a round table and when Scott’s eyes rest on him he finds himself nodding. As distracted as he is, as close as he is to unravelling because of the girl, he felt a flare same as Bobby, same as Ororo, same as everyone in the room.
It’ll be involuntary.
Fuck, it’ll be a gov’ment mandate…
Scott’s gaze, filtered as it is, asks if he is in or if he is out and he nods again, harder this time and Scott’s lip quirks in a grim smile of acceptance before he turns back to Charles.
“We’ll get them out, sir. All of them. We’ll keep them safe.”
He thinks next time he won’t fight the pain anymore. Next time he will turn over his clawed hands, slap them down on the table and he will ignite it, he will incinerate himself and this thing that has promised him, promised him an end to his suffering but has done nothing but strap him down and observe his agony…
Describe to me what is happening to you. What does it feel like?
And he would stutter and shudder his way through descriptions that couldn’t come close to explaining what being lit on fire from the inside truly felt like until he had to stop because no words he had were big enough for this-
Tell me anyway.
He tried, he tried, and then one day realized that the thing meant to study him indefinitely, that no aid was forthcoming any time soon. So he stopped. He clenched his jaw against the pain, the screams of fire, fire everywhere oh God oh God…
We’ll try again tomorrow.
He’d cuss and groan and howl alone for hours riding out the pain, clutching desperately to the moments of respite that were becoming fewer and fewer and he knew this was how he was going to die, burned up, his body a husk filled with the ashes of his insides… there was no other way for this to end.
They stand in a tense half-circle, the double doors to the War Room shut against them.
Jean bites her lip.
“Is he letting you…?” Bobby asks.
“No,” she says. “They’re both blocking.”
Betsy leans against the doors, her head tilted towards the seam, trying to listen.
The air is buzzing, they all feel it, something like the promise of the storm Ororo had pushed back irritably with a flip of her hand as they exited the meeting leaving an unnerved Scott and the digital likeness of the Professor behind.
He looks at Ororo, Scott’s second-in-command, her furrowed brow and her arms crossed tightly over her chest, trying not to unleash the storm, trying to stay calm and in control.
He asks her quietly, “Y’okay?” and she shakes her head, she shakes her head and says, “This… whatever it is they’re discussing…”
She stares hard at the door and he knows she’s thinking she should be in there…
Rolling thunder in the distance, Ororo’s eyes milking over.
“It’s something we ain’t gonna like...” Wolverine finishes for her and she nods in agreement as he pulls out a cigar, bites the end off. “An' I’m bettin’ it ain’t gonna be up for discussion neither…”
They had dispersed agreeing there was nothing to be done for the time being except gather their materials in preparation for the conference with X-Force and then meet back here.
“We had a plan. I think it’s best we follow it. Scott will let us know what’s going on as soon as he’s able…”
He reaches into his pocket, pulls out his deck.
He teases out a Queen, charges and uncharges her a few times, watching her blush and cool, blush and cool as he waits.
He’s not sure what to make of all this. The others are spooked, but he can’t quite bring himself to get all worked up over it. Granted the X-Men share little in common with the Guild, but private meetings among the higher-ups wasn’t usually anything to get overly concerned about. It happened all the time.
Dat’s de problem wit tinkin’ you a democracy when you ain’t.
Wolverine had said it himself. Whatever’s going on in there isn’t going to be put to a vote.
Besides, there’re too many other things to be worried about right now than to get all put out because Xavier had asked to speak to Cyclops alone.
Like how far along with the “cure” is the MCA? Have they already started testing on the Muir Island captives? And if the tests haven’t “been successful” what does that mean? Is Xavier going to find a pile of bodies along with Eric Lehnsherr? Is Lehnsherr going to be one of them? What the hell happens then?
And then there’s Rogue… on top of everything else falling in and out of consciousness, with the now very real possibility she’s going to wake up as someone else again and start wreaking havoc. They still don’t know what she’s been through, how badly she’s been hurt, and he’s trying really hard not to let his worry for her overshadow everything else.
He’s fighting that battle even now as he waits for Bobby to bring up their research from the computer lab.
It’s been fifteen minutes and he knows exactly what’s taking him so long.
Despite his explicit instructions not to chat with Frosty until after their date, he’s one hundred percent positive that Bobby’s logged on as “popsicle24” right now. He can’t really blame him for not wanting to play games after the meeting they’ve just had, but the part of him that has been able to survive and sometimes thrive in the shittiest of circumstances is even now scoffing at the memory of the kid’s retreating back that everything is a game.
This, what they do as X-Men – putting on fetish-wear to fight evil or injustice or whatever the hell needs fighting for, working out the tacticals of breaking and entering without setting off alarms, plotting exit strategies, stocking up the Blackbird with gauze and syringes of adrenaline in case of injury…
It’s all a game. Everyone’s a chess piece. It doesn’t matter if it’s sex, or war, or anything else, and you have to know how to play if you want to get out alive. He knows what he’s talking about. The kid would benefit from his advice if he’d take it.
Don’ crowd de women. Make dem come t’you.
Unless of course, they’re restrained.
And maybe not even sure of who you are.
... De rules change a bit den…
“Got them.” Bobby comes around the corner waving two thick manila folders filled with stats, bios, and the dreaded mug shots. The twinge of guilt he’s been feeling for pawning his part of the work off on Bobby has only grown after hearing what’s in store for these people, and he makes a solid promise to himself to make up for it in the field.
He has no problem with burning these facilities to the fucking ground.
He unflushes his card and shoves it into his pocket along with the rest of the deck as Bobby slaps one of the folders against his chest. “This one's yours,” he says and slumps against the wall beside him. “How much time have we got left before the X-Force meeting?”
“’Bout ten minutes.”
“Scott hasn’t come out yet?”
“Nope,” he says. “But I ain’ heard no yellin’ - dat’s prolly a good sign, neh?”
Bobby doesn’t answer. He looks down at the folder in his hands, picks at the rubberband holding it closed.
“They’re all really young,” he mutters.
“The…” he holds up his folder. “The people… They’re all like… our age… most of them are even younger. Why is that?”
He shrugs, “I bet de older ones already figgered out how t’hide dey mutations long time ago. De young ones easy targets. Powers ain’ no good if y’don’ know how t’use ‘em… may as well not have any at all when dey come for y’... like babes in de woods y’ask me…”
He shoves his folder under his arm, his hands back into his pockets and his fingers stroke the top of the deck pressed there against his thigh.
If someone wants you dey can jus’ take you… 'specially when you vulnerable, when you can’t fight back, when y’don’ know how…
When Fagan found him he didn’t have his powers yet, just a freakish appearance that made the likelihood of someone helping him who didn’t have ulterior motives pretty damn nonexistent.
"No one else gonna have nuthin’ t’do wit you boy lookin’ de way you do… I might jus’ kill you m’self…"
He’d tossed him a pair of sunglasses.
"But if y’keep dese on an do what I say… y’may be able t’carve out a livin’ fo y’self… at thirty p’cent…"
He'd thought about telling Fagan to screw off but knew he had a knife. He'd been able to make it out in the dark, the bulge of it in the pocket of his jeans. He'd had nothing to defend himself with. It had been either stay and definitely die or go and maybe live.
So he went. And he cultivated the skills he knew Fagan valued. He found he was ridiculously good at slipping his slender hands into pockets and taking out any number of things without being noticed, found he was good at talking his way out of anything by playing on his youth, his looks, his sad, sad lot in life...
"I don’ have no momma m’sieur… I needed t’eat… I give it back m’sieur -" add a whimper here for good measure "- I give it all back if on’y y’ don’ turn me in… I nev’ had nobody…"
Which wasn’t exactly true. He’d had a mother once. He only dimly recalls her face, her voice. He doesn’t cling to the scraps of memories he does have because there’s no reason to. She gave him up, she let him go. She shoved him into the arms of people like Fagan. She made capture possible. Whether it was because of her youth or his eyes he doesn’t really know but he’s willing to bet it was the latter.
Had the MCA come to her door there’s no doubt in his mind she would have handed him over without a thought.
“B’sides,” he mutters. “Cyc said de MCA been gettin’ to dem tru dey parents after dey manifes’ for de firs’ time. ‘M assumin’ most o’ de recent captures were handed over by dey families.”
“That’s fucked up.”
“This is all so fucked up.”
Bobby’s fists ice over, crack apart, ice over again and Remy puts a hand on his shoulder.
“Bobby… it be okay. We gon’ get dese kids out. Dey be fine. You help dem, we all-“
The doors swing open and Scott steps out.
“Where is everyone?” he says.
“Dey went to get dey files. Fo’ de meetin’ we got in five…”
Scott nods, keeps nodding.
“Get everyone would you?” He turns, goes back into the War Room and Bobby looks at Remy, eyes wide.
Okay, mebbe dat was some’ting t’worry ‘bout…
He has given up on trying to see who is here with him. He can twist and turn and crane his neck all he wants but they are always just outside his line of vision.
There are four as far as he can tell.
In the quiet moments when he doesn’t feel like his head is on the verge of splitting in half, he tries to engage his fellow patients? captives? in friendly conversation to no avail. In the past who knows how many days he has been here, he has run through his entire arsenal of knock-knock jokes and dirty limericks only to be met with silence broken by the occasional moan.
How are you feeling today? Details, please.
The thing doesn’t talk to them like he talks to him.
The thing tells him he is special, he is a part of something bigger, he has been chosen… and the others… they are failed experiments, they are disappointments. Spare parts.
He tells the thing he doesn’t want to be special. He tells the thing he wants to die. He screams it over another onslaught, the worst one yet, he screams it until he can’t scream anymore because his vocal cords have turned to ash, he is ash and he slams his hands down on the table needing it all to end as everything turns black and his eyes crumble away...
He thinks of the man Xavier is trying to find, this Eric, this Magneto. This guy that has all sides searching desperately, urgently. There’s no doubt in his mind or anyone else’s that they’re keeping him at the Muir Island facility.
Dat’s dere Death Star, non? Dat’s where de guest of honor would be… De man, de big man ever’one so afraid of… De big man dat’s more important den ever’one else….
The second Remy set foot in the mansion almost a year ago he had been able to sense their worry, their fear. He could taste it like the tang of a penny, of blood. He hadn’t known where it came from until he went undercover. They had to tell him then even though he wasn’t officially one of them yet.
They told him that this Eric, this Magneto, wields the kind of power than can start wars single-handedly and can supply the kind of body count that fills chapters of history books with blood and hatred that will always, always stain the present.
He’s been priority one since the day they realized he’d been captured.
And because of that, because of him, all those people locked up all across the country, all those faces in Remy’s folder which he still hasn’t opened because there’s no point now… they’re going to suffer just a little bit longer so as not to jeopardize the prize.
When Scott told them he was met with silence. It was an even bigger shock to hear him say that they were going to do nothing for now than to hear that the MCA was going to “cure” all the sick, filthy, mutants of the world until none were left.
“Once we break into the smaller labs, Muir Island is going to turn into Fort Knox and our chances of getting in there and of getting out will be slim to nil. The Professor… and I… have decided at this time… it’s not worth the risk. We await his word on when we can move. A simultaneous evacuation of the MCA’s facilities is still the goal, and it will happen. But when we move, we will also be moving on the Muir Island facility. We will be dividing into two teams headed by Storm and myself. I will be leading my team to Muir Island, while Storm’s will be assisting X-Force, Alpha Flight, and The Avengers on the stateside evacuations. Ororo, I’d like you to stay for the meeting with Cable. The rest of you are dismissed.”
The temperature in the room had dropped a good 40 degrees and not because of Bobby who looked like he was going to throw up. Jean had started to say something and Scott had stopped her with a soft, “I know this is hard. I know this… standing still doesn’t seem right. I know all of our efforts lately have been concentrated on this mission, but the Professor would not have asked this of us if it wasn’t necessary, if it wasn’t…” he swallowed hard, avoided looking any of them in the eye, “… for the greater good.”
They left then with the exception of Ororo.
The moment the door closed he heard her voice, muffled, but clearly furious. He couldn’t hear Scott’s replies. He doubts he has any that would suffice.
They all went their separate ways not saying a word and he headed out to the porch instead of the MedLab needing air, needing to untangle the knots in his stomach
He takes a deep drag of his cigarette, pushes the smoke past his lips and out his nose as the storm Ororo had been holding back comes crashing down. It soaks him through but he doesn’t move from the steps where he sits. He lets it beat down, pasting his clothes to his body, and squints out over the grounds being crushed by the rain, by Ororo.
He understands that tactically it makes sense, the waiting. Given what they know of who Eric is and what he’s capable of it makes sense to put him first. He’s never disagreed with that.
Besides, they don’t know for sure how the mutants in the facilities are being treated, if they are being actively harmed beyond the fact that they are being held against their will.
For all they know, those people are fine for right now, they can afford to sit tight.
They have to believe that until Rogue tells them otherwise. Because it’s the only way any of them are going to be able to follow orders.
He looks at his soggy cigarette, watches it fall apart between his fingers and makes a fist.
He can’t be angry about this. It’d be too fucking hypocritical for words to get on a high horse when he’s been dragging his feet about this whole thing, has not been doing his part to help.
It wasn’t until he saw Rogue branded like a fucking animal… and then hearing what the MCA planned to do… that they planned to eradicate an entire group of people, not understanding that just because there wouldn’t be a body count it was still genocide, that he began to really get on a personal level what this could mean.
When he was on his own he never thought of himself as a mutant. It wasn’t how he identified himself, but now there are people out there who don’t care about who he is, just what he is. And what he is in their eyes is not even human. And won’t be until they’ve forced the “cure” on him and everyone else who challenges their idea of what a person is allowed to be.
Taking out the Muir Island facility is an excellent fucking idea. It’s just too bad they can’t do it right this minute, that they have to wait to see if Lehnsherr is even fucking there when there’s really no other place he could possibly fucking be before they can move on it.
He chucks the ruined cigarette to the side.
He takes a breath, the rain pounding his shoulders, the back of his neck as he bows his head into his hands.
He can’t be angry about this. This is the way the world works.
Eric is special. He is chosen. Sacrifices must be made.
If they can’t find him before the MCA starts shipping out “antidotes” to the other facilities… well, he guesses that’s just too damn bad for those people.
Because apparently, in the larger scheme of things, they don’t really matter anyway. Compared to Eric they are nothing.
They are spare parts.
When he wakes up the air feels different, sounds different. His is the only breath. He can’t feel anyone else in the room but he calls out, he croaks a “hello?” and no one answers.
The air is still.
He moves it with his breath, his voice.
He is alone.
And the pain is gone.
The searing fire behind his eyes, wriggling and roiling under his skin… calm now, calm… still there but… different. Warm. Soft. Sleepy. It feels like… release… aftershocks of pleasure… like being empty and full at the same time.
He sleeps, long, deep.
And then there is a woman… a woman with hair like the clouds and eyes like the sky…
She asks him questions, they all ask him questions and all he can say is “I don’ know…”
There was pain, so much pain, the kind of pain that could make you crazy, claw your own eyes out, peel your skin off just to get it out… and now this… this… control. This heat that feels like sex, like life, like blood thrumming and singing through his veins making him feel light, making him feel strong and ready. Ready for anything.
Something was done to him.
Something was done for him. And only him.
The others... the four...
When he asks, the woman says all they found was blood. And a few... parts. Enough to doubt they are alive, wherever they may be now, wherever the thing took them.
He doesn't understand why he was allowed to live, why he was allowed to stay in one piece...
"De ting... it tol' me I was chosen..."
But it never said for what.
Chapter 9: Fly
She reaches behind the shower curtain and her too-white hands are shaking, they shake.
She tries to stop it, to still herself but she can’t, she can’t quite...
This trembling is beneath her skin, deep in her bones, and she’s not sure if it will ever really stop. She’s been able to hold it at bay until now, give the illusion of some kind of strength, some kind of stability, but really, it’s as big a lie as anything else and she’s just so tired…
It took everything she had to hold it together in front of them. To tell them everything, to relive everything all over again without collapsing in on herself, and now that she’s alone she gives in, she bows her head, she lets it happen, and her shoulders immediately follow suit, her spine arching in compliance until she has completely melted into a weary half-circle.
She stays that way for a long while, perched on the edge of the cold white porcelain bathtub and she breathes, she breathes, lips to her knees. She counts each intake, each exhale, feeling transparent with exhaustion like she’s fading, flickering, like if she doesn’t find a way to stop this shiver she will simply disappear like mist or blood down a drain...
She knows this is when she’s supposed to stand up. This is when she’s supposed to snap back into herself, but it gets harder and harder every time she lets herself feel like one of her ghosts, like a memory of herself, a nightmare she can’t wake up from trapped inside unrecognizable skin...
When she stops, when she lets herself rest like this she always finds out just how untethered she really is. When she stops, she becomes just another psyche, stripped down to a single moment not able to move forward or backwards. She just stops. Where she is. Curled in on herself on the edge of a bathtub, barely a person at all...
You need to get up.
Her breath catches, that little hitch like tears coming even though she swears she’s got none left and Warren, his voice louder now, stronger now that she’s letting herself fade, demands that she reclaim herself, and she remembers when it was Remy who’d guide her back before she got too lost, when it was Remy who’d fold her into himself until she forgot there was anywhere else, anywhere else in the world she could go and feel as safe as she did with him in her head...
“Ah’m… safe here…?” she swallows hard still not sure she believes it no matter how many times Hank – and now Jean and Cyclops and a whole mess of other X-Men - have assured her that she is.
This scene is just too familiar... all the white, the table-like bed and the restraints…
The growing feelings of rage…
“Then why am ah cuffed?” she bites out.
“You attacked us,” Cyclops says and his voice, she thinks, is comically low. She can’t decide if it’s put on or not, if he’s trying to make himself seem… bigger. She wonders if she scares him a little bit.
“You threw Hank across the room,” Bobby offers, pointing at a large crater in the opposite wall. Hank ruefully rubs the back of his neck with a shrug and assures her he is fine when her eyes widen.
“Why did you attack us?” Cyclops crosses his arms in front of his chest and glares down at her. She thinks he is glaring. It’s hard to tell as the visor masks most of his face and she finds it unnerves her, not seeing his eyes, just the angry curve of his mouth. It reminds her of the men in those stupid suits and she looks away.
“Ah don’t remember… Sorry...” Her eyes catch on her restraints again and another flare of anger, a little ball of fire expands in her chest as a surge of pure unadulterated strength jolts through her arms and suddenly she believes without a doubt that she had been more than capable of lifting Hank and chucking him across a room...
Rogue, you need to get up.
She swallows hard, her throat still raw, and it hurts so she does it again. She feels Warren nod in approval, You can do this.
She lifts her head. She reaches behind the curtain once more and glares at the fine tremor of her hand.
She thinks, stop. And it does.
Ah can do this.
Her fists clench, her muscles quiver under her skin...
“Ah could break these y’know?” she says it softly, says it almost to herself, knowing all she has to do is give a nice hard yank...
Scott’s visor flashes.
“Then why don’t you?”
She looks up.
“… Because ya don’t want me to.”
Because ya scared of me…
She grasps the octagonal knobs of hot and cold water in her hands and turns them as the pieces of herself that are swimming inside her slowly stitch themselves back together under Warren’s watch, his care. The water comes raining down hard and hot and she uncurls, she stands. She shucks off the hospital gown and steps under the spray, those little icy hot needles that don’t hurt, that don’t sting like they should. She picks up the bar of soap. It smells like lavender and sage and it’s handmade, feels a little like sandpaper. She drags it hard over her flesh and it doesn’t hurt. This scalding water. This prickly soap. She slides it over the curves and planes of her body again and again and again going through the motions of being a person until she starts to feel like she is one again.
“What are you doing here Rogue?”
“Ah didn’t know who else ta go to…”
“What about your friends at the Brotherhood?” Betsy sneers.
“Ya mean the Brotherhood lead by that psycho who shot me? Or the Brotherhood that lied ta me and forced me ta work f’them against mah will? Fuck you, Psylocke.”
Betsy takes a step forward and Scott puts a hand on her shoulder, stopping her, and she almost wishes he hadn’t. She could take this woman as skilled as she is and she feels it again, that sudden thrum of energy beneath her skin, entwined with muscle and sinew…
“We just need to be sure you’re not going to-”
“What? Infiltrate ya? Learn all ya precious little secrets and then go scurryin’ back to mah “friends”? Far’s ah know th’Brotherhood don’t exist no more.”
“Whaddaya mean don’t exist?”
The MedLab door swings open and she looks at Logan who has just entered, who has asked the question but there is someone behind him, someone she has been aching to see, someone she doesn’t know if she wants to see at all and she looks away, looks at her hands now gripping the sheets and she feels his eyes, feels them like touches through silk, like memories of kisses that never really happened anyway, and she forces herself to speak, to remember everything else, but not him, not him not coming as the material shreds beneath her fingers…
“Ah… ah think Mystique’s dead….”
They tied her to a chair.
They tied her to a chair behind that mirror... that mirror that wasn’t a mirror, that was a window, a gun to the back of her head, face beaten and bloody. A feral snarl and a flash of white teeth, stark against her blue skin, she spat “fuck you all to hell” as the lights in that room went out and she heard a shot and they told her, this is what happens to those who don’t cooperate…
“Ah know Pyro is...”
They showed her pictures... his body frozen and twisted in pain on the ground, his hair matted with blood…
They said he broke first.
“He told us where you all were…”
“And ya killed him anyway… even though he “cooperated”…”
“We didn’t want him…”
“Ah don’t know about Dom – Avalanche,” she whispers, hoping to God after she left him that morning he didn’t go back… “And Destiny…” she shakes her head, she has no idea if they found her and murdered her or if they took her and tortured her too...
She looks at herself in the steam-streaked mirror. She looks at her body, searching for evidence of what’s been done to her and Warren is desperately trying not to.
She turns slightly to peer over her shoulder, surveys the blank canvas of her back and there’s no trace of Warren, just like there was no trace of Raven...
She touches the unblemished skin over her heart, tracing the place where she had been shot, and she looks at her wrists, knowing better than to expect bruises from the cuffs that kept her bound to the hospital bed at this point, but still she looks, and when her hands fall open she sees Remy there.
Remy in her palms...
The only one who’s ever managed to leave a mark.
“Scott?” Remy murmurs, his voice low and familiar, that rush to her heart that leaves her a little choked, a little breathless so familiar…
He wants her to look at him.
She can feel him wanting it even as he avoids meeting her eyes just as surely as she avoids meeting his.
She looks at his hands instead. She looks at his fingers, long and elegant, remembers them in her hair, trailing down her back to her waist, her thigh, as he gestures at the cuffs around her wrists that hold her to the bed with a flick, staring down Scott until he finally says “Okay” and allows her release...
She cups the sides of her neck with her scarred hands, slowly slides them down over her breasts, her belly, her hips, as Warren blushes in her head and she thinks she’s not done. She’s not done with him no matter how much she thinks she should be… how much she wants to be…
Remy is looking at her mouth now, waiting for her to speak like the others and she clears her throat that still feels too raw... everything... too raw... the memories still bleeding, still burning as she forces her voice to remain steady, forces herself not to fall apart as she starts from the beginning...
She pulls a towel from the shelf, wraps it around herself like a cocoon as she steps from the bathroom into the bedroom the X-Men have given her.
Jean has set a pile of clothes on the edge of the bed for her and she touches a green button-down blouse that she thinks might be hers.
She had wanted to talk to her. She had wanted to thank her for helping her when she was with The Brotherhood, but it suddenly hit her like a slap in the face as she looked at her standing awkwardly in the doorway with a strained smile, that this Jean doesn’t know her. This Jean couldn’t wait to get away from her, discomfort and distrust practically coming off her in waves. She knew that she should have expected it, but it still... it hurt. The Jean in her mind had been so real... had meant so much to her... but like everything else that had happened in her head over the past few months, it meant nothing. The proof of that was right in front of her.
She turned away as Jean told her there were fresh towels in the bathroom, her eyes stinging as she suddenly remembered this feeling... this painful longing for easy friendship, the friendship everyone else seemed to take for granted. It used to plague her when she was a kid. It used to make her throat close up and her eyes burn whenever she looked at Deacon or a few of the girls at the orphanage who seemed okay thinking, if only, if only...
She touches the blouse, fingers the thin cotton, the delicate buttons.
If only Ah hadn’t trusted th’wrong people and ended up nearly suckin’ ya dry we mighta been friends...
She drops the towel and pulls it on. Her skin still damp, it clings to her as she buttons a few of the buttons and pulls a pair of shorts from the pile, a faded “X” over the hip like the one over the breast pocket of Dr. McCoy's lab coat…
A red X over his heart like a target, like blood...
There's a sudden twinge of phantom pain in her shoulder blades and Warren murmurs, his voice husky as she ties the drawstring at her waist, that it will go away once she is free of him. He says he’s still too present, too much of him is still here with her and it’s why she’s still feeling him in her bones.
She almost asks him to not let himself fade away.
She doesn’t know if he’s okay. If the real him is okay and she says, I’m sorry... I’m so sorry…
You set me free, Rogue. For the first time in years... the wind, the sky... No matter what happened - thank you for that...
She can feel him take a step back, can feel his goodbye already and before he can do it she opens the window, she crawls out and perches on the ledge like a cat, knowing if any of them see her they may misunderstand, they may change their mind about letting her be unsupervised, but she feels him need this, she feels him need to stretch in her bones one last time, and she hears his sigh of relief when the wind touches them both, and the air, the clean cool air once again... and she thinks, I can give you this... if nothing else... I can give you this... one last time...
She climbs up to the roof, unafraid of falling.
There’s not much she’s afraid of any more.
“The MCA tracked me down… Ah don’t know how they found me…” she glances at Logan who watches her from the door, expressionless, and for the first time she wonders… He shakes his head imperceptibly and she looks away nodding slightly. She believes him that he didn’t turn her in. The MCA is a common enemy. “Ah guess it don’t matter... fact is they did. Charmichael… Charmichael woke up that night at the ball. He saw me, spoke ta me… Ah gave him mah alias... but that wadn’t nuthin’…”
She takes a deep breath that stops short, catches in her chest, her skin prickling, crawling as she remembers that smile, that cold, cold smile behind the glass…
“They found me and they took me to this place… like a… holdin’ facility? Ah wasn’t there long… an Ah was drugged most of the time… They thought Ah was gonna try an’ fight back-”
She glances at Bobby, then away, says softly, “No.”
“Dey hurt you.”
His voice sounds hoarse, raw like her throat and her eyes, but she still can’t look.
“Not… not there… at the holdin’ facility... They didn’t even bother questionin’ me there. They just made me watch… They… beat Mystique in front o’ me. They didn’ ask me nuthin’…” she whispers, swallows hard. “They showed me pictures of St. John... He talked… He led the MCA to Mystique an’ the rest o’ them at the Penthouse an then they killed him 'cause he told them Ah was dead and they didn’t believe him. Ah think they got to Dom… he’s the only one who knew Ah wasn’t…" Her throat closes up at the thought of Dom lying there like Pyro and she shakes her head, forcing the image away. "After a couple days they transferred me to another facility. When they brought me there, there was a man who took me to a compound where there were others. They kept us locked up in cells… but they were nice… fancy. Like… apartments almost.” She shivers remembering thinking that it was worse than the cell at the first place the MCA had her… that empty little room with just a cot and a toilet... The four-poster bed, the carpet, the desk, made her feel like she was going to be there a long time. “It was so quiet… except every once in a while… sometimes there were screams...” Sitting on the edge of that soft huge bed, toes curling in the plush carpet as someone shrieked in agony, echoing down the hallway on the other side of the glass wall… Waiting for her turn and Warren’s voice, tired and resigned and yes, they’ll come and there’s nothing you can do about it but pretend you’re not afraid, pretend you don’t care what they do…
“Ah don’t know what they did ta me, but they did sumthin’… Ah feel different. Ah never woulda been able to take any of y’all in a fight without usin’ mah absorbin’ powers…” she squints at Bobby. “Except maybe you.”
“You think you can now? “ Logan gruffs and she looks at him.
“You wanna try me?”
“Do you know how many others were at the facility with you? Did you see anyone else?” Jean asks softly, stepping in front of Logan and she shakes her head.
“Ah don’t know how many of us were there. Ah only saw a few others when they’d take me outta my room. There was a man in the cell next to mine… We’d talk to each other… They… they cut off his wings. He said they wanted to see if they’d grow back. When they didn’t they grafted a new pair to his back… metal… razor-sharp… he kept cuttin’ himself on them… They did something else… his skin… his skin was blue… Ah think… that’s what they were doin’ there… they were changing us, doin’ experiments… but they were makin’ us more… “ She shakes her head, feeling her hands start to tremble, her breath coming quick, “Ah woke up once… durin’ one a’ th’sessions... there was a girl next to me strapped down. She… she was brain dead, ah think. They made me touch her… Ah couldn’t fight them - they made me touch her, but there was nothin', no mem’ries, there was nothin’... It was like a black hole an’ Ah was fallin’ into it...” She remembers Remy there, with her in her head, holding onto her as she felt herself being pulled toward it, begging him to let her go, because it was a kind of death, a place where she would never feel anything again, she would be done, she would be away, and no one could hurt her ever again. But Remy held on, you can’t leave me, Anna, Anna please don’t... and he pulled her to him, he wrapped his arms around her and he kissed her breathless, giving her himself, weighing her down with his power, his will to live, always a fighter to the very end. When they took her hand away from the woman, Remy was gone. The ghost of him in her head from the night he betrayed her, the night she betrayed him, the ghost who had forgiven her, who showed her herself... he was gone, fully absorbed, no longer a source of solace, a place to curl into and be kept safe...
When she opened her eyes... she felt different...
“Ah felt strong and he... he knew it. They put this thing on me… a collar… and then Ah didn’t feel strong no more. And he… he...”
Oh, God, Remy...
She meets Remy’s eyes, suddenly remembering... remembering that he knows him too... Remy knows... “It was Him…”
She whispers, “Essex,” plucking the name from his memories and his eyes harden, his mouth sets, his fists clenching, bone-white knuckles, and Storm sees it too, Storm knows too as the dam breaks loose in her head...
She keeps her eyes on his, she can’t look away now, now that she’s looked, she can’t not look, now that she’s remembered she can feel him lying there on that table like she was lying there... pain, horror... ohholygodohmotherohfatherohbellemakethisstop she feels the burning under his skin, under her skin now as his screams melt into hers...
How did Ah not know... how did Ah not know the second Ah saw Him that it was Him...
Because he was trying to protect you, Warren says. He didn’t want to give you his own pain and suffering on top of your own... it was already too much...
And now that he's gone it's all flooding back, and she's calling it to her unable to help herself, her breath coming hard with the onslaught and that shaking, that uncontrollable shaking...
“How you get away from him?” Remy asks her, his eyes suddenly shuttered, like a switch has been flipped, his voice cool, detached. He closes himself off, a door slamming shut, and she’s seen him do this before. She’s done this before.
She wraps her arms around herself, she pulls herself together, pushes away the needles, the knives...
“The collar was defective. Ah fought mah way out. Ah tried to free Warren too. Ah…yanked the bars off his cell...”
And then they were flying.
They were away...
She stands there on the peak, feeling Warren’s whispered thanks and she breathes deep with him, she stretches out her arms, the wind pasting her clothes to her body, the wind blowing her hair back like flying. She arches her back, standing on her toes and the wind holds her up, keeps her from falling and Warren is whole in her mind. He is strong and beautiful and
He held her in his arms they shot at them skin to skin touch and she sprouted wings instantaneously and flew and flew and flew and he fell he fell they shot him as he fell and everything black black scattered broken mirror thoughts she felt his fingers slide from hers and she awoke in her head he said he’d take her somewhere safe but she awoke lying in the mud the rain pounding down and an alarm and she thought it was all for nothing they never made it past the gates and the alarm the alarm and she gave into the blackness that was scratching, clawing, grasping...
And then white.
White and Hank.
A red X over his breast like a target, like blood.
“Ah left him… Ah left him t’die.”
Chapter 10: Guilt
He starts a sim, he sets it at level 10, and he knows he’s going to get shit for being in the Danger Room unsupervised, but really he could not give two fucks about all the rules and regulations being here comes with right now.
Scott’s going to say no.
He knows if he goes to him first thing tomorrow morning and proposes going in he’s going to have to listen to some bullshit explanation about Erik again and, really, fuck Erik, because they have no idea... they have no idea what that thing has done... what it’s still doing...
Those people are not just sitting in cells waiting for a cure to be forced on them.
They’re being tortured, ripped apart by that thing...
He catapults over a droid, kicks its partner in the face with both feet sending it flying, its pieces shattering against the wall and disappearing before his eyes...
Y’should’ve gone after him...
He slams his bo-staff through the sensor on the chest of another droid, never stops moving as he pulls it out it’s back
Y’should’ve tracked him down once y’were strong ‘nough...
and whips it at his next attacker, slicing its head off neatly
Y’should’ve foun’ him an’ stopped him ‘fore he could hurt anyone else ever ‘gain...
Dat fucker had her all dis time...
He twists another one’s head off with his bare hands, charges it and throws it at two more stalking towards him.
She said there were others.
There were others who were still there.
If Scott won’t allow them to go in as a team and blow the place to fucking smithereens he will do it himself.
Rogue will tell him where and he will go…
He had been in a daze when Jean took her away, when the rest of them had finally left the MedLab earlier that night. Everything had suddenly gone all soft and muffled when she said it… said Its name... Everything went dark and cold and he spent most of the time after trying not to throw up as he imagined what It did to her, remembered once again in full-on Technicolor what It had done to him…
He had spent so much of the last year and a half since he escaped pushing it all down into the darkest recesses of his mind only to have the memories bobbing to the surface again and again these past few days… It was almost like he was subconsciously preparing himself to deal with all this again, almost like he knew this was coming…
He never would have expected it would be coming through her, that the miracle of her being alive would bust everything open again, making everything he went through feel as near and real and raw as yesterday with just one word…
Her voice, her shaking voice that she tried to keep steady because she knows just as well as he does that you never let them see how deep you’re cut, how bad you’re bruised. Even when it’s obvious, even when everyone knows…
Ororo is not a person who touches readily, easily. She is a person who seems to have an almost physical barrier around her at all times. The Goddess thing. Or maybe it’s the claustrophobia thing. He almost always initiates contact and when he does it is small, it is barely a touch at all.
Everyone left and she stayed. She didn’t say a word and neither did he as she came up behind him, wrapped her arms around him so tight, like being swaddled, like being held like a child in the middle of a nightmare until it passed. She stayed there with him until he could come back to himself, get himself under control.
She knew he was embarrassed and she left him alone then. She left him to take out his aggression on the Danger Room like she knew he would, like she knew he needed.
He half wonders if she had sent Wolverine there to keep an eye on him.
The lights suddenly flicker accompanied by the unmistakable sound of powering down he’s been waiting for since he started, and he mutters a curse under his breath glaring up at the Observation Room as the sim cuts out completely and the remaining droids disappear. The wreckage around him fuzzes out and away until it’s just an empty room and he’s left standing there panting in the middle of it, still buzzing, still itching for a fight.
He hopes it’s Betsy up there. All he has to do is push the right buttons when she comes down to berate him for breaking Scott’s Rules and she’ll take him on. Flesh hitting flesh is always better than a hologram no matter how real it feels, how easy it is to forget it’s not and that all you’re doing is swatting at ghosts and he grins, feeling feral and jacked up with readiness for a good fight, a vicious fight, a real fight.
The doors slide open, there’s a telltale puff of cigar smoke before Wolverine enters and before he can stop himself Remy throws down his bo-staff with a clatter, frustrated as fuck because Logan’s not gonna engage like Betsy would have and he needs it, he needs to hit, to be hit…
Logan watches him, silent, patiently waiting for him to explain himself, his being here, and he decides to try and pick a fight anyway, spits out, slightly desperate for it, “What, homme? You gon’ lecture me ‘bout being in here? Tonight?”
He cracks his knuckles and shakes out his hands, releasing some of that still-fizzing energy. There are sparks when he does it he’s so wired. His own sweat is a weapon at this point and Logan takes another easy pull from his cigar and says, simply, “Nope”.
“Den turn it back on,” He snarls.
And Logan will.
Point being made that he’s not supposed to be in here alone, Logan will give him something good, he thinks.
Because Logan understands.
This is how he keeps from exploding too.
“I have to tell you sumthin’, Gumbo. You ain’t gonna like it.”
“Later. Dis now. I gotta finish.”
He shakes his head, “Gambit -”
“LOGAN,” he turns to him, eyes flashing and the sparks and his bared teeth and “Turn de goddamn sim back o-”
“The mornin’ after you left Rogue for dead she came to the Institute.”
He jerks to a stop, frozen in shock, numb for what feels like the millionth time today, he doesn’t know how many more of these surprises he can take.
“She told me where she was gonna be. Where you could find her. And I didn’t tell you, 'cause I didn’t trust her. And I didn’t trust you when it came to her.”
Logan stubs out the cigar on his palm.
“For the record, I still don’t.”
Wolverine comes towards him and he still can’t seem to move, still can’t seem to speak…
“So you go ahead and hit me with all you got. I deserve it.”
He stops, barely a foot away.
“But I ain’t gonna apologize, Gumbo.”
Logan waits for it.
And waits for it.
And Remy feels his blood start to run hot again, start to fizz and pop, that trace-fire rushing down his forearms, to his wrists, to his hands… and he thinks he could kill him. He could melt his fucking skeleton down to nothing…
Logan had been treating him with kid gloves ever since that night. He had noticed, had thought it was weird, and now he finally knows why.
As unapologetic as he tried to appear, admitting to him what he had done, Remy saw it in his face. He saw it and in a split second when his power was bubbling under his skin with rage he decided he’d rather Logan live with the truth that he had played a part in the torture of another human being. That someone had come for help and he had thrown her to the wolves.
Not nearly as fucking satisfying for Remy, but going for the pain can be nastier than going for the kill, and he knows enough about Logan that this is going to sit with him for a long time.
So he didn’t say a word.
He turned on his heel and left Logan staring after him. He forced the buzzing away, shook out his hands as he went leaving sizzling droplets in his wake.
And he found himself here, at the MedLab again.
He looks through the window at the hospital bed with its bent legs, the remnants of the chair she had reduced to kindling sticking up out of the garbage can. The hole in the wall. He sees her there again, surrounded by bloody feathers and gauze, trying to fight her way back to herself and then once there being forced to remember, to tell them all what she’d been through…
Logan’s betrayal enrages him. He’d love nothing more than to stalk back into the Danger Room and blow him to pieces, but all he can think about right now is that Rogue needs what Ororo had given him. What she’d given him since he was rescued and what she gave him tonight.
She needs someone. Right now. Someone who knows. And if she’ll let him he will hold her tight, he will tell her she’s here, she’s safe, and he will never let anything like that happen ever again, he will die first.
He climbs through the window of his bedroom, intending to go to Ororo and ask her where Jean took her, where her room is, where can he find her.
He pulls himself up into the open air and sky and almost falls over the edge because Rogue is there, standing on the peak with her arms flung back, her head flung back, the blouse she wears only buttoned to the top of her ribcage blown back like wings and the white flash of her skin, the soft curve of the underside of her breast the same glowing white as the moon and her face tilted up to it illuminated and Jesus, God, he can’t take all of these things thrown at him, this bombardment of a million different things to feel when he’s been trying so hard to tamp it all down, to lessen it all, to keep it all physical so he can get rid of it, shake it off in sparks, toss it off in explosions.
He says, quietly, painfully, “You gon’ kill me, chere...”
He startles her.
She almost falls and he reaches out instinctively, but she steadies herself before he can, his fingers just grazing the edge of her blouse that’s thin as tissue paper and clings to her in some places, but doesn’t at all in others.
She keeps her eyes on his, the sudden flutter of fabric across her smooth belly reminding her of her state of undress, and her hands button the rest of the buttons, slowly, steadily, neither of them looking away just like that first time, and when she’s done her hands fall to her sides and he gazes at her standing there before him, backlit like a ghost, like an angel without wings.
She says, softly
And him, just as softly
She bites her lip.
He says, “I didn’ know.”
She looks at him and he knows she knows what he’s talking about, so he goes on, he says, “I t’ought you died dat night. I… I didn’ know y’came here, he didn’ tell me. He didn’ tell me where you were gon’ be...”
She nods, pauses, takes a breath, then, “Would you’ve-“
She bites her lip again, turns away from him to look down at the endless dark of the lawn, the blacker twist of the gates beyond that say “safety”, the velvet sky above them and she says, finally, softly, “Ah’m glad he didn’ tell ya.”
“They woulda got ya too. He woulda got ya...”
He shakes his head, “We woulda had a better chance fightin’ ‘em off t’gether, no?”
“Ah don’ think so, Remy.”
They’re both quiet for a moment, and he wants her to come down, to come closer, she’s so far away…
“Where did y’ wan’ me to fin’ y’?”
She laughs humorlessly, shakes her head at herself like she’s embarrassed to say it, but she does.
“New Orleans. Place d’Armes."
His heart, tight in his chest, “I love dat place…”
“Ah know y’do…”
She turns to him suddenly, a hand on her hip, head cocked and squinting at him, Rogue all over, and it almost takes his breath away.
“Ya really woulda come?”
“Yes.” A t’ousan’ time, yes…
“Well… Shit, then.”
He laughs, surprised.
“We probly woulda been gone b’fore those assholes even came f’me, right?”
“Someone from de Guilds woulda come de secon’ I showed up to ruin de fun…” he agrees.
“An' we woulda gone somewhere else… Paris, maybe?” She grins and he can see the pain behind it, the effort to stay on this path, keep it light, not delve, not dwell…
“Ah never been…”
“I take you dere. I show you ever’tin’…”
She smiles softly and then she looks away, looks down at her hands, her thumb rubbing the inside of her palm, the scar there maybe, and for the first time since it happened, he feels a flash of guilt for being the cause of that… His mark on her body, like he’d branded her, claimed her in some grotesque way only to have the monster of his past become hers as well… like he’d cursed her somehow… the very first moment they met he’d cursed her-
“Remy?” She looks up at him concerned, “Y’okay?”
He swallows, guiltily, “I should be askin’ you dat…”
“Ah feel… better… Ah feel… good, actually… It’s kinda freakin’ me out a lil’ t’be hones’…”
“Hank an’ Cyc gon’ wan’ do some tests t’morrow. You gon’ go through some runs in de Danger Room, prob’ly… See what powers y’ c’n manifes’…’”
“An' dey gonna be askin’ you s’more questions… ‘bout dat place.”
She’s quiet at that, so quiet his voice sounds almost too loud to his ears when he says suddenly, “Rogue, you tell me where you were, I go dere. I go dere an’ I burn it down-”
“No – No,” she comes to him then, she finally comes to him, her hand on his arm. “Don’t go back there.”
“Ah feel like somethin’ bad’s gonna happen if ya do-“
“Sometin’ bad’s already happen’ – it’s still happenin’”
“Then… we go together. All of us.” She squeezes his arm and it almost hurts, how hard. She immediately loosens her grip when she notices, surprised at herself.
She looks up at him and a lock of hair falls into her eyes. He brushes it away, natural as breathing but careful as always not to really touch…
His jaw clenches and her hand on his heart now.
Her hand resting on his heart…
“I promise, chere.”
She nods, she nods and she lets go of him but she doesn’t move away and after a moment he slowly reaches out to her, he slowly wraps his arms around her like he’s been aching to and he pulls her close, so close until her body is flush against his and her arms curving around him too and they hold each other like they’ve never held each other before, silent, breathing together, he murmurs against her hair when she starts to tremble a little, “It gon’ be okay. It gon’ be okay, y’here. Y’safe now… y’safe…. M’so sorry…” He kisses her hair, once, twice, breathes her in. “M’so sorry…”
“M’fault… All dis… m’fault…”
She pulls back suddenly, looks up at him, frowning, “No, it ain’t…” and he blinks, not realizing he had spoken aloud.
She grabs the collar of his shirt, curls her fingers into it, standing on the tips of her toes to look him dead in the eye. “Remy LeBeau, it ain’t yo’ fault.”
He shakes his head because it is. More than it’s Logan’s it’s his. “I shoulda gone after him…” He strokes her cheek with his gloved knuckles, his thumb tracing her lips, “I shoulda foun’ him an stop him b’fore he could get t’you…”
“Don’t do that t’y’self, sugah…” she breathes against his fingertips. “No one blames you…”
I blame me.
She closes her eyes, she whispers against his open palm, “God, Ah wanna kiss you… Ah wanna kiss you so bad…”
His heart, his pulse, that quickening, he murmurs huskily, “Prolly not de safes’ place on de roof…”
“It’s neva gonna be safe…” she whispers against his lips as she pulls him down to her.
“Non…” he whispers back in agreement…
And they stop there, a breath away from a kiss, his arm locked around her waist, his hand cradling her face, her fingers curled in the collar of his shirt, standing on her toes to match is height…
She opens her eyes, she takes a step back, away from him, her hand trailing down his chest, his down her hip as they reluctantly part.
She shakes her head muttering, “Ah know, Warr…”
“Warren”, she says and he feels a wasp-bite of jealousy sting his heart.
“De angel? He still dere wit’ you?”
“Yeah… He’s a little… weirded out…”
“Yeh?” Tell him to go away an’ leave us ‘lone den…
She smiles crookedly, suddenly shy, remembering that they weren’t alone this whole time, they weren’t alone. “Wouldn’ you be?” she says lightly, “Stuck in some woman’s body…”
“I neve’ leave m’room.”
She laughs, clapping a hand over her mouth and he smiles. He doesn’t know if he’s ever heard her laugh before and he thinks how strange that after everything, after everything, this is the easiest they’ve ever been able to be with each other… This is the most relaxed he’s ever seen her, the most comfortable. He almost finds it hard to believe, knowing what she’s been through and then it suddenly occurs to him that it’s because of Warr that she’s dealing this well. That Warren has been her Ororo through it all and it suddenly becomes clear to him that she doesn’t need him like he had thought.
“Ah should… Ah should go…”
He doesn’t answer and she says, “Remy?”
“Will ya be there? T’morrow? With th’ testin’ an' stuff? Th’… whaddaya call it… uh. Danger Room?”
“You wan’ me t’be?”
She blinks at him, surprised at the question.
“Yeah… unless y’don-“
“I do. M’sorry. ‘Course I be dere. Jus…”
“Don’ be growin’ anymo’ wings dere, chere… Don’ tink m’heart c’n take it…”
She looks at him for a long moment and then she comes to him again, she says, “I wanna tell y’somethin’.”
“Ya got me through it, y’know. The you ah absorbed that night we…” she shakes her head, not wanting to remember that. “Ya saved mah life, Remy. Ah wanned ta give up, ah wanned ta die and ya wouldn’ let me. Stubborn as hell ya held on... You… you were where Ah’d go to git away from Him...” she says softly, “You were my sanctuary. Ah’m here b’cuz o’you. B’cuz y’didn’ let me give up. An’ someday… someday Ah’m gonna thank you th’way Ah’ve wanned to since th’night we met. Ok?”
He opens his mouth to speak and finds he can’t so he just nods, and she says, backing away from him, “So don’t you be gettin’ jealous o’ me an’ Warren.”
He starts to protest and she shakes her head, climbing back down to her window, her voice floating back to him, “Ya poker face don’t work on me, Sugah.”