After the first few nights of being polite and following the rules -- and Wolverine can see Gambit only follows the rules because it amuses him to do so and somewhere he picked up courtesy - Gambit leaves the mansion before dinner. He hasn’t returned by the time Wolverine goes to bed, sometime after midnight, and he never hears him come in. He would hear if he had, because someone smart quartered Gambit across the hall from him.
Wolverine wakes up every half hour, listens for breathing, steps, the shift of a drunken or fucked out body on a bed.
In the dawn, Wolverine goes downstairs, too restless to sleep, and wonders at himself. He’s been in a lot of wars, and peacetime armies, and he knows how to sleep in a barracks or foxhole or bombed out barn with any number of people coming and going.
To be honest, he had not expected Gambit to stick around for more than a few days, perhaps a week. Inviting him to come stay, that had been a genuine offer; the X-Men could use him. But Gambit doesn't play well with others.
Wolverine had hoped his friend would become a permanent team member. He isn’t banking on it.
The only reason Gambit came at all, Wolverine suspects, is to show the others that Wolverine wasn't wrong to ask him. To make sure Wolverine still looked good.
Or maybe Gambit just wanted to see what his reception would be like.
Wolverine's restless circuit of the first floor takes him to the front door. The lights on the security panel glow steady and undisturbed. Yet, he scents cigarette smoke and a trace of bourbon.
Gambit is asleep on the couch in the front sitting room, hat cocked over his eyes, fully dressed down to the staff at his side.
Wolverine steps into the room to wake him, hoping he’ll respond to his name spoken. Chuck will not be happy if he startles the sleeping man and Gambit blows something up and wakes the house to boot.
Gambit stirs before Wolverine can act, tips the hat back, says, “Morning.”
“You so drunk you couldn’t get up the stairs?” Wolverine asks.
“I don’t get drunk that easily,” Gambit says. He gets gracefully to his feet, and brushes past Wolverine. “See you at breakfast.”
Wolverine watches him go upstairs, shoves his questions to the back of his mind. He doesn't want to make Gambit think too hard about what he's doing here.
Gambit trains with the X-Men during the day. The Professor won’t give him a permanent assignment yet. Says something about waiting to see how Gambit fits into the team.
On the second day, Gambit offers to teach some of the smaller kids some basic street fighting moves, the kind of thing they might need if harassed on the street or called out in a bar. The kids who sign up will never see a mission or know much about the X-Men. They'll try to lead normal lives. A lot of people out in the world won't want them to.
Gambit teaches them how to spot trouble, when it’s serious and when it’s just posturing, how to get out of a hold and how to fight dirty. The kids either love him or are in awe of him, Wolverine notices when he sits in a couple times and lets Gambit use him as a prop or a punching bag.
The lessons remind Wolverine that Gambit was not always in control of his powers and could not pass for normal as a youngster. Reminds Wolverine that Gambit, came up on the streets That he deals with the worst of the mutant underworld a lot. That he has no such haven as Wolverine has found at the mansion, where friends and colleagues have your back.
If you took Gambit's powers away, he’d still be a fighter, Wolverine thinks, watching Gambit demonstrate to his class how to deal with an opponent bigger or stronger.
The days pass as Gambit finds ways to fit into the team, whether he means to stay or not, and ten, eleven days go by.
Gambit still makes a habit of leaving the mansion at night, coming home in the early morning and dozing downstairs until Wolverine finds him on the couch. How Gambit gets by on that little sleep baffles Wolverine, but it seems that Gambit does not notice the lack. Maybe he's just running on tension. The mansion is at best neutral territory where Gambit is concerned.
Wolverine waits for him downstairs once, taking up a post in the wing chair opposite Gambit‘s usual couch. He must have gotten used to having Gambit across the hall awfully quickly, Wolverine thinks, to keep noticing when he isn’t there. When Gambit comes in at 2 a.m. - not through the front door, and the alarm lights do not flicker - he tips back onto the couch without a word or a nod.
"You have a bed, you know," Wolverine says.
"Have a sofa right under me," Gambit says. He puts his hat on his face, and gets comfortable.
"Jesus. Don't be an idiot."
"I'm here. Like you asked. What more do you want?" Gambit flicks the hat back. The shine of mounting power rises in his eyes.
Snappish. Hmm. Wolverine sometimes wishes he had a back button in his own brain, but he's never been happy to retreat. "That you act like you're willing to be here. If you don't want to join the X-Men, fine. But this isn't a hotel. You don't want to stay, you know where the door is."
Wolverine is tired of Gambit being on the fence. He can't say why it matters to him so much, why the man's failure to fully commit is starting to irk him so.
Gambit goes his own way unless he sees a common purpose, and always has. It's not precisely a surprise that Gambit is hesitating to commit himself.
And Wolverine is honest enough to remember his own path to where he is now, that he came and went and held himself aloof for a long time before he decided to throw his fate in with the X-Men for good.
Maybe he just doesn't want his first concrete attempt to be more than the hard guy on the team, to show that he can bring resources to the X-team, to fail.
Wolverine is honest with himself most of the time, and he's pretty sure that's only part of it, that he's taking Gambit's fence-sitting personally in a way that has nothing to do with the X-Men.
"I got a class to teach in the morning," Gambit says, tips the hat down over his eyes. His focus seems to turn inward. His body language says relaxed.
"Damn it," Wolverine says.
Sleep steals over Gambit.
No one has ever shut him out so thoroughly. Feeling like an intruder, Wolverine leaves him to it.
In the morning, Gambit is still there. He sits with Storm and Jean at breakfast, nods to Scott when he comes in without any of the stiff formality he's shown thus far, inclines his head to listen to a student chatter in his ear.
"Did you guys have a fight?" Rogue asks Wolverine on the way down to training.
"Why would you say that?"
"Because Gambit's paying attention to everybody but you, and you're only paying attention to him, and not anybody else," Rogue says.
"How'd you get to be so smart?"
Rogue shrugs. "I'm not. I just look good compared to you."
Wolverine growls. "You want to get dumped in the lily pond?"
"I don't know. We doing defensive exercises with Cyclops again?"
Wolverine huffs a laugh. "Good point. Maybe we can both fall in."
Nothing changes for a couple of days. Wolverine goes to bed sometime after midnight, as usual, and sleeps from hour to hour. He keeps waking, and finally he traces it to Gambit, who’s been snappish and off for the last few days, since the night Wolverine waited up for him.
There are oceans of things unsaid behind the man's eyes. And Wolverine cannot bring himself to ask the questions he needs the answers to, even as he fears the window for asking those questions is going to run out.
One night, Gambit isn’t going to come back to the mansion, left or dead or captured, and Wolverine doesn’t know what to do about it, except he knows he wants to do something. Why else would he be waking so often, listening for the nearly nonexistent sounds to confirm Gambit's return?
But Wolverine reaches the same conclusion he always comes to when his brain gets twisted in knots over Gambit. There's nothing he can do but trust Gambit to find his own way.
Wolverine knows he cannot push it. He makes himself close his eyes and reach for rest. He will not go looking for Gambit in the gray pre-dawn, not again.
Sunrise light has crept into the room when Wolverine jerks out of sleep to a knock at his door, barely noticing the sharp pain of instinct-unsheathed claws.
“Yeah." Jesus, he hopes no one wants him to identify a body.
“It’s me,” Gambit said. He cracks the door open and eyes Wolverine‘s claws. “People who want to kill you don’t knock, homme.”
“You get lost?” Wolverine wills the claws to sheathe and lies back on the bed.
Gambit sits down on the bed and takes off his boots. “Wanted some company.” Gambit stretches out next to Wolverine with a sigh.
Wolverine doesn’t know what to say, so he drapes the edge of the blanket over him, and says, “Oh.”
Gambit's long fingers find a gentle hold on Wolverine's wrist and his eyes flutter closed.
Wolverine falls asleep with Gambit’s hand on his pulse.
That night, Gambit stays for dinner before going out, and taking Wolverine with him.
Wolverine straddles his bike, greedily watches Gambit throw a leg over the Harley he'd arrived on.
The unsaid, unsigned, devastatingly obvious reason he needed Gambit to stay.
Together when they woke, lying just as they had falling asleep in the dawn, Gambit had said nothing. Had shown him nothing. Had kissed him, a bare touch of his mouth and drawn away, waiting for Wolverine's reaction.
Wolverine had dragged him in close, wanting more than seduction or sex, needing to burn the scent of him into his hindbrain. It was intoxicating, heady, a known mystery. They had lain together for only five, six minutes until someone banged on the door, calling Wolverine to breakfast, but that had been enough time to learn new notes, subtleties, hell, entire continents about Gambit’s essence.
Without saying a word, they moved apart, went into the day with gaze averted from each other.
For Wolverine, looking had become superfluous. Wolverine was caught. And it looked like Gambit had been caught, too, and had spent the last two weeks wrestling with the net.
So the day had gone, both men quiet as they moved through the X-routine: meals, classes, training Not thoughtful. Wolverine could barely form sentences. Gambit’s usual raillery took on a decidedly distracted tone.
Holding pattern, that was what this day had been. Now Wolverine had time to think. To marvel at his own stupidity. To savor Gambit’s unspoken pledge, to the team.
Wolverine follows Gambit into the night, all his questions answered.