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Puttin' on the Ritz

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Puttin' on the Ritz

The Ritz-Carlton always makes me feel cheap. Well, not exactly cheap. It's more like being out of my depth. My accountant says I could buy the place several times over, but my stomach twists anytime I walk in. I feel like a high class rent boy. Never was of course. High class, I mean. Bella probably knows it. She always seemed to have the inside track into my mind. Sometimes I think she's a spook. Like Jean. But you know, Jean can't read me.

I wonder if my poker face is holding up. She's sitting by the front desk in low-slung jeans and an off the shoulder shirt. She's got red shoes on. Looks like she finally found some she liked. I'm glad I didn't dress up. Jeans, tee and my always trusty trench-coat match her perfectly. Now, that is a truly scary thing. Years apart and we still dress right without thinking about it.

She's checking her watch. I'm early, but then again, so's she. She stretches showing an amazing amount of stomach. She's gotten her belly-button pierced. I offer her a hand and she uses it to delicately come to her feet. Her eyes are hidden by designer shades. You'd think after spending so much time with women I'd be able to identify things like that. I guess some things are harder to learn than others.

The concierge is giving me a look that would freeze my blood if I didn't know I am always welcome here. I kiss her hand and a flash of surprise crosses the man's face. She's pulled my hands out to the sides and it looking me over. "You're too thin," she announces after a moment. I shrug. "Come upstairs. We'll torture room service." The staff hates when we speak French at the front desk. It gives them less to gossip about. He looks as if he wants to object to my presence when he finally notices our matching rings.

Bella always looks like she belongs here, surrounded by elegance. She looks like she belongs anywhere. It's a skill. Me, I look like I fit, but I look young. Someday, I'll be able to get away without the stubble and not look like Jubilee's date. Not soon, but someday.

She's twined her fingers into mine and we're moving to the elevators. I don't feel quite so conspicuous now, even though more people are staring. We're a good looking couple. Away from home, people seem to think they should know us. In the Big Easy, we're royalty to a select number and people are always staring.

The mirrored doors of the private elevator slide shut and she slides her shades to the top of her head. She rubs the bristles of my stubble the wrong way as she traces my jaw. "Your little bitch wears gloves even when she does this?" She runs her hand down the side of my face without ever making contact. I can feel the heat of her skin and suddenly I can't understand why I walked away when I went to the trouble of saving her life. Maybe it was so I wouldn't have to watch her eyes turn from trusting to cold. She's angry with me. I can see it in those beautiful blue eyes. She can make me feel guilty with a look. I just nod in response to her question. She takes a step away and I feel the loss of body heat along my side. I hadn't even noticed when she pressed against me.

The chime of the elevator bothers me. It shouldn't be so normal when nothing else seems right. My wife is bitter. My girlfriend's flirting with an amnesiac. Excuse me. Ex-girlfriend. Bella's got my hand again. I'm not used to feeling skin against my fingertips.

"Cold, Husband?" She picks at the fingerless driving gloves I've got on.

"It's New York, ma chere, of course I'm cold."

"You need to eat more," she chides me. The suite doesn't impress me and I already know the ways to get out. I know the ways to get in. It's got a pleasant glitter to it that implies tasteful wealth. She settles herself in one of the chairs by the table and slides the room service menu to where she expects me to sit.

The table provides a buffer that won't stop either of us for long if we get angry. But it means that she isn't planning on killing me yet. I still don't know why either of us agreed to be here. She places the order as I take off my coat and gloves. It's funny, I drove the Jaguar tonight. I drove it to piss off both of the women in my life. Rogue hates it because I never drive her in it. Bella loves my bike. The room is too quiet.

She reaches over and takes off my shades, leaning across the table, giving me a nice view down the front of her shirt. Then, she brushes my bangs back. It's been so long since I was touched gently skin on skin that I flinch. I've forgotten what it's like not to be afraid. She frowns and lays her hand on my cheek.

"What does she call you?"

I blink.

"The bitch. What does she call you?"

"Swamp-rat. Sugar. Remy. Gambit." I shrug. She files away the information.

"What does she taste like?"

"I don't know." Hot pink fingernails bite into the side of my face for an instant. "I only kissed her once, Bella."

'What does she taste like?"

"Bitterness and fear. Shattered glass and licorice."

"Better. Don't lie to me, Husband." She retreats across the table again. "How is the witch?"

"She's good." Bella never had a problem with my Stormy. They have the same sort of emotional control. I wish I could learn it. "How's the Guild?"

"Prosperous. The fighting stopped. They still live by the truce. Jean-Luc is trying to get your banishment revoked." That sounds so good, but I don't dare hope for it. I've been trying to make myself a new home. The reason I can't is sitting across from me.

We sit staring. I drink in her face, adding the details to change her from a teenager to a woman in my mind. Her features are a bit sharper in definition. Her eyes are hiding more shadows in their sapphire depths. We used to spend hours like this, together, but silent. We'd train in the swamps together despite our parents and guilds. Then, we'd collapse onto the soft grass and listen to the water and the kids walking home from school. I used to wonder what those schools were like.

"Do you remember our graveyard?" she asks me.

"I remember the cool relief of marble on my back. And the thick smell of recently turned earth. And the wavering light of candle devotions. I remember drums and your heartbeat under my fingers, mon couer."

She leans forward. "Don't ever forget me, Husband-mine." She runs her fingers down my throat. If she were anyone else, I'd fight the grip she settles around my neck. But this is my wife. I gave her my trust years ago. The only person who can sneak up on me. The only person who can hold a blade to my throat.

"How could I forget you?" I whisper. There is a knock at the door and she rises to greet room service.

By unspoken agreement we eat dessert first. The white chocolate mousse is smooth and cool as it slides down my throat. Belle is licking the mousse off the spoon with delicate nips interspersed with long, languorous laps. Her eyes close in pleasure. She doesn't indulge in sweets usually. I notice her lipstick is blood-red. She's eating carefully so she won't disturb it.

Her hair seems different to me, even though she still has bead-tipped braids on either side of her face. My fingers itch to touch it, to feel languid gold run over the tips. The almost comfortable silence falls again and it seems as if I'm looking through a broken window. Things are just a little sideways. I can't keep my mind from comparing them. Rouge isn't delicate. She's the cannon to Belle's dart. Rogue never lets herself feel that complete self-indulgent pleasure that half-closes Belle's eyes and opens her perfect lips just a bit in a Marilyn Monroe breath.

Rogue doesn't twist me into a Chinese puzzle of emotions I can't name. Rogue doesn't trust me to tell her to step off the side of the roof into the perfect blackness of a moonless country night.

Belle doesn't keep me away because of fear. She doesn't question everything out of my mouth. She knows the blackness I can feel in my heart and loves it. She revels in the blood I've spilled with an "I told you so grin" and a knife.

Belle doesn't change like the wind. She has only one true ambition and it isn't redemption or a dream.

We move onto dinner. She pours the wine carefully, but as always, a single dark-red drop falls onto the white linen tablecloth. She lifts her glass. "To peace in Verona."

"To love in Verona," I finish our traditional toast. Jean-Luc thought we were blind. He was wrong. The crystal chimes musically and I can feel it vibrate in my fingers. The steak is perfect, the center still red and just warm. The blood leaks onto the plate, seeping into the potatoes. Belle dissects her steak with almost obsessive precision.

It's rare to get beef these days. Hank is obsessing about nutrition. Logan had to threaten Bobby with dismemberment to get hamburger into the mansion. Jeannie drafted me to go fish shopping. I don't mind it actually. I miss the water. I miss crawfish. Hell, I even miss gators. Which is probably why I'm risking poison and pain to be here.

Belle is watching me carefully. She taps her fork against her lips. I cock my head to the side in a silent question. "How does she feel?" I gape for a moment. "How does she feel? Is she tight or loose?"

I shake my head. "We don't do that. No sex, Belle. No touching."

"Poor little thief." She turns back to her meat. "How does she do it? Is she gentle or rough?"

"Chere?"

"When she touches you. When she makes you come."

I was referring only to physical delicacy with Belle by the way. She swears like a sailor and can make a whore blush.

"Never done that either, ma chere. Chivalric love."

"She's your Dulcinea, then?" She sneers with enough acid to make me wince. She sips her wine.

"Non," I answer without a pause. Conversation dies again.

"Guess," she orders me after a long pause.

"About what?"

"Rough or gentle?"

"The first time? Gentle. After that it wouldn't happen again."

"Why not?"

"She doesn't understand sex."

"Then why don't you show her. I'll talk you through it," she offers sweetly. I choke on my wine.

"Belladonna!"

"Remy." She bats her pretty blue eyes at me and I take one of the stupid risks that Scott lectures me about.

"Show me," I challenge. That stops her dead, with a piece of steak half-way to her mouth. A smile slowly spreads across her face.

"That's my Remy. I wondered where you'd gone." I laugh. It was the only way to get rid of the giddy almost hysterical panic that that particular smile always causes me. It's the smile I see in the mirror when I've just set someone up and they've fallen for it hard. What else do I expect though? This is Belle. Even in the shattered swirl of broken memories Rogue left me in beneath my shields, I could see her steady as a rock. Rogue didn't want to know about her. She probably still doesn't. Belle's known every time I've started seeing someone. I don't know who she has watching me. I don't think I've ever really thought about it. It was a given that she would watch me. Actually, it surprises me that she has never stepped in until the break-up. Of course, she's probably managed to coordinate some of them. There's been more than one woman who just called and dumped me in tears with no explanation. "Eat, Husband. You'll need your energy." She gestures with the silver fork. "Unless you want Belladonna to feed you?"

"Non, ma chere, Remy can handle feeding himself."

"You wouldn't know it to look at you." I can't help but roll my eyes.

"You just want me fat and complacent."

"At home watching the kids would be a nice touch," she says looking up at something over my head. "But I'll take toned with an over active sex-drive too. Why is it you can't manage to go three months without a woman on your arm?"

"I crave affection."

"You're a slut, you mean." I shrug.

"As you say, Wife."

"I do say."

We're staring at each other again and I wish I were a spook. I'd reach into her mind and find out how long I have to live. I put the trays outside the door and Belle settles on the bed, legs folded up. She looks like the kid I didn't even get to kiss before my father dropped me at the airport with a suitcase and a one-way ticket to D.C.

I have kissed her since then, which would be why I'm not scared of an ex-wife who happens to kill people for fun and money. I drag a chair over and straddle it so I can rest my hands on and chin on the back. She rests her elbows on her knees and supports her chin on one hand.

"You're so skittish these days, Husband-mine." She starts twisting a braid around her finger. I watch entranced. I feel old. I close my eyes to contain my regrets, my guilt. "Non," she says sharply. "No brooding on my time. Come here." She pats the bed and I lay down next to her and stare at the ceiling. Suddenly, I'm worried about what Rogue will say when I don't come home. Or even Cyke when I don't show up for practice. Or Logan when they find my corpse in a dumpster behind the Hilton, because she'd never contaminate her living space.

She leans over me with a frown. "What did I tell you?" I blink away my idle thoughts. "Better." She pats my head like I'm her puppy. She used to have a wolfhound. It's one of the differences between us. I'm more of a cat person. He was a lovable softy though. He thought I was his best friend. He saved Belle's life at least once. I smile at the thought of Belle letting me fight for her. She lays down and whispers into my ear. "You will never look at the bitch the same way. Stay," she orders as she gets up to turn off the lights.

"Where would I go?"

"I don't know, but it might be fun to stop you."

As the lights lower I feel the tension I didn't know I had in my jaw lessen. She settles on the bed on her side, head propped up on her hand. "Is that better for your eyes?"

"Oui. Merci." She taps my nose with one finger.

"Now, what would I tell you to do to your bitch?" She murmurs. It's not worth it to point out that Rouge's not "my" anything anymore. Belle's palm comes to rest over my heart. "Don't be scared," she purrs. It hurts to be this close to her and not know if I can touch her. I take the risk and reach out to trace her face.

"I don't want her, ma chere. Don't make tonight about her." Her skin is warm and soft against my fingers. I can smell home on her. It cuts through my heart. She smiles at me and leans down to brush her lips against mine. "This is about us. It always was."

"Con-artist. Do women really fall for your lines?"

"You tell me, chere. You tell me." She slugs me lightly in the shoulder. Then, she's straddling me and I can barely think, my senses taken up with the feel of her, the smell of her. I reach to touch her and she catches my wrists.

"Non," she whispers. "Stay still or I'll tie you down."

"That might be interesting." She smiles, showing off her pretty white teeth and I know I'll live the night.