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Magnolias and Coopper

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The air was redolent with the dripping scent of jasmine and magnolia and rot and earth and copper and sick-sweet smoke. The moonlight filtered through the barely moving trees. The bugs and frogs were silent. The whole world seemed to hold its breath. One drop, then a second splashed into the murky swamp water.

"Now, cher, where are y' keepin' her?"

The man sobbed into his gag. His right foot was rendered useless by the bullet-hole that shattered the small bones and left a neat bore from top to bottom. His hands were tied to the branches above his head, held to the sides like a budget marionette. His tormentor pulled the wad of fabric free and let it hand around the man's throat. A gentle, almost tender hand lifted his chin.

"Now, now, cher. Dis can all be over as soon as y' tell m' where y' put Belladonna Boudreaux."

Miles trembled. He looked into the red eyes of his captor. He swallowed hard. He could see nothing else of the man's face behind the black cotton mask. The fingers that held his face up were covered by soft, thin leather. Maybe he could still get out of this alive.

He wanted to vomit all over his captor's shoes. He swallowed hard, telling his stomach to stay put. Soft fingers brushed away a tear. Despite the oppressive heat, Miles was chilled to the bone. The slap across his face brought his wandering attention back to the man in front of him. "Y' ain't payin' attention, petite. Just tell m' where y' put her. Jus' one lil t'ing."

He sobbed once. A flicker of silver flashed in the moonlight. The leather smothered his scream as flame danced up his side. "Mercy. Sil vous plait."

A gentle hand ran through his sweat-soaked hair. "Where is Belladonna Boudreaux? No more pain if y' tell m' where she is."

Miles shook his head. The knife glittered except for the dark liquid on it. My blood, he thought. "Tell m' and when y' wake up there'll be no more pain. Such a simple t'ing, t' tell." The voice was soft, sweet like summer tea. It filled his ears and his mind. Trust him. Tell him, a little voice in the back of his mind said. You can live. Just tell. No, that wasn't inside his mind, it was *him.* His tormentor, his demon was still talking. Cajoling. Soothing.

His shoulders slumped and he rested his weight on his wrists, the sisal biting into his flesh until he was sure that his blood was running down his arms. "Tell m'."

"Lafayette Shady Grove Private Hospital. There's a room in the basement."

"Merci. Y' been a good boy, cher. Y' sleep now."

He had just a brief moment of pain when the knife penetrated his chest before everything went black.

****

Gambit patted the dead man's head. He looked at Gris-Gris. "Who's on clean-up?"

The larger man gestured to the woods and two figures separated from the shifting shadows to collect and feed the body to the gators. Gambit gestured to one of his thieves The young woman stepped closer. She kept her eyes on him and not the dangling body. He couldn't blame her.

"Get the blueprints and security f' the hospital. Call Diamonique and PackRat. Have them meet us at the Lafayette Inn."

She nodded and left. Gambit turned. The assassins who were butchering the body with savage glee were arcing blood into the air. He swallowed back bile. Gris-Gris placed a hand on his shoulder. His palm was broad and almost burned as it rested there.

"I'll make the hotel arrangements."

"Tell the manager we need t' use the Shadow's Suite."

Gris-Gris' eyes widened in surprise. He nodded. "I'll supervise here and meet you with a five person team."

"Oui. Bring an extra gun f' our chere." His voice cracked a bit. Gris-Gris' fingers were strong. He held tight for longer than Gambit expected.

"We get her back, cher," he said quietly.

They shared a moment of eye contact. They both loved her. He wasn't fool enough to deny that. He was only jealous that she'd found a lover who was sane and dependable. He nodded. He cleared his throat. His fingers were trembling. He hadn't taken a life a close quarters in years. Not since before the X-men. No matter what Cyke thought, he was well aware that his cards had caused collateral damage.

He took a deep breath of humid air. Merde, he'd missed the bayou. He closed his eyes for just a moment. "Gambit'll meet y' at the Inn. Gonna find a doc t' take wit'."

"What's our fall back?"

"Apartment 23B in Magnolia court."

"Y' ran t' Lafayette." Gris-Gris shook his head. "Y' stone cold insane. Shocks m' y' still livin'."

Gambit snorted. "Belle tol' me I ain't allowed t' let someone else kill m'."

****

The room was fuzzy and soft-focus like a cheap French love movie. The scratchy sheets smelled like detergent and sweat and blood. Belladonna's eyes refused to focus, even though they were opening and closing when she demanded. There were halos around each of the light-bulbs above her head.

The back of her left hand was cold. Her fingers curled sluggishly, the joints swollen from a bad IV. She was alone in the room now, but that meant nothing. They would still be watching her for weakness. She shivered under the sheet.

At some point they'd put her into cotton scrubs. Her wrists were held by thick hospital cuffs. They were loose enough that she could move her wrist in a lazy circle. Unfortunately, they'd put her hands on top of the sheet. She moved her leg experimentally. Her legs were loosely restrained by the soft cuffs. Her captors obviously thought she wasn't dangerous enough to properly tie down.

She turned her head to the left and regarded the IV with glazed eyes. Whoever had set the bags up was obviously unaware of her facility with drugs. Or should that be resistance to drugs, she wondered. She wrote off the saline and glucose drips and just good sense. The third structure was an automated dosing machine. The small light indicating that it was empty explained her slowly clearing brain.

Fuzzy from drugs and sleep she didn't recognize the soft warmth as Remy's usual warning until she tasted cotton candy on her tongue and heard the echoing music of the Carousel. She smiled at the feeling. She wouldn't attempt to kill the next person into the room. The lights flickered as the room's power was interrupted.

She eased her right hand out of the cuff. She sucked at the brush burn on her thumb. She hadn't even needed to dislocate it. Amateurs. Not that she was complaining.

She disconnected the IV's, scowling at the swelling in her hand. She left the tubes dangling and worked the cuff's buckle free. "Looks like we ain't got much t' do," Remy's welcome voice purred to whomever he'd asked to join him. Wolverine probably, or one of the other X-brats.

"Always impatient, dat's our amour."

She blinked. "Gris?" Her voice was barely a whisper. She needed water to get rid of the dryness in her throat.

"Sh. Don' talk," one of her men soothed as he worked on her ankle restraints. "Too bad they put y' in scrubs."

"Focus, Gambit. Fun later."

"Bah. When'd y' lose y'r sense of adventure?" Remy gathered her into his arms as if she were a damsel in need of rescuing. She frowned. "Gris-Gris' got a gun f' y'. Can y' shoot, y' t'ink?"

"Killt drunker'n dis." She settled her cheek on his shoulder and wrapped her left arm around his throat. Gris-Gris gave her a quick gold-dotted smile and pressed a Glock into her hand. She flipped the safety off. He kissed her temple. She was shocked when he gave Remy's bangs a quick ruffle.

Soon enough they were in a minivan and heading elsewhere. "Merde. Did y' save m' one at least?" she asked. She poked Calliope in the leg. The young assassin laughed.

"De t'ieves done got us a whole list t' take out. We save de best f' y'. Ain't dat true, Guildmaster?"

"Oui, chere, y' get t' hunt soon as y' back on y' feet. Ole Gambit'll spot like he used t' if'n y' want."

Belladonna smiled. "Merci." They really had pissed off her husband if he was willing to break security for her. She peered out the window. "Encule. Dis is Fayetteville."

"Oui," Calliope confirmed. The young woman ran a comb through Belle's hair. She was a cosmetician by inclination and an assassin by birth. She redid Belle's braid while Gambit confused any possible trail.

****

Gris-Gris set the carry-out on the counter. A bottle of red wine from the LeBeau vineyard was breathing there. He pulled three glasses from the cabinet and poured the wine.

BellaDonna's voice was very precisely explaining why Gambit was not going to be moving home to the French Quarter property, but rather returning to New York.

"Chere, I..."

"Cyclops is still missin', oui?"

"Oui." The thief sounded horribly sad. Gris-Gris grimaced.

"And y' the only one that capable of leadin' those brats until he comes home."

"Stormy and Rouge can," he paused. "Stormy at least. An'..."

When Gris-Gris rounded the corner Belle had her arms crossed and was glaring down her nose. Remy was settling into a full pout. He took the wine with a nod and a smile. "Y' goin' back t' New York or I'll have Gris-Gris carry y' back hogtied."

Gris-Gris smirked at that. Remy stared at her. "Chere, y' done got kinkier. How de Hell..."

The assassins shared a grin at his thickening accent. He was starting to sound like a proper Cajun again. Gris-Gris settled on the loveseat. "Food's in the kitchen. And both y'all need t' eat." The well-built man smirked over the top of his glass. "Bet I could carry y' both at de same time."

Belle snorted. "Merde. I can carry Remy."

Remy flipped them both off. He took a sip of wine, then he went to fetch the food and some forks. The food was good and the conversation light. They finished off the wine and broke out the rum.

"Go turn on de security."

The thief laughed at Belle's imperious pointing. He bit at her finger as he passed by her. She looked at Gris-Gris and raised a brow. Were they really going to do this? He nodded. He tossed her one of the cheap mints from the bottom of the bag. She popped it into her mouth and winked.

Gris-Gris pulled Remy down onto the loveseat next to him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. He didn't have much more than an inch on the thief in height, but his shoulders were broader. His hand was wider when he wrapped their fingers together.

"Somethin' y' want t' tell m', cher?" Remy looked up from under his bangs, dropping his chin to do so.

"Plannin' on takin' y' t' bed." A flash of heat and a sparkle of something bright like a child's laughter surrounded him. It was probably the rum, more than anything. Remy had never been relaxed enough to let his charm run free around him before. The small touches to make Gris-Gris aware of his presence felt nothing like this. Those were simply courtesy, this was real. Gris-Gris pulled him closer.

"Now, Bella, y' been tellin' tales 'bout ole Remy?"

"Oui. Besides, I want de bot' of y' f' once. I deserve it." Her bright grin made her eyes scrunch up a bit at the corners. They were none of them teenagers anymore. Bon Dieu, maybe they'd actually be able to last more than a few minutes in the bedroom.

"Y' deserve everythin', chere." Remy settled his head onto Gris-Gris' shoulder. He smelled like dust, furniture polish, and Bulgari cologne. "Y' gonna use dose big hands on my shoulders first?"

Belle laughed. "Po' Remy played Cinderella all day. His own damn fault f' havin' good furniture."

Gris-Gris narrowed his eyes at her, wishing for a moment that he were a telepath rather than a magician. He shifted one hand to rub at the back of Remy's neck. It was still strange to see him with short hair. Remy arched up into the touch like a cat. Gris-Gris moved his fingers gently, but firmly along the still tense shoulders. Tomorrow, Remy would be leaving for his true mistress, the X-men. They needed him the way the Guild didn't right now. Some day soon they'd need him back. Remy's shoulders loosened. His fingers tightened on Gris-Gris' thigh.

"Got a nice big bed in de master," Belle mentioned. She stood and stretched. Her tee-shirt pulled up, exposing the sapphire bar in her belly-button and the fading bruise on her hip. "Open y're eyes, Remy," she chided.

"Feels good."

"No sleepin' until after I get t' see Gris-Gris' hand 'round y're cock."

"Y' feelin' better den. Good." Remy's voice was soft. "Ain't been laid in months, me. So if'n we really gonna do dis, might want t' get started."

"Don't Rogue?" Belle was confused. It showed in her eyes.

"Broke up wit' her after de vote. Ain't like I was getting' any from her anyway." He sighed. "No touchin'."

Belle stared at him. "T'ought y' and Logan?"

"Don't I fuckin' wish."

Something sharp and bitter like burnt chicory coffee pricked Gris-Gris' senses. He turned Remy to face him and kissed him gently. "We can take care of dat problem den." He stood and offered his hand to Belle's husband.

Belle wrapped her arm around Remy's waist when he stood. "Who did y' sleep with?"

"Jake."

"The cute lil' shapeshifter y' were runnin' around wit'? Y' got t' introduce m'."

"Us," Gris-Gris corrected.

Remy laughed. "Sluts, de bot' of y'."

"Yup."

The bedroom was dominated by a California King-sized bed with a wrought iron head and footboard. Belle pulled the redwork quilt off and tossed it over the rocking chair. Remy's sweatshirt followed it, leaving him in jeans and a threadbare tee-shirt. Belle rewarded him with a quick kiss.

She smirked and Gris-Gris' stomach fluttered. She was in a playful mood. That could be good or bad. Remy retreated behind him. "Now, chere," he said from the dubious safety of his human shield, "seems y' got a thought."

"Y' still flexible, Remy?"

The thief blinked at her. "Better'n either of you."

"Good. Stretch out."

"We ain't tryin' somethin' from the Kama Sutra." It was beyond time to bring Remy and Belle down to earth. "Dis is comfort and friendship t'night. Besides, I'm hopin' dis ain't a one time only."

"Gris makes a good point. I ain't averse t' it." Remy's fingers had wormed their way under Gris-Gris' red tee and were stroking along the waist of his pants. Gris-Gris' cock was very interested in the proceedings now.

Belle's smile softened. "Dis is a fine state of affairs. I get t' keep y' both and I get t' watch when I don' feel like playin'. D'accord. Now, we all wearin' too much f' dis."

Remy tugged Gris-Gris' shirt over his head. His braid's beads clacked together as he shook them back out. He turned to help the other man with his disrobing. He caught Remy by the belt-loops and pulled him closer. He kissed a line down the side of Remy's face while he undid his pants. They'd all ended up barefoot somewhere during the evening which spared them any ungraceful hopping and swearing.

When he'd finished with Remy, he turned to his lover. She was stripped down to a simple sports bra and French cut panties in blood red. There were still bruises on her skin from the idiots who'd kidnapped her. The sight of them made anger flash through his veins. It wasn't like training bruises or sex bruises. Those he was used to seeing. These were systematic and symmetrical, sadistic. "If I could bring dose idiots back I'd kill dem again."

"Y' so sweet. Just bruises. Dey'll fade."

Remy plastered himself along Gris-Gris' back. His clever fingers opened his jeans and skimmed over Gris-Gris' hard-on. Gris-Gris divested himself of the denim and the cotton underneath. He stood, proud of his scars and the glimmering metal that proclaimed his status as an assassin. "T'ink chere-amour needs help wit' her clothes." Remy's voice was a soft rumble.

Gris-Gris kissed Belle gently on the side of her neck. Remy slipped behind her to kiss at the opposite side. She shivered. "If y' give m' beard-burn, t'ief, I'll have t' start shavin' y'."

Gris-Gris chuckled. "Dat's jus' goin' t' encourage him. Know it'd encourage m'."

As if to prove his point, the thief rubbed his cheek against her shoulder like and over-grown cat. She giggled and reached to tug on his bangs. Gris-Gris ran his hand down her side, absently counting ribs. His thumb trailed over the bruises. He met Remy's fingers at her hip. He cataloged the feel of his hand. There was an odd scar on the web of his thumb. Belle wrapped a possessive hand around the back of his neck and leaned her head back, extending the line of her throat.

Together, he and Remy eased her panties down. She shimmied them down to her ankles. "What y' plannin', chere? Y' up t' the middle, or y' want one of us t' take it?"

Gris-Gris raised his brows at the question. He'd assumed they would share her. That didn't mean he'd mind putting the thief in the middle. Belle hummed as she thought. When Gris-Gris slipped his fingers between her legs, she was already wet.

"Me on top," she stated. "Gris on de bottom, wit' y' in the middle."

Remy's fingers brushed through Gris-Gris' braids. "Y' done dis b'fore?"

"Non."

"Y' been wit' a man?"

"Once or twice." He laid the sarcasm on the statement blatantly.

Belle smiled at him. "Y' get de hard part. Y' got t' stay still and let m' and Remy do the hard work." She fisted his cock gently. She grinned. Remy was removing her bra, so she had to let go, but the opportunity to cup her breasts and flick his thumbs over her nipples was worth the loss.

"We got lube?"

"And condoms. In m' purse, if they ain't in the drawer."

"Right." Remy kissed her cheek, then Gris-Gris'. "Back in a trice."

Belle snorted. "Spent too much time 'round Brits, Remy." She studied her lover's face. "Y' sure y' okay wit' dis?"

He nodded. "Oui. I ain't gonna complain 'bout fuckin' Remy. Ain't just t'ieves dat got a fantasy or t'ree 'bout him."

Her face eased and so did her shoulders. He kissed her gently, thoroughly. She was safe for tonight. He could hear Remy rustling in the side drawer and shifting the sheets and pillows on the bed. He was humming some old waltz. It was a habit designed to allow him and Belle to stay relaxed when he moved out of visual range. All of them were too quiet when they moved. Remy settled on the bed.

Belle broke from the kiss a few minutes later. "Y' gettin' y'self ready? Gris' bigger'n Lupin was."

Remy laughed. "Ain't hard."

"Yes, it is actually." Belle ran her hand over Gris-Gris' hard cock. She led him toward the bed. Remy was fingering himself open with his dexterous fingers. Gris-Gris ran a hand down Remy's spine. He paused at the traces of smooth metal. It was gold and silver embedded in parallel lines just above his tailbone. He stroked between them and Remy shivered.

"Merde. Been a long time since anyone's touched m' like dat."

"Your rank marks?"

"Oui." Remy's voice hitched as Gris-Gris' fingers trailed lower to take over prepping. "Y'... y' settled y'self at the top. Arranged the pillows f' y'."

"In a minute." Remy's breath stuttered as Gris-Gris played with him, opening him gently. This was more trust than Gris-Gris'd ever expected to receive. Belle smirked at him. She smoothed a condom over his cock.

"Don' tease him too long." She ran a gentle hand through Remy's bangs. "He'll figure out y'r a sadist."

Remy snorted. "Sorted dat ages ago."

Gris-Gris added another finger a bit more roughly then he'd planned. He was pleased when Remy pushed down onto them with a little whine. Gris-Gris settled at the head of the bed. The pillows were carefully placed to keep him upright. "Wonderin' if I should be worried 'bout you two bein' so practiced at dis?"

"Non, cher, jus' lie back an' relax." Remy smiled over his shoulder. Belle leaned down to kiss Gris-Gris. It was hot and wet and a little bit rough. He smiled into it. He held her by the back of the neck and tried to pour all his relief and longing back into the contact. They separated slowly. Remy was watching them kiss. Gris-Gris studied him. There was no jealousy there. Just fond regard and half-lidded eyes.

"Y' look good t'gther." The assassin couldn't help himself. He pulled the other man into a quick, deep kiss of his own. Remy's hand laid lightly on Gris-Gris' collar. "Y' take good care of her, oui?"

"An' tonight, I take good care of bot' y'all." Belle smirked from the side of the bed. "Enough talkin'."

Remy rolled his eyes. He settled himself over Gris-Gris' thighs. His skin was warm. Gris-Gris' cock bobbed. He guided Remy's hips back. The urge to surge up was ruthlessly suppressed. No bruises, no bites, tonight was going to be gentle, damn it. In the morning, well. The thought was cut off by the tight heat that surrounded his cock. His fingers tightened.

Remy froze. Then, Belle was straddling his lap and her added weight pressed him down further. "Fuck," Gris-Gris breathed. Belle laughed at his stunned expression. He wanted to thrust up and fuck both of them with the stroke.

"Jus' stay still. We make Remy do most of the work, non?"

Remy moved slowly and shallowly. Gris-Gris growled in his ear, "move, damn you."

"Non." The denial would've been more believable if it hadn't been so breathy.

Slowly, up and down, until Gris-Gris was half-mad with the press and depth of it. He scattered kisses across Remy's shoulders, Belle's hands and wrists. Any part of them he could reach was fair game. His fingers pried themselves loose from Remy's hips and rose to explore the join between his lovers, their soft skin, their scars, small and large. Belle's kisses rained over his neck and Remy's indiscriminately.

He felt, heard, practically smelled Belle's orgasm build. He rubbed one calloused thumb over her nipple and she shuddered, crying out heedless and abandoned in a way he rarely heard.

Remy went rigid between them. His orgasm didn't outlast hers and he slumped between them. He tightened his muscles, milking Gris-Gris. Gris-Gris couldn't resist any longer. His hips rose and fell once, twice, and more until he too tightened in the momentary rigor of orgasm. He leaned his head back, onto the pillow he'd been sure he wouldn't need and closed his eyes. The smell and press of his lovers surrounded him as he dosed off.

FIN