Disclaimer: The X-Men are <sob>
Marvel's, not mine. I'm using them without permission, getting
no money, yadda yadda yadda. Comments, suggestions, constructive
criticism, etc. will be welcomed at Enyo@jps.net
Hair still wet from the shower, Remy wandered downstairs,
lured by the scent of something in the kitchen. He poked his
head in to see Jean brandishing a wooden spoon threateningly
at her boyfriend, who held up oven-mitted hands in protest.
"Jean, I'm just trying to help!"
"I know you are, Scott," she said through gritted
teeth. "And I love you. But you cannot make a pie to
save your life. So get out!"
Remy chuckled as Scott subsided with a hurt air. Jean caught
sight of him at the door, and to his surprise, smiled.
"That goes for you, too, Gambit. Unless, of course,
you are a master chef underneath that disarming facade?"
He grinned. "Wit' pies? 'Fraid not, chere. But I can
make a gumbo dat'll burn your mouth off."
"I'll keep that in mind," she said dryly, giving
Scott a gentle push towards the door. "Now scoot, you
two. I think there's a basketball game going on outside."
Scott mumbled something about checking on status reports
and disappeared down the hall. Remy watched him go with a
shake of his head, thanking God that he, at least, knew how
to have fun. He heard noise from the rec room and walked in,
seeing Hank and Bobby camped out in front of the TV with an
impressive array of snack foods.
Feeling his eyes, Bobby glanced up but said nothing. Prob'ly
has a lot t' do wit' dat bandage on his head. But Hank
beckoned him in brightly. "Greetings, Gambit! Care to
join us in a little televised testosterone?"
Remy glanced at the screen, and saw three earnest suits discussing
the merits of Charlotte and Michigan in a pre-game show.
"T'anks, Beast, but I've never been much for televised
sports." As a matter of fact, he'd never been one for
television at all. He'd had other things to deal with. "T'ink
I'll go join dat game outside, instead."
Hank waved him away cheerfully. "Watch out for Storm,"
he said conspiratorially. "She is -- to put it in street
terms -- a 'hustler'."
Remy laughed and followed the hallway down to the back door,
feeling happier than he had in days. Outside, he could hear
the squeak of sneakers and friendly taunting. He opened the
And walked out into the oddest basketball game he had ever
"No powers" was, evidently, for wimps. From what
he could tell, the teams were Betsy and Warren against Logan
and Ororo, although it could just as easily have been a free-for-all.
He paused courtside, watching the fracas in fascination.
Logan was making a fast break down the left. It was interrupted
when Angel abruptly swooped down and snagged the ball from
his hands, only to have it in turn ripped away by the airborne
Storm. Psylocke meanwhile used the unwitting Wolverine as
a launching pad, and catapulted neatly into the windrider.
They went down in a confusion of violet and white. Ouch.
Somehow, Logan managed to extricate the ball from the tangle,
and evaded the diving Warren with a running roll. Rising into
a crouch, he shot a crazy hook--and sunk it, nothing but net.
He gave a raucous laugh, and Angel cursed good-naturedly.
Storm, dusting herself off, saw Remy first, and gave him
a welcoming smile. He smiled back, feeling suddenly unsure
"Is dere room for one more?"
There was a sudden hush. He felt suspicion and animosity
float from Warren, and Betsy was, as usual, a blank slate.
Logan eyed him appraisingly, and in a flash of motion too
quick to follow, sent the ball snapping directly towards his
chest. Remy snagged it neatly, turning the warm weight over
in his hands and watching the Canadian warily. Slowly, a feral
grin spread across Logan's craggy features.
"Me an' the Cajun'll take the three of you."
Warren scoffed and Betsy arched her eyebrows, but Gambit
felt a matching grin spread across his face. He dribbled the
ball, hearing the acrid twang of rubber against asphalt and
feeling the heat radiate up from the pavement with a quickening
pulse. He passed to Logan with lightening speed, feeling his
powers sync to the unassuming sphere. This should be...gratifying.
She could smell the young manager's fear.
Not fear of her mutancy, or her strength, or her ability
to fly. Not fear of her invincibility or her power to comatize
with a touch. He was afraid she would get him fired.
She tried to recall what it was like to have fears like that.
Had they ever existed?
With difficulty, she saw herself as he did, sorting through
a blur of aliases, stolen memories and shadowy phantoms. Her
ever-expanding wardrobe of disguises had garnered today close-cropped
blond hair, blue eyes, a subdued Boston accent and a government
ID. She was the fourth or fifth federal inspector he'd seen
in the past few days; it was budget time, and they had to
review their investment. It would perhaps reassure him to
know that she suspected none of them had ever had any intention
of shutting the project down. Until today.
She listened to his running monologue with half an ear, more
aware of what was not said than what was. The lab's technicians
all looked hard at work, analyzing samples, conferring with
one another and running expensive-looking machines. Yet she
sensed an organization to their chaos, something beyond a
well-run team. Maybe it was the metallic buzzing of the fluorescent
lights, or the chill clamminess of the room, or the grating
cut of the manager's laugh... But something set her on edge.
And her instincts were all she had left.
Her guide led her to an occupied console and launched into
a complex explanation of DNA analysis and the X-factor. She
reached out and touched his hand, a soft attention-getting
brush. He turned to her...
...His thoughts caressed her gently, a soft eddy from the
surface of his mind. Emotions, half-formed ideas, odd scraps
of minutiae that float along the edge of consciousness...
Impatiently she batted away song lyrics and whispered worries,
pulling the weight of years of experience into her struggle
for focus. Abruptly what she sought crystallized with lucid
clarity in her mind.
He was a conscientious man, and his plans for their tour
displayed a certain evenness of thought that made interpretation
simple, if dull. But what she was looking for was not a simple
diagram but impressions, feelings. She brushed aside the surface
of that frozen moment with razorblade calm, feeling the waters
already begin to drain away...
...and she suggested they skip the explanation and continue
on to the next lab. He did not argue, unaware of the intrusion
but wanting her gone. She felt more than knew, with an odd,
not-yourself sensation she had grown to accept, that the manager
was only a pawn. He was certainly aware that his team's assignments
were ambiguous and infrequent, but seemed to harbor no suspicion,
simply some small disbelief at his luck. Ah, the naiveté of
She let him show her around the other two sections, lingering
long enough and asking enough pointed questions so that by
the time she was done, the staff was rattled and it was past
time to go home. Only then did she ask about the other lab.
He was reluctant. They were another department. His card
could only get her into the hall. She really should talk to
-- She smiled and insisted. He relented. And as the door clicked
shut behind them, she turned and took his face in her hands.
She watched the shift and play of his emotions with an expression
akin to sadness. Surprise stretched across his face, then
alarm, chasing quickly into terror. For the second before
unconsciousness he gaped at her, wide-eyed, with a kind of
horrified transfixion, as though hypnotized by the scorching
blaze she knew burned in her eyes.
She wondered how they really saw her, sometimes, as their
identity was being drained away. Was she the blood-lusting
Lestat, who drank for the sheer pleasure? Or the reluctant
Louis, who fed for survival? Their memories made no such distinctions.
Cloudy, disoriented, wracked with fear...
She closed her eyes to the oppressive silence, hearing his
screams resonate through her skull.
After darkness took his body he fought her, his unconscious
mind lashing out in instinctive self-preservation. Yet the
mental image it conjured was ephemeral, almost childlike in
its fragility. She watched it almost pityingly as it wavered,
trying confusedly to adapt to the mindshift.
It was always that way, with humans. Her powers were their
first encounter with psionic elements. And she'd made abundantly
certain that no one, but no one, could match her in her own
mind. Especially not on their first try.
With a firm gesture, she dismissed the apparition. It dissolved
into the landscape of her mind, to join the other ghosts.
She took a step back into her body...and his essence flooded
her in a sparkling rush, an effervescent stream of ambrosia
that made her, for this moment between heartbeats, a god.
She threw her head back. Love and hate, pleasure and pain...the
rushing sensations of life kissed her nerves with a caustic
sting, blurring together in a pleasurably deadening roar.
She felt a wild kind of hysteria overtake her as she listened
to the siren's song, calling her to draw more, to lose herself,
to seek oblivion...
She lay his sagging body on the floor. She felt powerful,
radiant, alive... She tasted bile.
Kneeling beside him, she unfastened his watch swiftly and
with agile fingers pried off the back. Locating the correct
model in her purse, she swapped his battery for an identical,
if less functional, twin. He would awaken in about half an
hour, with a little disorientation and vertigo, with she the
concerned inspector supporting him. A momentary dizzy spell.
Perhaps he should go home and rest?
The memory of his absorption she would keep, along with the
unavoidable small fragments of his mind. To add to her collection.
In the meantime, she had work to do.
Remy closed his eyes, feeling the icy water run down his
scalp with an almost orgasmic delight. He heard a grunt as
Angel sat down heavily next to him, radiating reluctant respect.
He was tired. And hot. Prob'ly feathers not de coolest
t'ing t' be wearing right now. He also smelled slightly
singed. Remy hid his grin behind his drink.
"I don't believe it," Angel muttered sourly, grabbing
a water bottle and taking a swig. "Let me guess, you
forgot to mention that you're also in the NBA."
Remy opened one eye with a grin. "Sorry, mon ami, but
I haven't played since I was jus' a kid. But my cousins played
hardball. You pick t'ings up real quick." Everything
in the Guild was hardball. "Work hard, play hard,"
was his father's motto. Carpe Diem -- but never drop
"Your cousins were mutants?" Betsy asked, from
the other side of Warren.
Remy chuckled. "No. But somehow, dat didn't seem t'
matter. Ever seen 16 year-old boys play t'gether?"
"Pretty good, kid," Logan said, sounding almost
cheerful, if such a thing were possible. He eyed Remy with
a sudden unhealthy glint in his eyes. "Like to try some
sparring in the Danger Room?"
Remy grinned wolfishly. "Any time, mon ami." He
liked the Canadian, for all his gruff, blustering, rampaging
bull-elephant approach to life. It was nice to find someone
else in the bunch who wasn't quite so squeaky-clean. Although
he did appear to have the team's complete trust and respect.
Remy wondered how he did it. His mouth quirked up in an ironic
half-smile. What's de difference between an assassin an'
"It was well-played, indeed," Storm said, reaching
up and unfastening her hair. With a shake of her head, it
tumbled down her back in a long white cascade. The golden
half-light of the setting sun illuminated her with a celestial
glow. She was radiant, regal...a goddess indeed.
Remy smiled up at her, feeling his throat tighten painfully.
He realized with a twinge what he'd been trying to deny for
months -- he loved her. Not the quick-flash passion he was
used to, the white-hot flame that flared and died, but a warm
steady pulse for the sister he'd never had. Was it any less
dangerous? Is it ever?
She settled down next to him with a wave of affectionate
pride, leaning back against the wall and closing her eyes
with a contented sigh. The five of them sat there for a few
minutes in companionable silence. Remy realized he was, quite
simply, happy. Dieu, LeBeau, what's happened to you?
*So hard at work, my X-Men?*
The warm tenor rolled through his mind, gentle teasing overlaid
with affectionate pride.
"Professor!" Storm cried, joyously leaping up with
her teammates and casting about like a delighted child. Remy
slowly got to his feet and turned unerringly towards the grove
at the far end of the court, seeing Betsy zero in on the same
spot. Xavier's mind blazed on his senses, and he hadn't even
felt it until the moment the voice sounded in his head. He'd
never encountered shielding like that before. And until the
other night, he'd never felt a presence so powerful.
Xavier's vehicle -- Dieu, what is dat? -- rolled out
from its place of concealment, and the X-Men jogged over to
greet him. Remy lagged back, finding the tenuous threads of
camaraderie suddenly and forcefully snapped. He was outside
the circle once again. Home sweet home.
He half-heard their enthusiastic greetings, studying the
man he had heard so much about. Despite the constraining chair
and the breath support that made oral communication difficult,
Xavier looked relaxed and happy. But from his open mind, Remy
sensed that this was a rare occasion. The telepath was almost...detached,
an unshakable rock that had grown accustomed to defying the
*So, Remy LeBeau, you are an empath as well.*
Shit. It was only years of training that kept his
face impassive. He'd learned, some years ago, that his
mind was unreadable to psis, probably due to some side-effect
of his empathy. A low-grade telepath friend had once described
it as "blurry." It was a protection he'd grown accustomed
to. Too accustomed, apparently.
*Are you aware that your mind generates a sort of interference
to telepaths?* Xavier sounded almost conversational.
What the hell kind of question was that? *Yes. I didn't
know it could be countered.*
*As far as I know, it can't.* Remy caught the man's
vague discomfort at that. *But I have encountered other
empaths in the past, and recognized the distinctive signature.
It's apparently characteristic of the power.* Pause. *Yours,
however, is unusually strong. I would like the opportunity
to speak with you later.*
Time slowed. Remy felt an instinctual, gut-jerking urge to
run -- grab his bags, leap on his bike, and ride the hell
away from everything as fast as possible. In front of him,
the X-Men began to break away from the Professor, casting
quizzical looks between him and Remy as they realized a conversation
was taking place. He felt their eyes, measuring, weighing
... Wolverine inched closer to him.
"If ever I saw someone ready to bolt, it's you, kid,"
he said softly, voice pitched for Remy's ears alone. "But
take it from me -- it don't always hurt to stop runnin'."
Comforting. What do you want, homme, a guarantee? Life
don't work like dat. His eyes flickered around the circle,
searching for suspicion and animosity and finding only curiosity
and puzzlement. How long would it take for that to change?
When he was young and invincible, he was a reckless gambler--until
he learned that losing could carry a heavy price. He didn't
think he could walk down that road again.
He felt Storm's concerned gaze.
God, he was sick of being alone.
Maybe... Maybe some things were worth the risk.
Looking into the Professor's considering blue eyes, he slowly
Carpe Diem -- what the hell.
Continued in Chapter
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