I kissed Jean good night as I started to slip out of bed. She didn't stir; she probably didn't even sense me moving; those painkillers would have bulldozed an elephant. For a long time, I crouched at her side, just looking at her face. Then I got up, tugged the blanket higher around her shoulders and left the room.
I passed by Remy's suite on the way to the kitchen. It's funny but when I look back on our reunion, I didn't really expect him to accept me arms wide-open and sobbing relief. Hell, it took him a couple of days to even believe I was who I said I was. I had to remind him about stupid things like his needing to sneak into my cot or the palming tricks I showed him. Even then, I suspect it was only the promise of a bed and food that got him to my motel room.
He'd been a wreck. He stank and looked as if an entire pro-football team had turns practicing their tackles on him. After he inhaled the burger and fries that I'd gotten in the drive-through, I told him who I was and about Xavier's. He just kept nodding and swallowing, pretending interest for the sake of the food, a comfortable night's rest or-- shit, it could have even been for sheer politeness.
The next morning, I gave him my business card (he laughed) and a plane ticket to JFK Airport. And even though I was hoping he would come, it was still a surprise when he showed up at the terminal with a backpack slung over his shoulder. He smelled a little better and he'd changed his clothes but the female flight attendant still looked at him askance. Well, at least until he opened his mouth. He charmed his way through the entire flight and all he had to do was drawl. Damn, I wish I had a drawl... it would have made things easier in high school, that's for sure.
The stairs creaked as I climbed down them and headed for the kitchen. I was in serious need of a midnight meal. Or, more specifically, a midnight beer. I wasn't wallowing my sorrows in liquor... not really. I just needed something to help me sleep dreamless. I flipped the rec-room light on and headed straight for the bar-fridge.
God, today's mission had been a total washout. It was all I could do to pull out of there with the skin on my ass intact. Every spare second I had, I remembered the smell of burning flesh, the sound of the building collapsing and the screams... Damn, those screams are tattooed in my eardrums. Half a dozen cops and over thirty mutants burning alive in that warehouse and I had to pull out and I kept wondering if I could have gotten there sooner or acted faster than maybe, just maybe, they wouldn't have had to--
"The smell gettin' t'you too, hein?"
I jerked up, narrowly missing hitting my head of hardwood. Remy was leaning against the opposite side of the counter, a smouldering cigarette on his lips, as always.
I nodded and continued my search for beer. I think he was surprised when I didn't recite any non-smoking rules. Honestly, I couldn't have cared less at that moment. He wouldn't have listened anyway. In the mere thirty-three days that he'd been here, he had broken our no-smoking rule, our no-drinking rule and blown our lights-out rule clear into orbit. The kids were starting to look at him like some cross between a bad-boy teen idol and a deity that answered to no one. Half the boys wanted to be just like him and all the girls wanted to go out with him. I saw Jubilee doodling "Jubilation LeBeau" with little hearts and stars in her math notebook. I almost choked.
Remy, of course, kept milking attention like a starved calf. He probably knows it ticks me off. I don't know why he keeps doing it. I would have thought he was a little too old to get kicks out of thumbing his nose at regulations.
On the other hand... One night, I was getting ready to tear my head off with all the tests that I had to mark. He came into the room and, without a word, took half the stack and my answer key and proceeded to correct fifty pages of algebra. He blew smoke rings in my face while he was doing it, of course. Little does he know... I'm strict about the no-smoking rule because it was the only way I could keep myself from grabbing one of those cancer sticks and puffing away like crazy.
Apparently, he also plays the violin. Storm heard the music coming from his room one night. At first she thought it was a CD. She was about to come in and ask for the name of the player but as soon as she knocked, the violin stopped on a sour note. He violently denies even owning a violin and we haven't heard anything from that day onward.
I found the beer and some frozen pizza that someone had stashed for emergencies. Deciding that this could be counted as such, I grabbed that, too. "Want some?" I asked Remy who was now lounging on the couch in front of the blank TV.
My, this was cozy. I nuked the pizza and threw him a can which he caught without even having to look. I guess I shouldn't have expected much conversation coming from him either. He'd been in the mission, too, at the Professor's behest. I had been surprised at that but not displeased. Remy didn't really have a formal place in the school; he came and went. I expected him to leave as soon as he healed from his injuries. Call it jock-mentality but I wanted him to feel like a part of the team, of the family. For all his popularity, he always struck me as being alone.
Christ, now I'm getting too maudlin... and I haven't even had a beer yet.
"You should shower," I told him.
He grinned. "You sayin' I stink?"
He had changed since the mission of course but he hadn't removed his jacket. He was inordinately attached to that jacket and the damned thing absorbed odours like black holes absorbed light.
The microwave beeped. I took out the pizza, swearing when the plate burnt my fingers. He gave me a nod of appreciation as I plonked it on the coffee table. Unable to resist it any longer, I reached into his shirt pocket and shook out a stick from the crumpled pack that he kept there. He was smirking, I swear to God he was, even as he charged the tip for me. The first drag made me cough; it had been five years, two months and seventeen days since my last one.
He inhaled his first two slices of pizza then started to slow down on the third. He ate like the boys. With a start, I realized that I didn't even know how old he was. He must have been about six or seven when he ran away from juvie; he definitely hadn't been any older than nine.
I knew next to nothing about this guy. When I really thought about it, I had taken a complete stranger home, revealing more than was wise about the school, exposing the kids to danger...
But, dammit, what was I supposed to do? Sure he'd cleaned up a bit when he showed up in the airport but his arm was swollen to basketball proportions. Jean had told me later that it had been dislocated, likely for a couple days for it to get that bad. She also told me that he'd been adamant about having her, not Hank, as his physician. She described, more telepathically than verbally, the number of small, circular scars inside his arms that could only have been made by needles as well as the bullet wound on his right shoulder and the five scars that wound around his torso. She "showed" me how quiet and still he'd been, how so unlike the Remy we knew now.
Within minutes, we devoured the entire pizza and half the six pack in relative silence with only the moist sounds of chewing and swallowing and the thunk of cans hitting wood to interrupt the crickets until Remy spoke up.
"If'n you soak inna hot shower some time, it'll go 'way 'ventually. Remy, he know from experience."
I absorbed that. "What were you doing there anyway?" I asked and he realised that I wasn't talking about Virginia that morning.
He shrugged. "Mais y'know that besides havin' devil's eyes, I got devil's fire, too."
"You charged the entire hotel?" I hadn't thought he was that powerful.
Again, his only reply was an all-encompassing shrug. "What were you doin' in Seattle?"
I took a sip of my beer. "I've always wondered what happened to you," I answered honestly.
"Lived on de streets a while," he said after a contemplative drag on his stub of a cigarette, "Stole a bit, tricked a bit, begged a bit." He sighed, staring at the smouldering cylinder in his hand. "That... that man who came t'de orphanage, he found me... took me back to N'Awlins."
I was aghast. For some reason, I'd always envisioned that somewhere down the line, his life had paralleled mine: a good set of foster parents for a few years and an excruciatingly boring high school life before something had forced back on the streets.
"I didn't know."
"Well, now you know." He shook the ash from his smoke into an empty. "I don't fit in too good wit' the rest of your gifted youngsters, neh?"
I snorted. "Oh, please. You're not fooling anyone with your redneck routine."
"What redneck routine?"
"You know the one." I hunched my shoulders, pushed my head down and faked an over-bite. "Ah don' know whys y'alls so hot an' boh-thered by alla dem book-learnin'. Me, Ah'm jus' a Cay-shun lookin' foh les bon temps in N'Yawk Citeh."
He groaned and rolled his eyes. "You crazy, homme. I don' do that."
"Hyuck, hyuck, hyuck," I added for good measure before coming out of the Quasimodo impression.
We were both done with our cigarettes-- well, he was done with his second one. I dropped mine in my empty beer can while he shook out another and offered it to me. I declined it and he popped it in his mouth but didn't light it.
"So, when you gettin' married?"
"I..." What I meant to say-- what I was supposed to say was, "Soon," but what came out was "I don't know."
He raised his brows inquisitively. "You _not_ gettin' married?"
"Yes... no!... I..." This topic called for another cigarette. "Look, if I'm going to answer that question, you'd better tell me what you were doing in Seattle in the first place."
Thankfully, the threat worked. He just handed me another cigarette, this one lit, and stuck his hand in his jacket. Out came a battered old flask, the kind that could be bought in flea markets under hand-painted signs proclaiming "Genuine Antiques."
"Boom-boom?" he offered.
I had no idea what boom-boom was. Whether it was the lateness of the hour, the post-traumatic-stress of the mission or the fact that I've never drank too much anyway, I accepted the flask. As soon as I took a sip I regretted it.
Boom-boom, apparently, is Cajun French for "cayenne-flavoured paint thinner mixed with swamp water and lightly misted with radioactive waste."
I opened my mouth to breath but found that my oesophagus had seized in protest.
Remy grinned. "Ca c'est bon, non?"
"NO!" my stomach squealed.
"Here, chase it wit' beer."
The shock of the cold liquid was the only thing that made me swallow. After my lungs remembered to take in oxygen, I managed to gasp, "What the fuck was that shit you gave me?"
"Boom-boom." He was snorting, trying to muffle his laughter.
"You chicken-fucking swamp hick!" I could feel my liver burning away. "Oh, man, I have a class to teach tomorrow! I'm going to kick your ass, you... you..."
Complete Neural Meltdown Immanent.
Remy took a sip of the vile stuff, still grinning like a deranged racoon.
He took another, managing to look as if he was enjoying the taste.
I couldn't very well let the child out drink me could I? I grabbed the flask and took another scorching sip.
Complete Neural Meltdown Achieved.
"Don' t'ink..." Great, now I was starting to sound like him. I cleared my throat. "Don't think you'll get away with changing the subject like that."
He groaned and dropped his head in his hands, dragging his fingers through his hair. "Dieu, can't y'drop that chorus, homme? Whatsit matter now?"
"Well, damn, Remy, just 'cause I've been looking for you for almost ten years, brought you to my home and welcomed you into my family, it doesn't mean I care or anything." I think my dry sarcasm was laid on just thick enough to be noticeable through four beer.
He glared at me; very effective when one has red-and-black eyes. "Fuck you. I di'in ask f'r you t'look f'r me."
"Then the next fucking time I find you beaten up in the basement of the smoking crater that was once a two-block-wide hotel, I'll wave and be on my way." I snorted in disbelief. "You've got a real problem with reality, you know that?"
"Up yours, Summers."
"After you, LeBeau. I'm sure you've got more experience at it that I do anyway."
I couldn't believe I said that. Remy didn't either; he was frozen in the classic deer-caught-in-headlights fashion, his beer dropping on the tabletop with a heavy clunk. I'm not even sure the beer was to blame. The subject had been on my mind ever since I realised that Remy only flirted with the older boys to scare them into a comfortable distance. The girls, he kept around him like a shield. I was no innocent; I'd been on the streets even before my powers kicked in. My subconscious must've had a field day with the implication that Remy was wary of anything with a dick.
Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit! Would you like ketchup or mustard on your foot, Summers?
He cut me off with a chuckle. It didn't sound quite right. "Score one f'r de man in de red shades."
"I'm sorry," I blurted out, "That was unbelievably crass--"
"No worries, Summers."
"--and unthinking of me--"
"Just fuckin' forget it, homme."
"--and I shouldn't have said it," I continued while I was on a roll. "I can't believe--"
"Scott." To my surprise, he grabbed my hand and gave it a quick squeeze before letting go. "It's okay. You ain't said nothin' dat ain't true, hein?"
I was getting away too easy. I knew that but hung on to it like the lifesaver that it was. "I don't think it's the right time for marriage right now," I found myself saying, "Not with the current socio-political flavour concerning mutants."
He nodded and I kept blabbering.
"And besides, we're already much too busy with the kids. Heck," I grinned shakily, "I'm a father of fifty-one at the age of twenty-eight. That's got to be a record somewhere, right?"
Again, he nodded. I think I preferred the shrugs.
"It's not that I don't... y'know, about Jean. I... I feel strongly--"
"Love?" he put in helpfully.
"Yeah, I do. Her, I mean. Love her. Immensely. I just..." I just needed another beer. To my horrified shock, I saw that it was all gone. My fingers tapped restlessly on my knee.
He grinned and this time, it was less plastic. "Good t'ing Red be telepathic, non? Y'know Oprah says y'gotta learn t'voice emotions properly f'r a relationship t'work."
I gave him my own glare. I'd bet it was a good one too if only it hadn't been hidden by my glasses. "You are a braying, slop-covered ass."
"Learned de art from a master."
"Hey, I have a girlfriend. Unlike some people," I added archly, "who prefer to woo in kindergarten fashion by tormenting the object of their affection. Not that I'm naming any names."
He was silent for a few very gratifying seconds. Then, after a whispered "Merde," he pushed a familiar battered flask in my face. "Boom-boom?"
I decided to take a day-off tomorrow.