Have finally got this in a more manageable form – just as many words, fewer chapters! Don't panic – it's still largely the same, but I've tightened up the bits I didn't like and shuffled it around a little. Am hoping it reads better now.
Please carry on R&Ring, I really appreciate it and I should have Friday done by the end of the month!
Disclaimer: I don't own the X-men, someone else does. Thank you for letting me play
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
Leisure by William Henry Davies
Gambit sighed as he sipped his iced tea. The sun was setting, the music from the café was floating out over the street and all was well with the world. He could forget about monsters and fighting and saving the world. He could almost forget that Rogue was loose in New York with his credit card. Almost. But right now he could even see the humour in that at the moment. The little café was friendly enough and watching the inhabitants of Greenwich Village go by was more than enough entertainment for the moment.
Feeling a familiar tingle, he put down his glass and raised his hand to his face. His fingers were glowing a little, almost imperceptible unless you were looking for it. Then the energy dissipated and he was just left with the feeling of pins and needles. Sighing again, he picked up his glass and took another sip. They were going to have to do something about this soon, before he blew up more than just a table lamp. That had been hard enough to explain. If Rogue were to accidentally break something, it was as likely to be a wall as a glass and that would cost even more to replace. Their powers had been flickering in and out unpredictably, which at first had seemed like a blessing – at least they weren't gone for good – but the pleasure had faded when they realised that they couldn't control what was happening and were endangering themselves and others. Like it or not, they were back in New York for more than just the shops. Still, there was no harm in taking another day to enjoy the peace of not being an X-man.
Looking back at the street, Gambit spotted a familiar figure coming towards the café and groaned to himself. Perhaps it was just a coincidence; perhaps he would get lucky; perhaps-
"Hello Gambit". The woman was now standing in front of him, looking down with a mixture of disdain and resignation. She wasn't tall, but her blue-black hair flowed strikingly over one shoulder and her pale blue eyes were picked up by the colour of her skirt and the small flecks on her shirt. Say what you like about Courier, the woman knew how to dress.
"Hi, err…Jake?" Gambit stood and gestured to the chair across the table. The woman sniffed and sat down, her posture suggesting that she was only doing so under protest.
"I tend to use 'Jackie' now. It saves confusion." The glare she shot Gambit told him that Courier still hadn't forgiven him for events in the past. And they were far in the past. Jacob Gavin, apart from being a spoilt brat and a general pain in the neck was also a mutant, able to control each individual cell in his body and rearrange them as he wanted or needed. When he and Gambit had gone back in time to the last century to save the Thieves' Guild and Gambit's father, Jacob had used his powers to turn himself into woman in order to infiltrate a certain Dr Essex's obstetric clinic. Unfortunately, the good doctor, also know as Mr Sinister, had seen through the 'disguise' and Jacob had lost control over his body, turning him, in effect, to jelly. Sinister had restored him, for a price, and had stabilised Courier's form as a woman rather than a man. Clearly had not yet managed to regain control of himself. Gambit was sorry for him, but it wasn't his fault. Well, not entirely.
"Well, Jackie? What can I do for you?" Gambit kept his gaze on the street. Whatever Courier wanted, he wasn't interested.
"I like that! I couldn't just have dropped by to say hello? What a suspicious mind."
"Only where you're concerned. But out of all the cafés in all the world you just happened to walk past this one?"
"Gambit, if you start singing 'As Time Goes By' I'll…"
"Go away? It might be worth it just for that." Gambit knew he was being obnoxious even for him, but besides the fact that it was fun, he really didn't want to know what Jake wanted. Whatever it was, it would be trouble.
Giving in, Jake looked around, caught the waiter's attention and ordered a latte. While he was waiting he looked hard at Gambit. Gambit, for his part, carried on sipping his drink and watching the street. If Jake thought he was going to cave and ask what was going on, he really didn't know him. When the coffee arrived, Jake broke his stare and stirred one sugar into it carefully, apparently fascinated by the patterns in the foam. Just when Gambit thought he had won, Jake spoke quietly
"I need your help."
That was the sentence he'd been waiting for and was about to reply when Jake kept going.
"It's not me. It's my cousin, Louisa. She's gone missing. My father's used all his resources and contacts and still can't find her, which means she's really missing. We've tried everything. Except asking for help. Which I'm doing now." The brief speech was spoken almost entirely to his coffee. Gambit looked over and could see how much pride the short sentences had cost. Gently he said
"Why come t'me? I'm a thief not a private eye."
"You're also an X-man. You guys have got all kinds of complicated doohickies that I bet could find a mutant on the other side of the planet if you wanted."
Gambit smiled to himself. He'd have to try doohickey on Hank next time he visited the lab. "What makes you think they'll help?"
'Jackie' looked surprised. "I thought it was what you did. You know, saved helpless mutants from the arms of their oppressors, or something like that."
"She a mutant then, this cousin o'yours?"
"Well, duh, why else come to you guys? Look," Jake leaned across the table, his face strangely serious. "Louisa's the closest thing I've got to a sister, OK? She's been missing for four months already and no-one, and I mean no-one, can find her. I figure you've got a gift for this kind of thing and a soft spot for ladies in distress. Especially ones that could blow the lot of us to Kingdom Come if she ever figured out the physics."
Gambit was struck by the absolute sincerity in his friend's voice. Man or woman, he'd never heard it hold such intensity. Something had got him really worried. Some of the words clicked into place as he re-ran them in his head.
"Blow us all up, eh? Mon ami, you are talking to de expert. If she's such a helpless femme, how she gonna do us all such damage, eh?"
Jake looked him straight in the eye. "Will you help me?"
Gambit weighed up what he knew. On the one hand, he didn't trust Jake. He (and he had to think of him as 'he') wouldn't tell him everything, would lead him into the lion's den and offer Gambit to them for dinner in return for his own safety. But on the other hand, he'd never seen him so serious and he was clearly finding it difficult to ask for Gambit's help. All in all, things were just about balanced.
"Hey, sugah. You still with us?"
While he'd been turning all this over in his mind, he'd completely missed Rogue's arrival. She was standing on the sidewalk, looking thoughtfully at him. Shopping bags spilled around her feet and her hair was definitely….ruffled. Gambit dreaded to think what that meant for his bank account. Recovering, he smiled his most charming smile and rose to his feet. As he kissed her cheek gently, he felt her stiffen at his touch. He pulled back and looked her in the eye, trying to look reassuring. Rogue blinked and turned her head away, looking over his shoulder.
"Sorry chére. Have a good time?"
"Sure. Your card caught fire, but the assistant had an extinguisher under the counter." Although he smiled a little at the joke, her heart clearly wasn't in it. Gambit also noticed that despite the warmth, she was wearing elbow length gloves. Yes, they were definitely going to have to pay Dr McCoy a visit.
Clearly feeling that the touching reunion had gone on long enough, Jake coughed loudly. Rogue seemed to come back from wherever she'd been and looked him up and down.
"Well, well. You still not got yourself reorganised Courier?" Her tone was back to her usual saccharine sarcasm. Jake shifted in his seat and looked up at her.
"I'm working on it."
"Is he tryin' to get you in trouble again, Remy?"
"Since when have I needed help?" Gambit grinned back at her and pulled out a seat from the table, doing his finest maitre d' impression as she sat down. "And what will mademoiselle be having this afternoon. May I recommend the iced tea, or perhaps a skinny latte?"
"Thank you, ma good man. An iced tea would be lovely." Rogue watched Remy closely as he ordered her drink and sat back down at the table. She expected an explanation for Courier's presence, but instead they sat in silence, with Remy avoiding looking at either of them. She was learning. A few months ago she might have demanded an explanation or tried to worm some kind of answer out of him. Instead she sipped her tea and waited for him to sort out whatever was going on behind those red eyes.
"We gonna have to go up to de mansion soon, ain't we chére?" His voice startled her, but it was quiet and firm. There was no anger or fear, not even resignation, just a cold statement of fact. Rogue took another sip, to think before answering.
"Ah think so. We can't go on like this." She tried to match his tone, but some of her frustration crept into her voice. Courier looked up.
"You're going to help?"
"I didn't say dat. De X-men are not some kind of rent-a-mutant service. I'll ask, but they'll only help if they want. I can' make them." Rogue was a little confused, but was prepared to wait for the full story.
"Just ask them. Please? This is my hotel and room number. Call me anytime."
"You gotta photo or anythin' more we can go on?"
Jake reached into his bag and produced a folder. "It's got personal details, pictures, the whole caboodle. And I put in some hairs from her brush. I figure she's been gone a while and she might have changed her looks. But she can't change her DNA." He passed it over the table and stood up to leave. "Thanks Gambit."
When he was sure that Courier had really gone, Gambit opened the file. Rogue had just about reached the end of her patience.
"So who we lookin' for?"
"Girl called Louisa Gavin. She disappeared about four months ago. Says here she dropped her stuff off at her college dorm, told her roommate she was off to enrol or somethin' and was never seen again."
"Why'd Courier come to you?"
Gambit considered the question. Jacob Gavin certainly wasn't short of resources and his father had to have one of the best information services on the planet. "I t'ink", he said slowly, "he's worried. If pére Gavin can't find her, then she really is missing. He must figure we got resources he can't get access to."
"Whatever." Gambit was already flicking through the file. "Smart kid. Did some college courses in high school, mostly science stuff, 'specially chemistry." He passed a picture across to rogue.
"Cute kid. But there's something not right about this picture. Something in her eyes…" A memory darted across Rogue's mind and something clicked. "She's blind".
Gambit looked up. "How can you tell?"
"Something in her eyes, the way she's holding her head. It's similar to Irene" Rogue hadn't taken her eyes from the picture. The girl in it had the same tilt to her chin and unseeing gaze that she had seen in Destiny growing up. But this girl bore little resemblance to the woman Rogue had known. Louisa Gavin wasn't pretty, but she was attractive in a sweet kind of way. Her hair was blonde, falling in gentle waves round her shoulders. The unseeing eyes were a bright blue and her petite features made her look younger than the graduation gown suggested.
Gambit put a hand on Rogue's arm. "You ok?"
Rouge shook herself out of the memory. "Yeah. Just distracted for a minute. That file say how old she is?"
"Seventeen. She got early college entry from those extra courses. What it don't say here is exactly what she can do." Gambit closed the file in frustration. "Jake said she could blow us all up 'if she ever figures out de physics'. So what's her power? It can't jus' be explosive or she'd be able to do that anyway. There's somethin' more here." Gambit closed the file decisively and put his hand on Rogue's arm. "You ready to go home, chére?"
Rogue returned his gaze steadily. 'No' she wanted to say. 'no I'm not ready to go back to be prodded and poked in the name returning powers that I'm not even sure I want. To give up this life we've started to build together. To give up having you to myself. To not be able to touch you again.'
She knew he felt the same and that it didn't need to be said. Whatever happened, they were both X-men and the team was important to them. They'd had their time away, they'd found each other and now they were ready to rejoin the team together, whatever the consequences. So she turned her arm over, pulling it down so her hand fit into his.
The mansion had changed a lot since they had last been there. The once pristine gates and walls bore traces of graffiti, unsuccessfully cleaned off. The jeering crowds may have gone, but it was clear that anti-mutant feeling persisted. Remy swung his bike to a stop by the intercom, sending up a shower of gravel.
"Show off" Rogue muttered in his ear as he turned to grin at her, white teeth just visible through the helmet. "Jus' ring the bell, already."
It was a few seconds before a tinny voice came from the intercom's speaker.
"Jean? It's Remy an' Rogue."
"Remy? What are you doing here?"
"Open the gates, chere and we'll tell you."
"Come on up. And Remy? Try not to set the students a bad example?"
Remy just grinned again and pulled the bike back. As the gates swung open, he revved the engine.
"Careful you don't hit any of his students, Remy, or Wolverine'll have your guts for garters"
"Now come on chére, would I be as careless as to hit any of them? I'll jus' aim for a near miss."
Rogue's reply was lost as the bike roared into life and up the drive. There didn't seem to be any danger of hitting the students, as there were none outside.
"Must all be in class" Remy muttered to himself as he slowed and stopped more sedately this time, out of respect for the figure standing in the doorway. Standing. Of course he'd heard of Xavier's miraculous healing, but it was still going to take some getting used to.
"Remy. Rogue. It's good to see you." Charles Xavier stepped out of the doorway, holding his hand out to his former students.
"Professor" Remy's tone was neutral. He wasn't sure how the Professor had felt about half his team choosing to leave him and look after the rest of the world. While things had certainly been eventful here as well, the fact remained that they had followed their own path, not his. But there didn't seem to be any reservation in Xavier's warm smile and friendly gesture and Remy chose, for once, to take things at face value, if only for the time being.
"How are you, Professor?" Rogue ran up the steps and clasped his hand, as though trying to reassure herself that he was real. He seemed much the same, but to Remy's eye there was something harder around the mouth, a sadness Xavier's eyes that hadn't been there before. Well, he thought to himself, I guess dat's what happens when your evil twin takes over your body an' screws up your life. He watched him smile at Rogue, putting his arm around her shoulder to lead her into the house. Yup. Screws you up good 'n' proper. Pulling the bags from the back of the bike, he followed them inside.
"Well, well, well. The wanderers return. How ya doin', Gumbo?" Wolverine's smile was as friendly as he got. And his tone for once wasn't sarcastic or aggressive. If Gambit didn't know better he'd say there was concern in it.
"Fine, Wolvie, fine. Y'self?"
Wolverine nodded and pulled himself out of the armchair. "So if everything's so 'fine', whatcha doin' back here?"
Gambit put on his best 'c'mon mon ami' grin. "Oh, you know how 'tis. We was jus' passin' an' thought..."
"Fine, fine. You don' wanna tell me, that's ok. But don't tell me you're both fine. Lie about yourself, but not Rogue. How's she?" Wolverine fixed him with a hard stare and Gambit dropped the grin.
"Oh, y'know." He looked down the hall where Xavier appeared to be monopolising Rogue. As they turned the corner out of sight, he whispered to himself, "We been better".
Gambit was grateful to have dinner in the kitchen rather than the big dining room. Something about it always put him on edge. Maybe it was all the antiques lining the walls just waiting to be stolen. Rogue had passed pleasantries with everyone all afternoon, just catching up, comparing shopping bills, gossiping with Jean and meeting some of the students. Now, round the table, there were only old friends. All staring at them and waiting to hear why they had come.
Gambit shifted a bit in his chair and glanced at Rogue, who returned it with a clear 'go ahead' signal. As he was trying to find the words, Hank broke into his thoughts.
"So now we've heard all the gossip and Emma has asked about every boutique in New York, I thought it might be time to actually ask a question. How are my patients?" Despite his radically changed appearance, he was still Doctor Hank McCoy and Gambit could see the concern in his yellow eyes. He decided for once in his life to be completely honest. Strange the effect Rogue could have on him.
"We was doin' ok, y'know? Wasn' too bad a thing, really. We was copin'. And shoppin'. Lots of shoppin'."
"I feel your pain, Remy" Scott put in dryly, earning a glare from Emma and a playful hit from Jean. Gambit smiled. It was good to be back.
"Anyways, de powers, they startin' to come back, only we don' know when, we don' know how until suddenly, boom! No table lamp. And a heck of a motel bill." He smiled. "They don' like you blowin' up their stuff, know what I mean?"
Rogue put her hand on his arm. "What Remy would say if his sense of humour didn't keep getting in the way, is that we need help."
"And?" Rogue started at the Professor's voice. He had been quiet throughout dinner, apparently content to observe the group. Now he fixed them with a firm stare, waiting for an answer.
"Not much gets past you, does it?" Gambit looked down at his hands, then up again. "I been asked to do a favour for a friend. Find someone he's lookin' for. He's tried everyt'in' but I'm bettin' it won't take you an' Cerebro's big sis more than a minute to find her."
"She's a mutant." It was a statement, not a question.
"Yeah. So's m' friend. I figure I owe him and hey, I'm always a sucker for a damsel in distress". He pulled the file out of his coat, sliding it across the table to the professor. "I know we gotta cheek really. Comin' back, askin' favours, but..."
The professor held up his hand. "You and Rogue are family Remy." He smiled. "You can always ask for our help and we don't always suspect your motives."
"'cept where the antiques are concerned" came a growl from down the table.
Gambit raised his hands in mock surrender. "I swear, Wolvie, you can search me b'fore we leave" This broke the tension a little, but all eyes were on the folder in front of Xavier. He opened it and examined the photograph and the first few pages.
"This should be enough to find her. Did your friend say what her power was?"
"Nope, jus' somet'in' about her bein' able to blow up de world if she knew de physics."
This certainly got a reaction, from Scott's sharp jerk to the professor's raised eyebrows. Only Hank simply looked thoughtful.
"Some kind of explosive ability, like your own perhaps? Although it'd have to be a fairly impressive chain reaction to blow up the whole world. How far do you think he was exaggerating?"
"Don' know, but he seemed pretty serious. And there's nothin' in de file t'say what her power is, so either her folks have no idea or they jus' don' wan' anyone else to have any."
Xavier put his hands on the table and stood, ending the conversation. He looked down at Gambit, with what Remy recognised as his head-masterly expression.
"Rogue, Gambit, you are welcome to stay in the mansion as long as you need. I'm sure Henry will want to examine you, but that can wait until you've had some rest. Meantime I'll see if between us Cerebra and I can find your missing girl." Picking up the file and nodding goodnight to everyone, he left the room.
The atmosphere relaxed a little when he was gone, like a classroom without a teacher. Gambit glanced across and smiled tentatively at Rogue, just checking. She smiled back, the corners of her mouth barely curving upwards but the warmth in her eyes conveying far more. Reassured, Gambit surveyed the rest of the room. Hank had drawn Jean and Logan into some kind of discussion, although with the good doctor you could never be sure whether it was philosophy or baseball. Emma and Rogue were still talking clothes – didn't they ever run out of shops? And Scott was…well, Remy felt that he was looking at him, but with Cyclops you could never really be sure. He had that uncomfortable prickle at the back of his neck that he got when he was being watched, and with Scott's eyes always hidden behind those ruby lenses, he only had that instinct to go on. Scott had been sitting next to the professor, almost opposite Gambit, and was now leaning back in his chair, staring into the room apparently at ease.
Gambit returned the gaze with equal calm and nonchalance, working out exactly what it was Scott was looking for. Probably the angle. Cyclops never really trusted anyone who had broken off from Xavier, although if current rumours were true, there was a much harder edge to Mr Summers since his reappearance. Inevitable really and it explained his continuing attachment to the professor. Scott knew what it was like to have someone take you over and have to cope with the aftermath. He was certainly not the goody-goody Gambit had known, his whole air and manner told him that. Tiring of the staring match – a game you could never beat Cyclops at anyway. Gambit decided to start the conversation.
He put his head a little to one side, questioning.
Gambit flicked his eyes in Rogue's direction, just for a second
Scott smiled ever so slightly and nodded his head.
Gambit raised both eyebrows, again flicking his eyes, but this time down at himself.
Scott's smile became a proper smile and he nodded again. Gambit could see the edges of his eyes crinkling and knew the smile was for real.
He returned it. So it wasn't him, it wasn't Rogue and it wasn't him and Rogue. Maybe Scott just looked at everyone this way now. But still… He flicked his eyes in the direction of the door.
Scott nodded and rose, turning to touch Jean on the shoulder. She smiled up at him and gripped his hand briefly before turning back to her conversation.
Gambit also rose and crossed over to the door, squeezing Rogue's shoulder as he passed. She watched him leave with Scott, a little surprised at the company, pleased that they were both managing to fit back in.
Heading out the front door, Gambit paused to light a cigarette. He offered his companion one and received a shake of the head in reply. Some things didn't change. As he inhaled, he thought quickly and turned to Scott with a sly smile. Scott tilted his head, as Gambit had done, questioning. Gambit blew out the smoke and raised his eyes and his face towards the roof. He had the distinct impression that Scott was rolling his eyes, but he received a resigned nod in agreement. Grinning he began the climb up the trellis, feeling it shake as Scott followed.
They both settled on the roof, Gambit smoking contentedly and Scott lying back staring at the night sky. Neither spoke for some time, enjoying the peace, broken only by the occasional noise from the student's dorms. Gambit finished his cigarette and stubbed it out on the tiles. He too lay back, gazing up at the stars.
"Miss'd dis place" he spoke softly so as not to break the silence all at once.
Now it was Scott's turn to raise an eyebrow. "Really? Would you have back if you hadn't been forced to?" The question could have been a challenge except there was no anger in it. It sounded like he genuinely wanted to know.
"Prob'bly sometime. But we're not all cut out for de teachin' profession, y'know what I mean?"
"I know." The words were quiet, but Gambit got the impression that Scott really did understand. He was still Scott Summers, the professor's golden boy, only he was more weathered. Hardened by an experience that would have broken most other people. He wasn't quite the closed minded, Fearless Leader now. The fact that he'd come out here with Gambit of all people was proof enough of that. He let the silence drift on a bit, enjoying the strangeness of the situation. Scott seemed to content to drift with him, snorting with occasional humour at the louder noises from below. Either the girls were having a clothes exchange or the boys had made one of their regular raiding trips into the female dorms. The girly squeals and cries could have been with delight or fear – it was difficult to tell from up here.
As if settling something in his mind, Gambit shifted so he could see his companion and examined him more closely.
"If y'don' mind me asking, homme, you and Jeannie….you guys….ok?"
Scott looked only a little surprised. "You don't miss a thing, do you? What makes you ask?"
"Oh y'know, lil' t'ings" Gambit turned his face to the sky again. "Y'not as comfortable as y'were, not touchin' or lookin' at each other. S'like you're tiptoeing round, hoping no one'll notice you're together. Plus Emma was givin' you some 'significant looks' over dinner. She not one f'subtlety that femme."
Scott smiled. "She really isn't, is she." He shifted awkwardly, as though caught out and having to come up with a good excuse quickly. "She's been…helping me. It's been hard, coming back and I figured as a telepath Emma was probably the best candidate to…help." There was certainly a helpless tone to his voice, as if to say he wasn't sure what had happened but it certainly wasn't his fault.
Gambit turned himself towards the man, rising and resting on one elbow, so he could see Scott's whole face, not just the side towards him. "Y'really t'ink she gonna have de answers to y'problems? Someone like dat?" Seeing Scott about to leap to her defence he carried on quickly. "M'not questionin' her loyalty to the team, or her psi-powers, but the woman got no…" he searched for the word, "sensitivity. You t'ink it jus' coincidence she can turn h'self to diamond? Suits her inside as well. You and Jean gotta find each other, not 'spect someone else t'do it f'you. An' for once, I know what I'm talkin' 'bout."
Scott turned to look at him and Gambit felt he could see the pain in the man's eyes, even through the ruby lenses. This was a very different Scott Summers to the man he had known. He liked him better for it, but couldn't help regretting the cost. Scott held his gaze for a moment longer, then looked back at the sky.
"I guess I already knew that. But with one thing and another, we couldn't have found the time to patch things up if we'd wanted to."
"Dere's always a way." Gambit said quietly. "But sometimes you gotta be pushed into it before you'll go."
"Like, say, nearly dying?"
"Oh yeah. Dat'll do it every time. "'Specially when de woman won' let you go." He tried not to relive the pain of what Rogue had done. It had been an unspoken issue between them, for everything else they'd managed to talk about. He loved her more than he'd realised, but still didn't want to deal with her dragging him away from the only peace he'd ever known. Not wanting to go there, especially not now, he turned his attention back to Scott.
"You wan' her, homme, you gotta do somet'in'. Not just stand still an' let t'ings happen to you." With only the sound of his duster catching the breeze, Gambit was down the trellis and back into the house.
Scott heard the door close behind him. The night was getting chilly, but he lay there a while longer, just staring up at the stars.