DISCLAIMER:This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Marvel Comics and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Posted by:Elspeth (AKA Elspethdixon).
Author's Notes:This is an X-Men Evolution AU. The show's producers finally saw the light and added Gambit to the series, but I have to confess to being a bit disappointed that they made him an adult. We don't get to see teenage Gambit in all his juvenile delinquent glory. This story is my attempt to correct that. Thank you to Draqonelle, fellow X-Ev fangirl, who helped me come up with ideas.
Ships:Hints of Rogue/Gambit, hits of Scott/Jean. Kurt/Amanda and Lance/Kitty also mentioned (they aren't all in the first installment, but they're coming).
Part One: You've got to Pick a Pocket or Two.
In this life, one thing counts:
In the bank, large amounts!
I'm afraid these don't grow on trees,
You've got to pick a pocket or two.
It wasn't Kurt's fault that they had been thrown out of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Honestly, it wasn't. Jean had caught the sculpture that he had almost knocked over with her TK and had righted it before anyone outside of their little group had noticed, so it wasn't his clumsiness that had brought the wrath of the museum rent-a-cops down on their heads. Some kid had tried to pick Logan's pocket, and Logan had grabbed him by the wrist and the collar and lifted him up until the toes of his ratty sneakers dangled a good two inches above the floor, growling threats into his face. Which was when the rent-a-cops had come running to see what was going on.
"You lemme go," the kid howled, twisting in Logan's grip like an eel. "I ain't done nothin', me." His sunglasses, knocked to the floor, crunched under Logan's feet, and he let out an even louder howl. "I need dose!"
"Sir, is there a problem here?" The museum guard's walkie-talkie was out and crackling, and his voice was the same mixture of stern and soothing that Principal Kelly used when trying to break up a fight-only politer, of course. It certainly must have looked like a problem: a yelling kid being hoisted into the air by a growling, muscular-looking, obviously angry guy.
"Naw, I can handle it," Logan told him easily, before turning his attention back to his freshly caught prey. "I told you not to touch the paintings, kid. Look with your eyes, not your fingers."
"What paintings? I wasn't touchin' no paintings. Let go!"
"Sir," the guard tried again, "I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
So of course, they had to go. And of course, this would have to happen at the exact moment when Kurt was discussing a display case of red and black Greek pottery with Kitty. He was certain he could do the same sort of acrobatics as the youths on the vase, and would have demonstrated if not for the risk of knocking something over. Bobby, Sam, and Evan had been busy snickering over one of the statues. All that laughter just because the man was naked, really, they were so immature. But now they all had to say goodbye to vases and naked statues and gold jewelry, all because some stupid junkie or whatever had to go after Logan's wallet. And they hadn't even gotten to the armor and weapons section yet.
They headed toward the van, Logan dragging the kid, whose strident howls that they were kidnapping him were now being completely ignored by the museum guards, by the scruff of the neck. Kurt thought about asking Logan why he didn't just hand the creep over to the rent-a-cops, or even the real cops, but a glance at the man's snarl convinced him that discretion was the better part of valor. He wasn't about to chance earning another month's worth of polishing the X-Jet.
By the time they reached the parking garage, Logan's prey had given up struggling, settling instead on a decidedly sullen silence. Scott and the rest of the guys met them at the van, probably tipped off to their eviction by Jean.
"This sucks," Rogue said flatly, leaning against the van with arms folded across her chest. "We didn't even get all the way through the costume section, or anywhere near the weapons room. What gives and who the hell is that?"
"This"-Logan gave the would-be pickpocket a shake-"is comin' back to the mansion with us. I think the professor's gonna be interested in him."
"He's what?" Scott yelped. "Who is he? And why are you holding him like that?"
"He tried to pick Logan's pocket," Kitty volunteered. "He got us thrown out. I think we should give him to the cops."
"Is it just me, or is there something weird with his eyes?"
The pickpocket, who had formerly been staring at his shoes as if they were the most fascinating thing in the universe, seemed to flinch. "What 'bout my eyes?" he demanded. "What my eyes got to do wit' anyt'ing? Jus' call de cops and get it over wit' already. You got nothin' on me anyway; I didn' take anyt'ing." Even to Kurt's ears, his voice was heavy with some sort of accent. It almost made it hard to understand him-Kurt's English was fluent, but words got hard to recognize when half the consonants were missing.
"Go ahead, Gumbo," Logan said, punctuating his words with another little shake. "Show 'em your eyes. They're the only thing keeping you out of a police station."
The kid lifted his head slightly, and twin pinpoints of red light shone sullenly from behind a curtain of filthy-looking brownish hair.
"What're you starin' at? Dere's no law 'gainst bein' a mutant yet."
"You're a mutant?" Bobby grinned. "Awesome. You better have a cool power though, after getting us into trouble like that."
"Bobby," Scott snapped, "cut it out. He's not going anywhere with us. We can't just grab kids off the street. We're handing him over to the police, or social services, or something."
"Not until the professor's seen him." Logan gave the kid a push toward the van, slinging him through the open door.
"Ow," the kid grunted, as his shoulder made impact with the seat. "Fils d'une putain."
"I heard that," Logan growled. "Cuss at me again and you will be spendin' the day in a police station. Well"-this to everyone else-"what are you waiting for? Get in the van."
Kurt made a face, but climbed into the van anyway, making sure he got a seat by a window. Unfortunately, this put him right next to the criminal, who ended up sandwiched between him and Evan.
"If you ain't takin' me to de police, where you gonna take me?" the pickpocket demanded, his freaky eyes wide and darting from place to place.
"Hey, chill, man." Evan nudged him with an elbow, then made a face. "You need a bath in a major way. Worse than Tolensky."
"I do not-"
"You do," Rogue interrupted from the back seat. "Not only are you a creep, you smell."
"That's sort of rude."
"Kitty, he got us kicked out of the museum! Even me and Scott and Jubilee, and we weren't even there!"
"Ignore them," Evan advised. "I do. Anyway, like I said, chill. We're all mutants too. Show him, Kurt."
"Don't show him, Kurt," Scott broke in.
Kurt decided to go with Scott on this one. He was all about not showing off his blue furriness unless he had to. Especially not in an enclosed space like the van, where the screams would be so much louder.
"All right, I'll show him, then." Evan held up one arm and let the tips of his spike-bone-whatever things poke through his skin. "I'm Spyke."
"I can see why." The kid poked tentatively at one of the spikes with a fingertip. "Dese poisoned?"
"Oh, come on, Scott. Like he's gonna tell." Evan made a face. Kurt deliberately turned his back on the pair of them-Evan and the criminal-to face Kitty over the top of his seat. Someone was definitely going to get in trouble here, and for once, it wasn't going to be him.
"So, about that vase…"
"It was all right. Sort of blocky-looking, though. It would have been nice to look at it a little longer," this emphasized heavily, with a pointed glare across Kurt in the general direction of the pickpocket. "Ask him who he is, Kurt."
Obediently, Kurt turned back to the guy. "I'm Kurt. Who are you?"
"Tell me where you're takin' me first. If you're all mutants, you gotta want me for somet'in'." Red eyes narrowed suspiciously at him.
"Logan's gonna take you to the professor," Jubilee volunteered. By this point, everyone in the car—with the exception of Logan, who was driving, and Jean, who was riding shotgun—was focused on the conversation.
"You said dat. Who's dis 'professor?'"
"A mad scientist," Evan announced, with gruesome relish. "He's gonna dissect you and cut up your brain."
"Quoi!?" Suspicion became terror. "Lemme out of dis car right now!" The kid's eyes began to glow, and he held his hands up before his face, as if to shield himself from Evan. They were glowing as well. "Nobody's gonna experiment on Remy. I'll blow us up first, me!"
"What the hell are you doing back there?" Logan yelled, at the same time that Jean shouted, "He really means it. Someone stop him! Don't let him touch anything."
No one was going to blow up anything in the van while Kurt was sitting in it. He reached out and snagged the other mutant's wrists, keeping his hands carefully away from the twin flares of cherry-colored light. Gott alone knew what they'd do to anyone who touched them. "He was joking. He was joking. Ignore him; he is stupid!"
"You swear?" The kid went still, not struggling, but the glow didn't die.
"Tell him you were joking, Evan. Tell him quick, before he burns the fur off my fingers."
"Fur?" Confusion did what reassurances hadn't, and the light slowly died out, even as Evan began apologizing profusely, explaining that the Professor was a very reputable scientist and had never dissected anyone's brain. Kurt privately felt that if he ever wanted to start, Evan wouldn't be a very good candidate for the first experiment. It was hard to dissect things that didn't exist. He inspected his hands, trying to see if any fur really had been singed off. With his image inducer on, it was difficult to tell.
"No powers from nobody for the rest of the ride," Logan roared from the front of the van. "Scott, you see anybody so much as twitch, take names."
"So, your name is Raimie?" Kurt asked the new mutant. Maybe if they could get him talking, he wouldn't go off again and try to blow up the van.
"No." The kid shook his head, long hair falling into his face. "Re-my." He stressed each syllable heavily. "R-E-M-Y. It's French."
"Are you French?" He didn't sound French. Kurt wasn't very good with American accents, but he thought "Remy" sounded southern. Really southern, with a little extra something that made his consonants even mushier than most southern people Kurt had heard.
"M'from Louisiana," was the not very informative answer.
"Where in Louisiana?"
"New Orleans." It came out sounding something like 'N'Awlins,' but Kurt got the idea. "What does your Professor want wit' me?"
"He runs a school for mutants," Kurt explained. "He teaches us how to control our powers. It's really great, isn't it guys?"
Kitty, Evan, Bobby, and Sam obediently replied that it was great, but conversation lagged all the way back to the mansion, with the exception of Bobby's ill-fated attempts to ask Remy whether picking pockets was as hard as it sounded, if he could pick locks as well, and if he could, if he'd be willing to teach him how—the answers were, in order "Yes," "yes," and "no."
As the X-Van rolled between the mansion's iron gates, Remy let out a long whistle. "Dis place is huge." He leaned past Kurt toward the window, staring at the vast Victorian-era ediface, the vast green lawn, and the sheer drop to the water behind everything. "None of you said anyt'ing 'bout a mansion."
"That's because you aren't going to be staying in it," Scott told him, as everyone piled out of the van. "The Professor is going to send you back to your parents, or whoever is supposed to be in charge of you."
"No one's in charge of Remy but Remy," he answered quickly, with a flash of a self-confident smirk. It was the first emotion other than fear or sullenness that he had displayed yet, and it made a vast difference in his appearance, transforming the look in those eerie eyes from smoldering threat to a challenging sparkle. It also made him look older, less like the scared sixteen-year-old that he probably was.
"Wonderful," Scott sighed. He reached for Remy's arm to escort him into the mansion—and presumably from thence into Professor X's study—but Wolverine beat him to it.
"Come on, kid." One big hand descended on Remy's shoulder, and Logan steered him through the front doors and down the hall toward the Professor's study, over-riding any attempt at feet-dragging.
"I wonder what the Professor's going to do," Kitty commented, watching the two of them disappear through the office's double doors.
"We could listen," Kurt offered. They had both done that before, numerous times.
"He's probably going to contact social services or something," Scott said, heading off Kurt's slow sidle toward the office doors.
"I don't know." Jean shook her head thoughtfully. "We might end up with a new teammate."
"God, I hope not." Rogue made a face. "He'd probably be like Boom-Boom, only worse."
Remy stood up straight and tried very hard not to hunch his shoulders as his captor steered him into the giant office. Tan carpet, beige walls with framed prints, it was all very conservative and scholarly-looking. There was probably a safe behind one of the pictures, most likely the big one opposite the desk.
"Well, Logan, what have you brought me this time?" the man behind the desk asked in a good-humored voice. Remy resisted the impulse to stare at his feet. "The Professor" bore a vague resemblance to Captain Picard from Star Trek, but his eyes seemed to go straight through Remy, peering into his mind and soul to find every sin and misdeed and criminal act. He would have done very well as a judge.
"He tried to pick my pocket in the museum," Logan announced. "Would have gotten away with it, too, if I hadn't smelled him."
Judge Picard gave Remy a disapproving look.
"Why did you try to pick Logan's pocket?" He didn't even bother to ask whether or not Remy had done it.
Some instinct told Remy that lying to this man would be a very bad idea. Those X-ray eyes would see straight through him, down through layers of lies to the truth. However, the truth could always be shaded appropriately. Shaped and formed so as to best appeal to the audience.
This place was supposed to be some sort of school, and the kids at the museum had seemed happy, and thus presumably were not being abused or experimented upon, so this guy was at least semi on-the-level. And anyone who ran a school had to be at least somewhat sympathetic toward children. Which meant it was time for the starved and tortured waif act. He had grown a lot in the past year, though not so much that he couldn't still fit through windows and airshafts when necessary, and it no longer worked quite as well as it once had, but it was worth a try.
"Parce-que j'ai faim," he muttered, not meeting Judge Picard's eyes. "Was hungry. Wanted some money, enough to get dinner an' a room for de night. S'cold up here in New York."
He concentrated hard on looking helpless, looking small, opening his eyes wide and wrapping his arms around himself. Just a kid, not a threat, just a poor, hungry kid who needed a warm place to stay. Not at all the sort of person one would have to call the police over.
"Where are your parents?" Oooh, perfect opening. He should have known that question was coming, it was standard fare, after all, but he hadn't wanted to hope too hard.
"Dey dead." Okay, now pick up your end of the script, Judge Picard. Be sympathetic to the poor orphan.
"I see. Your guardian, then."
"Don't have one. Me, I look after myself." Behind and slightly to one side of him, he sensed Logan shifting his weight. Looking back would spoil the effect, but he didn't think the man was buying it. Remember, Remy, don't overplay it. Too much flour spoils the roux. "Why you bring me here, eh? What do you want wit' me?"
"Don't worry, young man," Judge Picard told him, smiling slightly. "We're not going to harm you. We may even be able to help you."
"I'm listenin'." There was another person in the doorway behind him. Two of them, waiting there silently. Remy lifted his eyes from the smooth expanse of carpet in front of the wooden desk to the man's face, automatically noting pens, envelopes, a sheaf of papers, a paperweight just the right size to be a perfect little bomb, a very interesting silver letter opener… Escape would be difficult, if necessary, with Logan between him and the door, but the man didn't seem to be carrying any weapons. He tried to approximate the right combination of hope, resentment, and fear. Since a good two-thirds of it was real, it wasn't a difficult task.
"I am Dr. Charles Xavier, and this building you find yourself in right now is something of a-school, if you will, a school for mutants like yourself, to teach them how to control and use their powers."
Remy could feel himself stiffen slightly at the word 'mutant,' despite all his effort not to, to present only the appropriate responses. True as the label was, the impulse was to react to it as one would to any other insult, to deny it, or laugh it off, or take offense. It was always an insult, and when it was not, then things usually went even worse for you. Mutants were either something to be despised, or a useful curiosity.
"An' you're just gonna let me into dis school, just like dat? Out of de goodness of your heart?"
"It's not as simple as that, but there is always room here for new students." Those X-Ray eyes bored into him, not unkind, but definitely disconcerting. "To begin with, it would be nice to know your name."
"You're not goin' to call de cops on me?" he asked, stalling. Planting the idea of the police in people's heads was never a good idea, but he had to be sure. Judge Picard nodded. "Remy. Remy LeBeau."
"And how did you end up here in New York, Remy?" The voice came from behind him, and he was turning to face the speaker before he even thought about it, moving smoothly, weight on the balls of his feet. He caught a flash of something blue moving away out of the corner of one eye, but most of his attention was focused on the black woman who had just spoken. She was tall, extremely attractive, with long white—white?—hair. Her hands were out, palms spread, in a deliberately non-threatening pose. He backed toward the desk anyway, coming close enough that his hip brushed against it. It was the work of a spilt-second to palm the letter opener.
"I don't have anyplace else to go. I," he dropped his eyes and tried to look sincerely ashamed, "I got a record back in Louisiana. Dey t'row me in jail if dey catch me back dere. For stealin', he hastened to add, "no drug stuff."
"So how do we know that you're not gonna steal from us if we let you stay here?" Logan demanded. Remy breathed an internal sigh of relief. They had heard about jail, well, a watered down version of it, and the proposal that he stay here hadn't automatically been tabled. He still hadn't decided whether he wanted to stay, though.
"'Cause I'd be kicked out if I did," he guessed.
"Logan," Judge Picard said reprovingly. "Remy, we will, of course, have to check this information out, but I see no reason why you cannot stay here at the Institute for tonight. What you do tomorrow is entirely up to you. I will warn you, I cannot in good conscience simply let a teenager go off by himself. Someone will have to be notified about you."
That sounded almost like a threat, though it was uttered entirely without menace.
"What do I have to do to stay?"
And that was when he got the speech, the clear, impassioned speech about making the world a better place for mutants and humans alike, and defending people from mutants gone bad, and so on, and so forth, for freedom, justice, and the American way. Remy nodded at appropriate intervals, and tried to look deeply interested-not as difficult as he had expected, as the parts about training and fighting sounded like fun-all the while wanting to jump up and down for joy. Anyone who honestly believed in this sort of thing-as Judge Picard obviously did-was both amazingly naïve and idealistic and gullible as hell. In other words, an easy mark.
He was home free.
"So if my story checks out an' you decide to let me stay, I'll get to live here an' go to school an' train wit' my powers an' everyt'ing, an' all I have to do is be part of dis X-Men team? Vraiment?"
"Hopefully," the black woman said. "You will need training first, of course, and you will have to learn to work with the others. And to trust us. What is your power? I don't believe anyone has asked you yet."
"He blows stuff up," Logan volunteered. "Least, that's what he threatened to do earlier."
"I charge t'ings," Remy explained. He held up one hand and concentrated, calling up energy as he would if he were going to blow something up, letting it out through his skin. It came easily-the hard part was not releasing the energy when he needed it, but containing it the rest of the time. A corona of light formed around his hand, air molecules humming. "I put de energy into whatever I touch, an' den… boom! An' I can get into places, too. Dat's not power, dough. Just talent."
Judge Picard nodded. "I suppose one might say that you have an… explosive personality. Well, there will be opportunities for us to work with you on this ability soon enough. For now, I would like you to go with Ororo. I think the first thing to do is get you some better clothes, followed by some dinner." He smiled, an unexpectedly disarming expression. "And before you go, Remy, one last thing. I prefer 'Professor X' to 'Judge Picard.' And I would appreciate it if you would return my letter opener once you are finished borrowing it. I may need it later."
"Yes, Professor X, sir." Remy set the letter opener down carefully on the desk and slunk out of the room.
"The kid telling the truth?" Logan asked the moment the door swung shut behind him.
"Mostly," Professor X answered, returning the letter opener to its proper place on his desk. "He was shading it a bit, but the majority of it was true."
Storm shook her head, pausing in the doorway before she left to follow the kid. "He is trying to play for sympathy, Charles. I have used the big-eyed innocence act often enough myself to recognize it from others."
"He's got you figured for a sap, Chuck."
"Yes, I noticed."
Hank knocked on the doorjamb and entered without waiting to be acknowledged.
"I ran our young pickpocket's name through Cerebro for you, Charles."
"Thank you, Hank." Professor X accepted the handful of print-outs from Hank, leafing through them.
"So that's where you went," Logan said. "You cut out of here real quickly."
"I felt it would be wiser not to let the young man see me just yet. We don't want to scare him away."
Logan snorted. Hank worried far too much about people's perceptions of him. Sometimes, inspiring a little fear in others was a good thing.
"The data I was able to gather from public records contains only a handful of references to a Remy LeBeau," Hank began, gesturing toward the papers the Professor was holding. "There's no date of birth, vaccination record, or any information at all until five years ago, when he was made the legal ward of a Jean-Luc LeBeau and enrolled in St. Sebastian's Catholic School in New Orleans. Two years ago, he was arrested by the NOPD for attempting to commit Grand Theft by using mutant powers. More specifically, he blew open a high security vault. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to five years in prison, but escaped after two months in the company of another mutant, Victor Creed, and apparently disappeared off the face of the earth. Until this afternoon, that is, when he resurfaced in the Metropolitan Museum of Art."
"Sabertooth," Logan growled. He was quickly beginning to regret bringing the kid back to the mansion. Anyone who hung out with that overgrown piece of trash was most definitely bad news. "How many people'd they kill busting out?"
"Three guards were killed in the escape. There weren't many details, but it sounds as if they all died of lacerations and blunt trauma, so it was most likely Sabertooth's work. The destruction of the cell wall, however, was probably our young friend's contribution."
"He eat any of 'em?"
"The police report did not say," Hank answered, without even having to ask which "he" Logan meant. They both knew he was talking about Sabertooth. "Charles," Hank shook his head regretfully, "if he's working with Sabertooth…"
"If he were working for magnet-boy, he wouldn't be lifting people's wallets to buy food." That said, it didn't mean he couldn't be mixed up in something else hazardous to the X-Men's health. And the fact that the state of Louisiana probably had an outstanding arrest warrant on him wasn't exactly a glowing reference either.
"I do not believe that he is affiliated with Magneto," Professor X cut in. "His mind is very difficult to read-he seems to have natural shields of a sort against telepathic probing-but he was not lying when he said that he had no one to turn to and nowhere else to go. I was able to pick up that much. Well, that and his opinion of me."
"You also startled the hell out of him with that 'Judge Picard' line." Logan felt himself grinning. "Pretty decent nickname, actually."
"Try calling me by it, and I will cause you to suddenly develop a passion for the color pink."
Logan was fairly sure he heard Hank stifling a snicker. "Just try it." He wouldn't, of course. The Professor was too ethical for that sort of thing. "So, we gonna let Gumbo stay, or call NOPD and tell them we have their missing safe cracker?"
"Stay, for now." Professor X looked suddenly serious. "We will see how he fits in, and whether he is willing to work with us. Second chances are what the X-Men are for. I just hope that he works out better than Lance did."
Ororo led Remy up and down a series of hallways and staircases to the door of a large, blue-walled room. Part of his mind filled away all of the twists and turns, memorizing the route automatically. The rest was concentrating on the thought of a shower and food. Especially a shower. Mon Dieu, but he hated being filthy.
"Here you go," she said, opening the door and gesturing at the room beyond. She somehow managed to make the slight movement look like part of a dance. Ororo would have made a very good cat burglar.
Remy stepped inside, surveying the little room. It was painstakingly neat, with long curtains covering the window and one old-fashioned looking bed in the center. A second bed, was pushed against the wall, covered with text books-obviously, the room stayed neat because all stuff was piled on the spare bed.
"You'll be sharing this room with Kurt for tonight," Ororo told him. "I'm going to go and find you some clothes."
Remy considered asking if Kurt knew that he was going to be sharing his room, but decided that now was not the time to be sarcastic. Instead, he asked, "Could you get me a pack of playin' cards, too? Sil vous plait?"
"Playing cards?" Ororo looked puzzled.
"Ouais, playin' cards. I do card tricks. It helps me relax."
"I'll try to find you a deck. I'm sure we have one somewhere in the mansion. Just wait here until I get back." She left, closing the door quietly behind her.
Remy prowled around the room, finding the security alarm wired into the window frame-easy enough to deactivate-and the box of valuables hidden under the bed. Most of its contents seemed to be letters in German, plus a picture of a pretty black girl and a set of ticket stubs from a school dance. He had just slid the box back into its hiding place and stood up when the door opened, and a blue demon walked in.
"What are you doing?" it asked him, at the same time that he blurted out, "Who are you, an' what are you doin' in Kurt's room?"
"I am Kurt," it snapped, in a familiar sounding voice. "What are you doing in my room?"
"You ain't Kurt. I met Kurt. He ain't blue."
"Ja, I am." The demon folded its arms, looking exasperated. "Wo ist Kurt. Was sind Sie? What have you done with Kurt? Back evil demon. Have I said everything else you wanted to say?"
The German accent clicked then. Remy relaxed, easing out of the combat crouch he had automatically dropped into. He unobtrusively slid the pencil he'd grabbed off the bedside table into his pocket, thankful that he hadn't actually charged it. "Mon Dieu. You are Kurt. Sorry. You just… you looked different before."
"It's a hologram. What are you doing in my room?"
"De Professor said I could stay. Sent me off wit' a black femme, an' she told me to sleep here. Looks like we gonna be sharin'."
"How long are you staying here?"
Remy shrugged. "Don't know."
There was a knock on the door.
"Come in," Kurt and Remy yelled in tandem. Then they both turned to look at each other. While Remy was staring at Kurt—he had yellow eyes, and a tail, and his hands didn't have the usual number of fingers—the door opened, and Ororo came in.
"I see you two are getting along already," she said brightly. "Here you go, Remy." She handed him an armful of folded clothes, with a deck of bicycle playing cards on top. "Dinner is in an hour." She smiled at both of them, then left again.
"What are those for?" Kurt asked, pointing at the cards.
"I show you later, 'kay?" Remy said. "Maintenant, I'm gonna go take a shower and put dese on." But he couldn't help playing with the deck just a little first, shuffling the cards from one hand to the other in one long stream.
"Wow," Kurt whistled. "Could you show me how to do that?"
Remy grinned. It was nice to be appreciated. "I don't know. I don't t'ink you have enough fingers."
Kurt made a face. "I have enough fingers for me," he said grumpily. "Go take a shower, dude. I want to use my room for a while."
That didn't seem to require a response, so Remy left. He didn't bother to ask Kurt where the bathroom was before leaving-that way, he had an excuse to check out every room in that part of the house while "looking" for it. He found four other bedrooms (one with dirty laundry everywhere and a skateboard propped against the wall, one with car posters tacked to the walls and some nice looking stereo equipment, one so neat and perfect that it looked like a hotel room, and one with two beds, one covered in stuffed animals, with a Hello Kitty alarm clock next to it, and the other with a black poster of a bat-winged fairy over it, and a teddy bear in a spiked collar on the pillow), an elevator, and something that he strongly suspected was the entrance to a secret passage before he finally opened a door to find a black and white tiled bathroom.
It was obvious that a number of people shared this bathroom-for one thing, there were five different kinds of shampoo. Remy used them all, except for the Herbal Essences one that smelled like Plumeria. He stayed in the shower until the hot water ran out, standing under the spray with his head tipped back, closing his eyes and letting water stream over his face. He imagined that he could feel the past two months washing away along with the grime, days spent cold and hungry, continually looking over his shoulder and checking his back trail, nerves stretched tight with the fear that he was being followed, that he'd turn the next corner and find Scalphunter waiting for him in a dark alley, or Essex standing behind him with a syringe in one hand. "You can be useful, or you can be a test subject." All of it was sluiced away with the water, leaving him clean.
Life didn't work like that, of course, but sometimes it was nice to pretend.
He needed to cut his hair, he thought, inspecting himself in the mirror afterwards while he borrowed someone's hairdryer. It not only brushed his shoulders, it hung down past his collarbones. Way too long. How had it gotten this long? And when had he gotten so pale? Pale did not look good on Remy. When one is thin to begin with, pale has the effect of making one look like Doc Holliday from Tombstone. Like a TB victim, that is, not like Val Kilmer. He and the mirror were usually good friends, but right now they weren't being very friendly. It wasn't just the hair or the absence of the tan he'd once had. With his shades gone, smashed on the floor of the museum, his eyes stood out like blood on snow. Alien and demonic-looking, screaming to the world that he wasn't human, didn't belong. He didn't want to be human, well, most of the time he didn't. Without night vision, without the ability to sense the space around him, without the constant dance and hum of energy to keep him company, the world would be a dark and lonely place. Still, that didn't mean he had to like his eyes. Then he thought of Kurt, his new roommate, and felt vaguely guilty. At least he wasn't blue. Demon eyes were better than a demon's body. Kurt couldn't hide behind a pair of shades.
His stomach growled suddenly, and he remembered Ororo's words about dinner in an hour. It had probably been nearly that long already. Setting the borrowed hairdryer and comb back down on the counter, he cast a disgusted glance at the Sponge Bob Square Pants shirt he'd been given, then left the bathroom carrying it in one hand. Remy LeBeau did not live in a pineapple under the sea, nor did he wear tee shirts with pictures of those who did. He'd borrow one from Kurt.
When he re-entered the room, Kurt was there waiting for him, sitting cross-legged on his bed. He didn't look much happier about Remy's presence than he had earlier, and Remy couldn't really blame him. It was his room, after all. That didn't mean he had to be unfriendly in return, though.
He pulled the deck of cards out of the back pocket of his borrowed khakis and fanned it out. "Pick a card, any card."
Looking highly suspicious, Kurt poked a tentative finger at one of them.
"Non, pull it out an' look at it. But don't show it to me."
Kurt obeyed, still looking suspicious. "How do I know that you're not a telepath who can just read it from my mind?"
"'Cause you saw me earlier. I blow t'ings up. An' I do card tricks, an' right now I want you to put your card on top of dese three." Remy cut the three bottom cards off the deck and held them out for Kurt to lay his card on top. When he did, he covered it with the rest of the deck, and placed the whole thing face down on the bedside table. Then, making sure Kurt saw him do it, he slid the bottom card out from under the deck and laid it face down on the table, tipping the deck up afterward so that Kurt could see the new bottom card. "Dis ain't your card, right?"
"Of course not."
Remy nodded, and slid out the bottom card again, placing it on the table on top of the first. "An' dis ain't it either, right?"
Remy grinned, and repeated his actions a third time. "An' dis ain't your card either, n'est-ce pas?"
Kurt gaped at the deck in Remy's hand, because of course, it wasn't. The bottom card should have been Kurt's, but it wasn't. Kurt's card was actually sitting face down on top of the discard stack.
"An' dis ain't your card, am I right?"
"Where is it?"
"Be patient, it'll turn up."
After displaying several more cards that weren't Kurt's card, Remy picked up the discard pile and began working his way though it, revealing once again the series of cards that weren't Kurt's until there was only one left. "I t'ink dis is yours."
Grinning broadly, he handed the last card to Kurt. "Nine of clubs. Keep it. It means obstacles to overcome."
"But, that's my card. How did you know? How did you do that? I saw every card you put in that pile."
"'Lot's of practice. Sleight of hand's good trainin'."
Kurt looked deeply impressed. "That is so cool. Can you pull coins out of people's ears, too?"
"Depends on how big deir ears are."
Now that Kurt was no longer glaring at him resentfully, Remy decided that the time had come to ask about a shirt.
"Now dat you got your nine of clubs, do you t'ink I could maybe borrow a shirt?" He held up the one Ororo had left him. "Dis one's got dat stupid sponge t'ing on it."
Kurt snickered. "It's Scott's." He suddenly vanished from his place on the bed, leaving behind a burst of sulfurous smoke, and reappeared by the dresser, pulling one of the drawers open and riffling though it with both hands. He still hadn't put his card down, though. It was now being held in his tail.
Remy felt his jaw drop, and was instantly filled with burning envy. The places one could get into with a power like that… The things one could do with a prehensile tail…
"Merde. I wish I could do dat. Poof, an' den poof, an' you're somewhere else. Can you hang from your tail, too?"
Kurt turned around again, holding out a flannel shirt. "Yes. Here's your shirt."
"Dat is so sweet. You can hang upside down an' still have your hands an' feet free. Almost enough to make me want a tail."
Kurt's eyes lit up. It was obvious that he had issues with his appearance—who could blame him?—and equally obvious that appreciating his mutation instead of being disgusted by it was the fastest way to get into his good graces. "Really? You really think it's cool?"
"Hell yeah. Just t'ink of de t'ings I could do wit' a prehensile tail. I bet you can climb like a monkey."
The buttons on the shirt were all fastened, so he took it from Kurt's hands and turned away to pull it over his head. He was stopped by an exclamation from behind him. "What's that on your butt? Is that a skeleton?"
Oh, yeah. That. "He's not a skeleton. He's Baron Samedi, an' he's on my lower back, not my butt."
"Who's Baron Samedi?" Kurt asked. Remy tugged the shirt the rest of the way on and answered, "De voodoo god of death. Baron Saturday, dey call him sometimes, or Baron Cemetary. He's a skeleton wit' a top hat an' dark glasses."
"Wow. When did you get it? Did it hurt?"
"Like a bitch. I got it for my fifteenth birt'day, after I did my first solo. Henri t'ought I ought to get Mardi Gras masks, since it was Mardi Gras, but I liked M'sieu le Baron better."
'The brat passed his ordeal,' Henri had told the tattoo artist proudly. 'Only fifteen, an' he already a master. Pure talent.' The tattoo artist, a Guild member himself, had nodded knowingly, and led the whole crowd of them inside to pick out a design. 'Get a playin' card,' Emil had advised. 'Dat way you always have one of dose t'ings wit' you'. 'Non, get Mardi Gras masks, for your birt'day.' He'd made a face at that one, declining it scornfully. 'Dat's gay.' 'So's Henri.' 'Your maman don't t'ink so, Baptiste.'
Remy was startled out of his memories by a sharp knock on the door.
"Kurt, you're going to, like, be late for dinner."
"Ja, ja, I'm coming," Kurt called. "Last one there is a rotten egg." Then he vanished again, before Remy could remind him that he needed someone to show him how to get to the dining room.
"Yeah, well, first one dere smells like one," he muttered. He left the room the boring, way, through the door. One of the girls from this afternoon was waiting in the hallway, the cute one with the ponytail. When she saw him, she did a double take.
"You're that guy from the museum. What are you doing in Kurt's room? Talking about your butt? Kurt, like, has a girlfriend."
"Does she know he's blue?" It slipped out before Remy could stop himself.
"Do you really have," blush, "a tattoo on your butt?"
"Be real nice to me and maybe I show you sometime." He winked.
"Eeww, as if!" Then she sank down through the floor as if she were a ghost, leaving him alone in the hallway, with no one to show him where dinner was.
He knelt down and knocked on the floor. "'Ey, come back. I'm hungry."
"The new kid has a dancing skeleton tattooed on his butt, pass it on."
"You pass it on."
"Give me back my fork!"
"I think he's sharing Kurt's room. He, like, totally tried to hit on me in the hallway."
"Don't let Lance find out."
"Hey, I was gonna eat that!"
Dinner at Xavier's Institute was always an experience, and usually it was an experience that made Jean feel as if she were babysitting a bunch of ten year olds. Bobby froze all of his food before eating it, and frequently other people's food as well, just because he could. Kitty phased her arm through whoever was next to her in order to snag the last dinner roll before someone else (usually Kurt) could. Kurt ate everything in sight and used his tail to snag the rolls Kitty had gotten to first off her plate when she wasn't looking. Evan used his spikes as impromptu chopsticks. Jamie inevitably duplicated himself when dessert was served.
Tonight was no exception. The only thing that made this evening's meal different from the usual was the presence of the museum kid. No, Remy, not 'that kid from the museum,' or 'the pickpocket,' or 'Logan's prey.' He had a name. She really had to stop mentally echoing the mansion-wide habit of assigning labels and nicknames to people. It was rude to identify someone simply by a label, even if only in one's thoughts, but it was so easy to slip into the habit of thinking of people by their code names. Thinking of Logan as Wolverine didn't count, though, since the one was nearly as much his name as the other.
Remy-who-was-not-Museum-Pickpocket had shown up several minutes late, sliding into the last open seat with mumbled apologies. After the obligatory double-take upon seeing Hank, he ate in silence for the most part, eyes downcast, but she could tell that he was watching the display of powers around him, glancing around covertly from under the veil of hair that hung over his eyes. Clean, it was a warm shade somewhere between brown and auburn, and a rather effective mask.
"So," Evan asked bluntly after a few minutes, "you staying here or going to juvie?"
Jean was almost certain that she and Scott winced at the exact same moment. Meeting his gaze across the table, she could practically hear the reprimand about manners that he wanted to give Evan without even needing to use her powers.
"Dey don't send mutants to juvie," Remy told him, equally bluntly. "You got powers, you get tried as an adult. 'Least, you do in Louisiana."
"Remy is staying here for now," Scott interjected. He managed to keep the misgivings he felt about the arrangement out of his voice, but Jean could feel them anyway. "The Professor's going to try to get him into Bayville High."
"What grade?" Rogue asked half-heartedly. Most of her attention was focused on her food, as she seemed to be trying to pretend that the Remy did not exist, complicated though this was by the fact that a) everyone was discussing him and b) he was sitting next to her. Apparently, she still hadn't forgiven him for getting them kicked out of the art museum.
"Junior," Scott continued. "Apparently, he was a sophomore the last time he attended school."
"Yeah, at St. Sebastian's. Catholic school." Remy made a face. "Dat stuff about nuns hittin' you wit' rulers if you don't behave? It's true. Dat an' every time anyone brought up demons in religion class, dey all turned an' looked at me."
"Ja, I know what you mean." Kurt shook his head sadly. "When my parents had me baptized, the priest was afraid that I'd burst into flame when the holy water touched me." While he spoke, he reached for the serving dish to help himself to more spaghetti, stretching his tail out at the same time to snag another piece of garlic bread. Before he could reach it, Bobby pointed a finger and froze the bread to the plate.
"Score! I got it first. Someone other than you is getting seconds tonight."
"When I was thirteen," Remy announced to the rest of the table, "I used my power at de table once. I had to eat in de kitchen. For a week." He grinned suddenly, the expression transforming his face from sullen to charming and completely endearing. "Was worth it, dough. I'll never forget de look on my cousin's face when his baked potato exploded."
Hank, tonight's token adult supervision, had remained silent up until this point, but he was unable to let this pass. "You do realize," he pointed out, "that tomorrow night, someone's food is most likely going to explode, in imitation of your previous prank? It will probably be mine." He cast a long-suffering glance over the assortment of teenagers, then sighed. "Please, whichever one of you decides to do it, don't choose something that leaves stains. Or something sticky."
"Naw." Jubilee grinned. "Logan's gonna be in charge tomorrow night. None of us would be that stupid."
"So, thief-boy," Rogue ventured, finally breaking down and addressing Remy, "if you had a family and cousins and all, how'd you end up way up here in Yankee-land living on the street?"
"Duh." Kitty rolled her eyes. "He, like, ran away. Probably because they weren't cool with his being a mutant. I mean, my parents were certainly less than thrilled."
"Non, I didn't run away, me. I got in trouble. It complicated. Real complicated." Another of those intensely charming smiles-something about them felt forced to Jean, as if he were trying a little too hard to be likeable and friendly. He must practice them in a mirror. "Way too long an' borin' a story to tell now."
The conversation shifted after that to a long discussion of the field trip Hank was going to be taking most of the younger X-Men on the next weekend. Most of them were excited about going, even though the destination-a redwood forest on the west coast-was not what the majority of them would have chosen for a vacation spot. Kitty, whom
Jean knew had suggested the trip, looked thrilled, but Roberto asked at least three times why they couldn't make a side trip to the beach while they were out there.
Jean kept silent for the most part, since she herself was not going, but she couldn't help feeling slightly envious of those who were. It would be nice to get out of the mansion for a bit, away from all of the constant training and missions, as well as the endless interpersonal issues that always resulted from having too many teenagers in one house. There was Kitty's maybe-romance with Lance, and the seemingly endless series of traumas it seemed to produce, Amara's discomfort adjusting to high school, Roberto's self-esteem issues, the weird threesome-triangle-whatever-it-was between Sam, Bobby, and Jubilee—she still hadn't figured out if there was romance involved, or if they just liked causing trouble together—and Rogue's, well, being Rogue. Whether they voiced their problems or not didn't matter, not when you were a telepath. Everyone's emotional stress always spilled over onto Jean in the end.
Sometimes it seemed like she spent so much time being an X-Man and a student and a, well, den mother, that she never had time to be a teenager. This new student would almost certainly bring his own share of problems into the mix, but at least his mind didn't leak. He was also rather cute, in a scruffy sort of way. Jean's tastes had always leaned more toward clean-cut than scruffy, though. Like Duncan, or Scott, though Duncan's "me Tarzan, you Jean" attitude had really begun to grate on her. She really had to decide what to do about that. Maybe next weekend, with most of the rest of the X-Men out of the house, she would have some time to think.