GAMBIT'S ENTRANCE EXAM
[All X-Men characters are the property of Marvel Comics; all rights reserved. This is a work of fan-fiction. No permission was granted to use these characters. This story may not be reprinted or published without written permission of the author and may not be used for profit of any kind.]
A tap on the austere, solid oak double doors of my private office brings a much-welcome afternoon tea and an unexpected opportunity to speak with one of my newer students, one of my X-Men. These valiant young mutants whose distinctive genetic makeup caused them to be born with abilities which set them apart from the rest of humanity have each come to me to help them use their powers to the best of their individual and collective potential. I am Professor Charles Xavier, known by a select few to be the Earth's greatest telepath and the leader of these young ones I have dubbed 'The Children Of The Atom.'
"Jeannie done sent this for you, Prof," he quietly but cheerfully drawls as he enters. "Where ya want me t' put it down, huh?" He scans my desk and office through squinted eyelids and furrowed brow, still standing just inside the doors.
"Come in, Remy," I beckon him, admittedly just barely looking up from my paperwork. Waiving toward the less cluttered end of my desk, I watch him cross the room, this young man with the ominous code name and heavy Cajun patois, which habitually changes every 'th' sound he comes across to a slaughtered 'd.' As he moves, I can't help but be distracted by that most curious saunter of his. I liken it to the syncopated gait of a much-prized carriage horse out for a leisurely Sunday stroll. He is one of the most recent pupils to join the ranks of my charges, and because of the many trials, troubles and separations which have caused a disruption of our training and educational sessions here at the Xavier School For The Gifted, I haven't had much of a chance to get to know him. Never one to ignore a chance to improve the lives of my students, I quickly decide this is an opportune moment for discovery.
"'Gambit'—a moniker he came to us already bearing—gently places the tray down on the edge of my green desk blotter, nods slightly in my direction in that refined, ever-so-Southern manner of his and turns to leave.
"Are you busy this moment, Remy?" I ask as he reaches the doors.
He stops abruptly, slightly turning to view me through his startling red and black eyes, a visible sign of his mutant genetic tattoo. "Jus' gotta load up the zink and bust suds, me; then I'm done with all my chores for today. Reckon that it can wait if you in need o' somethin'..."
"I'd like very much to speak with you for a few minutes, actually. Why don't you take a seat? You might as well wait for this place setting before washing up. In fact, why not get another cup and saucer and join me for tea?"
He turns in a way which almost mimics a runway model and then places his hand on his hip in that manner which my grandmother would have compared to the classic vision of a wash-woman from her own time. Meanwhile, his other arm becomes more animated as he becomes suddenly agitated. It swings about disjointedly, his fingers pointing wildly as if conducting an out-of-control orchestra. "Why? What they say I done NOW?" he fumes. "I ain' stole NOTHING! What missing 'round this museum, huh? NOTHING! Non non non non non non! I KNOW how it go: blame GAMBIT for EVERYTHING! PAH! Well I ain't studyin' on none of y'all. I only stuck around here 'cause Stormy asked me to. So there!"
"No one has accused you of anything...that I know of," I reply in aid of reassuring him. "Please, relax...have a seat," I beckon him to the chairs before me, more than a little taken aback by his outburst. It is as if the accusation of theft is something he has become accustomed to...and I can only wonder why that is...
Though I've spent precious little time with this young man, it's been patently obvious to me that he is quite different from his fellow males among my X-Men. Unlike the muscular, ultra-manly Wolverine, Colossus or even the once gangling Cyclops—still known as 'Slim' to his most intimate friends—Gambit is rail-thin, slight as a whisper, with a crown of thick, electrified hair ending in a cascading ponytail reminiscent of a horse's mane and tail, and of a natural chestnut coloring which is as unusual as it is attractive, though, in my judgment, better suited for a female. And, unlike some of my other battle-hardened students, this child has a decidedly carefree walk and a disarmingly genial countenance, albeit far more so with the females among us than his fellow males.
"'Handsome.' 'Dashing.' 'Romantic.' These words I have overheard in reference to him from several of the ladies. The men have been far less impressed...or kind, with 'Gumbo'—referring to his Cajun ethnicity and favorite recipe—being the most common and most inoffensive of their chosen epithets for him. I encourage my X-Men to be friendly with each other, so it hasn't escaped my attention that the other men don't seem to like Gambit in the least. If it were not for Storm, our lovely weather diva who brought this youth into the fold, Jean, who acts as the house den mother, and Rogue, on whom he seems to visit his attentions from time to time, Gambit would have no companionship here at all, and, more than likely, no real reason to remain within our midst. Being that Remy possesses an acute dislike for study, authority and discipline and claims expert knowledge of the uses of his powers, he seems to have no regard for the teamwork required of my X-Men.
Plopping down into one of the two stern, high-backed antique chairs before me, Gambit slumps into the seat, crossing his right leg over left at the knee, an act which accentuates his shabby clothing: faded denims...sans the knee areas, a plain, torn t-shirt long past the salvation of a needle and thread...and bare feet. His fellow teammate, the curmudgeonly Logan, has dubbed this 'civilian' look of his "Swamp Rat Chic." Gambit cocks his head to the extreme left and stares at me through a canape' of auburn locks and those dark, narrowed eyes, right eyebrow cocked high, mouth sporting a smirk. "What I can do you for, Professor?"
Suitably disarmed, I search for a way to begin. "Traditionally with new candidates for the Xavier School, it has been my habit to interview both the young person and, if applicable or possible, the parents, prior to admittance. Because Storm brought you here at a time when I was away, I was unable to follow my normal routine. I would appreciate it if you would tell me a bit about yourself in aid of creating a profile for my records."
"'Xpect that depends on what'chu wanna know, heh, Professor?" is his reply. "Ain't tryin' to hide nothin' from you, non-well, least ways, I ain't tryin' to hide nothin' that's actually your business. You know what I mean, Professor?"
"Actually, no," I correct him. "I'm not sure I do know what you mean, Remy. Do you have a particular concern?"
He grins bashfully, knowing exactly what I am asking but playing coy nonetheless. "'Long as you ain' tryin' to trick me like them nuns did when I started school," he states, a wry grin gracing his mouth.
I can feel my eyebrows knit as I study his taut, tawny face. Without prompting, he continues, "They was tryin' to see if I was fit for Catholic school 'cause Papa wanted me to go there. Sister Clare ask me, 'If the devil come to you and ask you to renounce Christ, how would you respond?' I remember squirming up against Papa's leg 'cause them nuns made me real nervous an' all. Papa say, 'G'on, Remy, you speak up an' tell de Sister you know right from wrong...' Now that was a hot one, comin' from Papa, him being the leader of the Guild Of Thieves! So I tell her, 'Sister, I reckon I'd ask him what deal he had to offer an' weigh both sides 'til I figured which one I'd get the most out of.' Got a whole week of standin' in the corner of the classroom holdin' my textbooks for that one. Nuns don' like independent thinkin' an' all, you know. Lucky I got into that school at all after that. Papa said he thought it was actually a pretty good answer, though..."
Smirking at me, Gambit scratched at his two-day chin stubble and stated, "So don' be askin' me nothin' 'bout good an' evil 'cause I ain' got no better sense now than I had back then!"
"I'll accept that those nuns managed to instill some understanding of both ethics and theology within you, so I won't broach either subject, agreed?" I offer diplomatically. "Now, how about we cover the basics first, then? Name, birth date, birthplace, next of kin, educational background, abilities..."
"Hmmmm...yeah, well, this'll be fast, then," he replies dryly, throwing his arms around with that European-influenced flair of his. "Remy. Remy Francois Luc St. Jean de Baptiste LeBeau. L-e-B-e-a-u. Papa said I was named for a French saint or two. Ain't one, me."
"Your...father...?" I stop in my tracks when I realize my student is shooting daggers at me for interrupting him. "I'm...I'm sorry; please continue." Lesson number one: I'm being granted an interview with an illusive enigma and he has decided to run the show. Questions to follow when he permits…and only when he permits.
"Birth date?" he continues. "Hmmm...December's gonna be cold 'round here, huh? Hadn' given no thought to that. Don' like cold weather much, me, non. It don't snow much never where I come from. Place? I dunno. Most folks who know me say I was hatched or spawned and no one would admit to the deed. Reckon they'd be right 'bout that. Hear tell it was in the closest hospital nigh'on to Bayou Teche, Acadiana Centrale', yeah; that's all I know. Papa had a friend make up a birth certificate for me so I could get a passport an' all. Kin? Ain't got no real kin that I know of. Never known them. Story is...I was stolt..."
"Excuse me?" I politely but foolishly interrupt, "Stolen, you mean, as in kidnapped...?" Following another exaggerated expression of his indignation, I simply lean forward, clasping my hands together in front of my face in a show of defeat. "Sorry, please continue." Pleased to have 'trained' me regarding interruptions, he does so.
"Got...STOLEN, or kidnapped...when I was born, then sold to somebody for purposes you'd sleep better at night for not knowin' 'bout. Got away, though. Lived on the streets 'til 'bout age ten. Survived by pickin' pockets an' sleepin' in doorways, abandoned buildings, alleys an' whatever came to hand...dumpsters durin' hurricane season. Learned to get along by bein' tough as the rats: They bite me, I bite back harder. Got adopted by a man I tried to rob. Lucky some folks can overlook ya shortcomin's, neh, Professor? Done fo'got what else you wanna know, though..."
"Are you...close to your father?" I probe, sitting back in my chair, patiently surveying this child as he tries coolly but desperately not to tell me anything of value to him.
"That ain't what you asked me before, Professor," he smirks and hisses in his singsong Bayou drawl, his full lips curling to mark his amusement. "Why you don' jus' put on your handy-dandy mind-readin' Cerebro head-bucket and get all the info you want, huh? Sure beats playin' '20 Questions,' don' it? Not that I'm gonna let you find out much anyway...but it's cute you ask me so polite an' all." His voice trails off in a giggle, like that of a mischievous child...but I am not amused.
Trying with effort to remain gentle but firm, I decide to confront him with a fact of which I am sure he is aware. "You know well that your internal biokinesis would create enough static to mimic psionic blocks to counter any probe of mine, rendering such an effort a useless exercise-that and the fact that the very nature of your biokinetic abilities makes it a painful exercise for either of us to attempt. What is it you're trying so desperately to hide from me, Remy? As I've said, this is simply an attempt to add some information about your background to my records." Flustered at his behavior, I'm tempted to withdraw from my efforts, when, suddenly, I see his expression soften.
"Sorry, Professor," he says with what appears to be sincerity. "Didn' mean no offense. Ain't used to talkin' 'bout myself. Truth to tell, ain't too many folks ever been interested 'nough to ask...an' ain' much I care to reminisce about no how. Don' know there's much I can tell you...or want to tell you…that's worth your time. Family business be...well, let's just leave it at 'raison prive'.' Private."
His once arrogant eyes cloud over, eyelids, now heavy with shame, eclipsing them. He seems remorseful and strangely sullen, his body language immediately betraying him as he sits with his arms wrapped around himself in an effort to protect his soul from further bombardment.
"Let's talk about your mutant abilities, shall we?" I offer to brighten the mood. His eyes twinkle with red sparks and he sits up a bit straighter in the chair, chirping, "'Kay..." as he wipes his nose with the back of his wrist. Since he obviously enjoys this 'cat and mouse' routine, I begin my next series of probes cautiously. "Did you experience any tribulations in your adoptive home when your mutant abilities and appearance began to manifest itself?"
A blank stare and silence follows. Suddenly, Remy lurches violently forward in the chair. "Huh? En Anglais, Monsieur?"
Recovering from the shock, I make an effort to rephrase the question, only to be interrupted by the interviewee. "Nah nah nah nah nah, s'okay. I don' know what you talkin' 'bout, though: my eyes've always been this color. Got the power to 'xplode stuff a bit later on, but the eyes've always been the same. Papa said it probably meant something, but not like our parish pastor done said. Father Jacob said my eyes come from the devil. He didn' wanna baptize me 'cause he said I looked too unholy, but Papa an' Tantie—Tante Mattie, I mean—they been members of that parish too long for the padre to argue much. Them priests at the church, they wouldn' let me be no altar boy, non...wouldn' even let me sing in the choir...an' I had me a right nice little voice back then, too, yeah. But Tantie had my back, yeah, poor darlin'. She all the time tell me, say 'Remy, you don' pay you no never mind to what folks say 'bout you, darlin',' she say. That's nice an' all, I say, 'cept it don' make 'em stop name-callin' me an' all..."
His voice once again trails off, revealing a sadness born of the lack of acceptance he's seemingly always known.
"Don' 'xpect you'd understand that, neh?" he questions me, staring incriminatingly into my eyes.
"Understand...what?" I begin, stopping to fold my hands once more.
"You 'pretty mutants'...you ain' got to worry 'bout things like your eyes or skin bein' the wrong color or something," he follows up coldly. A tone of derision taints his words as he speaks. Remy is choosing to gnaw at a sore point between mutants that I had hardly planned on debating when this interview began.
"Pretty mutants?" I repeat, knowing full well what he is going for here. I stare at him, wondering if he'll be at all apologetic about his remark. He isn't. This bold young Cajun never once flinches or drops his eyes, instead boldly starring back at me, justly riled and unashamed.
"You know, you don' have no idea what the rest of us gotta go through, right?" he proffers. "Them folks out there don' even know you ARE a mutant, do they? Heh? Don' have to worry, you Barbie and Ken types. You can go an' live among the rest of humanity an' do what you wanna do. Lucky you, neh? An' then you want the rest of us 'uglies' to go out time an' time again to save 'normal' folks from other mutants, the same folks that want to see us all dead, yeah." He shrugs his shoulders and sinks back down into his seat. "O' well…c'est le guerre, non?"
"Quite: such is 'war,' Remy," I summarize his statement, "though I prefer not to think of our position among the mutant community as that type of battle. However, I do understand the frustration and irony of our chosen task as defenders of both mutants and non-mutants alike. I only wish understanding the problems involved made things easier to cope with."
Accepting his silence as a chance to change the subject, I press onward. "May I ask, do you wear the gloves to help control your powers, child?" I question him, noting that curious style of his, having cut the index, thumb and little finger digits off the gloves. "Do they help you focus or control the intensity of your biokinetic projections?"
"Hmmm..." he begins thoughtfully. "Nope. I wear them that way because my big brother, Henri, done worn them like that. Started doin' that back when he bought his'self a big ol' black Harley-Davidson. I figured he looked dang cool and wanted to look just like him, me-'cept for that bald head he got! J'aime beaucoup Henri. He all the time look out for me, you know?"
"So your brother accepts you with your mutant powers?" I ask, surprised by the affection the boy has expressed. It's so rare that my young charges have healthy, happy family lives. Too often they are outcasts, forced out of their family units due to misguided fears on the part of their parents and siblings. If only this were not the case for these children, their lives might be that much easier, making their burdens less difficult to carry.
"Henri?" Remy asks for clarity's sake if nothing else. "Non, it don' bother him none me bein' a mutant. When I get my...my 'powers,' like you call it, he used to take me along to his poker games wit' him: He liked me to play tricks, like givin' a hot seat to les hommes he don' like, yeah. 'Bust up de game at de right time wit' a li'l 'xplo-SION, y'hear, Remy!' he used to tell me. Gimme a li'l share of his winnings, too, so I could buy a li'l candy for my sweetheart, he would. Henri et Papa done teach me everything they know about thievin', too, like pickin' marks, launderin', fencin', leavin' a marker to cover my tracks and all...everything! Not sure that's what you meant by 'accept,' though. Papa's family was always reminding' me that I'm the 'adopted' one, always real careful to point that out all the time. Most of them never once treated me like I was a real member of the clan.
"Henri's younger brother, Bobby—now he's the one that don' like me at all. He always be on 'bout how Papa done pick me up out the gutter an' all. Ain' my fault I got no family of my own, but he don' care. He didn't care a fig for his own family much neither 'cause he ran off years back and ain' been seen since. Folks back home figure he's dead. He used to all the time push me around 'cause I was smaller than him, sayin' I was only fit for the grave...or the brothel. 'Xpect a lot of folks back home feel that way 'bout me, though. Poor me.."
"Brothel?" I wonder aloud. Maybe I shouldn't ask.
"S'ok," Remy volunteers solemnly. "Not long after I was born, I was taken away to be raised in a mansion which doubled as a brothel. I was 'owned' by the brothel master, the kingpin whose portfolio included several of the most infamous and lucrative pleasure dens in what they used to call Storyville, the 'red light district' of New Orleans. Lucky baby, me: I had fifteen mamas and each and every one of them beautiful, yeah!" Smirking broadly, he notes my look of dismay and in singsong fashion adds, "Tol' you you'd sleep better the less you knew, so don' blame me, non."
Sure that this plucky child is correct in this regard, I decide that I have probably gotten more than enough to digest at this time. Though I am rather concerned about a few of the revelations he has made this day, I find myself satisfied that he felt comfortable in confiding in me at all, considering how tight-lipped he has been about himself in the past.
"There is one cause for concern I really must address at this point," I offer, turning my attention back to the small note pad on which I had quickly scrawled a few issues I had planned to discuss with him when at first this boy sat down across from me. "Ororo mentioned that when you two first met, you where both in the process of stealing art treasures. Since I have no reason to doubt her word and understand that, at least on her part, this was an act necessary for her survival at the time, I have chosen to overlook the matter..." I have more to say, but Remy, who has been sinking further into his seat with my every word, decides to run some verbal interference.
"Awww, Professor!" he begins with vigor. "You should have seen that li'l gal in action. She was a joy to watch! That li'l gal would spit in the devil's eye and take his pitchfork in the same motion! I stood there just watchin' her and wonderin' how she got to be so good at what she was doin' at such a young age, yeah..." Bold as ever in words but physically playing Shrinking Violet in his chair, Remy avoids my eyes like the plague as he wonders aloud sotto voce why on Earth 'Stormy' had told me this story, adding a few words in French that I'm sure were expletives.
"This is a school, Remy," I remind him, "an accredited school. I have made it a beacon for mutants of all walks of life, a place you young ones can turn to in a world which has often shunned you. I will not risk the integrity of my school or its reputation among the academic community by harboring a criminal element within these walls, nor will I endanger the innocents among the student population by putting them in direct contact with felons. As such, I am asking that if you have not as yet given up any felonious behavior or have been continuing to engage in malfeasant acts that you stop any such activities post haste, lest I be forced to expel you from the Xavier School. Have I made myself clear?"
Remy blinks at me bashfully, cheeks a bit red and sporting a flustered expression. "I was at that place to 'liberate' stolen art work, Professor," is the excuse he offers. "It ain' stealin' if you there to take back something that was stolen in the first place, you see? Can't steal something that's already been stolen, non? Don' know why Stormy was there; I didn' ask her. Couldn' ask that feisty li'l thing nothin' no way 'cause she would've bit my head clean off. That's YOU teach her to act like that, I'm bettin.' Either way, I was there to get the paintin' back for the museum an' maybe collect a li'l RE-ward for my efforts. That's all." Smugly, he reclines toward the back of his chair again, satisfied to have offered his Robin Hood spin on the events of that day. "Yeah, yeah, I know," he adds in summation. "No more o' that, neh?"
"Correct," I reply succinctly. "There will be no more 'liberating,' 'pinching,' 'finding,' 'dipping' or 'picking of pockets,' as well as no more larceny, grand theft, unlawful taking, trespassing, conspiracy to commit theft, robbery, receipt of stolen property or criminal malfeasance of any kind. If I find out you have been engaging in any such behavior while a member of the X-Men, you will be dismissed. Understood?"
Follow a protracted and woeful sigh, Remy replies. "You done took all the fun outta life...but yeah, I got you, Professor. Sure gonna free up many an evening, though."
Suddenly, a loud thud against the wall outside of my office's bay window causes both of us to jump slightly. Remy, light of foot as he is of mirth, leaps from his chair, his hand already holding a biokinetically-charged playing card—his cryptically symbolic weapon of choice—and is at the window almost faster than I can refocus my eyes toward the light streaming through it. It is a bit startling to me how quickly we slip into battle mode around here, I note as I regard the smoldering card Remy brandishes. These 'children' are hardly that, are they? They are more like the Minutemen of old, ever ready, ever vigilant.
"S'ok, Professeur—they playin' football...badly," Remy states flatly, snuffing out the remains of the burning card by crushing it within his hand. Lifting the creaking, time-weathered window frame with more than a slight effort, Remy leans out and screams, "Aaaaiiiieeee! Y'all mind where you t'rowing dat ball, y'hear? Y'all don' be bustin' no windows 'round here 'cause de ol' man pay for enough repairs already, neh? Don' y'all make me come down there and show you a few moves I done learned at N'Orleans Saints trainin' camp, non! Awww no—now WHO dat say gonna beat dem Saints, zhuh?"
I wince at both the decibel level of Remy's screams and at the reference to me as...'the old man.' Still, I remain sure that Remy, in his youthful zeal, meant that remark without offense.
Hearing someone outside yell back a challenge to him, Remy waves down at his fellow dormitory residents and steps back to shut the window, laughing deep down in his throat. "They want me to come on down. S'ok wit' you if I go, Professor?" he asks, wiping his hands on a dish-rag dangling from his pants' pocket.
"I'm glad they invited you to play with them," I state, genuinely pleased that he wants to be included. "It sounds like they are having a good time. All of you need more exercise, relaxation and more enjoyment in your lives. Go and join them." I wave him away, returning to my paperwork, but, interestingly enough, he does not leave just now.
"You right, you know, Prof," he replies, stopping to carefully braid his ponytail. "My Tantie, she used to tell me something like dat. When I first come here, they all seem real caught up in bein' 24/7 'Mutant Soldiers' or something. That don' make no sense to this Cajun, non. Got to relax sometimes, you know? Made me think back to when I was a little boy an' about to cry 'cause some li'l no-neck monsters had been makin' fun of me, and then Tante Mattie tell me true. She say, 'Don' you worry 'bout what they say, mon cher. They don' know YOU. Them eyes of yours be a window to your inner-self. You gonna grow up and do great t'ings 'cause of who you are inside. If you can't feel good about yo'self on your own, you can't be happy no other way neither.'
"See, Professor, that's 'la danse de la vie'—'the dance of life.' Have a little fun, make a little love, fight the bad, celebrate the good and dance every night away like it be your last. Bon temps, cher! Bon temps!" He dances a little waltz in front of my desk as he hums a Cajun melody he obviously loves, all the while miming the movements of a frantic fiddler. Abruptly, he halts, shooting out a waggling handful of fingers in my direction again. "Reckon you teachin' mutants the same thing in your way, non, Professor? 'Cause if dey don' learn dat—to be happy wit' themselves the way they are, no matter what—then they don' learn NOTHING!"
"Thank you for your...candor, Remy," I conclude my interview, preparing to dismiss him. "Please don't hesitate to schedule some time to come in to see me from time to time. I'd appreciate watching your progress as you work along side the others."
He nods politely, carefully gathering the tea set onto the tray he had come in with. "I thank you too, Professor," he nods politely to me. "Don't like talkin' about myself one little bit, but least ways you didn' make me feel like a bug in a Bell jar while I was doin' it..."
Having piled the place-setting onto his tray, Remy bows slightly and turns to leave. As I return to the paperwork on my desk, I am left wondering if while I was seeking information to analyze this most amazing young man, if I, in fact, happened to be the 'bug' trapped in a Bell jar full of Cajun spices.
From the notes of Charles F. Xavier, PhD.