Remy LeBeau beheld the little girl in front of him, her back to him and body akimbo. Her cool grey eyes scanned the painting with the meticulous assessment often associated with the most anal of art collectors. Finally she sighed and looked to him.
"I dunno." Inserted here was a tongue click, courtesy of her mother. "It's not 'xactly Van Gogh, Papa."
He grinned, knowing exactly from whom she'd picked up that tone of voice. "Does that mean your Papa gotta hire out for this job? I can always shake your brother awake, you know." He gestured to the resting boy in the Radio Flyer next to him.
"Can not," the drowsy boy murmured, dark head momentarily rising from its place against his father's bunched up sweatshirt. "I'm on break. Plus I'm scoutin' for anyone on to us. "
"So you are. Lord knows we need one of those. Keep up the fine work."
"Merci, Papa." He commenced his position.
"How much, 'gain?" his daughter inquired, foot graciously tapping on the cool marble of the museum floor. "I don' work for free."
"Course you don't, and I pay only the highest for my children. Five and an ice cream." And a hundred in your savings, ma petite chérie. Thieves never flat out used their children without payment of some sort.
She considered this. "Hmm. Or like value?"
"Right. That's our system."
"Five, a fizzy drink, and a thing of Pop Rocks. The buck stops here."
The last comment nearly caused him to chuckle, had it not been for the seriousness in her tone. He made a mental note to have her spend less time in on Guild Council meetings, especially those ran by Jean-Luc. "Done deal, but if Mama asks, you didn't have candy."
"If Mama asks," his son interjected from his place in the wagon. "We weren't at the museum at all."
Remy nodded seriously, considering the consequences he'd face when their mother discovered her darlings were on assignment. "We'll work on an alibi later."
"Nothin' too compl'cated this time, 'kay?"
He hadn't planned on having children. The idea of having such small, malleable minds under his tutelage had scared the living daylights out of him. He often had taken great precautions to ensure that fatherhood was delayed as long as possible, but if in the event something were to have, ahem¸ slipped, he also made damn sure his tentative children (and their prospective mothers) would know how to reach him. His greatest fear was that his childhood would be relived by one of his own.
But then one day, quite literally in that clichéd sort of way, he found himself at a hospital cradling a small bundle of a boy. The emotions he felt coursing through his body were enough to swear fealty and love until the world ended or death took him - longer, if at all possible. It had been a powerful moment, to realize that with this child, he finally had made a blood relative.
Sappy, soul-bearing moments aside, he hadn't realized how fun it would be to have protégés, especially when he worked.
"Are these your children?" The saccharine voice of a museum tour guide took Remy off-guard and that set his carefully laid plan into motion a few minutes earlier than he would have liked.
"Why yes," he drawled, and slipped into his native accent. He would kill for charm at the moment, but he worked with what he had. "My daughter here was admiring this fine work of art."
"We always go to the museums on Sunday," the small girl added, a thousand-watt smile lighting up her face. She turned back to the painting, her face away from the inquisitive worker, and indulged in a genuine grin, delighted someone had walked into their perfectly laid plans. "What's the colors mean?"
Equally pleased that such a small child took an interest in fine art and taking no interest herself in the likelihood of this situation being genuine, the guide began to talk excessively about schemes and tones, totally oblivious to the patient stares both father and daughter were giving her.
"What's those?" the girl interjected after a few seconds exposition on the painting's use of blue, pointing to a small blinking light near the top of the frame.
"Oh! Those are motion sensors." The woman bent down to face the child in that insipid and dull-witted way that makes children cringe and feel stupid. "See, if a big bad thief comes to try and steal our paintings, that light detects them before they know what to do!"
"How?" said the girl inquisitively, at the same time her father asked, "Expensive system, I'd bet."
"Safelock 3500. State of the art," the guide smirked. She turned back to the girl. "You know...if you're interested, I can give you a behind the scenes look."
"Behind the paintings?" An innocent question from a rather innocent-looking child. Remy reminded himself to congratulate her later – she'd been diligently practicing this for script for weeks.
As planned, the guide laughed and shook her head. "No, no dear. Behind the walls."
Father and daughter breathed an identical syllable. "Oh."
Anna Raven was indulging herself in a late lunch at a local museum café known for their gelato. Granted, her lunch was more gelato and less salad, but she had had a long day. Saving the world had been one job, but she sometimes thought that regular living was harder. There were less perks in the real world.
Her companion smirked as she made her way through a second bowl of strawberry confectionary, hell-bent on consuming a third. Handsome blond devil though he was, he was ever curious as to how her body concealed the effects of all the sweets she was so fond of and never missed on opportunity to poke fun.
"You're just jealous 'cause you don't know the glory of ice cream and its many cousins," she retorted, sucking her spoon clean, then airplaning another spoonful tauntingly into her mouth.
He held up his hands in mock defense. "Hey, lactose-intolerant. I can't help it."
"Pussy. Suck it up and live a little." That had been her motto for the past seven years, one that had worked surprisingly well. Elaborately waving her eating arm with another mound of gelato, she playfully batted her eyes toward her cohort, then looked away bashfully.
"Why Ah do believe yah're playin' hard to get," he said, channeling Rhett Butler as if his life depended on it.
"You're accent's horrible," she admonished, finally eating her spoonful. "Though I can't blame you, being a Yank and all."
"Yes, well..." He continued to babble on about dialects and such, but her eyes had picked up something familiar off to her right. His back was turned to her, but the gait was identical. That couldn't be...
"Anna!" He caught her before she made a larger fool of herself, steadying her by gracefully clasping her arm in his grasp. "Are you all right? Is something the matter?"
"No, no," she said, collecting herself. "Thought I saw someone I knew from school, that's all. Wasn't them. Leastways, I don't think it was..."
She sat down, slightly embarrassed and continued her lunch and conversation and was teased mercilessly about matters of balance and the effects too much sugar on her brain. She listened half-heartedly and laughed loudly when he did jar something humorous.
But in the back of her mind, she couldn't help but wonder ... was it him?
No, it couldn't be. It wasn't the thought of Remy LeBeau being in a museum that shocked her as much as him being seen in a museum in broad daylight, on children's day, no less. And why would he be pulling a wagon around? She chuckled inwardly at the thought. Indeed. Remy, a doting father? That'd be the day.
"And that's about it." The tour guide's ever-present smile was starting to grate on Remy's nerves and he could sense his daughter's twitchiness growing with every step. He wasn't enjoying being the centre of her wandering eye, either. "Well, now that you know the museum inside out, do you have any more questions?" She must be an Olympic eye batting champion, he thought as they made their way through the last employee-only door.
"No, I think we're about done for the day." He contemplated with just keeping his mouth shut, but that strategy never seemed to work. He went for the stinger. "Gotta get home to Mummy." He cocked his head and beamed one of his knee-jerker grins towards the enamored guide. "M'wife, that is."
"She's gonna have a baby," his daughter added remorsefully.
"Three's a charm," her father added, still grinning. That was a good thought. At least he thought it was. His wife had other ideas about her current condition.
They were halfway out of the door when an oomph! caught their attention.
"Sorry," the boy said sleepily, pulling himself off the floor. "I fell off."
"Oh, you poor thing!" the guide simpered, mollycoddling him. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, he's fine. Ain't you?" Remy held out a hand to pull his son upright, but the boy shook his tousled curly head.
"I'm fine, Papa." Bracing himself against the doorframe, he plopped himself back in the wagon. "Can we go home now?" And thus the last phase of their little mission was complete.
"Oh yeah. We'll get on our way." A trained eye would have caught the meaning behind the wink that followed, but only a highly advanced security camera would have picked up on what exactly the young LeBeau had placed in the door latch.
Luckily for the thieving three in this story, that was not the case.
There is a small switch on small children that causes them to get Very Irritable very quickly, and unluckily for many parents, the switch of one child triggers the switches of other children. As it was, by the time Remy maneuvered his crew to the exit, all three of them were near the squabbling stage.
In these kind of high stress situations, sense are heightened (none for the better), and every sound in the already noisy room amplified in his aching head.
Then suddenly, over the chatter of passer-bys and through the bickering of his two children, he thought he heard a most familiar laugh.
Non, he thought. It's not her. Can't be. That didn't stop him from straining his neck trying to see from where the sound came from. Aww, Remy-boy, give it up. It could be anyone. It's not like she was the only woman in this world with that exact laugh. After seven years, it's not like...
"Shit! I'm sorry!"
"Quarter in the swear jar!"
Three crabby LeBeaus quickly exited the museum.
That night Remy and Rogue would both go to their respective apartments.
Rogue was decorated to the nines with eclectic knickknacks and a color scheme that screamed Frida Kahlo. Rogue would talk with her friend for two complete hours before shoeing him out ("My neighbors think you're a gentleman, sugah. Let's not let them think otherwise.") and then listened to three messages on her answering machine: two from other gentlemen callers and one from Raven ("Damn it Rogue, pick up the phone. I know you're there."). Rogue would punish herself for the gelato overdose by doing intensive kickboxing to the sounds of ACDC. She would return Raven's call, an exercise that would exhaust and annoy her. She took a bath and sometime after midnight, snuggled down into her respective beds.
But she would not sleep.
Remy's home was littered with toys and copious amounts of unpacked boxes; they hadn't been in town for more than three weeks. He would be met at the door by a slightly perturbed and very pregnant wife ("Your radar must be workin' again, chére.") whose mood quickly changed to delighted when she discovered both children were ready to crash for the night ("It's seven o'clock! This makes you a god, you know.") and then returned to dismayed when she guessed the cause ("You were on a pinch, weren't you?"). Remy redeemed himself by unpacking several boxes and offering a foot rub to his wife. He caught a glimpse of the news, got disgruntled, and switch to the Daily Show. He then worked on some Guild business, an exercise that would exhaust and annoy him. He would shower. He'd then tiptoe around the apartment and check in on his sleeping family. Then, sometime after midnight, he settled into his bed and spooned up to his wife.
But he would not sleep.