Disclaimer: All characters belong to Marvel, apart from those stated to the contrary...

Note: We've been sitting on this chapter for a while - sorry for the hugely late update. It's extra long to make up for the extra long wait. Much as we would like to update again soon, we don't know when that will be possible, since Angy is really busy and I will be moving to Japan in mid-October. We may try to churn something out in the meantime, but to all intents and purposes, this fic will be put on hiatus until I settle down in my new country-of-residence. ;) Thanks hugely to everyone who's supported this fic and its predecessor so far. Your input and feedback have been a constant pleasure to us and really kept us wanting to keep writing and growing as writers. Thanks so much for joining the ride and enjoying it with us.

Much love,

-Ludi x


(5) Christmas Day

I wake up Sunday morning to the distinct aroma of eggs, bacon and pancakes. A little confused, I finally pry my eyes open to find myself lying in Remy's bed and not my own. A little disoriented, I roll over onto my back, only to find Remy's not lying there beside me. Duh, he'll be the one who's cookin' breakfast then. I suppress a snide giggle at the thought. Somehow the thought of seeing New York's biggest Casanova attempting to cook anything seems patently ridiculous. Stupid male chauvinist pig, probably makin' a big mess of everythin'… probably ask me t' cook it for him…

I lie in bed a few minutes longer and bury myself in the pillows, not wanting to leave the warmth and comfort of bed. The sheets still smell of him, his spicy aftershave mixed with the faint aroma of tobacco. I would've stayed there a lot longer if it hadn't suddenly dawned on me that it was Christmas.

Christmas!

I shoot out of bed, grab some clothes and hurtle into the bathroom.

Less than ten minutes later I rush downstairs after what has to be the shortest shower on record ever. However, the sight that greets me in the kitchen is just about the strangest sight I've ever witnessed in my life.

Remy's happily standing over the oven, tossing pancakes deftly into the air and catching them again in his pan. He's also wearing a 'kiss the chef' apron.

I don't know whether to gape or roll about the floor laughing.

Thankfully I end up doing the former and avoid incurring his wrath.

"Mornin', chere," he greets me cheerily when he sees me standing there in the doorway with my mouth hanging open. "Merry Christmas."

Hearing his voice finally confirms that it's actually him and I'm not hallucinating after all. Reassured, but still somewhat bewildered, I finally walk up beside him and do exactly what the apron's ordering me to, planting a lingering kiss on his cheek.

"Mornin', sugah," I manage to croak in a stunned voice. "Merry Christmas."

It looks like he's almost finished up on breakfast already. As I look down I see the bacon and the eggs already on their plates; all that's left are the pancakes, which are browning nicely in the pan. I can't help but gape now. The last time I attempted to make pancakes, all of them turned out looking floppy and anemic. And the last time I tried to fry bacon, they were so tough they almost shattered Remy's teeth. Yet here he is, cooking a breakfast that looks fit for a king.

"Where did you learn t' do that?" I can't help but question.

He grins.

"Call it natural born talent," he replies with unsuppressed smugness. I try not to glower.

"I didn't know you could cook," I point out rather accusingly.

He looks at me and grins again in that infuriating way of his, as he finally ladles the firm and golden brown pancakes onto their respective plates. "Den you don't know a lot about me, chere," he remarks cheekily. "Other den dat you find me utterly irresistible, of course." I'm so perplexed at this new revelation that I don't even have time to form a suitably scathing reply before he adds: "Now be a darlin' and pour us some coffee."

I finally manage a derisive snort, before pouring him a coffee from the machine, then an orange juice for myself. He, meanwhile, busies himself setting the table with an elegant efficiency I can't help but envy. I still can't help feeling disconcerted by his apparent culinary skills - skills that I now have to admit I seriously lack.

We finally sit down to breakfast in relative silence as I mull over the fact that I would probably make the most awful housewife ever known to man. I can't cook, and over the past few years I seem to have developed a cleaning phobia. My short employment at Joe Co. proved to me that I don't have much talent in the way of finances, and whenever I put anything in the washing machine my clothes all seem to get chewed up. I suddenly wonder what life must be like being married to a househusband who does all the cooking and cleaning for me. I decide it can't really be that bad at all.

Outside it seems to be the perfect Christmas day - cold and crisp and bright with a generous flurry of snow. And what makes it better is that for once, I'm not waking up to it alone.

"So," Remy begins after a few minutes' silence. "What do you think?"

"Of what?" I ask him blankly, whilst in the middle of chewing my pancake, which I have to say is delicious.

"Breakfast."

I can tell he's been waiting to spring this particular surprise on me for a fair while now. Hoping to avoid any mention of my abysmal cooking, which I now feel heartily ashamed over, I reply as graciously as I can.

"It's delicious," I assure him.

That seems to be enough of a surrender for him, as he grins at his plate and carries on eating.

"So," he starts again after a few more moments of silent gloating which I choose to ignore since I can't really win this battle anyway, "we're going to your friend's place dis afternoon den, right?"

"Yup," I nod. "All my other friends are gonna be there too. They're all dyin' t' meet yah, Remy."

"Well, Emma I've met," he replies with a sly smile. "I seem t' recall we had a conversation dat included bondage."

"Yeah, Ah guess you wouldn't forget somethin' like that," I note wryly. "Although Emma's not really the kinda gal anyone could forget any time soon."

"Now dat's a fact," Remy returns with a wistful look on his face, at which I kick him rather violently under the table. "Ow!"

"For your information, Emma is spoken for mister, and so are you!" I remind him heatedly.

"Great. So does dat mean I ain't gonna be de only man at dis shindig den?" he asks without even a suggestion of having been fazed by my words.

"No. Betsy's other half is gonna be there too."

"Bon, 'cos I really don't t'ink I could stand bein' de center of anymore female attention for de rest of dis festive season. I'm all loved out."

I snort loudly and inelegantly. "Yeah, right. Y'all enjoy it, Cajun, don't pretend you don't! And as for being 'loved out', as you so tactfully put it… that'll be the day!"

"How well you know me, p'tit," he replies indulgently, trailing his bare foot up my shin under the table. I curtly move my leg away from his reach and frown at him.

"Ah wantcha on your best behavior in front of mah friends today, please."

"Yes, mom," he agrees impudently. I hate it when he does this to me. For once - just for once - it'd be nice if the guy could actually take me seriously once in a while.

I decide that once our most-excellent breakfast is finished, it's only fair that I should do the washing up, so I do. While I'm busy packing the dishes into the dishwasher and cleaning the pans, Remy goes to the Christmas tree I'd helpfully erected for him (even though he'd hotly declared that any sort of Christmas decoration would ruin the manly aura of his perfect bachelor pad), and starts picking up the presents and rattling them meaningfully. I get the message and hurriedly finish up my cleaning before rejoining him in the living room.

"Presents!" he exclaims like a gleeful schoolboy. I can't help but smile.

"Do you usually spend Christmas by yourself?" I query with a raised eyebrow.

"How did you guess?" he asks.

"No one past the age of twelve gets this excited about opening presents," I observe jokingly. He shrugs. "You jes' lack de Christmas spirit, cherie," he retorts reproachfully.

"Seriously though," I continue, "dontcha even go back to see your folks?"

He tries to disguise it but nevertheless I can't help but notice that he freezes up at the words.

"Non. Christmas back home is a nightmare… All dat fussin' and tradition… Not to mention y' can't even stand up for about a week afterwards, you're so stuffed wit' roast turkey. Plus Henri and Theo gettin' drunk… Trust me, chere, you do not wanna see dose guys when dey're drunk…"

He trails off, and I can't help thinking those aren't the real reasons why he avoids going back to New Orleans.

"Fair enough." I shrug, deciding I'll let it lie for now. I stare at him turning his present eagerly over and over, obviously anxious to open it. "Yah wanna open it then?" I ask him sarcastically.

"Are you kiddin'?"

"Ah don't know whether it's any good," I warn him uncomfortably. "Ah guess Ah'm not really sure what you like yet - apart from…" I give a poignant pause and an equally poignant look which isn't lost on him. "But there was no way in hell Ah was gonna getcha anythin' related to that, so Ah got you this instead."

"Didn't want t' give me any ideas, huh?" he suggests archly, an eyebrow cocked.

"Exactly," I say primly. "Well open it then!"

He eagerly undoes the wrappings, which finally reveal a thick slab of a book. A little bewildered, Remy studies the front cover, his face steadily falling so that I have to fight back a wicked chuckle.

"Willpower & Mind Over Matter: A Smoker's Guide to Quitting?" He looks up at me with an expression that's nothing short of appalled. "Gee… t'anks, chere."

"You're welcome," I reply, grinning widely and trying not to burst into cruel and gleeful laughter.

"You know, if you have a problem wit' me smokin'…" he begins.

"Well, it's rather a disgustin' habit, isn't it," I cut in sweetly, "and Ah want what's best for mah man, don't Ah?"

I lean in and plug a kiss on his doleful face.

"I…guess…" he says, so miserably that I can't help but relent.

"An' if yah look round the back of the settee," I add cheerfully, "you'll find your real Christmas presents waitin' for yah, sugah."

He looks at me and his face lifts into an expression that betrays a mixture of happiness and outrage.

"Why you -!" he begins, but is unable to find a suitable expletive and starts tickling me mercilessly all over instead.

"Sorry!" I scream breathlessly as I try to wriggle out of his clutches, but he's still determined to torture me.

"Sorry? Chere, dis next present had better be good!" he exclaims, finally deciding I've had enough punishment and letting me go.

"Doesn't mean I still don't wantcha to give up!" I shoot at him as he dives behind the sofa and starts rummaging round.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," he brushes my comment aside unceremoniously before resurfacing with the real presents in his arms. "I swear if dis is another joke…"

"No, no, no more jokes, Ah promise!" I hold up my hands in surrender. He gives me a skeptical look before finally opening the first package.

I wasn't lying when I said I didn't know enough about Remy to make an informed choice over his presents - we've only been together for the past three weeks after all. So I was praying that I would score a hit with at least one of the gifts. Thankfully, he seemed to like all of them - apart from the book about quitting smoking, that is. The couple of jazz CD's I'd selected went down well, as did the pack of cards (I'd only just discovered my beau's a bit of a gambler, and although I don't particularly want to encourage anymore degenerate traits in him - he has enough already - I figured I'd cut him some slack over the festive season). The box of expensive salon-approved hair paraphernalia may have made Emma hoot with laughter, but then again she doesn't know just how hair-obsessed Remy can be. Last but not least was what I'd anticipated would end up being the 'wild card' present, that actually turned out to be the best-received of the lot.

"Wow, chere, how did you know!" he exclaims, as he holds up the new set of designer chef's knives. "Been wantin' a set o' dese for ages!"

I say nothing and smile uncomfortably. To tell the truth, I'd only bought them because he'd been harping on about my terrible cooking the past week and a half, and regaled me with stories of being the best cook in his family and how he'd have to teach me one day. I'd never believed him, and had secretly thought that I would've been the one ending up teaching him how to use them. I feel a little ashamed now when I think about it.

"Well, yah said yah liked to cook," I explain evasively, "so I figured Ah'd get them."

"Guess you know more about me den I thought," he remarks, laying the knives aside and taking me in his arms.

"Ah'm glad you like them," I say, truly relieved not to have failed, and feeling as though I've been put through some kind of weird relationship test. He kisses me, first on the forehead, then on the nose, then on the lips and then on the mouth, so that by the time he's finished my toes are curling with pleasure.

"Now for mine," he says as we finally break apart, and there's an unmistakably wicked look on his face.

Two presents have been set aside for me, and predictably the first one is full of underwear - the fantasy kind of underwear that only a man could induce a woman to wear.

"You really got these for your own personal satisfaction, didn't you?" I note sarcastically, dangling a strip of lacy red material from my forefinger, which I can only suppose is meant to be a thong. "You don't seriously believe women really like to wear these things, do you?" I ask him pointedly. I feel as if he's getting me back for the quitting smoking book already. All he can do is give an innocent shrug and a brazen smile.

"And yah already know my bra size!" I exclaim in disbelief as I inspect another gaudy bit of see-through material. Since when has any guy known how to properly relieve a woman of her bra, let alone taken the time to figure out her bra size? "What've you been doin', goin' through my laundry!"

"It was an educated guess, chere," he replies, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. I decide I don't really want to know how he worked it out. I pick up my second present, secretly thinking that the first is probably going to benefit Remy more than it's going to benefit myself.

"I swear, Remy," I begin severely as I start to unwrap the heavy package, "if this is a vibrator or any other kind of sick toy, I'm throwin' it straight into the trash--"

I pause, having finally unwrapped the gift and letting it fall out into my lap. It's a large, thick tome with a colorful front cover that reads: 100 Greatest Blues Songs. Half confused, half amazed, I open the book and find the pages are filled to the brim with musical notation and tabulature. Remy simply looks at me expectantly, his expression even more jubilant than it had been when I'd opened the underwear. I flick through the book in a daze, not knowing what to say.

He remembered… He remembered what Ah told him durin' that stupid interview… When Ah told him Ah could play guitar… …

I suddenly find tears pricking my eyes as I realize just how much he cares about me.

"Well?" he asks apprehensively.

"Remy… Ah- Ah don't know what t' say…" I swallow and blink back tears. "You remembered," I finally finish.

"Of course I did."

I think of my guitar, sitting back home in my apartment, dusty and battered and with half the strings broken. I haven't picked it up since I moved to New York, haven't even played it at all since the accident with Cody…

"Remy…" I finally exhale. "This is wonderful… But mah guitar… Ah ain't played it in years… It's broken…"

Without another word, he gets up, goes to the store cupboard, and produces a guitar. A brand spanking new guitar, all shiny and polished and begging to be played. I sit there and goggle at it.

"I dunno much about guitars," he admits as he sits back down next to me and offers me the instrument, "but de guy at de store said it was one of de latest models, got rave reviews in all de best guitar magazines… So I figured I'd get it for you…"

I say nothing as I handle the lovingly-crafted instrument hesitantly, twanging the strings here and there and running my fingers over the fretboard. Suddenly it's as if I never stopped playing in the first place and I feel my heart begin to swell.

"Remy…" I breathe, but no words come out.

"Don't forget, I want t' hear y' sing for me, chere," he says cheerfully. "Maybe we can have a bit of a role reversal. I can do de cookin', and you can serenade me b'fore we go to bed."

At the words it all comes bursting through and suddenly I'm laughing and crying all at the same time as I place the guitar aside and throw my arms around him and hug him tight.

"Thank you so much!" I cry, and he wraps his arms round me, his grasp strong yet tender.

"Merry Christmas, mon amour," his voice whispers comfortingly in my ear.

-xXx-

The rest of the presents around the tree were for Jean, Betsy and Emma, and while Rogue was taking the opportunity to load them into the back of her car, Remy lingered outside the front porch and flipped open his cell phone. He'd been putting off this particular call for ages, and since this Christmas had put him in a particularly good mood, it was better he faced the music now rather than later. The phone rang for a while as he watched his beautiful girlfriend walk out onto the snowy driveway in her designer heels, a pile of brightly colored parcels teetering precariously in her arms. The sight was almost enough to get him speeding to her rescue, but just as he was about to put off the inevitable and end the call before it had even begun, someone picked up on the other end.

"Hello?" sounded a thickly-accented voice Remy knew only too well. In the background Rogue had dropped a parcel and was feeling around in the snow for it unsuccessfully, but there was no time to go help her now.

"Bonjour, Jean-Luc, an' a very merry Christmas to you too," Remy replied with a mock cheeriness he couldn't quite contain.

"Who is dis?" the voice replied suspiciously.

"Remy. Remy as in Remy LeBeau. Your son? Remember him?"

"Remy!" The man's voice was suddenly enlightened. "What de devil are you callin' for?"

"Oh, so a man ain't allowed to call his one an' only favorite pere during Christmas now, is he?"

"I'm your only pere, son," came the sarcastic reply of the older man, "and forgive me if I t'ink it's a little strange to hear from you when de last time I heard from you was... when was it?"

"Just over a year ago," Remy replied dryly, beginning to wish he'd never called at all. For some reason, whenever he and his father managed to get into contact, they would end up in some sort of verbal slanging match. It wasn't that they didn't like each other, it was just that they couldn't help but come to blows about something. It was a sad fact of life that their equally irascible and scurrilous temperaments seemed to grate against one another.

"Hmph. I thought so," Jean-Luc LeBeau replied gruffly. "But den, dis family was never good enough for Mr. High-Flyin' Remy LeBeau, neh? Why you callin' now, eh? What d'you want?"

Remy had to consciously restrain himself from taking the bait.

"Jes' t' see how my darlin' fam'ly is gettin' on, is all," he returned smoothly, as he watched Rogue practically skid across the driveway on her ridiculous heels. "It is Christmas after all, y'know."

"Hasn't stopped you from ignorin' us b'fore," Jean-Luc remarked coolly.

"We been t'rough dis b'fore, poppa…" Remy sighed. For several years running, ever since he'd left New Orleans, Jean-Luc had complained about his ingrate son and how he didn't even bother to come down to visit anymore, even though Remy had explained his reluctance to make the journey a couple of dozen times. It still didn't stop Jean-Luc from bringing it up at least once a year. This was exactly the reason why Remy avoided calling home.

"Yeah, we been t'rough it before," Jean-Luc grunted. "Still coulda taken de time t' visit now and den. Your brother Henri, crazy boy actually misses you, you know. And as for Mattie…what she wouldn't do t' see her boy again…"

Remy gave a small chuckle.

"Only t'ing I'm missin' 'bout home are her killer jambalayas…"

"Yeah, right. I'll let her know, maybe she can tempt you t' come over den. Although I t'ought there'd be another reason you'd wanna be comin' home sometime soon…"

Remy snorted. "Quoi? Y'mean Belle?"

"I don't mean not'ing," Jean-Luc replied quickly. "She's gettin' married, by de way."

"I know. Damned fille invited me, didn't she."

"Hmph," Jean-Luc grunted. "She did, did she? Dat fille always knew how to make a loud statement, neh? Henri and Mercy got invited too. So did Theoren and Emile."

"Dey goin'?"

"Dunno. Mebbe if you was t' come…"

"Yeah, right. T'ink I'm gonna turn up to my ex's weddin'? Do I sound crazy in de head t' you?"

"Remy, forget about Belle. We jes' wanna see you, dat's all. Hell, I don't even know where de hell you are! You still in de Big Apple?"

"Uh huh."

"Workin' at dat place, dat…"

"Laurier & Lauriel."

"Whatever. Point is, you ain't got no one out dere. You should be spendin' Christmas wit' your family, boy! You should see de spread your Tante Mattie's got out for us! An' I know you got friends out dere and everyt'ing, but it ain't de same now, is it? Dey all got dere own fam'lies to celebrate wit', and every year you spendin' Christmas at some random girl's place… Is dat any way t' spend de festive season?"

Remy silently rolled his eyes before replying.

"For your information, Jean-Luc, I'm spendin' dis Christmas in a totally reputable way. I'm headin' for a mutual acquaintance's house where we'll openin' presents and eatin' dinner in a completely civilized manner."

Jean-Luc actually laughed at that one.

"Openin' presents? As in a stripper jumpin' out of a life-sized box, givin' you a lap-dance and waitin' for you t' slip fifty bucks into her garter?"

"Uhm… Nope. I don't haveta pay t' get a lap-dance anymore."

"What?" Jean-Luc's tone was suddenly alert. "What d'you mean?"

"I mean… I got m'self a girl."

"A girl? For de night?"

"Non…" Remy tried to sound patient, albeit unsuccessfully. "For keeps."

Obviously Jean-Luc must've been shocked, because it took him a full ten seconds to find his tongue again.

"Oh," he said, trying to inject a little bit of sarcasm back into his voice. "And who might dis insanely brave girl be?"

"Her name's Anna. Anna Raven. She works at L&L."

And is currently in very serious danger of doing herself an injury if she ain't careful, Remy thought, as Rogue skidded on the same patch of ice again, dropped her parcels and promptly fell flat onto her ass. Remy winced.

"Anna, huh?" Jean-Luc was continuing skeptically. "And does dis girl know exactly what she's lettin' herself in for by cozyin' up to mon fils, hahn?"

Remy rolled his eyes again, sorely tempted to bite back at his father with equal venom, but at that moment Rogue happened to give up on the parcels and headed back to the porch, saving him the bother.

"Look, Jean-Luc, I gotta go," he spoke quickly into the cell phone.

"What, is Anna dere?"

"Oui. Look, I meant what I said… y'know, happy Christmas an' all dat. And send my regards to Henri and Tante Mattie, d'accord?"

"D'accord." All of a sudden the older man sounded crestfallen. "Listen, Remy - it'd be great if you could take de time t' come down sometime dis year, y'know? We ain't seen y' in four years… An' I know you're still upset 'bout Belle, but dat shouldn't stop you from seein' your own fam'ly, should it? And why don't you bring dis Anna down too? We'll put on a big spread for her, y'know what Mattie's like when you bring girls home, neh…?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Look, we talk about dis later, Jean-Luc. I gotta go now. Bye."

He hung up just as Rogue approached him, rubbing her butt with a dismal expression on her face.

"What was that all about?" she asked, seeing how flustered he was as he rapidly popped his cell phone back into his pocket.

"Not'ing," he replied as nonchalantly as he could. "Jes' speakin' t' mon pere."

"Yah call your dad Jean-Luc?" she asked incredulously. Remy shrugged, gave a mirthless laugh.

"He ain't my real pere. He fostered me when I was a kid. Only ever known him as Jean-Luc."

She gazed up at him, her expression suddenly full of understanding and sympathy.

"Oh, Remy… Ah didn't know…"

She placed a hand on his arm and he smiled down at her.

"Of course y' didn't, chere." He grinned and smoothed a rumpled lock of her from her cheek. "Guess dat's one t'ing we share in common, neh? Never knew our real parents, hahn?"

She still looked despondent.

"How come you never mentioned your family?"

"Dunno," he shrugged, his smile fading. "Guess me and my father never really got on dat well. And besides, home is a bit of a touchy subject for me, y'know."

"Belle?" she queried lightly. He tried to shrug again, tried to make out that the name didn't affect him.

"She's in de past. I got you now, dat's all dat matters." He slipped his arms round her hips and held her close. "Looks like you were havin' a bit of trouble wit' dose parcels, chere. Need a big, strong man t' give you a hand?"

She smirked and rubbed her backside forlornly.

"Ah sure could do with havin' a big strong man to rub mah sore butt for me," she quipped with mock tragedy. He laughed.

"Chere, you get me to rub you better and we won't see your friend's place for another five hours or so. Don't go givin' me bad ideas."

"Like they haven't crossed your mind already," she scoffed.

His only answer was to grin and kiss her very thoroughly indeed.

-oOo-

It turns out that Emma's insistence that we arrive at her place my midday was a little too optimistic.

The whole task of packing presents into the boot of my car takes a lot longer than I'd been expecting, especially since my heels keep slipping on the patch of ice right outside the front door of Remy's apartment block. Remy unhelpfully points out that I shouldn't be wearing my best Scorah Pattullo shoes out in the snow anyway, before deciding to be helpful again and making me a hot chocolate before we go. Unfortunately for me, his ministrations stop short of rubbing my sore backside better for me.

Consequently, we're more than half an hour late when we finally do arrive at Emma's place. Her huge driveway is practically buried in snow and would've been impossible to navigate if it wasn't for the tire trails that had already snaked their way up to the house. When we get out of the car, the snowfall is no longer a flurry but a literal downpour. We clatter up the steps to the porch and ring the doorbell. Of course Kristin, Emma's maid, is back home in Germany over the holidays, and so it takes a while before Emma finally opens the door with a flourish.

"Anna!" she exclaims in mock outrage. "You're late! We expected you almost an hour ago!" She hugs me and as we let go her gaze trails over to Remy. "I sincerely hope you weren't the cause of my darling friend's tardiness, Mr. LeBeau," she comments, her mouth twitching humorously.

"Sorry to disappoint you, Ms. Frost," he grins expansively, "but we happened t' be held up by Rogue's complete and utter inability to stop fallin' over onto her most gorgeous ass."

"Ah would introduce the both of yah," I interject archly, annoyed at the fact that they're already poking fun at me, "but since you two already know each other, Ah guess Ah won't bother."

"No, don't," Emma returns, ushering us inside and shutting the door behind us as we shrug off our coats. "I'm not likely to forget Mr. LeBeau any time soon." She shoots him a leering look which surprises me since it looks exactly like the one he used to give me when he was determined to chase me down. I feel even more astonished when Remy throws the same predatory look back at her.

"And I ain't likely t' forget your beautiful self either, Ms. Frost," he returns with just as much innuendo. Weirdly enough, I don't get the feeling that this is flirtatious banter that they're engaging in. On the contrary it seems more like a battle of the wits. I stare between both of them, supremely confused and unable to figure out what exactly this little repartee is all about.

"Uh… Shall we go in and see the others?" I suggest before it can continue.

The rest of the gang are already waiting in the lounge, where Emma's already set up a perfect display of festive refreshments and champagne. Betsy and Jean look up expectantly as I walk in, and instantly smother me with hugs. In the background I make out two other men - the one now standing next to Emma is obviously Bobby, and the other, a little way behind Betsy, must be Warren. Warren I recognize only from the odd news report, as well as articles in various papers and magazines, notably as Tatler's most eligible bachelor of the previous year. Bobby I've never met before, and yet he seems oddly familiar.

"Rogue, we thought you weren't coming!" Betsy shrieks at me, and I can tell that she's really been longing to see Remy, not me. She can't resist peeking at him and ends up gushing horribly instead.

"And you must be Remy I've heard so much about you how do you do merry Christmas oh and I'm Betsy by the way Rogue's friend I guess she'll have mentioned me…"

Remy continues to smile easily all the way through this rambling speech, while Warren's frowning a little in the background. Luckily, Emma saves the potentially tense situation by briskly cutting into Betsy's rant.

"Well, I guess I should introduce the new arrivals, now that they're here." She gives me an arch look and continues: "Everyone this is my friend, Anna-"

"Please call me Rogue," I insist quickly.

"-Or Rogue, as she prefers to be called - don't ask, it's a long story. Let's just say she's called Rogue for a reason and we'll leave it at that. I'm sure you'll find out why. Her other half - though I must say, not her better half, judging from things I've heard - is Remy LeBeau. And no that's not a Chippendale name, it really is the one he was christened with." She looks over at Remy with an odd, appraising expression on her face, but he simply inclines his head, unfazed, and continues to smile.

"This here," Emma continues, pointing to Betsy, "is my friend, Betsy Braddock, ex-supermodel by occupation, expert tree-hugger in her free time." Betsy, who'd been beaming before, suddenly looks as if she's about to protest indignantly, but Emma swiftly - and wisely - moves on. "And this is her beau, Warren Worthington III, a reputable businessman and a perfect gentleman, although his penchant for big, blue dressing gowns might make you question his respectability, not to mention his sanity."

I stare at Warren, who obviously looks torn between ripping Emma's head off and feeling relieved that she hadn't been quite as scathing as he'd expected. Emma, however, has already moved onto Jean.

"This beautiful redhead goes by the name of Jean Grey - don't forget the Doctor. She may look like a pushover, but as with all redheads, beware. This girl jilted her man at the altar and nearly had an affair with a hairy pigmy named Logan - but that, folks, is a story for another day."

Everyone smiles at Jean, who grins in return and looks only a little embarrassed.

"And this here," Emma finally comes to the last guest with a proud flourish, "is none other than the weird and wonderful Bobby Drake, the love of my life and the light of my world, and yes, that is a T-shirt he's wearing, and no, that's not because he's crazy, but because he's immune to the cold. I kid you not."

I suddenly remember where I'd met Bobby drake before. It was in the Super-Low Val-U Mart in October. He'd been wearing a Hawaiian shirt, sandals and a pair of khaki shorts.

"And now that the formalities are over," Emma concludes, still with great dignity and aplomb, "I suggest we each grab a glass of champagne, mingle, and see if we can discover anymore interesting facts about one another!"

"You didn't tell us anything about yourself!" Betsy points out caustically, still looking offended over what Emma had said about her.

"My dear Betsy!" Emma replies with mock surprise. "Why, I am Emma Frost! And that's all anyone here needs to know!"

Warren looks as if he's about to finally get a scathing remark in, but for some reason decides not to. Remy, on the other hand, leans in towards me and murmurs: "Dat Emma is quite somet'ing, isn't she?"

He looks over at her with an oddly begrudging look of admiration, one that leaves me even more bewildered than before. Just what is going on between those two, I wonder?

"She sure is," I finally agree. "And then some."

Everyone moves to the refreshments table and gets down to eating, drinking and chatting. Emma excuses herself and goes off to see to the Christmas dinner with a scowl on her face. It isn't that she can't cook or anything. As with just about anything she turns her mind to, Emma's a brilliant cook. She just hates having to do it herself when she has a maid to do everything else for her.

While I'm looking at the tidbits on the table and trying to exert some willpower on myself (I have to save up some room Christmas dinner, after all), Bobby comes up beside me and starts scoffing down chicken wings. I stare at him out of the corner of my eye. At least he's sorting out the problem of eating too much for me. At the rate he's going there won't be anything left.

"You sure you're gonna have enough room for dinner when you're done with those?" I ask him incredulously.

"Good point," he replies cheerfully, after having just polished off his third chicken wing. "Emma will kill me if I don't eat her meal. Luckily my stomach is bottomless!"

I glance over him. The guy's so skinny I would've expected him to be living on apples and grits.

"Yah don't say?" I return, a little jealously. One day's worth of Christmas dinner and I'm fighting off a fat ass for the next three months.

"Yeah, lucky me, huh?" he replies jovially, and a little insensitively, or so I think. "Hey, we've met before, haven't we? I remember you from the Super-Low-Val-U Mart."

"You can remember that far back?" I blink. He looks even ditzier than Betsy sometimes does, and that's saying something.

"Sure, who can forget?" He grins. "I'd never forget a girl who has a white streak in her hair. Not to mention such a pretty face…"

I glance around the room, expecting to see Remy bearing down on poor Bobby, ready to punch the living daylights out of him. But to my surprise, he's nowhere to be seen.

"Yeah, Ah remember you too," I reply, a little disconcerted by Remy's disappearance. "Who could forget a guy who wears Hawaiian shirts in the middle of fall?"

He grins good-naturedly, and even though he seems a little weird, I decide to give him the benefit of the doubt since he's open and friendly enough - even though I wouldn't have placed him as Emma's type at all. Still, he makes her happy and that's all that matters. We chat casually for a couple more minutes, until Jean and Betsy come up and drag me away.

"Ohmigod, Emma was not lying!" Betsy squeals ecstatically when we're finally ensconced in a little corner. "Remy is hot!"

"Shh, Warren will hear you!" I hiss back at her, eyeing Warren, who's now deep in conversation with Bobby.

"Oh, Warren knows he has absolutely no competition!" Betsy waves a hand impatiently. "But I can't get over it! And he's your boss! What's he doing wearing a suit and tie, he should be on the cat-walk!"

I raise a skeptical eyebrow. "Somehow I think the last thing Remy would want to be is on the cat-walk." The very thought of having to do a girly thing like strutting and posing on a runway in front of hundreds of people would probably give him a fit.

"I'll hire him for my new advertisement campaign!" Betsy continues eagerly, ignoring me. "Of course, we'll be needing all the exposure we can get for our menswear range… If I could get him to be the male face of Braddock Boutique, I'd be onto a real winner!"

"Betsy, you've only just signed the contract to buy the premises!" Jean cuts in warningly, but Betsy waves her aside.

"Well, I have to plan ahead, you know!" she says defensively. "You will run the idea by him, won't you, Rogue? And let me know what he thinks?"

"Er - okay," I answer dubiously, but Betsy gives me a jubilant little hug anyway.

"Emma was right though," Jean states with a sly smile on her face. "He is to die for. Quite a catch you've made there, Anna."

"Not that I did any of the catching," I remark sardonically. Remy had been determined to hunt me down even if it was the last thing he did.

"Pfft, what man wants a woman to do all the catching anyway?" Betsy speaks up. "There's nothing that chases a man away faster!"

I grunt doubtfully. Remy's never had any personal problems with women chasing him, even if he doesn't tend to stick around once he's been caught.

"What we really came here to tell you," Jean begins solemnly, although a bright smile nevertheless touches her lips, "is that we're happy for you Rogue. The two of you look really good together. We just knew it'd work out in the end."

"Aww, thanks guys," I say, as we all converge in a group hug. When we break apart, I venture to ask Jean: "So what about you? You heard from that Logan guy again recently?"

Betsy glances questioningly at Jean and I can tell I'm not the only one who's interested to know the answer. Jean, however, looks quite calm, although I detect a pained expression in her eyes.

"No, I haven't. I haven't even seen him since…since the wedding." Her voice becomes quieter as she mentions the disastrous wedding ceremony that was never to be.

"And Scott?" I persist, referring to her ex-husband-to-be. Perhaps it's cruel of me to bring it all back to her, but I now realize Jean has a tendency to bottle things up, and that's the last thing I want for her.

"Well," she starts uncomfortably, "we have kinda been keeping in touch. Nothing significant though. He sent me a Christmas card, and I sent him one back, but his message was very neutral… I don't think we'll be getting back together any time soon. Besides," she adds self-consciously, "it's something I don't really think I want right now."

Betsy and I nod sympathetically. In fact, we're both pretty glad that she isn't attached at the moment. She needs to be alone to clear her head and decide what she really wants from life, and that's something we can both understand.

"You girls alright?"

We turn to see Warren coming up behind us, followed by Bobby.

"I've never seen so many girls together looking so glum," the handsome, blond-haired business magnate declares. "And at Christmas too!"

"It's nothing," Betsy insists buoyantly, allowing Warren to wrap his arm round her waist as she leans affectionately into him. "We're just talking about relationships, that's all."

"Or lack of them," Jean adds quite cheerfully.

"Who wants relationships anyway!" I sigh theatrically.

"Don't worry," Jean assures me. "I'm not complaining!"

"You two seem to be doing alright," Warren observes of me and Remy, giving me a wink. "When he's around, that is."

Not for the first time, I realize that Remy's still nowhere in sight. Bobby, however, offers an explanation for his disappearance.

"Oh, he went into the kitchen with Emma, I guess he's helping her with the food."

I can't help it. A wave of jealousy sweeps over me, and it takes a real effort to hold it down. Nevertheless, I put on a wide smile and say: "That'll make two culinary masters together then."

"Remy can cook?" Betsy exclaims in surprise.

"He could give the Naked Chef a run for his money," I note glumly, thinking of how many times I must've made a fool for myself cooking dinner for him. Betsy merely has a shell-shocked look on her face.

"What?" I say.

"Well… he just doesn't look the type," she answers apologetically. "Wow, not only is incredibly good-looking, but he can cook as well!"

Warren and I both roll our eyes.

I quickly excuse myself from the rest of the group and make my way to the kitchen, from which mouth-watering aromas are already exuding. Creeping up to the doorway, I distinctly hear Remy's voice addressing Emma from within.

"I knew it from de very first moment I saw you, Emma." I immediately freeze just outside the door as I hear the words. His tone of voice is serious and heartfelt, and I prick up my ears to hear more, eyes narrowed. Oh? And just what is it you knew from the first moment you saw her, you slippery, good-fer-nuthin' Cajun?

"I knew from de very first moment dat I laid eyes on you dat you were a heartless bitch," he finishes. I don't know whether to feel confused or relieved. He hadn't said it in a malicious tone at all - actually he'd sounded quite admiring, as if he were complimenting her on the flower-baskets outside her front porch. I edge in a little closer to hear more.

"Rather like yourself, I should imagine," Emma's cool voice returns in reply, without the faintest hint of passion or desire.

"I t'ink 'heartless bastard' would be more applicable in my case," Remy replies pointedly.

Right, that's it. Just what is going on between those two?

"How many?" he suddenly asks her quickly.

"Fifty," she says smugly. "You?"

"Ah-hah, must be about a hundred," he throws back in an even smugger tone. They sound so smug, in fact, that I'm sure they're both exaggerating.

"Well, of course it's easier for you," Emma returns stiffly. "You're a man."

"So?"

"Men are hardwired not to give a shit."

"Yeah, right. You just jealous."

"Jealous of you?" Emma's voice is literally dripping with contempt. "Like hell. And what would Anna think if she heard you boasting about something like that?"

That does it!

"What would Ah think if Ah heard him boastin' about what?" I demand, walking right in there and facing them. Remy's leaning against the work surface, a plate of stuffing in his hands. For once, he's looking decidedly uncomfortable and - amazingly - guilty as I step into the room. Emma, likewise, is standing over the turkey, which looks as if it's just come out of the oven, a similarly furtive look on her face.

"Er - Rogue," is all Remy can stutter, and Emma's smile widens even more. I place my hands on my hips and frown heavily at the two of them.

"Okay, Ah want out with it! Just what on earth is goin' on b'tween you two? What's so secret that yah can't even tell me what you were talkin' about?"

An uneasy silence passes. Emma's no longer smiling as she shoots a glance at Remy and he shoots a glance back at her.

"Remy," I entreat him severely. He clears his throat awkwardly before he replies. "Was not'ing, chere…"

Emma snorts, and I glare at her, threatening: "And would Bobby like to hear what you were talkin' about too?"

That definitely gives her something to worry about as she busily begins to transfer the turkey to its platter, pink circles glowing on her cheeks.

"I've got nothing to hide," she mutters belligerently under her breath. "Bobby knows all about my past... I've been honest with him about it... Besides, everyone knows I've been around the block at least twenty times already…"

My eyes widen as it suddenly dawns on me what they were doing. Emma and Remy were competing.

"You two were comparin' conquests!" I shriek in complete and utter outrage.

"Shh!" Emma suddenly hisses. "Go and broadcast it to the whole world, why don't you!"

Remy merely stands there and looks sheepish.

"Okay!" I seethe, glowering storm clouds at the both of them. "Okay, y'all may find it amusin' to gloat about the times you've used your stupid charms to lure unsuspectin' people into your filthy little affairs, but Ah for one find it disgustin'! Remy, Ah'm ashamed! Ah really thought you'd turned over a new leaf, but Ah guess Ah was wrong! And as for you!" I turn to Emma and point accusingly at her, "just b'cause you're a woman doesn't mean y'all can get away with it! People aren't just things that you can use and then throw away at the drop of a hat!"

I pause, literally fuming. Emma's still laboring over the turkey, brow creased and stony-faced, even though her cheeks are very red now.

"Sorry," she mumbles awkwardly, and the apology is so inadequate I'm about to fly off the handle again, when Remy comes and takes me by the shoulders, his expression one of abject contrition.

"Rogue - chere - I'm sorry," he tells me sincerely. "Emma and I didn't mean to hurt you, we were just having a bit of fun."

"Fun!" I screech, and he carries on quickly, realizing his mistake.

"But you're right, chere, of course you are. We both made mistakes, but dey were in de past and we've changed now. Look how happy Emma is wit' Bobby. And you and me... I swear it Rogue, none of dose women ever meant a t'ing to me, but you… you mean everyt'ing. Dis Cajun would erase his whole womanizin' past in de blink of an eye for you."

I listen to his words, calming down somewhat.

"Remy, if this is all just sweet-nothings, Ah swear Ah'll…"

He smiles, that charming, dazzling smile that he knows just melts my heart. And I know he's laying on the charm just to get my temper to simmer down, but I simply can't resist that smile. Within moments I've thrown my arms about him and am embracing him tight.

Behind us, Emma can only give a very large and poignant snort.

-xXx-

Fifteen minutes later, we're all sitting round the table, tucking into Emma's picture perfect Christmas dinner. Once her long-winded and grandiose speech had been made (Remy had started groping my leg under the table about 5 minutes into it out of sheer boredom), and a quick grace had been said, Jean had got up to carve the turkey on Emma's insistence, since she was the group's resident mother-figure. I had to give it to Emma - she certainly laid out a good spread. I think even Remy was impressed, but then he seemed to be oddly impressed with everything Emma did or said.

Much as I love Christmas dinner, I'd had to go easy on the roast potatoes otherwise I knew I'd be bloated for the next few months. I sit there and stare down at my plate, which is filled up with more Brussels sprouts and parsnip than anyone else. Remy's plate is practically overloaded with generous helpings of everything, and I can't help wishing I could eat as much as him and get away with it.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the table, Warren and Bobby are enthusiastically discussing Batman comics.

"You know," Warren is saying animatedly, "if you're collecting Batman comics, you should take a look round my folk's place. My dad's been collecting them since he was a kid - my grandfather even gave him some of his vintage ones from when he was a kid. They're all bagged and boarded and they've been kept in pristine condition. I wasn't even allowed to take them out of the bags when I was a kid!"

"Wow, sweet!" Bobby exclaims, truly in awe. "You know, the oldest one I've managed to get my hands on is only thirty years old… It's so hard to get any that are in decent condition these days, not when they're that old…"

"Well, if you wanna take a look at my father's collection, you're welcome to do so. I'll show you round some time, if you want…"

"Cool! That'd be awesome, Warren…"

My attention drifts over to Remy beside me, who's still talking heatedly with Emma, wonder of wonders.

"…Oui, but you know, dere are some people dat just ask for it, how de hell you supposed to say no?"

"Oh, of course, I don't deny that… You see, when I was fifteen there was this guy in school… Fool wouldn't leave me alone, kept following me around between classes, so, you know, I just thought, well, I'll teach you to keep harassing me, so I totally led him on for while, made out with him and got him off a couple of times, flattered the fool and made him believe he was the greatest thing alive… Idiot went about school telling all his idiot friends he was going to score, so I said, I'll book us in a room in this nearby hotel, we'll go in under aliases, and I'll meet him in the room after he's checked in. Only that night I went out with my girlfriends to do whatever, something stupid and illegal, no doubt… And next morning all the school was talking about how he'd had to foot the bill for this swanky hotel when the girl he'd been waiting for hadn't even showed up…"

"Oh dat's nothin'! When I was fifteen, dere was dis girl - OW!"

Somehow my heel has accidentally dug itself into Remy's foot.

"Chere, I was jes' tellin Emma… Look, it's all in de past!"

A pointed glare from me is all it takes for him to fall silent. I suddenly get the feeling that Remy and Emma are a little too alike.

"It's lucky Bobby can't hear yah gloatin' over your conquests, Emma!" I shoot at her irately.

"That's the whole point, Anna," Emma informs me with great dignity, waving her fork in the air, a roast potato stuck firmly on the end of it. "Remy and I are simply reminiscing on our troubled and sordid pasts. We're completely reformed characters now, and are eternally grateful to you and Bobby."

I grunt suspiciously, unconvinced. It sounds more like they're bragging than commiserating. I turn my back poignantly on Remy towards Jean, who gives me a questioning look.

"What's all that about?"

"Don't ask," I grumble. "Remy just seems to have found his female soulmate, is all."

Jean bursts into laughter, which doesn't make me feel any better.

"What's so funny?" I snap.

"Well," Jean begins once she's sobered up a bit, "haven't you ever thought that if Emma was born a man, she'd be a right old lothario? I mean, it is a standing joke that she went through men like she went through shoes…"

"Hmm," I say in a disapproving tone of voice.

"…And that the word 'relationship' might as well be foreign to her…"

"Hmph," I add on top of that.

"I mean, technically Emma could knock back pints and boast about her conquests with the best of them."

"And get away with it," Betsy adds from the other side of Jean. "You know, a few weeks back, she actually asked Jean what it is that makes a woman want to stay with one man for the rest of her life - not to mention why exactly anyone would want to do that anyway! I mean, isn't that exactly what a man would say?"

"Yeah," Jean chuckles loudly. "An inability to commit - it's a prime guy thing. Like," and she puts on her best impression of your typical Dumb Jock, "'ohmigod, stay with her for the rest of my life? I mean, how am I even supposed to find the sex interesting anymore once we've run out of positions to try! Ohmigod, how am I supposed to live without sex! And what if she turns fat and ugly before we run out of positions to try? Major freak out, man!'"

Betsy and I let out shrieks of laughter that cause Bobby and Warren to jump a mile.

"God, I'm so glad I'm single," Jean sighs.

"That isn't funny, you know," Emma interjects coolly from the head of the table.

"Oh, lighten up, Emma, you've seen the light," Jean replies jauntily. "When you wake up in the mornings and see your lovely man lying there beside you, all your questions are answered. You finally understand why a woman would want to spend the rest of her life with one man, don't you." She pauses, her expression turning to one of concern and says: "Don't you?"

Emma, having listened to all this, has the good grace to finally blush.

"Of course!" she cries defensively. "And for your information, Ms. Grey, I'm totally devoted to Bobby here, so there's no need to poke fun!"

Betsy and Jean give her looks of approval, but Remy has a peculiar grin on his face, as if he'd finally got one over Emma. I suddenly realize that all this time he's been feeling somewhat threatened by Emma, who just happens to be a beautiful and sexy woman who could so easily beat him at his own game. And he's grinning now because he's convinced himself Emma's made a confession he'd never make himself.

"Ah don't know what you're smilin' at!" I bark at him, irritated at his stupid male psychology now that I've got him all worked out. I don't even feel sympathetic about Emma's humiliation, seeing as she'd been egging Remy on all afternoon.

"Uh… nothin', chere," he replies innocently. I glower at him.

"And don't even bother turnin' the charm on meh! It may work on stupid airhead bimbos like Sandy, but Ah've cottoned onto yah male chauvinist ways, swamp snake, and you're not foolin' me!"

I continue to dig viciously into my turkey, ignoring the looks of sympathy Warren and Bobby send Remy's way. Remy, however, seems unconcerned. Shrugging, and still smiling in that infuriating way of his, he continues with his dinner. A couple of minutes later he leans in towards me and whispers in my ear: "I still t'ink you're sexy when you're mad, chere."

Since my mouth is full of roast potatoes, the best I can do is shoot him a lopsided scowl, although I'm sorely tempted to stamp on his foot again. At least his conversation is semi-decent afterwards, and he and Emma start discussing rate hikes rather than all the times they've managed to score.

After dinner, and after all the plates have been cleared away (and I've done my part by bunging them into the dishwasher), it's time to exchange presents. For Jean, I'd got a humorous lifestyle book which had been my bible the past four years or so - The Singleton's Survival Guide: How to Stay Sane While You're Single. Jean laughs and says it'll make good bedtime reading; not to mention she'll be needing it, having been very much non-single for the past five or six years of her life. For Betsy I'd bought a set of ethnic jewelry, including a necklace, bracelet, earrings, anklet, rings and God knows what else, handmade by a group of unmarried women in some village in India. I heard the proceeds went straight to them anyway, so naturally Betsy was thrilled with it. Emma was a tough one to buy for, but in the end I decided to go down to Ann Summers and replace that whip she'd broken on one of her erstwhile boyfriends the previous spring. I had no idea whether it was appropriate or not, only I remembered that Emma had always seemed rather fond of her whip - perhaps simply holding it in her hand had made her feel invincible, or maybe she'd liked to chivvy her staff around with it. She seems pleased to be presented with it at any rate; Bobby looks terrified when he claps eyes on it. Remy, on the other hand, raises his eyebrows and gives me a look which I interpret as did you get an extra one for keeps? The stern look I give him in reply leaves him looking very crestfallen indeed.

The gifts I receive are somewhat mis-matched. Betsy has given me a few samples of jewelry and clothing that she's been planning for her boutique. Considering the fact that she'd only finalized the deal with Millicent Collins a few weeks back, I'm impressed with just how quick she is, even though she's assured me the store won't be open for the next six months or so.

"Y'all have already got somebody employed to make jewelry and clothes samples?" I ask her incredulously.

"Count yourself lucky to be getting a sneak preview," she winks at me.

Jean's present consists of a new set of romance books (although I'm not really sure I need my daily fix of romance stories anymore, seeing as I have Remy to distract me), a few karaoke DVDs, and a really cute friendship locket. Emma, on the other hand, predictably gets me the Karma Sutra - both DVD and book editions.

"Just in case you happen to get bored of an evening, darling," Emma says wickedly, while I quickly hide them away before Remy can spot them and get any ideas.

"Pfft, with Remy around that ain't very likely," I scoff, looking around to see if he's anywhere nearby. Luckily he's on the other side of the room talking with the boys and not paying us any attention at all.

"Well, at least you know you can be prepared for anything he throws at you," Emma grins. I simply grimace. I have half a mind to chuck her present in the nearest trashcan I can find. The last thing I want is for Remy to find it and start harassing me about its contents.

"Yeah, right," I mutter under my breath.

-oOo-

By evening the snow had started to peter out and finally come to a halt. Remy stood out on the veranda of Emma's back garden and lit up a cigarette. Out here the stars were clear, clearer than they were in the heart of the city. He looked up into the sky and breathed in the chilly air, shuddering only slightly in the cold. For some reason Monet's words back at the Christmas party were bothering him. It wasn't that he was in any way attracted to Monet anymore. There was no way she was going to be worming her way under his skin, that was for sure. Her words were bothering him more than anything. Would he get bored of Rogue? Would he end up preferring freedom to stability with her? At the present moment he didn't want anything other than the way things were now, and yet, what if he felt differently so many months down the line?

He shivered. It wasn't something he liked to think about.

"So there yah are."

He turned to see Rogue coming up behind him, her breath catching as icy clouds on the air. She frowned comically as she saw the cigarette in his hand.

"Ah wasn't jokin' when Ah gave yah that book," she noted rather pointedly. He shrugged.

"I'll give up in de New Year, how 'bout dat?"

She gave him a look that was plainly skeptical, but said nothing, coming up to stand beside him on the veranda.

"So what did Emma give you?" he asked instead. "You hid it b'fore I could get a look in."

"Ah did not hide it!" she replied a little too defensively. "Yah just weren't around, that was all!"

"Was it as good as dat whip you got her?" he inquired slyly. As he'd thought, Rogue was particularly prickly about the subject.

"Get over than goddamned whip already, Cajun!" she snapped at him. "Gawd, what do Ah haveta do to get yah depraved mind outta the gutter?"

When she got this angry it always made him want to laugh, but he sensed that she would explode if he even dared to chuckle, so he didn't.

"I dunno, you could just whip it out of me, I guess."

Luckily for him, she decided not to explode. Instead she looked up at him, eyes narrowed and lips pursed.

"Funny - for some reason, Ah always figured you were more of a sadist than a masochist," she observed.

"Chere," he assured her sexily with a lopsided grin in her direction. "There is a streak of de masochist in practically every man."

"Oh yeah?" she retorted cynically. "Then maybe yah won't mind if Ah whip yah into helpin' me clean out mah apartment."

The expression in his eyes was literally smoldering.

"I knew you were serious when you mentioned dat 'on my hands and knees cleaning out de oven topless' thing," he drawled. "Care to add some BDSM into dat little scenario, p'tit?"

"No," she replied through clenched teeth, but he knew she was fighting with herself to give in. He simply couldn't repress his grin. Her stubborn tenacity was one of the things he found endlessly appealing about her. And he knew her passions were just as great as his own - she just thought he'd already indulged his passions enough to last a lifetime, and that anything more would be nothing more than plain greed. He knew it was only a matter of time before she caved into him though.

"Chere, you take dis all way too seriously," he remarked lazily.

"This is serious, in case yah didn't notice! At least Ah hope it is," she added hotly. "Isn't it?"

He frowned a little, stubbed out his cigarette and held out his arms to her. After a few seconds of hesitation she finally succumbed and he wrapped his arms snugly around her, holding her tight.

"Of course it's serious, ma chere," she murmured softly into her hair. "Anna, you've given dis Cajun his best Christmas ever."

She raised her head and smirked at him.

"From the sounds of it, that ain't any major achievement now, is it?"

"It is to dis Cajun," he replied sincerely, leaning forward so that his forehead touched her own. "Keep it up and you may just turn me into a noble and respectable guy yet."

She chuckled that low, sexy chuckle that he always found so alluring.

"Remy, that ain't in the least possible," she drawled knowingly, brushing her lips against his own. "But Ah still love yah anyway. And just for the record," she added in a whisper, her deep green eyes softening as she held him closer, pulling him in for a kiss, "havin' you in mah life is the best Christmas present this Mississippi River rat could ever have wished for."

-xXx-


To be continued...