When he was thirteen years old, Remy LeBeau stole a fighter from an American air base and flew it for more than an hour before ejecting. Why? Mostly, because his cousin Lapin dared him to. But there was another reason as well.
At thirteen, he'd come into his powers. The kinesthetic awareness that made things like velocity and acceleration as integral to his senses as color and sound had kicked his brain into a kind of frantic overdrive. Nothing in his experience at the time was fast enough to move his body in concert with the pace of his mind, leaving him frustrated, feeling as if his body were a clumsy, sluggish prison from which he could never escape. The jet had seemed like it might just be what he needed to bring body and mind together, and, having made the mistake of mentioning his idea to Lapin, he was left with nothing to do but take his cousin's dare.
Sixteen years later, an' I'm back flyin' dat jet. Remy grinned to himself as the tiny spaceship slewed sideways, nearly flipping onto its back before he regained control. Like the spaceship, a fighter aircraft was a fast, unstable machine. Only a few people had the speed of reflexes necessary to pilot one, and those needed years of training to develop their skill. As a boy, Remy had almost killed himself getting off the ground in that fighter, but his mutant powers made him a natural pilot unmatched by almost any other. Even knowing nothing about flying, his kinesthetic power had made it possible for him to adapt to the violently fast reactions of the jet and then to control them, and now he was relearning that lesson on an even more demanding system.
Beside Remy, Alex braced himself against the ship's frame. "I thought you said you could fly this thing."
Remy flashed him a smile. "I'm gettin' it."
Alex rolled his eyes. "Amateur."
Remy chuckled. Krycek didn't look all that distraught. Secretly, Remy suspected he was enjoying himself almost as much as the mutant.
A tiny electronic bell began dinging in the cockpit and Alex looked around in search of its origin. Remy forced himself to pay attention to his flying. The ship had an enormous amount of power and not much in the way of stabilizing surfaces, making it very hard to keep in a straight line while still in the atmosphere. How Mulder had managed to fly one of the things, he would never understand.
"Trouble," Alex told Remy with a frown. "I think we're about to have company." He was looking at a display on his side of the cockpit.
His good cheer evaporating, Remy checked his own display and counted seven blips converging on them. "Computer, weapons status," he instructed the ship.
"Online," it answered him. "Manual targeting mode."
Remy grimaced. "Engage automatic targeting." He didn't want to put any additional strain on his mutant power.
He spared a glance at the controls in front of him, looking for the firing triggers he knew had to be there somewhere. He found them after a moment and covered them with his thumbs, then had to pour his concentration back into flying as the ship began to roll away from his desired flight path.
"Hold on," he warned Krycek.
Regaining control, he corrected his course then quickly forgot everything else as the approaching ships opened fire on them. Twisting and turning, Remy pushed his powers to their limits, flying the ship entirely by feel as he engaged the alien fighters in return. The dogfight tumbled across the shoulder of the planet, mocking gravity as the brutal acceleration changes completely overwhelmed the Earth's pull. Remy's vision flickered around the edges in a continuous strobe as the g forces overcame his heart's ability to pump his blood through his veins, but didn't slow. Rarely did he find a situation that allowed him to push his kinesthetic power to its limits. Usually, he reached his physical boundaries long before the mental, and he reveled in sensation of losing himself completely to his mutant senses.
"Scratch three," Alex said as a third fighter disintegrated in a silent, spherical explosion. Though the strain showed in his voice, Alex gave no other indication that the acrobatics bothered him. Remy had begun to develop a modicum of respect for the Cancer Man's agent. Krycek was even tougher than he looked.
"T'ree down, four t' go," Remy murmured as he threw the ship into another wild turn. As he did so, he spied a distant, familiar-looking structure dawning over the Earth's horizon and felt a stab of triumph.
"Dere it is!" Breaking off from the other ships, he turned toward the distant construct, a huge ring that seemed to float serenely above the planet. He poured on power, pushing the little ship to its maximum speed. The fighters followed like a swarm of angry bees.
Alex craned his neck to study the structure. "What is it?"
Remy grinned at him. "A dimensional gate." They'd gained some distance on their pursuers, leaving him a little attention to spare.
Alex turned to him, startled and perhaps a little alarmed. "Dimensional?"
Remy found himself enjoying the other's discomfort immensely. "Y' ready f' a trip down de rabbit hole, Krycek?" he asked.
Alex didn't answer, but turned his attention back toward the rapidly swelling gateway. His expression was wary but also curious, and Remy took it as an indicator that the other man had begun putting the pieces of the puzzle together.
The bulky sentry ships guarding the gate fired at them as they approached, but the little ship's speed was such that a bit of maneuvering was enough to keep them from being able to lock on. Jinking around the sentries, they dove straight through the gate, Remy praying silently all the way. He had no idea what he'd do if it dumped them in the wrong dimension. The ship bucked hard as the energies inside the gate spit them out the other side, and Remy had to scramble to keep from losing control of the little ship.
He got it straightened out, then uttered a small exclamation of dismay. In every direction he looked, dozens and dozens of ships formed a blockade around the gate. They lit his navigation display with a sphere of glowing dots. As the two men hurtled forward, the alarms began to sound inside the cockpit indicating that the aliens' weapons were locking onto their ship. Remy felt the first stirrings of fear and he did the only thing he could think of. Closing his eyes, he reached out with what little psi talent he possessed, yelling for Jean at the top of his mental lungs.
Rogue walked into the living room at the Muir Island research facility and stopped dead as the two women there turned to look at her. She had the distinct impression she'd been the topic of conversation, and their guilty expressions confirmed it.
Jean stood up from the couch. "Rogue?"
Rogue nodded unsteadily. She'd thought she was ready to face people again, but now she wasn't so sure. For a moment, the black gulf of pain and guilt-- Remy's personal hell-- threatened to suck her down once more. She swallowed convulsively as she fought to keep her attention focused on Jean.
"It's me, sugah," she whispered hoarsely. It had taken her three days to uncurl from her protective mental ball and retake possession of her body. Three days of horror as she lived through the Morlock Massacre from inside the man who'd orchestrated it, and then the struggle to overcome the violently manic, almost suicidal depths of his festering guilt.
It's him, not me, she reminded herself firmly. It feels like me, but it's not. Ah don't have ta take responsibility foh somethin' ah didn't do. The reminder helped calm her, and she took a couple of deep breaths to help relax her tensed body.
"Are you... well?" Ororo came to her feet beside Jean, her expression stricken. Rogue could guess what fears lurked in her eyes. Two days earlier the Professor had asked the shadow Remy to relinquish his control of Rogue's body, which he'd done. But after a brief interlude of watching the X-Men trying to contain a woman with Rogue's powers who sobbed and screamed incoherently in a mixture of French and Creole, he'd retaken control, forcing Rogue back down into the quiet dark, and no one had protested.
Rogue couldn't honestly hold it against him. She understood damage control, and appreciated the fact that he hadn't allowed her to accidentally harm any of the people she cared for. But beyond that... She wrapped her arms around herself, seeking comfort. Beyond that, she didn't know what to feel. Every day that passed meant the chances of finding Remy alive grew smaller and smaller, and that fact still threatened to break her heart in two despite how much she felt she ought to hate him for putting her through his pain.
"Ah'm me, 'Ro." Rogue answered, pressing her lips together as she worked to maintain her composure. "But ah think that's about as good as it's gonna get today."
Ororo nodded minutely. She paused then, as if debating whether to ask anything further, but then shook her head. At Rogue's look she seemed to wilt. "I... will not ask what is not my business."
Rogue found her voice. "That's prob'ly a good thing, sugah." Then she shook her head. The fear in Ororo's eyes demanded some kind of explanation.
Her hands fluttered in a gesture of helplessness. "It was a mistake... a stupid mistake made out o' misplaced loyalty." The images rose in her mind, choking her with the remembered horror until she shoved them away. A tear traced its way down her cheek as she forced herself to meet Ororo's eyes. "A lot o' people died... badly."
She shrugged, uncomfortable. "He's nevah gotten over it." She wasn't certain she ever would either, but at least she'd gotten it under control. In time, probably, she'd be able to lock the memories away as Remy had, possibly even dismiss them since they didn't belong to her-- but not today. Today the pain remained fresh and raw.
Anything else she might have said disappeared from her thoughts as Jean's head snapped up, her eyes unfocusing. "Gambit!"
Rogue's heart lurched at the expression of alarm on the other woman's face. "Where, sugah?"
Jean didn't answer and Rogue had no further opportunity to question her as the alarms inside the Muir Island facility began to wail.
Remy let out a whoop as the glowing haze of the Earth's atmosphere gave birth to a bird of fire. The phoenix screamed upward into the cordon of ships that surrounded himself and Krycek, crashing through them like so many matchbox toys and scattering the ships across the sky. Remy threw his own craft into a steep dive toward the planet, following the path Jean had carved out for him. Laser fire continued to hammer them, absorbed by their quickly-diminishing shields.
"Is that her?" Alex asked as he craned his head to keep the phoenix in sight. He sounded just a little bit awed, though Remy didn't have the attention to spare to really read him.
"Who? Jean?" Remy flattened out their dive as they approached Earth, but their speed was high enough that the upper atmosphere felt like solid ground as they slammed into it. The little ship shuddered unhealthily, rattling both occupants in their restraints.
"Too fast, Remy!" Alex seemed to forget all about the phoenix as he grabbed his seat harness. "We're going to get ripped apart!"
Remy clung to the controls. "Small problem, homme. No brakes."
Alex turned to stare at him.
Remy shrugged. "Controls're gone. Must've taken a few solid hits back dere."
Alex watched him for a moment more, then seemed to gather himself, pushing his fear away. "You don't look like you expect to die today. How do we get through this?"
Remy grinned. He liked Krycek more with every passing minute. "We wait f' de cavalry t' arrive."
Alex didn't respond as the ship groaned loudly. They were being buffeted so strongly it was hard to tell, but Remy thought he heard something snap. The temperature had begun to rise sharply and the view through the forward screen was obscured by the orange glow of re-entry fire.
Jean! Not t' be ungrateful o' anyt'ing, but we could still use some help here. Remy clung to his composure and tried not to listen to the small voice of panic in the back of his mind.
Jean's telepathic contact came almost immediately. Hold on, Gambit. Rogue is on her way with Nightcrawler. When they're in range, he'll be able to teleport you both out.
Got it. T'anks.
A moment later, a loud "poof" and the smell of brimstone filled the tiny cockpit. Alex squeaked in surprise at the sight of the blue demon that appeared between himself and Remy, but had no chance to react as Nightcrawler reached over to grab a handful of each man's shirt.
"Hold on, gentlemen." Kurt's face was creased with concentration. Then the world disappeared, leaving Remy adrift in the frightening nothingness of the teleport. There was no sight, no sound, no sensation, no passage of time.
The world returned in a sudden explosion of light and noise. They were falling, Remy realized in a rush of adrenaline. The Earth spread out below him like a wrinkled blanket stained in shades of blue and brown. Hoo, we're high up, was his first coherent thought, and, I wonder how Alex is doin', was his second.
He turned his head against the fearsome force of the wind to find Nightcrawler beside him, one fist still knotted in his shirt, the other wrapped in Alex's. The Cancer Man's agent stared at the distant ground, his eyes rolling in panic. Both of his hands were wrapped around Nightcrawler's slender arm with viselike intensity.
When the world returned, they were significantly lower, but still falling. Remy could pick out the outline of a major city below them. He took a cautious breath into his burning lungs. There was some air, too.
Bamf. Bamf. Bamf.
The arrived in the middle of a wide swath of green grass that smelled like it had just been mowed. Remy sank to his knees, then onto his hands, reveling in the feel of the cool blades against his skin. His intestines were the only part of him that weren't incredibly happy to be home and he resisted the urge to simply bury his face in the grass and hug the planet.
Sprawled on the lawn beside him, Krycek began to cackle. "Oh man, what a ride!" He rolled back and forth, holding his stomach and laughing in hysterical relief.
Remy grinned at the other man's antics as he slowly sat back on his heels. A few steps away, Nightcrawler raised an eyebrow.
Kurt smiled. "Don't mention it, mein freund."
Krycek's bout of hysteria ended quickly and he sat up, studying Nightcrawler with interest. "Crawler?" he asked Remy after a moment.
"Alex Krycek, meet Nightcrawler." Remy waved in their general directions. "Crawler, dis is Alex."
Always polite, Kurt nodded and extended one blue furred hand. "A pleasure."
Hesitantly, Alex accepted the handshake. "Yeah." He paused. "Uh, what are you?"
Shadows gathered in Kurt's eyes, and Remy stepped in quickly. "He's as human as you are, Alex, o' me."
Krycek eyed him doubtfully, but didn't protest. The conversation was interrupted as Rogue settled to the ground a few feet away. Krycek stared. At first, Remy thought it was just surprise, but then he realized there was recognition in the other man's gaze and a flash of pure fury swept through him. There was only one way Krycek could know Rogue.
"I swear, if y' had anyt'ing t' do wit' hurtin' her, all bets 're off."
Krycek's head snapped around at the cold, menacing words. He and Remy stared at each other for a long moment as the thoughts shifted behind Alex's eyes.
Krycek threw up his hands. "I just delivered the goods, o.k.?" He was looking between Remy and Kurt as if trying to gauge which direction the attack was most likely to come from. "That's all." He took a step back.
Remy was torn between conflicting impulses. The horror and anger he'd felt at seeing Rogue strapped to that examining table like one of Sinister's experiments warred with the knowledge that they needed Krycek... and the realization that he kind of liked the man.
"Did y' know what they were gon' do t' her?" Remy demanded. Maybe he was more innocent than he seemed.
Alex took another cautious step back. "Not... exactly."
Remy's hands closed into involuntary fists at that acknowledgement. But he would never know if he would have attacked the other man because Rogue's warning words stopped him in his tracks.
"Don't be a hypocrite, sugah."
Remy turned to stare at her as the bottom dropped out of his world. Her emerald eyes were bruised with knowledge, wounded by memories. Things Remy had tried long and hard to forget flashed behind his eyes, searing him anew with the pain and guilt of the lives he'd helped Sinister destroy, and the sure knowledge that Rogue had seen it all. In a single moment, his life seemed to shatter. His knees buckled and he sank to the grass, gasping for air.
The next thing he knew, Rogue was on the ground with him, her arms wrapped around his chest and her face buried against his shoulder. "It's all right," she whispered over and over again, her voice cracking. "It was a long time ago. It's ovah."
Remy hugged her back, too stunned to do anything else. It didn't matter that the embrace made his broken ribs scream. She was there. She knew everything, and she hadn't flown off in disgust, or worse, passed judgment and killed him on the spot.
"Hey, I didn't know she was your girlfriend." Krycek's voice reached Remy as if from a long ways away.
The bewildered protest broke the spell. Rogue slowly withdrew, giving him a strained, lopsided smile through the tears that tracked silently down her face. "Am ah?"
Remy caught her face in his hands, careful to make sure the heavy fall of her hair protected his skin and stared deep into her eyes. "I t'ought y' would hate me," he admitted.
Her smile died. "Ah didn't know what ah was gonna do... until ah got here." She shrugged. "Ah got no right ta judge."
Remy dragged her into another hug, dizzy with relief.
"I hate to interrupt the reunion and all, but we've got incoming." Remy and Rogue both turned to look at Krycek who pointed, drawing their attention skyward. Two airplanes were descending toward them on pillars of jet exhaust. The roar was like a distant, never-ending rumble of thunder.
"Excaliber," Kurt informed Alex.
"An' the X-Men," Rogue added.
Remy grinned as Rogue helped him to his feet. "Friends," he translated for Krycek, who nodded in acknowledgement and continued to watch the aircraft. Keeping one arm around Rogue's waist, Remy, too, watched with a growing sense of impending doom.
"Did y' tell dem?" he finally asked Rogue as the Blackbird settled to the ground.
"No, sugah." She glanced up into his face, her expression neutral. "Ya gonna have ta do that yo'self." After a moment, she looked away, her gaze distant. "But they've got a pretty good idea o' how bad it is."
Nervous, Remy waited while the two mutant teams disembarked. He spotted Dana Scully in their midst, but was too preoccupied with the X-Men themselves to notice her beyond that. For that reason, he was taken completely unawares when she leapt forward, rifle held ready.
"You!" She trained the weapon on Krycek, her green eyes filled with fury. "What are you doing here?"
Krycek spread his hands and stared at her. "Agent Scully?" He looked a little lost, like a man who'd had entirely too many surprises for one day. Then the brief vulnerability disappeared behind a smooth, smug mask. "My, what big guns you have."
Dana's eyes narrowed dangerously as her finger tightened on the trigger.
Carefully, Remy placed one hand on the rifle, though he didn't try to take it from the glowering federal agent. "Easy, petite. He's helpin' us at de moment."
Dana's gaze never left Krycek. "He killed my sister," she hissed.
Several of the gathered mutants registered surprise as Psylocke stepped forward. "True." Krycek's gaze snapped to her and she gave him a humorless smile. "Though by accident. You were the target, Agent Scully."
Dana's enraged expression didn't change and Psylock cocked her head, studying the tableau. "If it makes any difference to you, he regrets it." She smiled a feline smile that said she knew just how uncomfortable she'd made Krycek with her statement. "Professionals don't like collateral damage, and men in general tend to feel bad about killing innocent women."
With a last, sultry glance at Alex, Psylocke turned on her heel and walked away. Dana watched her go, wide-eyed, and did not resist as Remy gently pushed the nose of her rifle down, out of line with her target.
Standing a short ways behind Dana, Scott crossed his arms in a clear demand for explanation. "Gambit?"
Gathering himself, Remy turned to the senior X-Man. He shrugged with a nonchalance he didn't feel. "De shadow government on de ot'er Earth wants t' deal."
Scott stared impassively at him. "What kind of deal?"
"Information on the aliens in exchange for your help destroying them," Alex supplied. His demeanor had become pure business.
Dana watched him narrowly. "Since when is the Cancer Man interested in destroying the aliens?"
"That's always been the goal, Agent Scully." His voice was cool and slightly mocking.
Her lips thinned. "He's lying. Don't believe him, Cyclops."
Remy tried to catch her gaze. "Phoenix can tell us f' sure, non?" Though Jean wasn't with the X-Men gathered around him. He turned to Scott, suddenly worried. "She all right?" It hadn't occurred to him that something might have happened to her.
Scott nodded. "She knocked herself cold with that little stunt she pulled, but she'll be fine." He uncrossed his arms. "Let's get back to Muir. The Professor will want to talk to both of you." He split his gaze between Remy and Alex.
Not entirely reassured, Remy nodded. He didn't really have much choice.
"Gambit." For a moment, Scott met Remy's gaze and his flat mask softened. "Welcome home, by the way."