It took four of them to bring a bound and collared Death into the underground complex beneath the mansion. The creature that had once been Gambit fought them with unrestrained fury, biting and kicking at anything within its reach. Had it been less tragic, Jean thought as she trailed after the bizarre procession, she probably would have found it funny. Remy had always been agile as a cat, and every few minutes the quartet of X-Men had to stop to readjust their grips as the ebon-skinned mutant twisted himself into one impossible position after another in his attempts to break free. Only the brute strength of Rogue and Juggernaut, combined with the wily paranoia of Logan and Bishop, kept him contained.
Finally, they reached the Danger Room. The door slid aside, revealing an empty metal chamber with a single massive bolt near the center of the room and a set of attached chains. Rogue and Juggernaut hauled Death over to the waiting chains and shoved him down on his stomach while Bishop and Logan secured the manacles.
"Don't let him up," Logan growled as he fastened the last of the heavy padlocks. "I don't know why the Prof thinks these things're gonna hold him for more than ten seconds." He let the lock fall to the floor with a metallic crash.
"Don't worry, sugar." Rogue had one knee planted in the middle of Death's back to keep him down. They'd managed to pin one of his arms beneath him, and Rogue had her hand wrapped around the other wrist, pressing it to the ground. Death clawed at the floor, heedless of the trails of blood left by his torn nails. "Ah got no intention of lettin' this thing get away." She knotted her other hand in the long white hair, cruelly tight, and leaned down. "Ya hear me, ya slimy traitor?"
Death spit in her face.
"Stop it, Rogue." Jean warned before the other woman could do more than twitch. The outraged expression on Rogue's face disappeared, replaced by something hard and cold. But she didn't react except to wipe her face on the shoulder of her uniform.
The Danger Room door opened to admit Professor Xavier and Hank McCoy. Hank bounded across the room, his lab coat flapping. He carried a pneumatic syringe in one hand, filled with the cure, they hoped, for the darkness inside this creature that had once been a friend. Xavier followed at a more sedate pace. His hoverchair came to a stop next to Jean, but she didn't have the heart to meet his gaze.
"Once the antidote begins to take effect, you won't have to worry about him picking the locks," the Professor told Logan. He sounded tired, strained, and Jean instinctively laid a hand on his shoulder. Her stomach kept up the nauseating dance it had been doing ever since they'd captured Remy.
Hank knelt next to Death and injected the contents of the syringe into his neck at the base of the skull. Death went immediately still. His eyes sagged shut, and for nearly a minute he simply lay there. The only sound in the room was his labored breathing. Only tattered shreds remained of the shirt he'd been wearing when they captured him, and it struck Jean how thin he'd become. Remy had always been the long, lean type, but now the unnatural black skin sagged over his clearly-visible ribs, and she could count his vertebrae from where she stood.
At a nod from the Professor, the X-Men released their hold and moved back. Rogue was the last. She backed away without ever taking her eyes off of the prone form. Jean watched her in concern. The other woman's eyes were shadowed and haunted, and she wondered what kind of torment it must be for Rogue to see what her lover had become.
Death screamed, shattering the silence. This was no scream of fury, but one of pain. He rolled onto his side, back arching in a rictus of agony. His arms and legs moved in random jerks, searching for some kind of purchase but finding none.
Bishop took a step forward but the Professor held up a hand, restraining him. "There's nothing we can do but let it run its course."
"In that case, I'm outta here." Juggernaut didn't look at any of them as he turned and walked away, his quick strides making the ground quiver.
"Coward," Logan growled, but the Professor shook his head.
"It's all right, Logan. You should all go. I can stay with Remy." He looked down at the prone form, now curled in a fetal ball, with an expression of sympathy. Suddenly, Death gagged, vomiting a thick black liquid that splashed across the Danger Room floor with a violent hiss of acid meeting metal. Acrid smoke rose in sickly wisps, and the smell was like nothing Jean had ever encountered. Her stomach heaved in protest. She swallowed hard, holding her breath until she was certain she had her body under control.
Rogue turned a sickly shade of green and clapped a hand to her mouth. She began to back away. "Ah can't watch this." She sent the Professor a single look of desperation before turning and flying out of the room.
Death vomited more of the tar-like fluid and then began to scream again. The fluid bubbled out of his mouth and nose, and began to ooze out of his skin. He thrashed as the liquid ran down him in rivulets, smearing and splattering with every spasm. But, amazingly, Jean began to catch glimpses of pale skin beneath the oily coating.
"It's working," she breathed, and was rewarded by a brief smile from the Professor.
"Yes, it does appear to be." Hank's expression was studiously neutral, but Jean knew him well enough to know how much it bothered him to watch the painful process.
The spasms diminished by degrees and finally disappeared altogether. Filthy and exhausted, Remy lay on his side in a pool of the vile black ichor with only the slow movement of his chest to indicate he was still alive.
"You can undo the chains now, Logan." The Professor said quietly. Logan complied and tossed the acid-etched links away with a grunt. The landed on the metal floor with a deafening clatter, then promptly dissolved into nothing as the Danger Room cancelled their program.
Charles turned to Hank. "Beast, please see that he's cleaned up and bring him to the War Room as soon as possible."
Hank raised an eyebrow, but didn't voice a protest. "Of course, Professor."
Charles nodded and turned away. The hum of his hoverchair faded as he retreated across the room.
"I'll help, Hank," Jean found herself saying before she could consider the words. She instructed the Danger Room to give her a hand-held shower head, a drain and some soap. The area around Remy shimmered then took on the aspect of a tiled floor complete with a large, industrial drain. Immediately the black liquid began to slough away, disappearing through the drain holes into the complex processing equipment beneath them.
Jean picked up the bottle of liquid soap and the shower head that appeared at her feet and went to kneel behind the still form. She turned on the water, holding it away from him until it ran pleasantly warm across her hand, and then began to rinse the black fluid away. The water quickly soaked her pant legs and sleeves, but she didn't care.
Though she knew he was conscious, Remy didn't move as she drizzled soap across his skin and rubbed it into an ugly gray lather before rinsing the suds away. He lay quietly, eyes closed. The white of his hair, brows and eyelashes looked even stranger now, against his pale skin. She didn't try to touch his mind. In truth, she tried not to think of anything as she worked. There was something strangely therapeutic in the task she'd given herself, a kind of peacefulness she hadn't felt in far too long.
Hank helped her remove the rest of his ruined clothing, and sent Logan to find new clothes for him to wear. Bishop simply stood back, weapon held ready, and watched them.
Jean worked the lather through Remy's long hair, then carefully traced the lines of his face with soapy fingers to remove every last trace of black. Even behind his ears. Jean smiled at herself. She moved lower, from neck to shoulders to torso, following the clean lines of muscle and sinew. There was, she decided, a simple joy in finding the human being buried beneath Death's vile miasma. Remy had always had a kind of wild beauty about him, which even Apocalypse had been unable to completely strip away.
She lifted his arm, which he obligingly held up for her as she worked the soap over his skin. The muscles bunched beneath her hands--bicep and triceps, then the corded muscles in his forearm--shifting and flexing in response to her touch. She felt the bones of his wrist, then gently pressed his hand flat between both of hers as she worked the black stain out of his knuckles and from beneath the ragged nails.
She glanced at his face to find him watching her without expression. His eyes were reassuringly red on black--familiar eyes, not Death's eyes.
"What, no risqué comment?" she teased gently as she laid his arm down in its original position and turned her attention to the broad back.
He made a small, indecipherable noise, but when she glanced at his face she found he had closed his eyes again. His face was still, the hard, angular planes giving her no insight. Her good humor dimmed. They had no guarantee that the mind inside the now-familiar face would be anything more than the cold, hateful creature they'd known as Death.
The disheartening thought broke the spell she'd put on herself. Summoning what clinical detachment she could, she finished the task of washing the black ichor away. Logan returned just as she was turning the water off. He had a couple of towels tossed over his shoulder and a pile of clothing in his arms. Jean climbed to her feet, suddenly aware of the wet, disgusting condition of her clothes. Her skin had begun to itch from the diluted acid.
Hank and Logan hauled Remy to his feet, and Logan handed him one of the towels.
"I'm going to go change," Jean told them, feeling suddenly awkward. She turned toward the door, unconsciously wringing her hands, and had taken no more than two steps when Remy's quiet voice stopped her.
"T'ank you, Jean."
Jean glanced back, only to find Remy watching her with a faint, warm smile tickling the corners of his mouth. She grinned back at him, her heart lifting. "You're welcome."
She waited a moment to see if some flirtatious comment would follow, but he remained silent. Only a little disappointed, she turned away.
Remy's voice floated to her just as she opened the door. "Y' were supposed t' say 'any time', chere."
Jean walked out of the room laughing, confident their Remy was indeed back.