Jean woke to the sounds of an argument. The voices floated toward her from beyond the door of her suite, and she was deeply surprised to realize one of the voices belonged to Ororo.
Rising, she went to the door and cracked it open. Ororo and T'challa stood in the shady, brick-lined courtyard outside, their stances tense.
"And I am telling you that Remy would never steal from us." Ororo's diaphanous skirt billowed in a sudden breeze that swept through the courtyard, bringing with it the scents of sun-warmed stone and gardenias.
Curious and a little alarmed, Jean opened the door a bit further.
T'challa gestured angrily. "I caught him red-handed in the vault, my wife. Why do you keep defending him? Who is this man to you?"
Jean winced at the accusation in his tone but it didn't surprise her. The depth of the relationship between Ororo and Remy had been a source of friction and jealousy for nearly every significant other in their lives. Telepath that she was, Jean knew for a certainty that it had never been a physical relationship, but she'd never probed either of them for the reason. Though she was curious, that wasn't reason enough to go snooping in someone's mind.
Ororo tossed her head, her expression arch. "You did not catch him. Remy was not trying to escape."
Jean hurriedly opened the door and stepped out. Ororo was only making things worse.
Both T'challa and Ororo turned in surprise at her sudden entrance, and Jean unconsciously squared her shoulders. "What's going on?" she asked Ororo.
"Your companion tried to rob me." T'challa glared at Jean.
Ororo crossed her arms over her breasts. "He did no such thing," she retorted.
You're not helping matters, Jean told Ororo privately and saw the other woman's expression flicker. Ororo glanced uncertainly at her husband and the angry set of her shoulders relaxed a fraction.
Now, where is Remy? Jean asked the other woman. Is he all right? She didn't want to exacerbate the situation by intruding in the minds of any of T'challa's people in search of him. Chances were good they would never know, but she didn't want to take the chance.
Remy is well, Ororo replied, her mind projecting affection beneath her anger and faint, mischievous humor.
Ororo turned to her husband. "T'challa, my love, listen to me. I know Remy broke into the vault but I promise you he meant no harm."
"He meant to rob my country!" T'challa's angry stare shifted to his wife. "We don't have enough troubles without adding this as well?"
Jean shook her head as she followed the trails of affection in Ororo's mind. "King T'challa, the truth is that if Remy had intended to steal from you, you would never have caught him. You probably wouldn't even have known until long after we were gone."
Beside the king, Ororo raised an eyebrow as if surprised Jean would endorse Remy's thieving abilities. Jean answered with a miniscule shrug. She couldn't say she approved, but the evidence, though sporadic, was more than enough to convince her of his skill, even if Scott had never been willing to see it.
Jean went on. "I know it sounds strange, but I assure you this was nothing more than Remy's admittedly odd notion of amusing himself." She projected her sincerity at a level obvious enough for T'challa to identify.
The king's brows drew together in a deep notch, but the razor edge of his anger lost some of its sheen.
Jean turned her head to look toward the far corner of the courtyard, where the shadows gathered beneath the fronds of some large, tropical-looking plant. "I think it's safe to come out now," she called in that direction and saw an answering flash of red in the shadows.
Remy ducked out from beneath the broad leaves and sauntered toward them, his hands shoved into the front pockets of his jeans. His mind was far warier than his body language betrayed, though. Jean barely had to open up her mind to him to feel how carefully he watched his surroundings.
T'challa pivoted sharply, his anger shrilling across Jean's senses and she blocked his thoughts with an internal wince. T'challa's mind felt like a cheese grater against hers. On the opposite side, Remy's thoughts slid across her mind with the smooth bite of aged whiskey. She let the silky texture brush her mind just for a moment before pulling back. Scott had always been vaguely scandalized that she preferred hard liquor to something more ladylike.
"How did you get out?" T'challa demanded, his gaze shifting from Ororo to Remy and then back to his wife. "Did you do this?" Hurt edged his tone.
Ororo raised her chin. "I did not." The couple stared at each other for a long moment before Ororo broke away and turned to Remy. "You have caused a great deal of trouble," she scolded him.
Remy didn't look particularly chastened. He shrugged innocently. "I was jus' lookin' around."
An amused smile lit Ororo's features. "And you just happened to find one of the royal vaults, did you?"
His slow, smoky grin appeared like magic. "Mais, dis one wasn' on any known plans, so yeah."
T'challa's expression darkened as they talked. "I will only ask you once more," he ground out, pinning Remy with a glare. "How did you escape?"
Remy's smile fell away. He inclined his head toward T'challa, the gesture serious and surprisingly respectful. "Y' Highness, when I said y' security sucks, it was a professional assessment not an insult." He met the king's gaze evenly. "De only reason Wakanda still has a royal treasure is because nobody's bothered t' hire professionals to take it away from y'."
Both of T'challa's eyebrows arched sharply. His mind oozed a combination of surprise and outrage, but beneath those his thoughts acknowledged the truth in what Remy said.
Before T'challa could decide what to say, however, a clatter of approaching footsteps filled the courtyard.
"Dat probably be y' security chief," Remy said with a glance at his watch. "By now he's decided they not gon' find me an' he's comin' t' fess up."
Jean turned to look as a trio of armed men hustled into the courtyard. She recognized the man in the lead. He'd come into the room where the king's physician had attended to their wounds, observing from the corner with dark, suspicious eyes. Now he slid to a stop, his eyes widening and his hand going to the gun holstered at his hip, but T'challa waved him down.
"Your Highness, this man--!"
"Escaped," T'challa finished dryly. "I know." He glanced at Ororo. "Apparently my wife finds it amusing to bring a professional thief into my house."
Ororo looked away, her brows drawn into a frown. Remy watched her for a moment, his face expressionless, then turned to the king. "'Ro knows everyt'ing she has is safe wit' me. Family is family."
At his words, Ororo looked up with a smile and T'challa scowled. Remy seemed to recognize the growing schism his presence was causing. His solemnity disappeared behind a grin. "But, hey, maybe I c'n make it up to y'."
When T'challa turned to look at him, he pulled his hands from his pockets and spread them. "Let Jean an' me take a quiet look at dis Ugantu an' his weird bugs."