Everything was confused and dark.
There had been water, crashing madly everywhere, black with fury. The wind lashed bits of gravel against his skin like bbs, leaving stinging red marks. He had to shield his eyes. There had been a boat . . . the client he'd been waiting for. But as he reached out to offer the packet of goods he'd stolen, something had grabbed his wrist and he was pulled down, endlessly and forever down into the blackness—
Things were calmer now. Everything was swaying. The blackness was becoming gray. As he tried to find the rhythm of the movement of the world, it settled into stillness, and there was light pressing through his eyelids. He dragged them open to a blur of soft colors.
Blink. Blink again. The edges of everything became a little clearer. A light fixture; a ceiling. He was lying on his back in a room painted pale mint-green, and a sharp, sweet beep sounded over and over again.
He peeled his tongue off of the roof of his mouth and tried to speak, but the words were a mush of sound. It didn't matter, though.
There were footsteps. A girl with bright streaks of white hair hanging across her face bent over him and touched the soft cotton of her gloved fingertips against his forehead. "Bobby?"
Bobby. Yes. That was his name. Bobby LeBeau.
"In the hospital. You're gonna be okay. Ah gotta go get Gambit; hang on!"
She darted away. Bobby struggled to make his thoughts fall into order, to figure out how he could be in a hospital with a girl he'd never met before who knew his name. Then the person she called Gambit entered the room, and it all fell into place.
Remy was grinning. His face was a mass of bruises and cuts, and he was wearing burgundy hospital scrubs he'd obviously conned some orderly out of, but he was still grinning that same old big, wicked, gleeful grin that had been his trademark since their childhood. "Hey, Bobby."
"Remy! Sainte ciel . . ." Bobby struggled to reach for his brother, who was almost immediately at his bedside, enveloping him in a hug through which Bobby could feel him tremble just a little bit. "Remy . . ." he repeated, his voice muffled in the fabric of Remy's shirt. "I thought I'd never see you again."
"Dat makes two of us." Remy let go of him and tousled his hair. "You got any idea what trouble we gone through findin' you? My stupid big brother . . . ever'body's been half outta dey minds while you been havin' yourself a nap. Memere's gonna eat you alive."
Bobby laughed, and choked. "What happened?"
"Don' ask. We found you, an' you safe. Da's all dat matters."
"We ain't still in N'Awlins? You gotta git out!"
"Calme-toi. We in Mizippi. You been in Intensive Care for more'n a week. Your client popped you one good. Imbecile, didn'you run a background check 'fore you took a job freelance? Stupid, stupid, stupid."
"Eh, tais-toi alors." Bobby wanted to take a swat at Remy, but all he managed was to rest his hand on his brother's shoulder. The two of them stared at one another and grinned and grinned.
Rogue stood in the doorway of Bobby's hospital room, smiling so widely she felt that the corners of her mouth had to be nearly to her ears. Remy and Bobby LeBeau, at long, long last. Bobby, that they'd hunted for and mourned for, was alive, all right, reunited with his twin. She saw the smile on Remy's face, and felt his happiness inside herself. He was still in there, like a star she'd swallowed that warmed her from the inside. She was happy for him, and with him, and from the thought that soon she'd see her brother, too.
She listened discreetly as they spoke to one another, sometimes in English, sometimes in French, with their hands on one another's shoulders. And though she was happy, her arms folded across her stomach in shyness and awkwardness. This moment was private.
She stepped back and tried to slip out the door without being noticed, but she didn't stand a chance against two of the best-trained and most talented young thieves in the world. The second she moved, their eyes were fixed on her.
"Bobby," said Remy, standing up and reaching out his hand to Rogue. "Dis is Rogue."
Rogue came forward and slipped her hand to his. The warmth of his palm, and the warmth of his smile, were just for her. He drew her to him and fitted her against his side, his hand resting on her upper arm. "She found you," Remy elaborated, speaking to Bobby but still looking at her. "She saved my life."
"Elle est à toi?" Bobby asked.
Remy nodded. "Ouais."
Bobby grinned at them both. "I'm so glad." He leaned back against his half-propped-up bed, his face white with exhaustion but serene with happiness. He reached out a shaky hand to her, and she took it, and gripped it. He squeezed faintly back, the friendly, welcoming grip of a brother. Then his hand went slack and slipped out of her grasp, landing with a bounce on the mattress beside him.
Remy let go of Rogue and was at his side in a second. "Bobby?"
"M'okay," Bobby breathed, his eyes half-closed. "Just so tired . . ."
"We should probably get a nurse or somebody," Rogue suggested. "He did just wake up from a coma."
"You go to sleep, now, if y'need," Remy instructed. "We'll handle everything. You jus'rest."
Bobby shook his head, his breathing slow and shaky. "Gotta . . . call . . . père."
Remy and Rogue glanced at one another.
Remy shook his head, his hands held out in front of him. "I can't."
"Well, Bobby can't; he can't even pick up the phone!"
"Rogue . . ." Bobby breathed.
Remy picked up the handset of the phone that sat at the table beside Bobby's head. "I'll dial de number," he told her. "You gotta do de talkin'."
Rogue reluctantly let him place the phone in her hand. "What should I tell him?"
"Just that Bobby's okay, and that we'll call again to say where he is as soon as it's safe for him to move."
"Shouldn't I just tell him now?"
The look on Remy's face was all the answer she needed. Remy wanted a few more hours with his brother, before Jean-Luc came to take him back to New Orleans. She nodded, and held the phone to her ear.
Remy dialed the number.
It rang twice, each ring scaring her half to death as it sounded in her ear. Then there was a scuffle of noise as someone picked up. "LeBeau."
Rogue opened her mouth to speak, but her throat had gone dry.
"Qui est?" demanded Jean-Luc.
Remy took her hand again, and held it tight.
Rogue swallowed and forced her voice out of her throat. "Monsieur LeBeau, it's Rogue. Ah dunno if you remember me . . . Ah'm a friend. A friend of your son, Remy."
There was a long silence on the other end of the line. Then Jean-Luc, his voice sharp and cold, announced, "I'm listenin'."
"It's about . . . about Bobby. He's here, he's all right. He's alive. Your son's alive, Monsieur LeBeau. He's fine. He's been . . . sick, and he's very tired, but he's gonna be fine, and as soon as he is we'll have you come get him."
There was a soft rasp through the phone line, the sound of a breath finally let out after being held for minutes, hours, days. "Can I talk to him?"
Rogue put her hand over the mouthpiece. "He want tuh talk to you."
Bobby nodded. "Give it here."
"Yes," said Rogue into the phone. "He's right here; just a second."
Rogue paused, the phone half an inch away from her ear.
"I'm gonna ask you a question," Jean-Luc informed her. "Just answer yes or no. Not a word more. Do you understand?"
"Is my son there with you? My son Remy?"
Rogue swallowed, her eyes flicking up to catch Gambit's. "Yes," she choked.
"Is he all right?"
"Okay." There was relief in his voice, and sadness, and calm. "Lemme talk to Bobby."
Rogue set the phone in Bobby's hand, and helped Remy arrange a pillow so that the exhausted young thief wouldn't have to hold it to his ear under his own feeble power. Then at last she withdrew from the room, leaving Bobby to talk to Jean-Luc with Remy sitting in silence to at least listen to a conversation in which he could not share.
Logan found Jean in the little sunken courtyard at the south side of the hospital. It was planted as a place for recovering patients to spend time out-of-doors while they healed. It was just a little place, a few square yards of lawn, some flowers, a couple of benches and a picnic table, but it was a welcome change from the endless pastel corridors and the omnipresent, nightmare smells of iodine and alcohol and bright blue hand soap. They'd both been spending a lot of time out here, waiting day after day for Bobby LeBeau to wake up.
"He's awake," Logan announced. Jean turned; she'd been leaning on the railing that ran around the edge of the courtyard. There was a breeze today, and she had to brush a few strands of long red hair out of her face.
"Rogue just came and told me," he elaborated, taking a place next to her with his elbows on the rail. "Awake and alive. Just tired. Some real sleep and he'll be ready to go home."
Jean smiled, her whole face suddenly alive with happiness. "Mission accomplished, then."
"Yeah," Logan agreed. "We did what we came to do."
"Is his father coming to get him?"
"When he's strong enough to move."
"And are we staying until then?"
"Gambit probably is. He'll want to be with his brother as long as he possibly can."
"I don't blame him. I wouldn't want to leave, either, if it were you just coming out of a coma."
"And Rogue will probably stay with him," Jean went on. "But she can give Gambit a ride home, so there's no reason why we shouldn't get the jet home as soon as that patch job is done. When I called home this morning, Scott said that Forge had already called three times. 'When can I work on the plane? When's the plane coming?'" She shook her head and laughed. "That kid and his machines."
"That's talkin' pretty big, calling Forge a kid when he's decades older than you are."
"He's still a kid. And I am an official, card-carrying grown-up."
"Uh-huh. Wasn't it about a week ago you were about four feet tall and reading Babysitter's Cub?"
"That was about ten years ago, Logan. Just because you don't grow up doesn't mean the rest of us don't."
Logan leaned back on the rail and took a good, long look at her. She'd been taller than him for a couple of years now, only by an inch or so, but because he naturally crouched and she carried herself upright it looked like a bigger difference most of the time. She wasn't a little girl anymore. She wasn't even a teenager. She was a grown woman of twenty, confident and strong, with all the untainted joy of someone who has never had her heart broken. And though he'd lived through the same ten years she had, he was still Logan, of unknown origin and indeterminate age, a decade wiser and not a minute older. Another few heartbeats, and they'd be the same age. Then after that she'd be older than him, probably married to Scott with children of her own, who'd someday have children of their own, too. And he would still be Logan, ageless.
"No," he agreed. "It sure doesn't."
He was careful not to think. It was in quiet, open moments like this that Jean's telepathy was the most effective, and he couldn't risk letting her know the horrific realization that had just crossed his mind.
He loved her. Not as a little sister, or a daughter, or a colleague, or a friend, though all of that was tangled in there, too. She was a grown woman, and for that he loved her, and in his own ageless, timeless way he always would. His heart raced at the sight of her, the scent of her. She was too beautiful to bear. It was possibly the worst thing that had ever happened to him.
He took his tongue in his teeth and bit down until blood came to keep himself from doing something stupid, like seizing her by the shoulders and kissing her until she was so dizzy her knees buckled. He could feel his hands shaking with the desire to hold her. But he couldn't, wouldn't touch her. It was way beyond 'inappropriate.' Jean was his student! He'd practically raised her! She was decades, maybe centuries, younger than he was, and happily involved with Scott, the field commander from whom Logan now took his orders. To say a word to her would to be to take away her innocent freedom and to cause division and grief in the team he'd devoted his life to protecting.
Part of him whispered urgently that it was worth the consequences, worth the risk.
"Can I go see him?" she asked, as casually as though the world hadn't just started spinning in the other direction. "Or is he sleeping?"
"Should still be awake," said Logan, and the steadiness of his own voice astonished him. "Rogue and Gambit were both still talking with him when I checked in."
"Okay. I'll just go quickly and say hi. Come with me?" She reached to take his hand, the battle-roughened hand that she'd taken a thousand times. Logan slipped it away before her skin could touch his.
"You go. I'm gonna go work on the plane, and tell the Professor the news."
"Okay. See you later, then."
Jean-Luc LeBeau stepped out of the taxi that had brought him from the airport to the hospital and glanced around. The street was quiet, with only a few pedestrians and a handful of cars moving in and out of the hospital parking lot. Despite the madness of trying to travel on Easter weekend, now that the sun had risen everyone was safe at home with their families. Which was where he needed to be, fast. The sooner he could bring Bobby home, the better it would be for everyone. Some of the Thieves wouldn't believe he was alive until they'd seen him with their own eyes.
His glance missed nothing. He searched the face of every pedestrian on the street, looking for a resemblance, a trace of familiarity. And then, a block away, he saw it.
His own son Remy stood leaning against the side of a building, the hem of his coat flapping languidly in the early morning breeze. His eyes were scarlet, and guarded. Next to him stood a redheaded goth girl with streaks of white in her hair, an olive-green army jacket hanging open over her chest. Remy had her gloved hand in his, their fingers laced together in mutual possessiveness and understanding.
For just a second, their eyes met, and they knew one another, Remy and Jean-Luc LeBeau. Then Remy turned away, and together he and the girl disappeared down another street.
"You all right?" Rogue asked, when the hospital was six blocks behind them.
Gambit nodded. "And you?"
He glanced down at her, and her eyes were wise and sad, but her hand in his was warm with love and trust and life. He felt himself smile, happy to be with her, despite everything.
"Let's go home," he suggested.
Rogue smiled. "Ah was just thinkin' the same thing." She glanced down at herself and sighed. "Ah need a bath. And a haircut." She took one loose curl between her fingers and eyed it with distaste. "Kept meanin' to, but with everythin' that's been goin' on these last few weeks . . ."
Remy took the curl from her. "I like it long."
Rogue smiled at him, and the smile was sweet and shy, unlike her usual expressions but somehow more true. "Ah'll grow it out."
And Remy smiled, too—because they were so different, because they needed one another so ridiculously, because fate was so cruel, because her presence made him so happy. Elle est à moi. Et je vais trouver comment la garder à moi. Rien va la prendre. Rien.
Together they ducked into the first alley they found. Rogue put her arm around his waist, and he slipped his over her shoulders, and the ground dropped away underneath them as they finally flew away northward, toward the Xavier Mansion, and home.
Sainte ciel: Holy heavens
Calme-toi: Calm yourself down.
Eh, tais-toi alors: Oh, just shut up.
Elle est à toi? She is yours?
Qui est ? Who is this ?
And the final declaration:
She's mine. And I'll find a way to keep her mine. Nothing will take her away from me. Nothing.
And here's one you all need to know: Finis. The end. At least for now. Once again, true believers, it has been an absolute blast sharing with you! Thanks for all your insightful feedback and wonderful encouragement—without it, this mess would have ended two stories ago.
I remain, as ever, yours very sincerely,
(Seri to you guys.)