Touching each carefully, Remy LeBeau counted out each of the baby's ten, tiny fingers and toes. The skin was velvety, soft to the touch, with a lingering residue of sweet-smelling powder. Just having been bathed and thus alert, the boy good-humouredly laughed and snatched at the digit that was prodding it, enjoying the impromptu game. The actual exploits of the cinq petits cochons who va'd a la marche and who mange'd du rosbif were meaningless to him, words flowing over him like a lullaby, but trying to catch the finger was infinitely entertaining. When the last petit cochon had departed for the safety of home, he smilingly bent over the crib, picking the tiny creature up as delicately as he would have a Ming vase, and handed it to its grandfather.
Warily, Jean-Luc and the tiny scrap of infanthood regarded each other. Too-huge, red-on-black eyes held an ineffable look of smugness and superiority, like a contented, sunbathing cat, while a tiny fist clutched possessively at the white blanket in which the baby was swaddled. Decorated with hand-embroidered ducklings, it had belonged to his uncle before her, although the pristine condition of the cloth gave no indication of its age. Tante Mattie would have had it no other way.
"Luc not be made of china, pere."
He looked up to meet the same amused and profoundly disquieting eyes. His son was grinning at him, managing to look teasing and peacock-proud at the same time. It was a look common to new parents everywhere, as they understood that their son or daughter was a miracle, magic made flesh, a chance in a million. In Remy's case, it had been a chance in a billion. Nervously, because it had been a while since he had held a child, he ventured to stroke the downy head, tracing the tiny white stripe between the dark fluff that betrayed his parentage.
"Got de worst o' both worlds, non?"
Despite Remy's flippant words, he could see his son's concern and shared it. Jean-Luc remembered all too well the Council's reaction to him adopting - what had they called the boy? - 'hell-spawn'. The description had stuck, as the actual words mutated into epithets such as 'Le Diable Blanc' and 'L' Enfant Fichu.' His son had never seemed to care, but the perpetual fights in which he had been involved with both thief and assassin alike had made a lie of his nonchalance. There had been a stage in his life, where, if a part of his body was not bruised, it had been scratched.
"Or de best."
Like the other ruby-eyed, nappied bundle that he had seen that fils du putain Antiquary toting everywhere, like a chow puppy, twenty-four years ago. Jean-Luc leBeau had not known Remy's true parents; had not wanted to known the people from which he was kidnapping a baby; had not wished to imagine the sad-eyed mother or the angry, powerless father. The child,
despite his obvious mutancy, had been well cared for by his family in an age where it was seen as a curse among the more superstitious and a debilitating disease among the more scientific.
"Blame her mother," Remy laughed, "Did m'best t'keep up de family traditions o' being a bete noir."
Jean-Luc forced a sickly smile. He had taken his son away from his family twice now, both times to preserve the peace. First as an infant when the branch of the clan controlled by the Antiquary - the Velvet Ministry - had become too powerful to pacify with anything more than direct capitulation to their wishes and foibles, and then as a man when Julien had been killed.
That considered, he could not understand his son's loyalty to and love for him, after all he had done to him. Although his son had privately ranted tohim about his wife's unquestioning trust in 'ca femme' - by which periphrasis, he gathered that he meant Mystique - he seemed unable to realise that he was as guilty of devotion to the unworthy as she was.
"Where is Rogue?"
Remy's second marriage had not surprised him, although he was secretly slightly saddened that the hope of reconciliation between the Guilds provided by a union with Belladonna was impossible. His son had always had a penchant for strong woman - cute pun, Jean-Luc - and Rogue's stubbornness was as legendary among the family as her ability to lift tons. Motherhood
had done nothing to soften her, had been as efficacious in that respect as wifehood had. Mattie had won that particular bet.
"She's sleepin' in de next room. Luc was . . . reluctant t'go t'sleep an' terrorists not be as used t'nightlong hauls as t'ieves are."
Lest he forget that his son's wife had been trained by Mystique, he thought, and was the equal in skill of any assassin, including their Queen! He knew Raven Darkholme only by reputation, and did not wish to improve on that acquaintance. The woman was renowned for being a remorseless, merciless professional, who put her unholy cause above all else. Still, he mused,
Rogue served as evidence that there was another gentler side to her, that there had been maternal instincts buried beneath those of the hardened fighter. She would not have adopted the girl if that were not the case, nor could Rogue's fierce loyalty to her be explained in any other manner. He admired that loyal part of her character, considered it finer than any of
her more illegal repetoire of skills. Despite her often prickly demeanour, his daughter-in-law was completely devoted to both Remy and Luc.
"Ya be happy wit' her, mon fils?" the words were half-question, half-statement.
mock-defensively held up the hand on which he wore her ring, as
if to stall him. In the light, Jean-Luc could see that words were
scored into the otherwise plain, golden band, although he could
not read them.
"Oui," he replied simply, and the lack of pain or doubt in his accompanying smile filled in the gaps where speech was silent. He had found a home with her where his adoptive father had been ultimately unable to provide a permanent one, despite thinking he had managed to make amends for his earlier crime.
Jean-Luc had tried everything to rid himself of his guilt, of course, even going so far as to attend confessional at the Church of Lost Thieves. After admitting the length of time since his last one, he had sat in silence in the confessional box, hands folded within layers of green velvet, breathing in the musty, sweet fragrance of smoke and cedar that surrounded him like a
In his contemplation,
he had begun to murmur the familiar words of the Confiteor- the
penetential prayer in which the sinner confessed his deeds and
his culpability for them. The old Latin had rolled over him, rich
and rare, calling on every power for assistance and redemption.
Mary, whose beauty was that of a morning star, could surely
cleanse him with one look from her tender, broken-hearted eyes,
or St Paul, the great apostle and mighty soldier of the Christ,
could intercede in his stead? Or Peter, the rock on which the
church was founded? God was too high and too perfect to conceive
of sin, Jesus too infinitely merciful to approach without shame,
but the grieving, lovely mother of Jesus, the apostle who denied
his master three times and the blinded, former Pharisee would
understand. They knew too well what it was like to be reviled, to
be called unclean, to doubt their purpose. The words had trailed
into a vague amen, as he had realised that he could not continue.
How could he confess to having committed a sin that was
unforgivable, even by his standards? Knowing that he had gone
beyond redemption, he had pushed the slide open, not hearing the
priest's call to continue, and left the cool, incense-scented
church for the reality of the street.
"Pere?" he realised that he had been lost in thought, holding his grandson almost absently. Remy looked concerned, reaching to take the baby from him. Half-reluctantly, Jean-Luc released the scrap of humanity who was named after him. There was something comforting about Luc, something that made him feel that he was not irredeemable. Knowing himself to be safe, the child stretched and yawned, revealing perfect, teethless gums. His son's expression softened instantly into its previous adoring, new father cast.
"I love dem both more dan I t'ought possible, y'know," Remy continued, "I . . . I survived losin' Belladonna t'rough sheer stubborness, t'rough lettin' m'job become m'life, but I never could wit' Rogue an' Luc. If dey were taken from me . . . ."
He grimaced, rearranging the swaddling cloth in which Luc was hidden and replacing the bundle in the crib. As a final thought, he set the mobile of smooth, glass pieces moving, setting specks of multicolored light to darting and flashing around the room. Judging by the contented, deep breathing that emanated a few seconds later, it was unneccessary - the baby had fallen asleep without the help of Mattie's home-made toy. Jean-Luc came to stand next to his own son at the edge of the infant's bed, resting a hand on the carved side. A profound sense of deja vu came over him as he watched Luc sleep, secure that his parents would protect him from all harm, that he would always be safe, warm and well-fed. It was the same look his adopted son had worn, sleeping in his bassinet on the night that he had been taken to satisfy the whim of a depraved monster, to end a Intraguild war in which he had had no part.
"Remy," his voice caught, "I need t'tell ya somet'ing important."
"Oui?" he sounded confused, "Quoi?"
Knowing that it could cost him the love of his son, but understanding that the truth would set him free from the endless guilt and shame, Jean-Luc began his private confessional.
Baby held in her
arms, Rogue regarded Jean-Luc with a strange mixture of sympathy
and distaste in her glorious, green eyes as she sunk into the
leather armchair on the other side of the desk. Although the
standard sycophants that surrounded anyone in power had announced
her, she suspected her grand entrance would have been slightly
more effective had Luc not been
trying to get purchase on her braid. Nonetheless, she suspected even a full MGM chorus would have probably been wasted on her father-in-law at the time. The Guild leader looked more weary than she had seen him before, cheeks stubbled, dark rings shadowing decidedly puffy eyes, ridiculously thin. An untouched meal cooled and congealed next to a half-empty carafe of wine, while the ashes of a fire smouldered in the grate. Sympathy subsumed distaste as she saw the vulpine man's pitiful state, and the naked, horrible hope in his eyes as he saw her.
"Is m'son . . . ?"
Remy was unaware that she had flown to New Orleans to see his estranged father, believing her to have taken Luc to visit Raven at one of her many apartments. He had opted out of the excursion, naturally. Her mother and husband were as incompatible as fire and kerosene - they tended to spend their time together making pointed, subtle comments that just avoided being rude. Although she secretly suspected both of them enjoyed their verbal battle, she knew that Remy was hardly in the mood for sparring with Mystique, after having heard what Jean-Luc had done when he was a baby.
"Ah'm sorry, suh."
"He'll forgive you, you know," she said softly, "It'll take time, but he will."
Jean-Luc shook his head, "Non, I committed de unforgivable sin when I stole Remy, cherie."
Smiling, "Fortunately, mah husband's had loads o' practice in forgivin' the unforgivable. Ah left him ta die, didn' Ah, and he *married* me?"
Although her tone was light, the memory was not. Even after two years of marriage to him, she still carried it with her - a slight chill when she saw the snow, a pause outside the court with its statue of blind Justice, a hesitancy when speaking of Antarctica in even the most general sense.
"Would ya if I stole Luc in order t'keep peace in de Guild?"
Her grip on the infant tightening almost instinctively, she rested her head on the top of his velvety one. The tiny, pale streak was softer than the chestnut down, and smelt pleasantly of baby shampoo. Luc's tiny hand snaked out of his blanket to stroke her cheek - to her shame, she still pulled away slightly out of habit - and she kissed his palm. He laughed and grabbed her plait, tugging it. Despite his propensity for snatching at everything and anything, she loved him with an intensity that surprised her. (Raven would have said it was unhealthy, but she knew that her adoptive mother had cared for Irene and herself in a way that made a lie of her words.) She would hate anyone who took him from her for any reason, would hunt them down and quite forcibly show them the error of their ways.
"Ah'm not Remy, suh. He can forgive what Ah never could," she paused, extricating her braid from Luc's grip before he put it in his mouth, "After all, family is th' most important thing ta him an' you, to all intents an' purposes, are his." She held up a hand to forestall the predictable objection, "You may have taken him from his family, suh, but you gave him
your one in its place and that is more important by far."
Disclaimer: Characters are Marvel's, except for Luc who is far cuter than any child has a right to be. I know my brother was never this cute, and I doubt any other laddie is, although they're certainly as noisy. Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks to my beta-reader for all her comments and assistance in helping this poor S'Effrican speak Yank. ;)