Part thirty-one: Laissez le Bon Temps Rouler; the road to hell and all that jazz
The bourbon in my glass is not the best but the music is good and the club is filled with the velvet blue shadows of cigarette smoke and the impersonal heat of too many people packed into one place. It's all anonymous silhouettes and whiskey Blues as I sink into the booth at the back of the club.
My hands have finally stopped shaking but I can still feel the phantom tremors of fading adrenaline spike through my muscles. I close my eyes and suck in a lungful of smoke from my cigarette like it's a lifeline; suppose it is in some ways.
It happened again; my life crashed and burned.
I should have damn well known. It's like I'm cursed; cursed to destroy and corrupt anything I fucking touch. Christ, sweet mother Mary, this is too much. This is too damn much. I slam the shot glass down hard on the table top and breathe out carefully. It's been a while since one of my freak outs could blow a room but I don't want to risk it.
This is all Mon Professeur's fault. Hah, even I can't make myself believe that one. Must be losing my touch, going soft me, once upon a time I could lie to myself so easily.
I stub out the cigarette into the ash tray and pour myself another generous shot of bourbon. I down the shot almost before I'm done pouring and refill the glass without thinking. For a moment I just stare into the glass, looking for answers in all the wrong places; quelle surprise.
It's been five months, all told, since me and Stormy pitched up at the mansion. I smile and shake my head. It feels a helluva lot longer than that. So much has happened, and there be so many things for a boy to get his head around.
The thing with Magneto and his Acolytes panned out in the end. Once again I had my head all turned around or something. Truthfully I'm not real sure what happened. One moment I was trying to figure out if I was really going to throw in with the X-men, next thing I know me and the rest of the team go and side with Magneto and set up house in his floating asteroid homestead.
Apparently we were all manipulated with some kind of genetic and psychic tampering to change allegiance, but seeing as how I barely had an allegiance to begin with I don't see how I coulda been screwed with to betray a bunch of people I never made commitment to in the first place.
Mon dieu, it's not like that's ever stopped me before, eh? Didn't have no allegiance to the Morlocks neither but I sure as hell betrayed them, oui? C'est la vie betrayal is the bread and butter of my life.
Anyway, long story short, the mind-fuck didn't take and Blue team and Gold team kicked ass before Magneto ended up betrayed by his own Judas, some lil batard name of Fabian Cortez. The X-men made it home safe but Magneto and his asteroid went up in flames. Alls well that ends well I guess.
I was doing okay with things after that; even getting used to be mentally messed with, which seems to be an occupational hazard with the X-men. Least ways I was doing okay until le Professeur decided that I needed a crash course on X-men history to get me up to speed with the gossip. Not that he put it like that. Anyhow the homme decides to give me access to Cerebro's files and a whole afternoon to peruse at my leisure.
So, what did this boy do? Oui, I go and check up on my Stormy; figure that she won't mind me poking into her business, us being friends and all. Mon dieu, I did not know. I couldn't have known what I'd find.
My Stormy, my belle jeune fille, the first person to trust me completely without ever asking anything of me except the best I could be (the only person to believe I could be something better than a thief and con-man) was once the Morlock queen. They were her people to protect. She was there, in all that horror, when I led the Marauders into those tunnels.
She fought to save lives while I ran away from the destruction I had caused like a fucking coward.
I have to let go of the shot glass in my hand because it's either let go or charge it by accident. I let my head fall back to rest on the back of the booth. Breathe in and breathe out, push the bile back down my throat and chase the biting darkness from my vision.
I don't know how I managed not to throw up all over the damn console when I read about the 'Morlock Massacre' as the X-men call it. Don't know how I managed to keep the screaming all on the inside. Sometimes my capacity to lie through my damn teeth shocks even me. Not sure I can stop now even if I was inclined to. It isn't like I've ever really understood what the truth is, anyhow.
It was like I couldn't stop after I started reading. It felt like my brain had just ripped right open. The fissure of poison inside me that I keep locked down behind those tres impressive mental shields that le Professeur is so curious about opened wide and hungry; misery loves company and I couldn't get enough of the pain I had caused.
The words just kept coming; scrolling down the screen. Some of the names I knew, some I didn't. I read stories of horror and pain and depravity like a sick, twisted voyeur; the sweat just kept pouring down my face. The words kept coming too in computerised black and white detail.
I wanted to turn away; I wanted to get up and run and never stop. I wanted to fall on my knees and beg forgiveness, or thrown myself down at le Professeur's feet, or Stormy's feet, and confess to everything. I didn't though, didn't do any of it.
I just sat there and read all about it as if I hadn't been there in the filth and the blood and the chaos.
I had to know what damage I had done to my Stormy. I had to know how badly I betrayed my best and only friend before I even fucking met her. I had to know. That's what I told myself then; that's what I'm trying to make myself believe now. Have to have the facts before I can plan my next move, right? It was not having the facts the first time that got me into the whole mess, no? It's not like knowing the facts of the massacre could be worse than what I imagined; least that's what I told myself sitting dumb as a stump before the console.
Of course that just goes to show I've not got that much in the way of imagination, oui?
I don't have words for what it felt like reading the tres detailed, oh so carefully compiled, files the X-men have on the Morlocks, on the Marauders, on Sinister. Seeing it in print, cold and impersonal, a litany of sin against the people I'm now living with. It's almost worse, reading it, seeing it all laid out so cleanly; so devoid of any emotion.
It's funny, oui, but as I was reading about all the sick, twisted things Sinister gone and done to Cyclops and Jean, and all the hurt and pain the Marauders (people I hand picked for their viciousness) caused to Archangel and a bunch of folk I've never even met, I kept thinking: where's my file?
Mon dieu, shouldn't there be a file on the two-faced, chicken-shit scum who hired these killers? The coward who set up the whole horror show in the first place? Where was the file on the asshole that hand picked just the right bunch of psychos to cause all that carnage? Where is that monster's file?
I lift my glass to my lips and it's only then that I realise it's empty. Quoi; where did the liquor go? C'est la vie, there's always more where that came from. I pour myself another glass and down it in one. C'est bon, that's better. The burn chases away the cold aching pain around my heart; the acid bite of betrayal and guilt dulled by the first hint of drunkenness.
I can admit to myself now, I suppose, that I was looking for some kind of redemption by hanging around the X-men; figured maybe some of their goodness would rub off on me, non?
I know I'm going to wind up in hell one fine day; I don't even care about that anymore. I earned it, oui? Still I had begun to think, to hope, that I could make something of my life before then. Nothing going to balance the scales when it comes to the Morlocks but I thought maybe, just maybe, I could stop being part of the problem and become part of the solution.
I've seen so much bad shit and I've been to too many dark places; seen and felt and dealt out too much pain already. I'm tired of it, tired of this gutter living. I wanted to reach for something better; even if I failed, even if all I'm ever going to be is a thief and a liar, I wanted to at least meet my maker and say I tried to be better.
No one told this Cajun the odds were stacked against him already though; nobody told me that I was screwed before I even tried.
I rub at my eyes; shoving down my nose the shades I wear to protect against any mutie-haters in the club. I light another cigarette and look over the people in this club; all these faceless goodtime guys and gals. I have this weird urge to just take off the glasses and let them see my eyes. I want to stand up on this here table and confess, right here and right now, to this bunch of strangers.
Allors mes braves, here stands Remy LeBeau: mutant, devil eyed gutter born prince of thieves, and almost Marauder. Betrayer and betrayed, con artiste and conned, deceiver and deceived, husband and adulterer, son and exile. Here I am: now someone tell me, what I'm supposed to do? Someone tell me whether this is it or if I can be better than the loser I see in the mirror because I'm fucked if I know what's right and what's wrong.
I want to stand up and be counted but I just sit here drinking myself numb. I've spent my entire existence either in the gutter or the shadows and it's the hardest habit to break. I've been standing in the dark with my nose pressed up to the glass looking in for so many years I've stopped noticing; I'm not even sure I want the things I think I want.
Sometimes I just want to go to bed at night and feel safe in my own skin for once. I want to close my eyes and see something other than blood and poison behind my eyelids.
There's a femme across the club, standing on the edge of the dance floor; she's been watching me awhile now. I can feel her eyes on me as I drag on my cigarette and watch the couples on the dance floor with shaded eyes. The femme reminds me of Belle I realise, once I've given her the once over. She's got the sweet face of a golden haired angel and bedroom eyes thick with kohl. I smile.
How long has it been since I allowed myself to think on Belle? Years, it's been years. I just went and sliced her out of my heart the night I was banished, more or less. Hell I think I've been bleeding from that wound for the last five years.
Five years; it's been five years since my banishment and I hadn't even realised it. Eh, I've got so many gaping, infected wounds on my soul that I don't even feel the loss of her anymore.
Shit what does that say about me? Belle and me were supposed to be forever; that femme was my closest friend since I was a pup and I can't remember the last time I gave her a thought. Don't know that I could even recall her face if it weren't for the fille across the club watching me with Belle's eyes.
It's hard to remember sometimes that once upon a time I used to believe in something good. I used to believe in happily ever after and that family stood by one another. All that seems a long time ago; the hope is still there but the reality drags me down into the pit over and over again.
I wonder what the X-men would do if they ever found out they'd let a mutant Judas live under their roof and eat at the table with them, let alone share in their 'dream' for the last five months? I wonder will I ever be brave enough to find out?
I turn back to the glass of bourbon and the two-thirds full bottle; is this all I have left to me then? Just the blood and the pain and the guilt like a pit of ice and vipers in my head? I tried to destroy Remy LeBeau to become something better, but the crimes are going to stay with me even here with the X-men. Lord have mercy on my soul (what's left of it) but I don't know that I can ever look Stormy in the eyes again.
'Hello gorgeous, are you new in town?'
It's only last second restraint that stops me whipping a card out of my pocket and sending it flying into the blonde femme's face as she comes up alongside my booth. Mon dieu, I didn't even see her moving towards me.
I look up at the femme in her tres bohemian beret and faux snake skin pants that look poured on; the off the shoulder red silk shirt a splash of colour in all the smoke and shadows of the club.
'Pardon?' I ask struggling to present only a smiling mask to this femme. 'Apologies did you say something?' It's reflex alone that makes me hide my accent without a thought.
The fillie smiles at me, a flash of white in her painted mouth, 'I'm Shandi; I haven't seen you around here before. Are you new in town?'
I smile at the woman; weirdly disappointed that all I hear out of her mouth is a broad New Yorker accent. So like Belle; bold, brassy, conscious of her sexuality and not afraid to use it as the weapon it is, and yet looking up at this woman I'm just reminded of how very, very far away I am from Nawlins and from the life I never had the chance to live with my Belle-chere.
'Been in town a while now, new to this here club though.' I tell the femme with a smile, altering the accent just a little and allowing some honey drawl into it; I just hate sounding like a New Yorker. The femme will be able to tell I'm southern but not that I'm Cajun, which gives me some anonymity.
I look up at the femme through my shades and give her one of my best come hither smiles. I didn't come out looking for this but I suppose it beats drinking myself stupid alone.
'Name's James,' I purr, lying without a thought, as I reach out for her hand and cradle it in my own with practiced nonchalance, 'Tell me Shandi, do you dance?'
Shandi laughs, 'Well hon, I thought you'd never ask.'
I rise from the booth, still clasping her hand in mine. I flash her a bright and completely false smile as we walk onto the dance floor. If I close my eyes and concentrate I can pretend that the jazz is played by people who know how to put their souls into the music and the woman grinding against me is not some Brooklyn slut but my wife; my Deadly Nightshade.
We dance most of the night away; it's a better high than the one I'd get out of a bottle of bourbon I suppose. The music is hot and the femme in my arms is hotter. There's no need for pointless talking, no need to pretend, no need to choke on the guilt I thought I'd out run. No need to lie to people I'd hoped to never have reason to lie to. No, tonight is just tonight.
Or maybe that's the lie? Maybe I've been lying so long that the deceits are the only truth I have left to me? Everything is a lie in the end because I know deep down, that I'm already damned. I'm just binding my time like I always do until my day of judgement.
I'm feeling decidedly fragile when I make it back to the mansion around dawn. Slipping out of Shandi's bed had been simplicity itself. It was the fight with myself whether or not to go back to le maison at all that took it outta me.
I'm working on walking a more or less straight line across the grounds towards the maison as the first rays of sun come up over the steep roof and cannonades of the mansion when I realise I'm being watched.
'Fun date, Cajun?'
Logan smirks at me around the cigar clamped between his teeth as he leans against the trunk of a tree. I blink at him as I try to think that through; it's too damn early for difficult questions. In the end I just shrug and paste a jackass grin onto my face.
'Had better, had worse, mon ami.'
Logan snorts, 'Yer oughta keep outta 'Ro's way til yer sobered up some, Gumbo. If yer know what's good fer yer.'
I know it's not the most articulate of responses but I have no idea what the hairy lil' midget is going on about. What does Stormy have to be mad at me about? That she knows about anyway, I add, shoving the tide of guilt and grief down under my hangover.
Logan shakes his head looking more friendly and amused than I've ever seen him, least when he's talking to me anyway.
'Yer were supposed to take night watch duty last night, Gumbo. Cyke's pissed at yer for bailin' and 'Ro's pissed at yer cuz she's the one that had to cover fer yer,' he quirks a grizzled eyebrow, which makes him look like a squinting miniature bear, 'yer bein' her 'partner' an' all.'
'Night watch duty; what night watch duty?' I parrot stupidly. I don't know what the homme is on about. There's a night watch in this place? That's news to me, and since when was I on any duty roster?
Logan is watching me curiously and I don't like; I prefer it when the homme be growling at me, least that way he's not likely to poke his nose where it's not wanted.
'Yer don't have a clue in yer pretty little head about team work do yer, Gumbo?' his blue eyes turn shrewd, 'How long yer been lone-wolfin' it?'
'Je suis desole mon ami, but dis be a conversation where I t'ink I missed somet'ing non? I am no wolf, but a mutant, oui?'
Logan rolls his eyes and the action surprises me, 'Yer and me ain't never talked much, have we?'
I arch an eyebrow, 'Pardon?'
'Talk, Gumbo, talk.' Logan growls softly, 'Yer still wasted ain't yer?'
I cock my head to the side and end up getting blasted by a ray of sunlight. I put up an arm to shield my eyes vaguely wondering what I went and did with my shades. This is getting a little too surreal for me. Why is the mangy Canuck trying to talk to me now, for God's sake? I shake my head, which does not help at all. Shit I think I've liquefied my brains.
'Mon dieu, I not got de energy for dis shit.' I mutter and try to step around Wolverine. The homme catches my arm.
'Nope, yer ain't going anywhere, Gambit. Yer an' me are gonna have a conversation.'
'Je regrette m'sieur but I'm not feeling much like talkin' right now.' I try to disengage from his grip but the homme just yanks on my arm and suddenly I find myself on my ass in the grass wondering how I got there.
'Yer ain't gonna to be talkin' Gumbo; yer flap them gums of yers too much as is. Nah, yer gonna sit there and listen. Figure yer need some practice with that.' Wolverine squats down beside me before I can decide what I'm going to do about this situation. I glare at the man and he just looks back at me blue eyes calm as a husky's.
Well shit, don't this just beat all, non?
I twist my lips into a snarl of my own, 'I'll sit, don promise I'll listen. Don see how you can make me either, hein?'
'Don't push me Gambit, yer won't like the results.'
'You gon talk homme or you gon threaten? 'Cuz I got t'ings to do, me.' I sneer trying to stand.
Wolverine hauls me back down again and his claws are at my neck before I even realise there's a card beginning to glow between my fingers.
'Yer got five seconds to drop the card, Gumbo, or I'll drop yer.'
I draw the charge back in and let the card drop to the grass, raising my hands in surrender. As much as the homme is pissing me off I don't want to fight. Least not while my head is pounding like the bastard child of a jackhammer and a woodpecker.
Wolverine seems to catch a clue and retracts his claws. He watches me with those blue eyes of his and I bite down on any number of choice things I could say.
'How long yer been runnin' without a Guild, Cajun?'
Maybe it's the fact that I just spent the whole night wallowing in my loss and poking at the old scars left by my banishment, or maybe it's just the damn hang-over, but whatever the reason I react in the worst possible way to the question; I don't hide my surprise. I know from the flare of triumph in Wolverine's eyes that he can smell the shock and suspicion in my scent, confirming the truth.
There's nothing I can say to cover my mistake so I don't say anything. Silence is not much of a defence but it's the only one I've got at the moment. Wolverine is watching me and I concentrate on giving him nothing but the mask.
He starts to chuckle, pleased that he's riled me and, mon dieu, the urge to kick him in the teeth is almost over-whelming. Still, I've got more sense and more self-control than that.
'Been talkin' to some of my contacts; yer got Chuck fooled, he can't find a trace of yer beyond rumour, but then Chuck don't know the same players I do.' Logan's teeth flash in a grin and it's cliché oui, but he really does look like a wolf right now. Still he's not a patch on Creed so I'm not impressed; not much least ways.
'The New Orleans Guild is small, best in the business, but small.' Logan cocks his head. 'Figure I could put a name to yer if I wanted.'
I stare at him and he stares at me; time counts down, the sun continues to rise and the birds and bees and all that other nature shit come to life around us. Me and the Wolverine just sit there, eyeball to eyeball for what seems like forever. Then I smile and laugh because damn, wasn't this what I wanted? To finally get found out so I don't have to shoulder the guilt and the secrets any longer.
'Is dat right?' I say and I realise I haven't sounded like this in a long time; I can't stop the venom or the hiss of my words. I'm still too raw to hide behind my dumb white trash act. 'Go on den, tell me, who do you t'ink I am?'
I bare my teeth into the face of the homme's surprise; don't think he expected me to laugh at him. Still I'm not joking; I want to hear what the Wolverine thinks of me because I sure as hell don't know who or what I am anymore.
Logan shakes his grizzled head, 'Ain't gonna say,' he tells me and I frown. What the fuck is this homme's game? If he don't mean to expose me what the hell is playing at?
'Yer on the run from something ain't yer Gambit? Ain't no good reason for an arrogant sonofabitch like yer to be hangin' with the X-men less yer looking for a place to hide.'
I say nothing, just wait. I work on keeping my breathing even and my pulse steady; my muscles relaxed and easy. I don't know whether I want to run or not. Maybe it's fatalism or maybe it's just the hangover but I really want to know how this is going to pan out.
Logan nods as if my silence is all the confirmation he needs. He gets to his feet and looks down on me.
'Ain't gonna say one word, Gumbo. Yer ain't the first crook the X-men have taken in, and yer've played straight with us so far.' He frowns, 'But listen up Gambit, this ain't a free ride. Yer got people up in that house who expect yer to act like yer part of this team. Yer ever start playin' any of those people for fools I'm gonna come down on yer like yer ain't gonna believe.' He sneers, 'Yer stink of guilt and I don't like it. Fuck with the X-men, or try and run out on us, and I'll hunt yer down, yer hear me?'
For a long moment I just stare at the homme; the sun slanting around his stumpy silhouette sharp enough to blind. My blood's gone cold in my veins; oui I hear him loud and clear.
'D'accord mon ami, I hear you crystal clear.' I say quietly.
'Good; I'm gonna be watchin' Gumbo and yer fast mouth ain't foolin' me at all.' The homme stares at me for another long moment before lighting a cigar and turning his back on me, heading deeper into the woods.
For a few minutes I just sit in the dewy grass and try to get my head together. I'm not real sure what to think or even if I want to think. Rubbing a hand over my face and shoving the bangs from my eyes I drag myself up. I head for the mansion and try to ignore the feeling of Logan's eyes on my back the whole way.
Mon dieu, I need to find this duty roster thing; at the very least I'm going to need to do some careful editing of what's on it, oui? There's no way I'm getting stuck on night watch duty. I mean what does mon Capitan think he be asking here? I've already been catapulted into space, fought a war in Genosha, and gone toe to toe with Magneto and his Acolytes, there is no way I'm giving up my free nights for this gig as well.
As I'm heading towards the house I look up at the attic window to ma belle Stormy's room. I frown. Damn it. I'm going to have to make it up to her.
I find the roster in the end, hanging up on the wall in the War Room (don't know how I never noticed it before). It's easy enough to make the necessary changes; even manage to make it look like Cyclops' writing. Later on there are a few people who ask why my name has replaced Stormy's on every one of her night watch shifts for the next month, but neither Cyclops or Stormy say anything at all.
Cyclops don't even call me on tampering with his roster for that matter; figure the man appreciates me taking the time out to punish myself for misbehaving, non?
Stormy don't say a word to me about missing my shift or the new roster either but on the first night shift I take she sits in with me anyway. We spend most of the night making snide comments about teammates and gossiping (well I make snide comments and Stormy tries to pretend she don't think it's funny). I decide then that maybe this working as a team stuff isn't so bad after all.
C'est vrai, maybe I don't know how to be part of a team, or hell, a family anymore, but I figure I can re-learn the trick of it pretty quick. Probably just in time for this new family of mine to discover the truth about me and throw me out, but hey, that's just the way the cards got to fall, non?
C'est la vie, I'm just going to keep playing the hand I been dealt until the white faced devil calls in his marker. I can think of plenty worse places to wait out fate than here with the X-men, and it's not like I have anyplace else to go or anyone waiting for me when I get there.
So I'll just stay here with my Stormy and these X-men a spell and make the best of it until the day my luck runs out. I've got nothing better to do; been a villain already so I might as well try my hand at heroism, right?
Mon dieu, it's like any good Cajun will tell you: laissez le bon temps rouler…….
……..We're all going to hell in the end, might as well enjoy the journey.
Au revoir mes braves, it's been fun, but it be time now for this here thief to bid you all adieu!
To anyone and everyone who has read this story; thank you for reading what I have written and I can only hope that you have enjoyed the journey too.