Summary: Gambit, now estranged from the X-men, spends a lonely Christmas Eve alone. Or so he thought.

Author's notes: This story is Marvel 616, (not my usual Kimbleverse) and features my favorite Cajun X-man, Gambit. It takes place in the current continuity of Fall/Winter 2008, after the recent Horseman arc of Uncanny and after the Messiah Complex.

..-..-..-..-..-..-..-..-

Hope

(One)

Remy Lebeau, Thieves Guild brat and on again/off again X-man, sat at the last seat at the long curved bar of Joe Bully's, one of the last few mutant friendly bars left in New York City these days.

It was Christmas Eve and the bar should have been closed, but Joe, the owner, knew that there were just as many lonely people out there as attached. Business had been brisk all day but now, as it grew later, was dying down. The place was perfect for any Scrooge or Grinch - the decorations were half hearted and forced, nothing more than a formality the season called for. A scraggly, paltry decorated tree with tiny lights twinkled without rhythm as if it just didn't have the strength for the effort.

Remy was sitting at the far end, the furthest away from all that crap, drunk and miserable, his attempt at blotting out his pain not going all that well.

It was his fault really, this pain. It had come about by his thinking that the phrase "once an X-man, always an X-man" might actually apply to him. Silly boy. He had gone to the Xavier Mansion earlier that day with a Christmas present for Rogue. It wasn't a casual gift, he had put a lot of thought into it. He had bought her a cashmere sweater, her favorite because of the extreme softness. All the years that they had been a couple he hadn't been able to directly touch her skin because of her "touch of death" mutation, but there was nothing better than touching her in one of those. Lovely.

Unfortunately, she didn't accept his present no matter how thoughtful. She blinked at him in mournful confusion, looking up with those gorgeous emerald eyes, and said, "Gambit, Ah don't know where we are, you and me. Ah need more time."

He lowered his eyes with that same sad smile of regret he often wore these days and slunk away without another word.

He knew she had good reason to be wary of him – he had betrayed the X-men after all. Or at least that's what it had looked like to them. He could try telling her the truth – that his seeking out their long time enemy Apocalypse and accepting his offer to become a Horseman had been no accident. The powerful telepath Emma Frost had given him a small psychic shove in that direction, eager to get rid of an X-man who had always been a bit suspicious of her. She had been planning a move of her own against the X-men and he had made her more than a little nervous. He might ruin her precious schemes if he hung around long enough. It does take one criminal to sniff out another, so to speak.

Days later, after Apocalypse had been defeated and his four Horsemen soundly trounced, Remy hadn't dared to come home. He knew the X-men wouldn't have understood. Proof of that was that while they had made an effort to retrieve one of the other X-men Apocalypse had turned into a Horseman – the Mistress of magnetism, Polaris – not one soul had come after him seeking an explanation of things. He knew one reason for this – Polaris was twice loved, both Alex Summers and Bobby Drake, two high ranking X-men, were hot for her. As for him? All there had been was the savage and bitter disappointment that Rogue hadn't even asked around about him or tried to find him. So much for loyalty.

As part of the process of becoming a Horseman, Apocalypse had transformed Gambit into a dark skinned freak, making him a monster in the guise of Death, so a cure for the cosmetic changes at least was in order. Remy had turned to the one man he knew who could do the deed with little fuss – the evil geneticist, Sinister. Of course that had left yet another debt Remy had to work off. Even as part of Sinister's new gang of mutant terrorists, Remy went out of his way to help the X-men, being clever enough to be at the center of some strategic errors that led to Sinister's eventual downfall. Not that he had been thanked for that though it was rather obvious with anyone with half a brain that he had been playing for the X-men even under Sinister's roof.

So yeah, if he told them these truths, it might have helped, but he doubted that they would even believe him. Once a liar, always a liar, so they say. It had to be true, right? It had been confirmed in the look of utter disgust and hatred in Logan's eyes today as he had slunk out of the Mansion after seeing Rogue. Remy supposed he should have been grateful that Wolverine hadn't followed him and gutted him in some dark alley somewhere.

Not that the world would mourn the loss, really.

Just the thought of his meaningless, empty death tanked his spirits even further than they had already been. In all of his time here on Earth, what had he done or accomplished besides building a reputation of being a master thief and bedder of fine women worldwide? It was mostly true – well, the thieving part anyhow. The rest had been a bit overblown. The truth was, that player mystique that so many men coveted was by far overrated. How many others were there out there like him right now, all alone and drunk in a bar on Christmas Eve with no real friends? The truth was he was a waste of a human life. He had been given great gifts by the powers that be and what had he done with them? He had certainly not behaved as though he had appreciated them.

Remy, done with this, tossed down his last drink and stumbled out of the bar, almost too drunk to stand. His mood hadn't improved as he staggered his way to the door and once outside, found insult added to injury as the first flakes of an oncoming snowstorm started to fall.

He had grown up with the mild winters of the deep South, living in New Orleans had been far more agreeable than the freezing cold of New England. Of course, having been exiled in Antarctica once for yet another of his constant screw ups hadn't improved his lack of appreciation for the cold.

"Exiled den, exiled now. What's de diff'rence?" he muttered to himself, pulling his long leather trench coat more tightly around him.

He took two steps, intending to toddle off on home, but then he paused, looking down a dark alleyway that separated the bar from the tall apartment building next to it. There, right near the street, a fire escape beckoned.

He might not have liked the cold, but one thing he wasn't afraid of was heights. Not for the first time since this latest banishment from his old team, he couldn't argue that the idea of a quick leap from a tall building didn't hold some appeal. It would be so easy and at the moment, the opportunity was too convenient to pass up. Like he had been thinking, it wasn't like anyone would mourn the loss.

The decision made, Remy turned into the alley, disappearing into its dark shadows as though he had never been.

(Two)

The wrought iron of the fire escape was cold and burned his fingers, but it wasn't that that made Remy hesitate from his current mission of self destruction. It had been the noise.

He blinked in the gloom, his red on black eyes able to see more clearly in the dark than most humans. He hadn't yet begun to climb the fire escape and he could just make out a battle of another kind taking place a few feet away, deeper into the alleyway.

A medium sized dog, filthy and ragged, just as homeless as Remy now regarded himself, stood defiantly in place as it was threatened by three other curs just as dirty and ill used as it was itself. Between them lay a steak bone rummaged from the trash with just enough meat left on it to make it worth fighting over. It seemed to Remy that the one dog had been the scrounger of this dubious looking morsel and the others had come along to steal it away.

For reasons he didn't fully understand, Remy just couldn't go on until he watched how this all played out. The one dog fascinated him, the way it was down but not yet out of this game of life and death. The way it stood up for itself against such terrible odds, the way it wasn't giving up even though its life was surely in the crapper just as much as Remy's own was right now.

One faced three, tail up and wagging just slightly but not from playfulness. It was preparing to face its challengers with all the courage it had left. The lead dog from the small pack lunged and was met head on, no rest for the weary. Its two companions, smelling blood and weakness, joined in the fray.

Remy couldn't quite remember just when he joined in himself, he simply acted without thinking. He related so well with the poor odd man out that his side had been chosen on instinct alone. Even stinking drunk, the former thief and X-man was quite formidable. Years of constant practice had long since burned his best moves into permanent memory. His retractable bo staff was out in a flash, taken from its secret hiding place inside his long coat. He snapped it out to its full length with an elegant flick of his wrist and three well placed thwacks later, sent the two lesser dogs flying into the dark with howls of pain.

The new action gave the leader some pause and it backed off but not away, still eyeballing the prize, its sides heaving from the fight.

Remy stood behind his new furry friend and couldn't help but tease their last remaining opponent, "Still sure you wanna go for it, homme?" Old habits were hard to break and banter had been only one of his many weapons.

The lead dog growled at him, showing its fangs. It was answer enough.

Remy just smiled and lit three cards he had taken from his pocket with kinetic energy, willing to defend this gallant poor lost creature, his one last act of mercy before checking out. The lead dog made its own last move, snatching up the raggedy bone with one great leap and instead of fighting as Remy had expected, it took off, fast as a wink, disappearing into the black just like that.

Remy stood there, blinking in confusion, the fight over almost as fast as it had begun and guess what, his team had lost. What a surprise. In his frustration and anger, Remy tossed the cards after it, charged just enough to be loud, but not destructive. Even now he was considerate of the neighbors.

Disgusted, Remy turned away and went back to the fire escape, oh so ready to do this. He no sooner placed his hand back on the cold black rail when he felt something heavy and wet bump against his leg.

(Three)

Remy looked down and saw that the dog he had defended had followed him to the fire escape and had leaned against him, leaving a wet and bloody smear against his pants leg.

He had expected the dog he had saved to have vanished from the noise of his exploding cards like the others had but no, it was there, panting in the snow and looking at him as if to say, Now what?

Now that he had a better look at it, he could see that the dog was some kind of terrier mix with dark curly hair. It wasn't so big, or at least not in its current, half starved incarnation. It had a filthy collar loose around its scrawny neck with a tag on it too dirty to read. This had once been someone's pet. Now it had been thrown away, left to rot in some dirty alleyway like a growing child's neglected and discarded toy.

Remy closed his eyes, feeling the weight of the world crash down on him with full force. He was so heavy now, too heavy to even lift his poor tired body up the fire escape, up and away to his death. It would have to wait for another day, one that probably wouldn't be long in coming.

"Je suis desole, mon ami," he apologized to the poor ragged beast. "Shouldn't 'ave gotten involved. Lost you yo ' dinner an all."

He turned away then and shuffled off, back to the street. A week ago, foolishly confident that he could win Rogue back by way of an expensive cashmere sweater, he had rented a tiny one bedroom flat not far from here. He hadn't needed to drive to get his drink. It was a bit of a dive, honestly, and hardly the equal of the fine place Xavier had given him back at the Mansion once upon a time. Back when he was still alive.

The snow was falling more heavily now, everything was covered in horrible, ugly white. Not clean, but hidden away. It filled him with a silent, ugly rage, all this white and cold. He muttered curses to himself and shuffled off like a listing, damaged ship, his head down like the pathetic drunkard he was.

He managed the two block walk to his flat in one piece and stood on the stoop, fumbling with his keys when he felt it again, that heavy wet thump against his leg. He looked down and sure enough, there was that dog again.

"Git gone!" Remy snarled at it before he could stop himself, the dark despair of the cold and holiday uncheer making him blind.

The dog skittered away but not far. It stood there, panting at him, its tail wagging ever so slightly as if in apology. One ear had been torn in the fight and it was a little more worse for wear than it had been when he had first seen it, but there it was, looking at him with just the hint of laughter in its overly bright and intelligent eyes.

"What?" Remy shouted at it, his voice breaking just a little. "Dere ain't nuthin' 'ere fo' you!"

Angry now, Remy turned back to his door, giving the dog his back. He unlocked his door and took one step inside before he was rudely shoved to one side as the dog squirted past him, quick as a wink, just like it owned the place.

(Four)

Remy stood as he was, half in half out, his shoulders slumping in defeat. He wanted to stay angry, he really did, but the poor beast was there now, looking at him with a big goofy grin full of big pink tongue and wagging its tail at him invitingly. Like the good persuader he himself had once been in the past, it simply wasn't possible to deny this creature anything.

Remy admitted defeat and came in before closing the door. He took off his coat and hung it to dry. Now that the door was closed he was painfully aware that in this small closed in space, the smell of wet dog was just too overpowering to be acceptable.

"We goan do dis, dere's gotta be some rules," he found himself saying as if this wet mangy thing could even understand him. "One of which is a bath, right 'ere, right now. Really, cher, you stink worse dan me right now."

At the sound of his voice, the dog wagged its tail and trotted into the bathroom as if he had sent it there himself. Remy was simply too drunk and tired to ponder the minor miracle that had just happened. He simply followed it in and started the water running.

The dog sat on Remy's poor tired bath mat and waited for the tub to fill. The place had come furnished, but that wasn't saying much. That mat had seen a lot of milage, just as Remy had himself. Too much for his short years.

The dog went into the bath willingly enough, perhaps because the water was so warm and inviting. Remy found the process of washing an animal awkward, no matter how cooperative it was being. He had never once had a pet growing up. Jean Luc, his adopted father, had been allergic and really, all that Thieves Guild training had taken up a lot of his time. Remy's childhood had hardly been typical.

Remy found it easier to do this job when he stripped partway down. It had been a good idea, the heat from the bath felt good on his frozen hands and arms and he couldn't help but smile a bit at it. It had been a while since he had interacted with anything living, and this creature was vital and alive, happy to be near him. The dog, sensing his improving mood, cheerfully licked his face with a growing enthusiasm.

Remy sputtered in protest, his open mouth only inviting more pink tongue. "Espere!" he complained even as he laughed. "Gambit usually get dinner an' a movie b'fore de French kissin', non?"

The dog relented, but stayed close. The water was quickly turning black as the dirt fell away and Remy realized this dark colored beast was actually more of a warmer, caramel colored brown. The shabby collar it wore was old but still had a tag. It dangled there and Remy took it, flipping it over to read the name. Hope, it said, as if it couldn't have been anything else.

Remy laughed just a little. "Je suis desole, I 'ad no idea you was really a fille, chere. Guess Gambit still 'ave a way wit de ladies, fur and all."

Hope licked his face again as if accepting his apology and shook a little. She was happy for the bath and all but was ready to be done. Remy rinsed her off and toweled her as dry as he could.

All this work had sobered Remy up some and his lighter mood had awakened his appetite. Just his luck, he had some T-bone steaks in the freezer, bought when he had been in a happier mood.

The apartment felt cold after the warm bath and Remy had a solution for that too. This place was rundown now but it hadn't always been so. The building had once been a large townhouse that had been carved up into smaller apartments and he had been lucky enough to get one that had a fireplace in it. He lit it now, welcome for the excuse to use it. That done, he moved to the kitchen and got those steaks out.

While he cooked, Remy checked in on his new houseguest. Hope was in front of the fire, basking in its warmth and drying quickly. Clearly this dog had been well cared for and loved in the past, it wasn't acting feral in the least after having lived on its own for so long.

Remy finished cooking and they ate by the fire, Remy's offering far better than the scrap Hope had risked her life for earlier. He had set the plate down for her, saying, "Dat chump who stole yo' dinner would be cryin' now if he saw dis, eh?"

Hope seemed to agree, grinning all the while as she wolfed down her supper with ravenous passion. The fire was warm and Remy sat on the floor with his back to his ragged couch. Hope settled in next to him as if she belonged there, contentedly munching on both of their bones.

Remy found himself stroking her fur, his hands loving the crushed velvety softness of it. Now that she was clean he could see she had some Cocker Spaniel thrown in with her terrier, her fur was less curly than wavy and wonderful to the touch. His eyes grew heavy as he was filled with a contentment he hadn't felt in a long time.

Across the street, in view through the open window of his apartment, Remy could see the Christmas lights of his neighbor blinking with much more enthusiasm than the half-assed tree at the bar had done. Earlier, these lights had bothered him, even to the point where he had closed the blinds. Now, they were warm and comforting. Now that he was no longer alone. He had been a loner a long time now, but it was becoming harder and harder to bear as the time went on. This small bit of company was far more pleasant than he could ever have imagined.

Hope finished her bones and left them aside for later. She sighed, looking up at her new owner with all the unconditional affection a well cared for pet could muster. This dog was well named, Remy couldn't help but think. At this moment, he couldn't remember when he'd had a happier Christmas. It was in her eyes, that love he had been denied for so very long.

"Merry Christmas, chere," he said to her, meaning it for the first time in a long while.

She just smiled at him in that uniquely doggy way, laying her head on his knees as if she had known that all along. She was Hope after all.

The end.