Format for use with submitting fanfic. Surrender - Part 6 by paxnirvana
Rating: R
Fandom: X-Men: The Movie
Characters: Storm and ensemble movie cast, but introducing... Gambit
Archive: Ask me, I don't bite. Unless you don't ask...

Author's Note: I had to try my hand at putting Remy into movieverse. The way I'd like to see it done. Because it doesn't look like Singer is going to give it a try. Darn. 12/14/01

Disclaimer: 20th Century Fox has the movie rights, Marvel the rest. I'm not making any money here, just burning my own time and creativity.

* * * * *

Sarah Redmond woke with a sharp jerk, panicked, when a bar of sunlight flashed into her eyes through the blinds that covered the window. It was already full daylight outside. She'd slept longer than she wanted. Leaping off the bed, she scrambled to the bathroom. Yanked off the strips of sheet she'd tied around herself and hastily pulled on her still-damp shorts and tube top. Found her tattered shoes and stuffed her feet into them. Then crept to the door, listening carefully.

It was silent outside. No sounds that might indicate the presence of either the big man, Creed, or the cold Dr. Essex. She frowned, biting her lip. No one would come to save her. No one out there in the world cared if she lived or died – some would probably even cheer if she did. One less mutie freak. But she wasn't ready to die. Not for someone else's plans. Nothing Essex had said last night had given her any assurance that she'd survive whatever they had in mind for her. So it was all up to her. She had to escape.

Creed had been careful to lock her in after feeding her. Her stomach growled at the memory of food. She ignored it and reached around her side, groping for a likely spike of bone. Tested a few. Found one that was nearly ready to go. She gritted her teeth and snapped it off, wincing at the brief pain.

The bone was flat and faintly knife-shaped. She grabbed both ends and flexed it experimentally between her hands. Some bend, but not too much. As they dried, they got harder, but she didn't have time to wait for it to set up. She eyed the door. It was dead bolted. She had absolutely no idea how to jimmy it. She tried to fit the slender end of her bone knife into the jamb, but it was too wide. The wood splintered a bit as she dug around and after a little too much prying, the end of the bone snapped off. No good. Sighing deeply in frustration, she glanced around the door, gaze falling on the hinges.

And something she'd heard once came back to her. With blunted bone knife braced against the head of the pin that held the bottom hinge in place, she gave it an experimental smack. The pin shifted up with surprising ease. And not too much noise. Grinning with a kind of grim hope, she pried the pin out after only a few more soft blows. Then she reached up to tackle the top one, glad that the door only had two hinges.

The last pin fell out and the door sagged toward her. She caught it, twisting it out of the frame enough for her to pass through. She unlocked the deadbolt, went back inside the room and slipped one pin back into place. Then stepped back outside and locked the door behind her, grinning in satisfaction. Too used to sneaking out of her mother's apartment at all hours to not leave as little evidence as possible, but too worried about speed to be thorough.

She looked up and down the hallway carefully. To the right was the upper room where she'd overheard the men the night before and beyond it one set of stairs that for certain lead to the back of the building and the kitchen. But a kitchen would be in use in the morning, wouldn't it? So she headed the other way, moving quietly. The bone knife still clutched in her hand. The tip was gone, but the edge was still sharp.

The house was eerily silent. As if there was no one there except her. But she already knew that the big man Creed could move with uncanny silence. She crept carefully down the hall, passing quite a few doors until she came to another open area with chairs. A kind of lounge. Windows showed her greenery and hedges just like the view from her former prison. Apparently, the hedge surrounded the house. There was another stairwell too, this one big and elegant.

She crouched in the room, listening intently. Then she started for the stairs, moving softly. She froze halfway down, thinking she'd heard what sounded like an elevator, when she suddenly heard a crash and a roar of outrage from behind her.

"Where the hell did ya go, ya ugly little shit?"


She scrambled down the stairs, terrified. They were long, wrapping around in a wide sweep to the ground floor. She sprinted across the open hallway toward a large, ornate doorway, hearing the thundering of Creed along the hallway upstairs, alarmed by his animal-like growls.

The door resisted her first attempt to open it. Locked with at least three bolts. She scrambled wildly to unlock it, hearing Creed on the stairs now. Couldn't figure it out in time, so she abandoned the door to sprint down the hall toward the back of the house. Looking for some other way out. A window, another door – anything.

In front of her, a man, dressed in a long white coat and pushing a cart, came out of what looked like an elevator. He called out in surprise, eyes wide with shock when he spotted her. She skidded across the floor in her old running shoes, the soles slick with wear, and crashed into the cart. Trays and scraps of food and bowls flew everywhere. Creed was yelling at the man to stop her even as she dove around him into the temporary safety of the elevator car just as the doors slid closed behind her.

She braced herself against the metal wall of the car, panting frantically as she listened to Creed's frustrated roars from outside. A shudder rocked the car as he slammed into the closed doors. She slapped the lowest button on the board – two levels down. Anything to keep that door from opening again.

The car slid smoothly into motion. Stopped with a completely ordinary ping on the designated level where the doors opened before her. She stepped out, then clamped her hands over the doors as they started to close, forcing them open again. If it went back up, that would let Creed follow her. She examined the control panel frantically as the doors kept trying to close against her bracing hand. Found the 'emergency stop' switch and flipped it. An annoying buzz rose from the elevator car, but it didn't go anywhere.

She turned to find herself in a fairly long hallway, three doors all on the same side of the wall spaced reasonably far apart. She yanked open the first door she came to. It looked like something out of a hospital. Behind a separating wall of glass, there loomed dozens of fancy medical machines, a cluster of big lights and a complex-looking operating table. It was so clean it gleamed. She scanned the room for signs of another exit, didn't see one, so closed the door and moved on to the next one.

Inside the second room were metal cages filled with animals; monkeys, dogs, rats. It looked like a lab of some kind, though she only realized that from vague impressions of things she'd seen on TV. But on the far side of this room loomed a door with a familiar green exit sign over it. She raced across and opened the door. Heart thundered in panic as she heard the pounding of feet on the stairs beyond. Spun away and ran back through the lab. She was barely through the hallway door when the stairwell door burst open behind her. Creed yelled an obscenity at her heels.

She dodged away toward the buzzing elevator again. Lunged inside, bone spikes scraping loudly against metal as she slammed against the wall while she simultaneously slapped at the highest button. Then screamed as she realized she hadn't shut off the emergency stop. Scrambled frantically for it. Flicked it off. Too late. Huge hands slapped over the edges of the doors to keep them open. She looked up into a nearly inhuman face; sharp teeth, feral eyes, bristling hair. She slashed at him wildly with the bone knife still in her hand. Saw it slice deep across his arm. Saw blood run. Then he backhanded her across the face.

The strength of the blow sent her flying across the car; spikes clattering, head ringing, vision tunneling. She ended up on her side, dazed, scrambling weakly at the floor. Her bone knife lost somewhere.

"Got guts, girlie. No brains, but guts." His low voice came to her even through the dull ringing in her ears, the angry buzzing of the elevator. "That's the second time ya cut me."

She lifted herself weakly on her arms, head lolling down toward her chest. Blood dripped from her chin onto the white tile floor of the elevator. Made small splatters that fascinated her. The coppery taste bright in her mouth. Pain throbbed in her head. Her shoes slipped on the floor as she tried to crawl away. To escape. She had to escape.

He walked slowly toward her. She could see his boots. Wanted to spit on them.

"At least ya heal decent. Not like me, but better than most frails."

He laughed then, the sound chill and mocking. She made it to her hands and knees and started crawling. Anywhere. Away. Another blow sent her tumbling out the opened doors to sprawl against the wall in the hallway. Blackness threatened around bright flashes of pain. She hurt everywhere. Blood trickled warm down her face.

"Yeah, I could almost like ya, girlie. If only ya weren't so damn ugly."

She blinked painfully up at him, seeing only his heavy blond mane of hair haloed by the cold fluorescent lights, his expression hidden from her by shadow. He was laughing again, low and menacing. She spat at him. Hating him. He snarled and hit her again. And this time, the blackness took her.

* * * * *

Remy LeBeau looked up suddenly from the chattering of the young girl beside him straight into his stormy goddess' dark eyes. She had paused in the dining hall doorway, her attention fixed on him. When their eyes met, he saw the flush of desire come over her face, the way her lips parted in response. Fought his own reaction with grim determination. Too public, this, and too many children near. He deliberately looked back down at the girl beside him, smiling gently at her enthusiastic recap of last night's water war. It was a popular topic this morning.

"Dat sounds like fun, petite," he said to the girl when she paused for breath.

Her name was Mandy. She was fourteen. And her mutant ability was to generate high intensity sound waves, kind of like a dolphin, as she had explained eagerly and to his mild shock. She also had braces on her teeth, dishwater blonde hair and a slight case of acne; she was sweet and young and obviously enamored with him.

Enamored with his looks, at least. And he should be used to that, he thought with biting self-mockery. Once he'd learned how to disguise his eyes, his pretty face had gotten him into plenty of trouble in its time. But underneath the smooth adult exterior still lurked a wary, lonely, strange-eyed boy.

A boy who'd lived wild on the streets of New Orleans from the age of seven or so. Streets where a thick Cajun accent was considered 'cute' to the tourists. And cute meant money given willingly – or unwillingly. Streets where a little boy in sunglasses wasn't harassed too badly as long as he kept moving, because staying still meant exposure or capture. Exposure to people who called you both devil and Loa and laid necklaces of bone at your feet. Capture by those who did frightening things that made you scream in the night. Streets where your only friends were those too hopeless or too drunk or too blind to care about your eyes.

Until that one fateful day when his poppa had taken a chance on him… He shook himself mentally, unsettled by the dark turn of his thoughts. Those memories had been buried for years. Why should the presence of one happy girl draw them out to spoil his mood? Determinedly, he buried them again and forced a smile.

The young girl beside him beamed obliviously back at him before giggling and rambling on further about water balloon ambushes and the boy she liked and how she'd doused him good last night. Amazingly normal talk – for a mutant child. It was sobering to see just how much Xavier and his loyal followers had already accomplished here.

Remy kept a surreptitious watch on the doorway while he listened to Mandy's chatter. He definitely noticed when Ororo was joined there by Logan. She folded her arms over her chest, a cool look on her face now in response to something the other man had said. Logan was annoying her, apparently. He hid a pensive frown. He and Logan would have to have words. Soon. Reach an understanding, or there would be blood spilled. Then the two others were joined by Scott Summers. And after a few moments of discussion all three of them turned their attention toward him.

"I'm sorry, petite," he said to the girl beside him. "Duty calls." Mandy looked up, spotted the other teachers at the door and noticed they were staring their way. She snatched up her breakfast plate with a squeak before she scrambled off to a table. The group of lingerers around him also scattered. Not in fear, but in a kind of self-consciously guilty adolescent panic over the adult perceptions of anything that fell outside normal routine.

He picked up his refreshed cup of coffee and walked back to the table that several students had earlier pointed out to him as the teacher's. It sat at the head of what had once been a vast formal dining room. Now a glorified cafeteria. Tall windows let the bright morning sunshine inside and he'd already wished that he'd thought to bring down his sunglasses. The floor was polished wood, the walls covered with a cream-colored silk, the wainscoting expertly carved. But the floor was battered from the tread of many feet and the sliding of chairs, the silk stained in spots, the walls dented slightly. Xavier had converted his elegant ancestral home ruthlessly. And seemed not to begrudge the wear it received. Remy slid back into the seat he had chosen when he ate his light breakfast earlier and casually sipped coffee as he watched the other three adults finally enter the room.

Ororo headed straight for him, exchanging brief words with children who called to her as she passed; a calm smile on her face, her gaze never straying far from him. Focused and pleased. Yet still aware enough to pause a moment to speak with one eager boy, her smile deepening as her hand briefly touched the boy's shoulder. It showed just how much she cared for these children, how tender she was. The boy turned away laughing. His goddess continued toward him.

Remy looked up into her eyes again, smiling in welcome before he rose to his feet and took her hand in his. Lifted her hand to his mouth and pressed a quick kiss on the back of it. A tremor shot through her. "Morning, chère," he said with deliberate ease. "Feel better now?" She pulled her hand slowly, reluctantly away, fingers trailing across his hand.

"Yes, I do," she said huskily. "Thank you." He could see the heat in her eyes, the quick pulse in her throat and he wished suddenly that he could just take her away for a week or three and explore their intense attraction undisturbed. With no responsibilities or obligations save to each other and the fire between them.

The general level of sound jumped in the room, a wave of eager noise rising suddenly from the young people around them. They both ignored it for a moment, lost in each other's eyes. Rich velvet brown and red-on-black. Absorbed. Intent. But it was Ororo who finally tore her gaze reluctantly away, turning to glance around the room with face flushed. Remy looked away as well, trying to cool his own unruly desire.

Summers was walking through the room, talking quietly to each table of kids. They were reacting in various enthusiastic ways; leaping to their feet, pumping fists in the air, high-fiving each other, chattering eagerly. Summers had a patiently amused look on his face.

Over at the buffet, Logan was speaking intently to three girls who had clustered around him, trapped while pouring himself a cup of coffee. One a medium-height girl with sleek auburn hair that was oddly streaked with white in the front and who, for some reason, wore long opera gloves covering her hands and arms; another a tall, slender girl with vaguely curly brown hair and wide, deer-like eyes; and the last an Asian girl with short bobbed dark hair, wearing a glaringly yellow tee shirt. The girl in gloves was pleading with the Wolverine, obviously asking for some kind of favor. Logan shook his head sharply, but looked down at the girl with clear fondness, his expression as soft as Remy had seen it yet.

"Scott cancelled classes for the week," Ororo explained. Remy raised a brow. "The name you gave him last night – it might be a geneticist that Jean and the Professor are going to see at the symposium they're attending this week."

"Dat worries him," Remy said. She nodded, watching Summers as he finished moving through the room. Behind him most of the kids had raced out, whooping and yelling. A few remained behind on clean-up duty, hastily gathering up stacks of trays and tubs of dishes so that they could join the fun sooner.

"Yes," she said with a sigh and a slight frown, then she glanced at the table beside them. "You've eaten, I see. I'd better go get my breakfast before they throw everything out." He watched her move across the room, her easy grace and beauty, as always, entrancing him.

Summers came over to him, his job of dispersing students apparently done.

"Good morning, LeBeau," Summers said, taking a seat at the end of the table.

"You have questions for me today?" Remy asked absently, attention still split on his goddess for a moment longer, then he took his seat again, looking thoughtfully at Summers. The man had collected a cup of coffee at some point on his circuit of the room and now took a drink as he watched Remy from behind his ever-present red shades.

"How certain is your information on Essex?" Summers asked coolly.

"Just the name for sure," Remy replied shortly. "Stormy tells me you think he might be this geneticist your lady doctor is meeting this week."

"Yes, Dr. Nathaniel Essex. And he's actually rather famous. He won the Nobel Prize for medicine last year."

Remy raised his brows in surprised acknowledgement, but kept the rest of his face impassive. "Thought de name sounded familiar."

Scott nodded grimly. "You said he sent men after you…"

"You want proof," Remy said, with a tight grin, staring into those red glasses. Catching the barest glimpse of the steady eyes behind them. Summers was no fool.

"It would probably be a good idea to have some kind of evidence before we start harassing a respected scientist," Summers said easily.

Remy lowered his shields slightly, catching the sincerity of Summers' fledgling trust in him, but also his need for certainty. The other man wasn't really doubting him, just being thorough. Building a case, so to speak. He closed his shields again, and leaned back in his chair, frowning thoughtfully. Logan strode up, the three girls still in tow.

"Come on, Logan," the girl in gloves was saying, a hint of the South in her husky voice. "Just up and down the driveway again… Please? You'll be right there..."

"What's up?" Summers asked just as Logan growled a surly negative over his shoulder. Apparently one of many that seemed to have had little effect on the gloves-wearing girl. She fixed rather pretty wide brown eyes on Logan, batted her lashes and clasped her hands together pleadingly. The Asian girl next to her snorted in amusement over her display, stifling it behind her hand, dark eyes dancing. He leaned back in his chair to watch, and didn't even have to lower his shields to sense Logan's wary discomfort. He was heartily amused by it all.

"They want more lessons on my bike. Today," Logan said shooting the still silently pleading girl an annoyed – if faintly indulgent – look as he dropped into a seat at the table. She stuck her lip out in a frustrated pout, trading desperate glances with her two partners in crime. They all three stuck their heads together, whispering madly, the other two giving the first girl urging gestures.

"Your bike, huh?" Summers gave a short laugh. He and Logan exchanged pointed stares, the tension suddenly high between them. Remy hid his sharp attention behind a wide grin.

"Motorcycle?" Remy asked with a throaty chuckle, wondering about the sudden antagonism between the other two. "You ride too, mes amis?"

Both Summers and Logan turned to look at him, shrugged. Remy laughed in easy delight, thinking quickly.

"Left my bike in de city," he said with a show of dismay. Then he looked at the suddenly attentive girls and gave them a slow, deliberate smile. The good one. It wasn't even fair. He had them. All three of them blinked back at him in a kind of stunned, astonished awe; the curly-haired girl even let her mouth fall open with a soft gasp. He'd have to be careful around here, he thought wryly as he toned down the wattage on his smile. Too many little-girl hearts that could be inadvertently broken. "I'll bring it back here soon. Then I can give you lessons if you like, petites."

Logan made a sharp sound of disgust, but he ignored him as he kept most of his attention on the three girls. Summers stayed quiet, but he could see the frown on his face from the corner of his eye. Worried about their girls now? Or him?

The first girl to recover was the short Asian one. There was a flash of calculation deep in her eyes as she shook off her awed reaction to his smile, followed by a kind of knowing wariness –something far too mature for her age. Then it disappeared behind a gleam of mischief and a cheeky grin. He kept his smile in place, watching her more closely. She was a kindred spirit, maybe. A child of the streets, definitely. And pure trouble, it was clear. "Whoa, cool, really?" she said eagerly, without a single look over at the scowling Summers.

"Hey, you're Remy LeBeau, aren't you?" she went on, her words spilling out with impressive speed around a wad of bubble gum. "Ms. Monroe told us last night. Are you gonna stay? Your eyes are rad. Hey, I heard you've got powers like me – and no matter what John says, I think blowing up stuff is way cooler than playing with fire – even if my pafs are kinda small still. I'm Jubilee, by the way. Well, Yung-Mei Jubilation Lee, but everyone just calls me Jubilee. And the spaz here with her chin on the floor is Kitty Pryde." She elbowed the thin girl hard and hissed in a loud aside, "Jeez, Pryde, get a grip." The other girl blinked and shut her jaw with a snap. Another conquest, he thought ruefully, lips twisting faintly. "And over there in the gloves – that's Rogue. And could… Hey!"

"Jubilee the motor-mouth," the tall girl named Kitty said darkly after interrupting Jubilee with a sharp elbow. "Duct tape extra." The girl called Rogue laughed and flushed faintly, looking down and letting the white-striped hair fall partially over her face. A little shy, apparently.

The casual mention of powers still gave him a twinge of unease. He'd have to get used to it. This place was a school for mutants, after all, and here they didn't have to hide what they were. These girls were only seventeen at the oldest, maybe even as young as fifteen. And despite being mutants, they seemed nearly as innocent and eager as any other sheltered teen in the country. He sighed inside. Knowing that he'd never been that innocent. Never had a chance to be, with his demon eyes marking him as different from the moment of his birth.

"I am honored to make your acquaintances, mademoiselles," he said with deliberate formality, nodding slightly and letting his eyes twinkle briefly at each of them in turn. "And I am indeed Remy LeBeau, at your service." Kitty rolled her eyes up in her head in a mock swoon, Rogue flushed deeper, but Jubilee just grinned back at him, an answering gleam in her dark eyes. Definitely trouble that one, he thought wryly, charmed despite himself.

"No riding lessons right now," Summers interrupted sternly. "Why don't you girls find something else to do for the day? Aren't you on stable duty anyway, Kitty?" The tall girl blinked in surprise. She'd obviously forgotten. His goddess walked up behind them, a tray of food in her hands.

"And I believe you still owe me an essay on the Civil War, Miss Lee," she said just as sternly, but with a smile teasing at her lips. The girl rolled her eyes dramatically and sagged where she stood.

"But it's summer!" Jubilee protested. Ororo and Summers laughed and exchanged pointed looks.

Remy rose to his feet and gallantly pulled out a chair for his goddess. She shot him a surprised look, and for a moment he thought she was going to protest his courtesy, but the quiet regard in his gaze must have convinced her otherwise. He let his hand brush briefly against her shoulder as she sat down and he felt the answering tremor run through her. So precious. So beautiful. And all of this, so fragile. But worth protecting. The feeling was sudden and overwhelming. He checked his shields carefully – not truly surprised to find them solid and no outside influence at work. He tried not to think about how much that must mean he already cared about her, and this place… and how dangerous that could be for them all.

Remy let his carefully neutral gaze pass over the table of adults and the three girls as he stood beside his goddess's' chair, arms crossed casually over his chest. Mind still churning. He let his gaze lock on Jubilee.

"Tell you what, petite," he said to the Asian girl, a slow grin crossing his face. "You finish dat essay for Ms Monroe some time today while I go fetch my bike. She gives you a good grade on it, you get de first lesson."

"Hey!" Kitty and Rogue said in unison, indignant at being excluded from the offer. Jubilee smiled wide and cracked her gum smugly. "Deal!" she said.

Remy grinned with satisfaction at the frowning Summers and the glowering Logan. His goddess just watched with a kind of amused patience overlying the simmering awareness of him. She shook her head, a gently knowing twist to her smile.

"Bribery," she said as she saluted him with her teacup. "I never would have thought of that, Remy, thanks."

"Non?" he said with exaggerated astonishment. "It always worked on me in school…"

"I imagine it did," his goddess said as she shook her head again and laughed softly. Summers looked mildly amused now as well. Only Logan still scowled.

"I'll go now, and get my bike," he said, with a brief inclination of his head toward Summers and a raised-brow look for the man. Wordless understanding passed. He'd come back with more information, too.

"See you dis afternoon, chère," he said to his stormy goddess. She looked faintly bereft, shocked that he was leaving so abruptly. He gave her a wicked smile and a look rife with promise. Heat stained her cheeks as they locked gazes for a long moment until she finally mumbled a soft farewell. Remy grinned shamelessly back, then with a casual wave for the rest of them, he turned and strode out of the room, heading for her attic and his things.

There were still those loose ends for him to take care of in town, if he was planning on staying around. And he was, despite the flare of old panic it gave him. Some time in the city – away from her direct impact – could teach him much... About just how far he had already fallen toward love.

* * * * *

Logan had stalked off after Remy left, a dark look on his face as he herded the trio of girls out of the dining hall and muttering something about keeping order in the halls. Only she and Scott were left. Even the breakfast clean-up crew had disappeared – though they could be heard clattering and banging in the kitchen beyond. Teachers who dawdled the morning away had to take their own trays in, apparently. But it had been well worth it, she thought with a fond smile. Until he left so suddenly. The smile faded. Ororo finally looked up from her cup of yogurt at Scott. Her friend was watching her closely, his expression somber.

"Are you okay?" he asked softly. She felt a mild flicker of annoyance, even though she knew it was only a genuine concern for her happiness that motivated the question. The price of being alone so long, perhaps. Friends worried when you finally took a chance.

"Yes." She smiled tightly as her heart raced, then she admitted, "As long as he does come back."

"I think he will," Scott said. "And so do you."

She let out a shaky breath, picked up her tea and took a calming sip. "Yes. For now." Admitting her deepest fear to Scott as she would to no other so casually. They had fought together for years, just the two of them, protecting each other's backs. She could trust him to keep her secrets. Then she shot him a sharp look. "What was it you asked him to do?"

Scott shook his head a little, watching her closely through his glasses.

"Not much gets by you, does it?"

"Nope, so spill."

"Not much gets by him either, despite that 'see how sexy I am' act of his," Scott said thoughtfully. She gave an involuntary snort of laughter. She'd seen the smile he'd turned on the girls too. While that wasn't exactly how she'd choose to describe Remy's actions, it did fit. At least that once. And she'd already deduced it meant he was up to something. Just like the accent he played up at times. He was obviously used to concealing who and what he was. As a mutant, she couldn't blame him. But as a woman, it worried her.

"So…?" she prompted. Scott slid over one chair closer to her and leaned his arms on the table and the back of the chair in order to face her. His expression grave. She watched him consider his words as she sipped at her tea.

"I asked him to confirm his information about Essex," Scott said. "I'd rather not – even privately – accuse a Nobel Laureate of conspiracy without hard evidence."

"Scientists, even respected ones, have been known to let their desire for knowledge or fame override their ethics. He could be desperate for data on mutation and thought stealing it the only way to obtain it."

"Maybe," Scott said grimly. "But the Professor has been looking forward to this conference in part so that he can meet Nathaniel Essex. And I know Jean has too. Wouldn't they have heard some kind of rumors if Essex used questionable methods in his research?"

She shrugged. "Well, we can always wait for the Professor to meet him and give us his personal assessment of the man," she said, then frowned thoughtfully.

Scott looked down at the floor for a moment, before looking back up at her, his expression faintly worried. It sent a shaft of concern through her too.

"I only hope that won't be too late."

* * * * *

Remy LeBeau slipped his sunglasses on as protection against the bright morning light spilling into Ororo's attic room before he grabbed up his long leather duster. It wouldn't do to leave all his equipment behind. Not when he was going to work again. He paused at the foot of her bed, fingering the neatly laid out silk shirt that lay there. His shirt. The one he'd worn last night. The one she'd slid so eagerly from his shoulders. And he wondered painfully, for a moment, if she even expected him to return.

He left the shirt where it lay.

As he descended the main stairs, he could see Logan standing by the door, arms folded over his chest in what Remy was swiftly coming to realize was a habitual pose. Sneering, disdainful, distant. Did the man even realize how futile it was to resist these people? Their welcome, their honest concern and their determined promotion of a mutant's simple right to life, liberty and happiness was insidious.

"So, get what you wanted, Cajun?" the other man asked, gaze sharp.

Remy bristled inside at the implied insult to his goddess. But on the outside he stayed cool and calm as he closed the distance between them.

"Not just yet, mon ami," he said, letting a knowing smile play around his lips. He stepped past the other man to the door and opened it. Predictably, Logan growled; then a hand shot out to catch his arm and spin him around. But Remy was prepared. He turned in a flash and caught Logan's wrist in a hard grasp instead. Lowered his sunglasses with his free hand to look directly into the other man's eyes.

Surprise first, swiftly followed by a narrow, angry glare. The Wolverine wasn't used to being on the receiving end of intimidation tactics.

"Don' fuck wit' me," Remy said, his voice low and hard as he returned Logan's glare eye to eye. "An' don't insult my Stormy like dat again or I make you pay." And before Logan could twist his arm away, he released it with a contemptuous push. Then he turned and strode out the door.

He had a job to do. Then he'd be back. And damn Logan if he didn't like it.

* * * * *

Jean Grey was deeply engrossed in the first lecture panel of the morning, glasses on her nose, gold pen in her hand making quick notes on a pad in her own nearly-incomprehensible shorthand, when a young man in the hotel livery came up beside her. She sat in the last row of tables in a moderately-sized meeting room at the Ritz-Carlton. The room was full.

"Dr. Grey?" the bellhop asked politely, his voice hushed. She lifted her head, glancing up at the young man curiously. She hadn't even heard the room's door open she'd been so intent on the information regarding recent human population mutation-rate studies. The data was alarming – taken in a certain light – and could be used to fan anti-mutant hysteria if the media saw fit to report on it. The Professor had felt it imperative that at least one of them attend this report panel and she hated to miss any of it.


"There's an urgent phone call for you. In the lobby on the white courtesy phone. Just identify yourself to the operator and they will connect you."

"Thank you," she said, biting her lip in consternation. She didn't want to leave, but the man beside her had already shot her a quelling look. The panel had twenty minutes still to go, but the only one who could be calling would be Scott. And Scott wouldn't interrupt for frivolous reasons.

She slid out of her seat, gathering her things as silently as possible and followed the waiting bellhop out of the room. He closed the door behind her, and bowed formally to her. She just nodded absently and made her way to the lobby to quickly find a courtesy phone.

"This is Dr. Jean Grey," she identified herself into the receiver.

"One moment, please," the operator said hollowly. There was a flurry of clicking, then Scott's voice.

"Jean?" he called, his voice sounding strained.

"Yes, Scott. What happened?" she asked, still mildly annoyed to be pulled out of the panel. It had better not be a roughhousing injury to one of the kids or she was going to deliver a stiff lecture on caution and overly-competitive natures and keeping one's mutant power out of basketball games when she got back.

"Jean, our visitor says he was hired by Dr. Essex," Scott said tightly. Her eyes widened in shock, all thoughts of her interrupted panel gone, and she instinctively cupped the phone receiver in her hand. Then she more practically did a quick mental scan of nearby minds to make certain no one was trying to listen in. All was clear in her immediate area, save for the random lascivious thought about her trim forest green sweater set. She ignored it as the background noise it was.

"Is he certain?" she said skeptically, voice low. "Dr. Nathaniel Essex is one of the most respected human genetics researchers in the world, Scott. He's done groundbreaking work on cancer therapies as well as several meta-viruses. And his work was instrumental in discovering the meningitis therapy. "

"He is reputable then," Scott said his tone resigned. "That makes this harder." She wanted to reach through the phone and shake him. Did he have any idea who he was accusing?

"Are you sure about this, Scott?" she asked.

"Reasonably," he said, and something in the very flatness of his tone alerted her. But he was much too far away for her to mind-reach. He didn't sound reasonably sure. And for Scott, that was critical.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Our visitor came back last night. He stayed in the attic – and for breakfast," he said pausing significantly. She didn't need to be a telepath to pick up that broad hint. She wondered briefly how the intensely private Ororo was handling this new development. Then remembered Remy LeBeau's intense sexual focus on her friend and had to smile. She hoped 'Ro had at least gotten to enjoy herself before it all hit the fan.

"How's Ororo?" she asked, the smile still twitching at her lips. Despite LeBeau's strange accusation about one of her most respected medical peers, he was still a handsome man who had been making eyes at her friend. She wanted details.

"She's fine." She shook her head in silent disgust at Scott's bland reply.

"Is he still there?"

"No, I asked him to go out and get confirmation today. So he left a little while ago."

"How'd 'Ro take that?"

"You know her. She's fine." Which meant Ororo was sweating it and trying to hide it. Which also meant she cared about this thief more than she wanted to admit. Already. And that worried Jean. How much did they really know about him anyway? Then Scott continued, his tone serious, and shattered her thoughts.

"Jean, it's genetic data. Who out there in the world could understand it better than a cutting edge geneticist? But even if we can't be certain it's actually the Dr. Essex himself who wants the data, somebody out there does. And was willing to hire a pro to get it." He paused and she knew with a quick sinking in her stomach exactly what he was going to say next.

"I think both you and the Professor should come home," her fiancée and team leader said, his voice hard. "You're vulnerable there."

She glanced around the lobby first, scanning quickly to make certain no one was paying her any attention. "Scott, they don't need to be able to understand the full data," she said, her voice low as a precaution. "They just need to identify the activated x-factor gene. Then someone can reveal all of us – and the children – as mutants."

He sighed into the phone. "I thought of that too. And that really scares me."


"Then we have a new enemy out there. Someone who wants to hurt us, and the kids. Someone we know nothing about."

"What about Mystique?" she asked after a moment of mutual silence.

"She's busy being Senator Kelly."

"Well, maybe it was the government who really hired him, Scott, and is pinning the blame on Dr. Essex for some reason," she said, thinking furiously. "Or a rival biotech firm. They're all desperate for scraps of his research since he only works independently."

"Now you're really reaching, Jean. Does it bother you that much that it might be Essex?" he asked with a patient sigh. "You haven't even met him."

"The man's done so very much for medical science. He's an incredible researcher. His work is decades beyond anyone else's. There's no telling what he'll discover next," she said eagerly. "He could even cure cancer in the next few years. That's the kind of impact I'm talking about, Scott. I don't have to meet him to understand that."

"Still, you've never actually met him. You don't know what he's like. Or what he's capable of."

"Well, we just met this thief, too. What do we really know about him?"

"I trust Ororo's judgement." Which meant he was supporting her choice, but, by his tone, was still worried about her.

"Ororo is thinking with her hormones right now, Scott," Jean said, a grim smile on her lips.

"Maybe, but I'd rather you just came home."

"Scott, the Professor and I have commitments here…"

"Okay, okay," he said, sighing heavily. And if she'd been standing beside him she would have seen him scrub his hand across his chin – his irritated gesture. He hated not having all the information he needed when he felt a battle coming on. And that he felt one was coming was clear, she could tell. And that gave her brief pause. "Just promise me you'll call and tell me what the Professor has to say about all this, okay?"

"I promise," she said.

* * * * *

On his way out of Salem Center, the quaint, semi-rural township closest to Xavier's school, Remy LeBeau stopped at a convenience store with a public phone. He used a custom-designed calling card to place a special call. Waited with calm patience through half a dozen rings. Finally, a recorded voice invited him to leave a message. He did so, clearly and precisely. Then hung up.

The first step taken, he climbed back into the rental car and headed for the city.

- - to be continued - -