A/N: At last, at last. Third major overhaul of the draft and at last, something I think works.
Thank you to all my reviewers. I'm not even going to try to reply to everyone this chapter, but next chapter I will. I'm grateful to each one of you for putting up with my extended hiatuses. I hope you enjoy.
Chapter 16: Exchange
Remy sits at the front of a room full of preteens, wondering briefly to himself how in the world he ended up here of all places, teaching of all things. "Can anyone tell me where Tunisia is?" he asks aloud.
A bright, cheery young cyberpath in the front row raises her hand.
"North of Cape Cod," she offers.
He blinks at her and restrains himself from banging his head on the desk. "No. Can anyone tell me what continent Cape Cod is part of?"
"Isn't it in Africa?" Freddy Lewis asks. "I mean, we're studying Africa."
"No, it's in Florida, dummy," another student volleys back.
Remy tries not to grit his teeth and feels some empathy for all the times his Tante Mattie threw up her hands and declared, From the stupidity of youth, good Lord, preserve us!
With a sigh, he stands, turns to the chalkboard, and pulls down the map of Africa again, effectively muting the muttered disagreements of the class as they give him their attention. They aren't the only ones though. A chill crawls up his spine and all of his muscles tense, ready to run. He keeps his voice calm and talks them through the major countries and landmarks of the African content again, then turns back to the class and is pleased to see the worst of the budding geographers are taking notes. He doesn't make an issue of it, but he glances in the doorway to make sure there aren't any threats.
It's Callisto. She is leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed, watching him intently and ignoring the students.
He tilts his head at her, asking with his expression what she's doing, but she simply stares impassively back from her one good eye. He glances up at the clock. Fifteen minutes before the bell will ring.
"All right, class." He smiles disarmingly and a few of the more perceptive start groaning. "Y' get t' go early today, but." He draws out the word long enough for the less perceptive to start groaning too. "Y've got pages 41 through 49 in y'r workbook as homework, d'accord? Anyone gets less than 75% on their grade tomorrow, an' all o' us goin' t' sit through dis lesson again. Class dismissed."
A veritable roar of grumbling and growling ensues, coupled with the slamming of textbooks and chairs and the pounding of feet as the students rush out the door and complain about the few people dumb enough to show off their failure to study during class time. Remy may be a fair favorite with the good students of 'Mutant High,' but he treats them like his own famille treated him: he brooks no slacking and won't let a student skate by on cramming.
He shakes his head at the departing mass. "Kids." Then his gaze returns to Callisto. He does not bother to hide the shrewd suspicion in his eyes. There's no way she could have missed it anyway. "C'n I help y?" That d— tell. His accent still thickens when he's bothered by something.
But Callisto doesn't know that, and her face turns softer rather than harder as he expected. "I wanted to thank you," she states abruptly, as if it's awkward to say it.
He blinks at her. "Porquoi?"
"I don't speak French," she deadpans, "but if you're wondering why, it's really vicarious." A small smile. "Sarah's doing well."
His gut clenches and he only now realizes he's still tense. It's the last thing in the world he expected her to say. Sarah. Remy reels mentally from the very idea. Sarah, the little girl with the pink hair and the bones growing out of her skin. The one child he'd stolen from the Morlock Massacre and kept alive until she could return to her people. He nods, as if a map of memory isn't racing through his mind and heart. "She is, is she?"
"Yes." Abruptly, Callisto spins on her heel and leaves.
Remy doesn't know what to make of it, so he makes nothing, just slowly gathers his teacher's books and slowly steps out into the hall. He needs to compute it, but he's not sure it's a good time for that, especially not with the two men joining him before he has a chance to go more than a foot.
Sam flanks him on one side and Piotr on the other. Remy listens to Sam's surprisingly steady stream of conversation about everything from dinner tonight to Jubilee. Pause there.
"What can Ah do ta get her attention?" Sam asks.
Remy laughs, forces himself to relax, but continues walking briskly toward the dorms—and the room he shares with Rogue. "Y' could try sayin' hello."
"Remy." Sam's exasperation doesn't stop him from speeding up to keep up with Remy.
"He has a point," Piotr admonishes.
Sam groans. "Y'all are no help. No help at all."
They walk in silence a little further. Almost there, Remy thinks.
"I was wondering if you had any ideas for a gift for Kitty," Piotr says slowly, changing the subject.
Remy gives him a surprised double-take. "Dat girl's dead gone on y'. Don't matter what y' pick, she'll love it."
Sam chuckles in agreement.
But Piotr's expression is pained. "Do you think she'll be offended if I paint her?"
Suddenly, Remy gets it. He nods thoughtfully. "I'll ask Rogue." This is serious to Piotr, so Remy treats it accordingly.
"Rogue and Katya are good friends," Piotr comments, clearly content with the answer.
"Very good," Remy agrees and takes the opportunity to open hi— their door. "And now—"
"Almost think y'all were running away from us," Sam teases.
"Good night." Remy grins and closes the door.
He turns around and there she is. Rogue is lying on her stomach on the bed, grading papers. "It's official," she announces, as if she knew he was coming in. "Ah hate English. Ah've seen way too many examples today of how bein' a native speaker doesn't make a kid fluent." She sighs in frustration and blows a white lovelock out of her eyes.
Remy grins, kicks off his shoes, and clambers up on the bed beside her. He tucks one arm over her and kisses her just below her ear. She makes a small sound of pleasure, and he kisses her again.
"I know what y' mean," he comments, thinking of Tunisia and Cape Cod.
She tosses her pen on her books on the chest and rolls over to take him in her embrace. "Do ya?" But her mind is elsewhere. He can almost see her thoughts spinning behind those bright green eyes.
She gives one of those longsuffering sighs that implies he's the one missing the obvious and clambers off the bed to dim the lights. "Ya ain't goin' anywhere," she says matter-of-factly. "We agreed ya were goin' ta tell me about your family."
That gives him pause.
She arches one eyebrow and proceeds to snuggle in on the bed before giggling at the expression on his face. "What? Sorry ya ain't goin' ta win away Bobby's entire month's worth of candy?"
Remy wisely refrains from answering directly. "S'pose I can't complain." And really, how can he with her warmth pressed against him and her desire to actually be with him? It never ceases to amaze him that she'd rather turn down almost anyone else's companionship, even her girlfriends, if it means spending time with him. "Y're amazin', y' know dat?" he asks her thickly.
"A little besahde the point." But she cuddles in closer and a small pleased smile lifts her mouth. "Ah'll start."
He leans his head against hers and lets her warm southern drawl wash over him.
"Mah first memories are always of mah mama," she begins matter-of-factly. "She's the one that actually cared about me and wanted a little girl, so she was always the one takin' care of me and makin' sure Ah got fed and such. Mah favorite thing was when she'd let me pick out any story from the big book of fairy tales and then read it ta me until Ah fell asleep."
"What was y'r favorite?" He nuzzles her neck, thinking of all the stories he's ever heard and how similar but different they are. He never particularly liked hearing Guild prophecies to go to sleep by.
Rogue stays quiet for a spell, thinking. Finally, she answers. "Beauty and the Beast."
His fingers move absently down her arm until he hears her breath catch a little and then he kisses the top of her head. "Tell me more."
"Ah think the part Ah lahked best 'bout Cody is he was always trahin' ta be a gentleman—and failin' miserably." A small giggle. "One tahme, he was maybe thirteen and he dressed up in his pa's dress suit ta trah and impress me."
"What? Dat didn't win y' heart?" he teases.
Her shoulders shake with her mirth and there's a bright sparkle in her eye. "Ya should've seen him, Remy. He looked terrible!"
Remy imagines a thirteen year old in his père's dress clothes—more like remembers his own attempt at filling out a grown man's clothes before he'd shot up—and shakes his head. "Probably not half as bad as de suit."
More giggles. Remy cranes his head to look at her. Rogue doesn't giggle often. He smiles at the childlike playfulness in her agreement.
"His mama 'bout tanned his hahde foh the mud he got on it."
Rogue has an innocence Remy's fairly certain he lost ages ago—if he ever had it in the first place. Abandoned at birth because of his devil eyes, raised on the streets by whatever protection he could cobble together by showing his belly to, thieving and pickpocketing just to survive, Remy has never had the luxury of innocence. He listens to her childhood memories, the good times she used to have, and he finds himself wishing he could relate to it beyond in his dreams.
Somewhere in the telling, Rogue falters and curls her fingers around his protectively. She silently asks him with her eyes what's wrong, and he shrugs one shoulder as if it doesn't matter.
"Sounds nice, chère."
The air hums with tension in her pause, but she doesn't let go and he wonders at how much solidarity he can feel through just her hand holding to his.
"So," she begins slowly, "did you have good memories growing up?"
Her phrasing hits him harder than it should. How can he answer that without getting in too deep? Then again, he's already that.
Remy tugs her closer and tucks her back in beside him. It's always easier to talk when he can hold onto something, preferably her. "Grew up 'fore I had a fam'ly."
Rogue stares at him, listening so completely it makes him wish he could take back the words and brush them back under the carpet. Instead he pauses, sighs. "It weren't pretty."
"So?" she asks quietly, and he hears her quiet sass in the declaration. It is a declaration. She doesn't care, no more than Bella had.
Dieu, this woman makes less sense to him than his own train wreck of a life. Rogue can hear something like the Morlock Massacre and see a man struggling to find some goodness in himself. She can look into the demon eyes that earned him prophecies heaped upon his head, curses from the mouths above their crucifixes, and call them beautiful.
"Chère, y'crazy," he murmurs against her hair, but he tells her. He tells her about Fagan and the street gang that let him keep the scraps of his own work in exchange for a place to sleep. He tells her that he's never known what it means to be innocent and watches the pain flicker in her eyes. "M' famille saved me," he says simply, and maybe she really does understand what he means now when he says it. Jean-Luc LeBeau took him away from the living nightmare and gave him a home.
"He did not!" Rogue demands with wide eyes.
Remy laughs, warming to his story. "So Emil tells us he's goin' t' get himself a cookie—after Tante Mattie tol' us she catch anyone swipin' one wit'out her permission was goin' t' regret it. An' o' course, he did."
Telling Rogue stories beats any bedtime tradition he ever had, except perhaps...
"Y' know, I didn't believe it at first," he admits for the first time in his life. Remy hates admitting weaknesses. "I had a home. Ev'ry night, I'd stay 'wake as long as I could, waitin', holdin' my breat' sometimes. Every time, Jean-Luc would come sneakin' down d' hall and check in on m'." Every night until it finally sunk into Remy's ten-year-old brain that he had a père.
Rogue is quiet as he remembers, then she leans her head on his shoulder. "Y'all still have a home."
He looks at her, pained. "'S a long way away," he whispers softly.
She hums thoughtfully, accepts that. "Yeah, it is."
Her own gaze is lost in memory and it makes him ask her, "Y' ever miss home?"
An awkward laugh, a shift of her fingers on his. She shakes her head. "It's weird, Ah guess, but Ah can't go back. They wouldn't—" She shakes her head again, without the words to convey.
It hits him like a slam in the gut. "Your mutation." He can't quite keep the anger from his voice.
Rogue's eyes flick to his. "Yes," she says evenly. "My mutation." Ellis Island. Magneto. Her own protector nearly dead at her hands if it weren't for his healing factor. The voices that haunt her yet and changed her. "You left, Remy," she says fiercely. "When you went level five on them and could have killed them all with a look,"—it takes his breath away, she can say it so easily—"they didn't kick you out, but you wouldn't stay."
He fists his hand in her white hair, holds tight at what she's saying.
"Oh, Remy, don't." She turns in his arms and wraps her arms around his neck to kiss him. "It's okay. I wanted this. I want them safe."
Memory has haunted their steps in so many ways, hers in more ways than he'd first imagined, and somehow it makes sense now that she understands how the best of intentions can go so terribly wrong. Somehow, the horror of their memories fades in these simple, quiet exchanges.
A/N: So I've been busy—on original fiction. Sorry for the horrendously long wait. I do apologize. This chapter was an exercise in regaining my fanfic voice, so if it's not quite right, I also apologize. If you want to prompt fanfic or original fiction, please check out my lianamir dot com website, where I'm running a 365 Challenge, in which I write 365 pieces of fiction and poetry, fanfic included. That's keeping me busy, so fanfic updates may be sporadic. I'm hoping to start being more regular again though.