Disclaimer: I do not own these characters or this universe.
Are you gone and on to someone new?
The Foo Fighters, Best of You
The bar was one of those hole-in-the-wall types, a crumbling brick building with neon signs filling both of its dirty windows. The interior was just as rugged. Sitting immediately to the left, and having seen better days, was the bar. It was surrounded by backless stools, some which rocked precariously back and forth, teetering their occupants without the added aid of alcohol. The counter was dull, uneven with a chipped and peeling finish. Behind it, the bartender was large and hairy. Dark chops ran down his jaw stopping halfway to his chin. Bushy eyebrows raised over dull brown eyes and accompanied a snarl with every order.
Along the wall across from the bar were several booths. Each was dimly lit, the overhead lights not quite reaching through the darkness; instead, they merely dissipated it, thinning it into a dismal gray that settled over and around each separate space. They were perfect for less-than desirables with less than desirable business. The shadows gave anonymity; a necessary evil in his chosen line of work.
This was not his favorite place. He preferred the hideaway of a jazz club where the dark was accompanied by the sweet slide of a trombone, and the only things chipped or peeling were the fingernails of a beautiful woman as she traced a tantalizing trail down his jawline. But he was working...sort of. Well, working at losing himself anyway; hence, the need for anonymity.
Remy LeBeau leaned back into his booth, willing his body to move as far away from the thin rays of the overhead bulbs as he could. He was on his second bourbon on the rocks when the other side of his booth creaked.
He didn't bother to look up, just continued to dismally sip at his drink. Setting the glass down with a clink, he swiped at the condensation with a lazy thumb. He swallowed, his tongue warm and swollen from the alcohol before finally addressing his intruder.
"Can I help you?" There was a twist to his words, an accent dipped in swirls of purple, green, and gold.
The man opposite him, leaned back, enjoyed a tug on his beer bottle before licking his lips and tipping the long-neck toward the younger man. "Been lookin' fer you." He took another swig and set the bottle on the table. Leaning in conspiratorially, he added, "You can be a hard man to track."
Fiery eyes raised, cut through the shadows, and fixed themselves on the older man. A slide of his mouth left him grinning humorlessly, "'Parently not hard enough."
The second man chuckled, then nursed his beer before tilting his chin to regard his companion. "Less cologne next time." This earned him a similar chuckle and he continued, "Things have been...strained...lately. I ain't gonna pretend any different. But, you and me, Gambit, we're solid right now."
The younger man accepted that, dipping his head in an affirmative nod before throwing back the rest of his bourbon. He scowled, the liquid scalding his throat despite his propensity for it. He didn't reply and his drinking buddy continued.
"It ain't easy bein' the head master of a school. Looked like cake watching the Professor and Scott," he added under his breath and helped himself to another swig of beer. "I don't like bein' on my best behavior all the time."
Remy chuckled and caught the eye of a withered waitress. He raised his empty glass and she nodded. "Logan, dat makes both o' us." He smiled as a full glass was slid in front of him. "Merci." He ran a hand through his brown hair, lifting the ends from where they rubbed against his earlobes. Eying his drinking partner, he raised his glass. "To not bein' a role model...at least for tonight." He swallowed a mouthful and set the glass down.
Logan watched him, assessing him with steel-blue eyes. Remy felt uncomfortable with the scrutiny, but instead, adjusted the length of his body so that he was leaning further back against the wall. The shadows covered his face, made him harder to read. Logan let out an exasperated sigh.
'I'm gonna level with you," he groused, his thumb peeling at the beer's label. "Things have been pretty shitty lately."
That was an understatement. Things had been beyond shitty, and Remy knew it. Firsthand.
Remy was a mutant. His DNA bestowed him with a strange skill-set: he could turn simple, everyday objects into weapons. More than that really, he could turn them into bombs. By simply touching them. Something within him, the funny little chromosome known as the x-gene, gave him the power to disrupt matter on a molecular level. He could feel the hum of electrons as they orbited the nucleus. He was able to scramble that orbit, pulling electrons away or shuffling them in, whatever he needed to do to make the atom volatile, to tip the potential energy into kinetic. The end result was explosive. Literally.
Logan, too was a mutant, with heightened senses and the ability to heal at an increased rate—even those wounds that would be fatal to a normal person. Many years prior, because of his unique healing factor, he had been the victim of an underground government experiment. Adamantium, the strongest metal known, was grafted to his skeleton, giving him unbreakable bones. That experiment made him unstoppable. What made him deadly was that his skeleton held a little extra, a retractable set of bone claws that extended from the top of each hand. The adamantium had adhered itself to those, turning them into blades, three-feet long and sharp as hell.
And Remy and Logan weren't the only ones.
In fact, they belonged to a group known as the X-Men. These mutants dedicated their lives to the belief that those with the x-gene could live peacefully with regular humans. They ran a school to help children with altered DNA learn how to exist in a world where relations between them and their non-powered brethren were...complicated.
Or, at least, they used to.
There had been dissension in the ranks, splitting the team into two different factions. Scott Summers, the school's former headmaster had taken his followers to Utopia, a mutant stronghold. There they honed their powers to prepare for the inevitable World War between the mutants and flat-scans. Logan and Remy defected and went back to teach, believing that children needed to be just that, and not trained as soldiers.
And then there was Rogue.
Remy's on-again, off-again girlfriend. They were currently off, but she believed as he did, that children needed to be in school and protected from the cruelness of the world for as long as they could be. So, she came back with him. That had given him hope, 'course the fact that she had left a boyfriend in Utopia and remained true to him, ripped at it a little.
Logan knew it. Everyone knew it.
Remy chose to pretend to the contrary. Because he still believed that ultimately they would be together. But, truth be told, the longer she held on to that S.O.B., the more he began to doubt.
He cleared his throat and tipped his head at Logan, acknowledging his appraisal of the situation. "Did you t'ink I was under some sort of impression ot'erwise?"
"No," the Canadian admitted, "no, I figure you've been first row for most of it." He took another draw from the bottle before wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and coughing. "Here's the deal, Gumbo," he sighed, considering his next words carefully, "I been where you are."
Eyebrows raised over strange eyes—red pupils instead of brown, black sclera instead of white. The only physical betrayal of his mutant stature. The red glowed with frustration. "How you figure?"
"I know what it's like to see the woman you love in the arms of a prick."
"No 'ffense, homme, but it ain' even de same t'ing."
Logan was not dissuaded. "I watched Jean and Scott for years. I loved her. And I knew Scott was trouble. I could smell it on him." His hands furled around the neck of his bottle, fingers straining to hold on, to curb the anger that was always so near the surface. "I watched her cry for him, watched him destroy her with his cheatin'. An' I gotta tell you, bub, I don't wish that on anyone." He allowed a small smile before adding, "Not even you."
"Ain't de same t'ing." The slide of his mouth was gone, pulled to a thin line.
"Oh, yeah?" Logan questioned, "I ain't exactly seen her hanging all over you. But she's sure got an eye on that phone."
Remy blew out a breath, popped his neck, but didn't say anything. The slam of the bourbon down his throat spoke volumes.
"She's replaced you. Moved on. You need to do the same."
"Listen, homme, you and Jean didn't exist. Ya'll were never together. Me an' Rogue? We was happy. Had us a little house. Bein' normal. An' den de X-Men show back up, pullin' us back into de life." He dropped his gaze, twirled the ice in his glass. "Den I went an' messed it up worse."
The older man stared at him for a moment, watching the clench of his jaw, the unsteadiness of his breath. Logan had finally started to wear away at the nerve. He tipped back his bottle, liquid courage for his next words. "An' you're just gonna keep makin' it worse."
Remy's eyes narrowed. His voice was low, anger beginning to infiltrate the southern cadence of his tone. "I t'ink you need t' shut yo' mouth."
"'Magneto's building himself up in her memory, makin' her just think about how wonderful," he choked on the word, "he is. You? You're there everyday. She hasn't had a chance to miss you. She just gets to remember everything you done, wrong or right, because every time she sees you, she sees all o' you."
"But I'm dere. I'm de one what's got her back. I'm de one she turns to!"
"You're just a Magneto-substitute. You do all the work; he gets all the rewards."
He was shaking now, his hands grappling the table in front of him. Purple electricity flickered out from his fingers, leaking on to the table just beyond his grip, but never moving more than an inch from his touch. He was struggling for control—anger swelled inside of him, his power screamed to be released. His eyes pulsated, maddening swirls of red and blood-red focused on Logan's cool blue gaze.
Logan watched him, ran his tongue over his teeth before swallowing. "And bub, I have been there." He dropped his vision to rest on the brown bottle in his hands and mumbled, "Love's fer the bleedin' birds." He raised his hand, signaled to the waitress that he needed another bottle before looking once again at Remy. "I need you to take a mission."
A strangled half-laugh, then, "Yeah, I'm real anxious t' help you out right now."
"Look, Gumbo, I get where you're at. Better than most. An' I'm tellin' you that it ain't gonna get any better. So you can do one of two things: stick around and get piss-drunk every night 'cause seein' her in love with Magneto makes you want to set yourself on fire. Or, move forward. Quit standin' still and hopin' she'll notice you again. Because maybe she will, but maybe she won't. Either way, you got to keep movin'."
He grinned, his teeth elongated by the thin darkness and dappled light of the bar. He looked every bit the Wolverine. Reaching into his leather jacket, he pulled a crumpled manilla folder from its interior pocket. Smoothing it out on the table, he pushed it toward Remy. "Something's been brought to my attention."
"Not asking." He flipped it open. A white circle with a black eagle holding a stars and stripes banner was stamped on the first page.
Remy's eyebrows raised. "This one of your Avengers' jobs? Cain't believe S.H.E.I.L.D. just let you waltz outta headquarters with one of their files."
When he wasn't performing his headmaster duties at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, Logan moonlighted with the Avengers, a super-hero team governed by the agency known by the acronym S.H.E.I.L.D., Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division. They were the ones in control whenever the world found itself in a less than diplomatic, diplomatic situation. And they weren't exactly known for sharing information.
Logan shrugged. "What they don't know..." He tapped a finger on the file. "This is one of those situations where the right thing to do isn't black and white."
"I ain' doin' it, mon ami."
"See, the Avengers' hands are tied. Or I'd do it myself. This mission requires someone with the ability to be a shadow. To get in and stay in without calling a lot of attention to himself." He leveled his gaze, blue eyes staring unblinkingly into Remy's red ones. "It's military."
"You gittin' so old you're ears quit workin'? I ain't takin' de job. Nothin' you say-"
Remy slammed his mouth shut and stared with wide eyes.
Logan exhaled heavily, flexed his hands over the file. "The government has sanctioned mutant armies."
"How's dat even possible?"
"With less than two hundred mutants left in the entire world? You're guess is as good as mine." He pushed the folder toward Remy. "But it's all there. Complete with a list of powers in each special team. And they got them doin' some shit jobs. All I wanna know is how and why. What's it gonna mean for us?"
"An' you wan' me to what? Sign right up?"
Logan slammed his fist on the tabletop. It shook beneath his strength; the bartender looked up from behind the bar. He leaned in, his hand shooting out and grasping the collar of Remy's trench coat. "This ain't no joke! This is something serious. I can smell it a mile away. And you can either help me or sit and cry in your drink!"
Remy's eyes flashed. His handsome face screwed up into a sneer. "Fuck you. Sittin' here tryin' t' give me relationship advice when you and Jean never even had one. Tryin' to play me into doin' your dirty work. I'm my own man; I make my own choices! An' I'll be damned if I'm gonna let you screw up what I've been workin' for!"
Logan snarled, shoving him back into the booth. "Y'know what, Gambit? I'm beginning to see why she picked Magneto."
A slow grin pulled across his face; it was slow, deliberate, and full of animosity. He grabbed his glass, swallowing the last of the amber liquid, before setting it on top of the file. "I'll get de tab, mon ami." Standing, he moved to the bar, and dropped a wad of cash on the counter. "See you at work." He flipped the collar of his coat up before pushing through the front door.
Logan shook his head and rubbed a tired hand down his face. The meeting had not gone the way he had hoped. He threw back the rest of his beer before setting it back down and wiping his mouth with his hand. He absently pushed Remy's glass off the file and wiped the water ring from its cover. Cramming it back into his pocket, his hand stilled. He cocked his head to one side, certain he had heard something. He heard it again. A popping, hissing sound met his ears. Confused, he glanced around the bar before his eyes fell on his table. Remy's glass was shaking with purple electricity. The blast threw him backwards.
Coughing, he shook cushion foam out of his face and searched the bar. No one seemed hurt. The explosion had been loud, but was only strong enough to reach him. However, now the patrons were all staring down at him with dubious expressions on their faces. So much for stealth.
Twisting out of the pile of his side of the booth, Logan decided to beat it out of there. Not that he couldn't take on the humans; he just wasn't up for it tonight. Besides, his little heart to heart with Remy had backfired. Literally. And if he couldn't get Remy on board with his reconnaissance mission, he was going to have to come up with a new plan. Because, as much as he hated to admit it, this was one of those times when he needed someone like Remy. And who was better than Gambit at lurking in the shadows?
He smiled at the way her voice purred in his ear. Pulling back, he found her eyes instantly. Green and glowing, they stared back at him, mirroring the lust he knew shone within his own. He stilled, his body covering hers, skin on top of glorious skin, and captured her lips with his own. She snaked her arms around his neck, her fingers knotting through the hair at the base of his skull. Dieu, he could never get enough of her, never fill the ache burning within him whenever she was near. This was as close as he could get, consuming her kisses, pulling her to him until their bodies were like one.
It still wasn't enough.
He needed her. And he told her so. Whispering kisses down her jaw and neck until he buried his face there and pushed her further into the bed. He gasped, wrapped his arms around her waist and grinned as she sighed beneath him. His gaze flickered to her face; her eyes were half-closed, and a satisfied smile pulled at the ends of her mouth. He couldn't stop the grin from smoothing across his face.
He leaned his chin against his palm, his elbow on the pillow near her head. His free hand pushed her white bangs back from her forehead; his smile deepened at the perspiration along her hairline. She opened one eye and studied him.
"Yes?" It was breathless.
He couldn't help it; he kissed her. Pulling back, he winked. "Did y' git it?"
She groaned, releasing the hold she had on his derriere and covering her eyes with her arm. "Remy!"
He licked his lips, his eyes flashing playfully. "Jus' makin' sure." He tipped his head toward her own.
"Remy!" This time her words were strangled and she shoved him back with fear in her beautiful eyes.
He looked at her. She was staring at him, trepidation shaking her features and tears streaming down her face.
"Oh, gawd, Remy, what did you do?"
The turmoil in her voice stabbed at his heart and he stood before her, palms up and open and begged for her to please stop crying. "Rogue, wha' you mean?" And he saw it. His breath died in his lungs. "Oh, gawd, no-" They were black—his hands, his skin. Black as Death. And now Rogue was gone and he was staring into a mirror—his hair, stark white and his skin the color of a night sky.
And he was Death.
The Death of himself. Of his love.
And suddenly, he was himself again. His body back to normal, his skin sun-kissed and supple. And he ran, ran all over, searching, calling. "Rogue! I'm here, cheré! Oh, Dieu! I'm here!" His eyes, glistening with tears, searched the shadows, the light, everywhere. But he couldn't find her.
She was gone.
And then...something caught his eye.
A rustling flash of red and purple.
And he made himself watch. Made himself witness the cost of his decisions, of his sins. He forced his eyes to stay open against the sting of tears. Forced his lungs to breathe, his heart to beat. He clenched his fists, curling his fingers into his palms, pressing them into his sides.
And he watched.
He watched as Rogue opened her lust-filled eyes. Watched as they rolled closed, her lips opening into a soft moan. Watched as she arched her back, grinding her body into the skin above her.
Skin that didn't belong to him.
He awoke with a start.
He gasped for air, pulling it in short, choppy breaths as he searched the room around him. Hands swept wisps of brown from his eyes before fisting the cotton wound about his legs. He kicked at it, struggling against its hold. Sweat glistened against his body, catching the moonlight from his apartment window. Freeing himself, Remy collapsed against his bed's headboard and buried his face in his hands.
It was a dream. It was just a dream. But it didn't matter, he decided, his hand curling over his bare chest, over his heart, because it was a truth. Hell, it was the truth. He'd been happy. So happy. When she was in his arms, when their eyes focused and unfocused on each other, he'd been a better man. Her love. And in one moment...one heartbeat...he'd thrown it all away in some damned moment of self-righteousness.
Instead of listening to his heart, to her—he listened to his ego. He believed he could beat the demon, cancel out its apocalyptic tendencies by his sheer will. He believed he could deal with the devil and come out unscathed.
He believed wrong.
Instead he became an abomination. Twisted and ugly and out of control, he turned on his teammates, on Rogue, because he wasn't strong enough. The lure of evil, of darkness, pulled at him, devouring those tendencies within his own soul and growing inside of him until the man that he was could no longer be seen. But even through that, with the blackness of his soul etched upon his skin, she called to him, begged him to remember their love, their need for each other. The sweet lilt of her voice awakened the humanity within him and he struggled against the creature he had become. But the evil within was too much and it broke through his goodness, crashing down upon him and pulling him back under.
Twice he tried to kill her.
Not him. Not her Remy, but the creature he had become.
But the goodness, the love, was still there fighting, freeing itself from the grapples of his unfortunate deed until, finally, he could feel himself inside once again.
By then, he secured other means of work, afraid that the X-Men, that Rogue, would be unwilling to accept his apologies. That had been yet another mistake, but he had been under no false pretenses with that one.
But when he saw her again, he knew he had to go back.
Even if she decided she didn't want him. Even if she smashed in his face. He had to tell her.
She saved him.
Now, as he lay soaking sweat and shaking from yet another nightmare, he realized the irony of his dilemma. She was no longer his saving grace. In fact, she was a nail in his coffin. Figuratively, of course. But each time he saw her with Magneto, each time images of the two of them crept into his consciousness...each time she turned from him, instead of to him...a little part of him died.
He just hoped it wasn't the good part.
He groaned, tipping his head to catch a glimpse at his alarm clock. Two a.m. He ran a hand down his face, swiping away the nightmare still fresh in his mind, and rolled himself out of the bed. He moved like a ghost—down the hall and into the kitchen without even a whisper of movement. He pulled a glass from a cabinet and orange juice from the fridge. The carton was nearly empty; he shrugged, squeezed the top open, and took a long draw. His trench coat was slung over the back of a chair. He pulled a set of folded pages from an interior pocket before sliding in to sit at the kitchen table. He didn't bother with turning on lights; his eyes, dark and frightening as they may be, were not without their advantages. One of which being that he could see in the dark. Very well. Smoothing the pages out on the table, he sighed at the S.H.E.I.L.D insignia staring up at him.
Okay, so maybe he was intrigued. He had a right to be, after all. School teaching certainly wasn't the career path on which he'd always seen himself. And he hadn't been on an individual mission since rejoining the team.
Besides, after that dream, he wasn't so sure Logan was wrong about him needing to move. Not move on. But stayin' in one place, stagnate, was only going to make him crazy.
He flipped the top page and smiled at the neatly typed intel beneath it.
It really had been too easy. While Remy threw back that last mouthful of bourbon, Logan's attention had been on his face, not on his free hand. He'd slipped the papers from their folder and stuffed them in his coat all before slamming his glass down on top. Kinetically charging the glass had been as much a ruse to keep Logan from noticing the weight difference as it was payback for sticking his nose where it wasn't wanted. Okay, maybe nearly as much.
He skimmed the report, his fingers twitching with nervous energy. Finishing it, he leaned back in his chair and took another swig out of the carton.
Logan was right, he admitted, something was wrong. First of all, how was the government creating a mutant army corp when ninety-nine percent of the world's mutant population had their powers deactivated? Granted the mass de-powering hadn't been their choice, but the work of a reality-warping mutant called the Scarlet Witch. He didn't completely blame her, he thought idly as he flipped through the report, sometimes mutants could ruin a party real quick. But that was neither here nor there, because either way mutant numbers had dwindled down to a mere hundred or so.
So how was the government able to fill ranks in a mutant army? 'Course the report didn't go into that.
He sighed and rolled his shoulders to release the tension building in them.
So the government got its hands on a bunch of mutants and shoved them in the military? Fine, he'd leave it at that for the time being, even though he knew better. But, if that were the case, then it, of course, posed a new question entirely: What kind of treatment were they receiving? He needed to be sure that the government was not mistreating, misusing, or misrepresenting the mutants in their service. Regardless, he knew there was only one way to figure out what was really happening.
He chewed on his lip. But what about Rogue? Logan would surely want him well on his way tonight. He might not have a chance to tell her...
His dream, or nightmare, it depended on the half in question, came freely to his mind. The tender touches, the breathy sighs...and then, the other half reared its ugliness. She was not his anymore. At least, not to her. A slow, familiar ache, dull and throbbing, began to beat within his chest. He crushed his palm over it, willing his heart to continue, to not drown in the taunts of his dreams or nightmares.
He could do this mission. He could win back a little bit more of his humanity. Maybe, maybe if he really tried, he could continue to vanquish the dragon in his soul, to keep the fires smoldered. Maybe he could find more of himself in the good of his actions.
He didn't want to lose her, but, he reasoned, he couldn't lose himself. Not again.
Licking his lips, he dug into another pocket. Pulling out a phone, he slid his finger across its top, waking it from its technological slumber. "Logan," and the little screen lit itself up with the Canadian's number and began to ring.
The answer was brisk, tempered by time and regularity. Even at two-thirty in the morning. "Yeah?"
He took a deep breath. "Been doin' some light readin'."
"What?" There was a bed creaking and the sound of things being shuffled around. Remy waited for the hiss and the curse, "Damn you, you Cajun. You lifted it!"
He pushed the comment aside with a wave of his hand before continuing. "You're an easy mark. But, uh, an' it pains me t' say dis, I t'ink you might be right. The report...it doesn't add up."
"Yeah, right?" Logan's voice betrayed his eagerness to have someone see what he had sensed. "What mutants would sign up for that? Especially with the way the government's been."
"I t'ink maybe I will take a look into it." Rogue's lips against Magneto's came to his mind and he added, "Might do me some good."
Logan didn't respond; Remy appreciated that.
"When do you want me to go?"
"ASAP. The sooner we figure out what's really going on, the better."
"You'll have to find someone t' cover my classes."
"Consider it done." Then came the question neither man really wanted to ask. "What about Rogue, Gumbo?"
Remy considered it for a second. "If I'm leaving right away, she'll be sleeping. She don' take it too kindly when someone wakes her up in the middle of the night. I'll just contact her later on, let her know what's-"
"I'd like to keep this mission just between us. The less people who know about it, the less the chance of S.H.E.I.L.D. findin' out. Remember, I didn't exactly ask fer permission."
"Sometimes it's jus' easier t' ask for forgiveness." He swallowed the bitter taste of his words.
"I'll tell Rogue that you're taking care of something fer me. That way it's just our butts on the line."
"Fine." Anxiety swelled in his chest. Remy swallowed back a sense of foreboding. "But you will tell her?"
"I told you, we're solid right now."
"Yeah, well, you said some ot'er t'ings as well."
The phone was silent on both ends. One man quiet out of respect and pity; the other, from the uncertainty of his choices. Then...
"Well, be seein' you, Gumbo. I'll want daily updates on your status."
"Yeah, I'll be sure t' tweet every hour."