Chapter 11

Julia got off the phone with Michael, sighed. It was time to go back. Gambit seemed to be doing better now. He'd come back from a walk with Rogue and had actually joined them all for dinner. That was two days ago. Charles said they'd talked a little, and had been working together. He didn't need her anymore. She turned and smiled, seeing Charles there.

"He does need you, you know."

"Not hoverin' over him he doesn't. For that he's got you," she grinned.

"I don't hover, in a manner of speaking."

She merely grinned wider, shook her head. "It's still time for me to be on my way."

"What are you going back to, Julia? You could stay here, take some kind of leave of absence..."

This time she laughed, "My board o' directors might give you a wee bit of an argument on that." She laughed harder, "Or maybe not, which is more to the point. I have to go."

"Your board of directors?" he asked, words carefully neutral.

"You see, Charlie, I'm a woman o' many talents." She dug into her purse, gave him her card.

He took it wordlessly, read: OS International, Julia O'Shaughnessey, President, CEO, Chairman. "You're the OS in OS International?"

She shrugged, "It's a cushy job but somebody's got to have it."

He smiled slightly, knowing that the firm had started out some twenty years ago as an importing house and had grown to be one of the largest private multinational corporations in the world, with holdings everywhere, and assets just over a billion dollars. "Another piece of the mystery."

"I'll work harder on keepin' the rest to myself." She turned, glanced out the window of her room one more time, "The car will be coming for me soon. I thought about having a helicopter pick me up, but Nicky wouldn't like that." She grinned, looking back at him, "I almost did it anyway."

"You two have a peculiar relationship."

"We're alike," she said, smiling, "though he would no' admit it."

"Is there anything of his father in him?" he asked archly.

"Ach, back to that, are you?" she said. "You're incorrigible."

"With everything I learn, it makes less and less sense."

"Most things make no sense til you have all the pieces." She closed her purse, sighed, "I don't wish to discuss this with you, Charles. It's my burden to bear."

"But--"

"No offense, but if I were to tell anyone, it would not be you."

"Gambit."

She nodded, "Speaking of which, I ought to be telling him I'll be goin' on me way."

"I won't give up."

"I don't expect you to," she grinned, not the least bit perturbed. "As long as you do it in new and interesting ways, I'm sure our dinner will be fine." She glanced at him, eyes twinkling, "You did promise me dinner, you know."

He nodded, "How could I forget?"

"Give me a call sometime." She shouldered her bag, ready to go. "And take good care of him."

Again he nodded, "I'll do my best." She held out her hand, he took it, kissed it. "We'll be speaking soon."

"I'll look forward to it." She bent down, kissed him lightly. "Au revoir."

Julia dropped her bag on the front steps of the mansion, called her son mentally.

"On your way, Mamman?" he asked, leaning on the wall behind her.

She whirled, "You shouldn't scare your mother."

He shrugged, "I been doin' a lot of that lately, neh?"

"Perfecting the craft," she said wryly. She held out her hand to him, he came forward and they walked through the front gardens. "I know you want to be here, can you try to be a little more careful? Especially now that that Magneto madman's back in the world."

"He really worries you, why?" he caught a flash of fear from his mother, but she looked calm enough.

"He's a persistent sort of man. People who are convinced they have the only truth are more dangerous than others--you ought to know that."

"She was obsessed, not proclaiming truth."

"It's all an obsession in one way or another." She gazed out over the flowers, "And then there was that incident on his rock earlier this year," she glanced at him reprovingly, "you didn't tell me about that. I had to find out about it from the news."

"Won't happen again," he said, dismissing it.

"It better not," she hrumphed, "if it does, I'd better hear about it from you, not Peter Jennings."

"Scout's honor," he said.

She chuckled, "That'll be the day. I'm trying not to be too much of a mother, Nicky, really I am. If I had my way you'd be under lock and key."

"There's not a lock that can keep me," he grinned.

"I knew a Thieves' Guild was a mistake."

"Not from my point of view."

She turned a bit serious, "Even after what happened with Bel?"

He looked at the ground, said nothing for a bit, "We both knew it was gonna happen."

"Knowing is one thing, experiencing it is something else," she replied. "I know you loved her."

"You never approved."

"I didn't want you to get hurt."

"Everybody dies, Mother. Happens to us all." He took out a cigarette, lit it. "There's nothin' much we can do about dat."

She sighed, he wouldn't share his pain, even with her. She decided to change the subject, "Not that you need my opinion, but your new friends seem nice, especially Rogue."

"I figured you'd like her."

"Strong young woman. She'll go through hell for you."

"I hope I'm not the one who sends her dere."

"You probably will be, but she's got her eyes open. Don't push her away."

"Gal won' let me."

"Good." She took a deep breath, "It really is nice out here."

"I'm sure th' pr'fessor would love for you to stay," he said taking a drag from the cigarette.

"We're both grown, if he wants to stand me to dinner..."

"Uh-huh. He wants more than dinner. Whether it's Irish brogue or Harvard biz school style, ol' charm's alive and well."

"He's got his fair share of charm, too," she chuckled, "Nosy, though."

"You can take 'im," he said off-handedly.

"What about that Jean Grey? Is she gonna be a problem?"

"Not for me. For herself, prob'ly."

"Got a part of her that she can't handle...?"

He nodded, "Once she 'ccepts it, she'll be fine."

"Glad to hear you say that."

He tossed the cigarette away, "Got t' watch those motherin' instincts."

"They creep out of me every once in a while."

"We'd better head back, looks like your fan club's gatherin' on th' front steps. We just about covered everythin' anyway."

She glanced at the front of the mansion, a little surprised to see all the X-Men assembled there. She'd expected Charles, Rogue, and perhaps Storm, but no one else. But they were all there.

"Limo's pulling up, too," Gambit said. "Nice black stretch."

"I wanted a helicopter, but I thought it might be a little too flashy for you," she said.

"Thanks for de consideration." He turned back up the path to the house.

"You're wrong, though," she said, putting a hand on his arm to stop him. "There is one thing we haven't covered."

"What's that?"

"Two things." She grinned, "One, Michael wants a rematch at poker, but you'll have to wait until after they repaint the kitchen. Fumes you know."

He chuckled, "He sure he can afford it?"

"The kitchen, yes, poker with you, no. But I've already warned him."

"I'll give him a call. As long as George is cookin' de gumbo, I'll be there."

She smiled, a little more serious now, "And I love you. Please take good care of yourself, Nicky." She reached up, always a little surprised at how much he'd grown, and gave him a hug.

"Je t'aime aussi, Mamman," he whispered, gave her a quick kiss. "Tell Michael t' take good care of you."

"He always has." She drew back, couldn't resist reaching up to touch his face, "I miss you, Nicky."

"I'll call, visit, mebbe, soon."

She smiled, "You'll try, yes I know. I might just drop by here every once in a while."

"T' see me or Charlie?" he asked with a smile.

"Well you, of course," she said with a matching smile, "but if he should happen to be here..."

He laughed, took her hand and they walked back to the waiting group. She said her good byes to all of them as Gambit took her bag and slung it in the back of the limo. He waited by the door as she made the rounds, a hug and a private word for each. At last she came to Charles, who took her hands and smiled at her. "Until next time."

She nodded, grinning, "Surprise me." As she walked away, she mentally sent her private number to him. She could picture his smile in her mind.

"Everyone taken care of?" he asked.

She nodded. "I'll be expecting a call from you, young man."

"I'll call. Send Michael and George my best."

She nodded, reached up and hugged him again, hard, wishing she could take him with her and keep him forever. But she knew better than that. "Bye, Nicky."

"Bye."

She quickly ducked in the limo, not wanting her son to see her tears. It always hurt to leave him, but there was nothing he could do about that, she didn't want to subject him to it. The driver backed away and she sat there, hugging herself, alone in the wide seat. She watched him standing in the driveway as the driver prepared to turn, saw Rogue come down and take his hand. She smiled a little. 'Take care of him, girl.' She let the tears fall for a few more minutes, then took a deep breath. Michael had rescheduled the board meeting for later this afternoon. She had to be ready.