Remy wondered if it had all been a dream. He had driven for hours, aimlessly, and he finally concluded that must be it. A vivid, extremely detailed dream. Because the alternative was that it was true, and Remy wasn’t prepared to deal with that crisis. Not right now. He was the heir and leader of the Unified Guilds, he had two women on his case in both New York and New Orleans, plus he was an X-Man, albeit warily and hesitantly accepted back into the fold after the fiasco of the Morlocks and his subsequent abandonment and rescue at the hands of the New Son. Remy slowed as he heard his tires screech on a corner of the winding country road, and realized he was gripping the wheel so hard his hands were leaving imprints on the custom leather. He pulled over and rested his head back against the similarly customized headrest, closed his eyes and felt the wash of emotions sweep through him. There had been times in Remy’s life when his pride was pretty damn low, but his one conceit was that he could always keep his feelings hidden, below the surface, always having the trump card up his sleeve. That had all been swept away when Marie left him to die. Knew she had, and left him anyway. Remy wasn’t prepared for the betrayal, but he knew when the arctic winds blew him down that nothing in his life was certain anymore. The thief’s already shaky foundation had tumbled with one kiss. Remy lunged forward and hit the steering wheel, making the horn give a sharp toot. He was over this! The X-Men had taken him back after the trial; he had worked things out with Marie…sort of. Broken it off, at any rate. He had made his peace with Bella Donna, Jean Luc and the rest, and the Guilds had some semblance of order, finally. So why did all this affect him so? He flashed on something Marie had said, years ago, when he and she both thought she was dying and didn’t know how to say goodbye. Move on, Remy. Just move on. "Tryin’ to," Remy muttered to himself. He started the little red car’s engine with a growl and pushed the dark place in him down deep, as he had since he could remember. Push long enough and it would go away. It had to. It had to. But this time the blackness didn’t fade, it broke the barriers and rushed up at him, and Remy LeBeau tumbled once again…
"Some weekend vacation," Rogue commented when Remy’s place sat empty for the fifth night in a row. Jean took a small bite of her pasta bowl and frowned.
"It’s not unlike him, though. He probably decided to extend his visit with his lady of the moment."
"Don’t remind me," growled Rogue. She had barely touched her plate of grilled scrod. Every one of the X-Men had a different dish—Scott was dining on alfredo, Wolverine was eating his third bloody-as-the-USDA-would-allow steak of the week, and Storm was eating a huge salad made of things from her garden, with a peppery African dressing no one else could stomach. Rogue jabbed her fork into the filet and left it there, slapping her napkin after it. Wolverine looked up from the business of carving apart his beef, annoyed.
"Am I sensin’ some tension here?"
"You ain’t sensin’ it," Rogue snapped. "You could cut it with your damn steak knife."
"Rogue…" started Scott. "Maybe you need to…"
"She’s just upset because Gumbo is havin’ a time with some other girl," put in Logan.
"And you state it so delicately," said Jean.
"We broke up, fuzzy, remember?" said Rogue snidely. Wolverine shrugged one shoulder.
"Anyone with even one eye could see you still got the hots for him." Rogue bristled and Storm finally spoke.
"Marie’s feelings are not helped by you exacerbating them, Logan," she said in her quiet tone.
"Just tellin’ a simple truth," said Wolverine. "Even you can’t get on my case for that."
"Oh for lord’s sake," said Marie. "Y’all sound like a damn soap opera. And Ah do not have the hots for Remy, Wolverine. " She shoved back her chair and stomped out.
"Five," said Logan.
"What?" said Scott, who looked at a loss, even through his sunglasses. Marie’s upsets always made him wish he were somewhere else.
"Five times she’s stormed outta here in a fit in the last week," said Logan. "Come to think of it…every night the Cajun’s been away." He smiled to himself and stuck a piece of steak in his mouth.
Remy arrived back at the gates of the mansion feeling unusually tired and worn down. Half the time he ran on adrenaline and could go on for days without sleep, but tonight he felt like he had just beat down Magneto single-handedly and then some. The gates opened automatically to the tiny sonic sensor placed inside the front grille of his car and he drove to the garage and parked. It was evening, and Jean was the only one still in the underlevels of the mansion when he came to the dressing room to shuck his street clothes and change back to his uniform. "Gambit," she greeted him. "Long time no see. You have some messages."
"Shoot, chere," said Remy with a yawn. He slipped out of his trenchcoat and hung it on a hook, noticing a bruise on his forearm. That hadn’t been there last time he’d looked…
"Someone named Veronica Richardson—your date, I assume—called in high dudgeon demanding to know why you brushed her off ‘five minutes after he frigging got here’." Remy looked over at Jean.
"You dumped your date," said Jean patiently. "And she wasn’t very happy." Remy’s face crinkled into a frown.
"Non, Jeannie. I didn’t do not’ing like dat." Jean in turn cocked her head.
"Well…she was pretty sure. And Bella Donna called for you, also upset and rather shrill." Remy heaved a sigh, unbuttoning his loose white shirt and tossing it free-throw style towards the dressing room’s laundry hamper. He reached down and shucked his socks, tossing one after the shirt. The other had a red stain on the toe.
"Damnit," he muttered. "What’d Belle want? Dis time?"
"She didn’t make that much sense," said Jean. "But she was definitely on the edge of hysterical."
"Sounds like typical Belle," said Remy. "I get back to her later. An’ about Veronica…damndest t’ing, Jeannie. I don’ remember anyt’ing about our date." He rubbed his chin. Jean felt her cheeks color slightly in the pause, as she realized Remy was basically half-naked and quite close in the small dressing room. He turned to take his bodysuit out of the rack and Jean forced herself back to normal.
"Well, I take it you had a very good time, whatever you did. You were gone three days longer than you told us." Remy turned back to her, mouth open slightly.
"Remy," said Jean. "You. Have been gone. For five days." He shook his head emphatically.
"Non, Jean. Two days. Maximum."
"Five," said Jean, becoming slightly irritated. "Do you want to see the backlog of security tapes?" Remy’s bodysuit hung in his hands. He looked paler and suddenly very worried.
"Non…non. I take your word." He stepped over to her, leaning in close and conspiratorial. Jean could smell sweat and tobacco coming off his body. Their closeness was topped by the fact that he really needed a shower. "Jean, I had a dream. At least I t’ought it was a dream. It was a bad one, and…" Jean nodded.
"Yes? What is it, Remy?" The thief’s face shaded to pure white suddenly, almost as if something terrible had invaded his mind, then he blinked and went back to normal. He even smiled at her, and Jean felt warm again. It was the smile he reserved for Marie, at least at the Xavier Institute. The one that crept across his face, insolent, knowing and irresistible.
"Not’ing, Jean. Jus’ t’ought you could read my mind. For de dream, you know." He was close, uncomfortably so, and Jean felt a drop of sweat go down the center of her back. For a married woman she wasn’t reacting very well.
"I…um…of course." She mustered her composure and reached out her hands, brushing the sides of his temples and his copper hair. He leaned into it almost like a cat.
"You use a lotion?" he grinned at her again. Jean shut her own eyes and forced her thoughts to move outward, away from the pure physical feeling an empath like Remy could generate and towards his inner mind. She saw his conscious, the whirl of lights and colors, and moved on towards the deep core of his unconscious memory, layers peeling away before her. Nightmares passed—Sabretooth, Morlocks, a pure white landscape, and dreams as well—Rogue, Bella Donna from long ago and Remy and his foster brother Henri. Below those dreams swirled what Jean sought. She almost glimpsed it, and then suddenly a wall of telepathic light so bright and blinding it burned her eyes flew forward and flung Jean away from Remy, so forceful that she stumbled physically. Remy started, and his eyes snapped open. The lecherous light was gone, and he just looked worried and confused again. "Jeannie?"
"I’m alright," said Jean slowly. She smoothed out her slacks and shirt and stood upright.
"What’n blazes just happened?" said Remy. Jean took a breath.
"If I had to guess, I’d say that latent telepathic ability we’ve speculated about just woke up. And smacked me in the face."
"You sayin’ I’m a telepat’ now?" demanded Remy.
"I won’t know until we test you," said Jean. "But I’d be careful who’s mind you turn that Cajun charm on for now." Remy nodded seriously then looked down at himself, shivering.
"Was I changin’?"
"I hope that was your intention," said Jean. Remy picked up his bodysuit slowly.
"I don’ remember…"
"Remy, are you sure you’re all right?" said Jean. Remy hesitated for a split second, then nodded.
"Oui. Sure. G’night, Jean." Jean narrowed her eyes, almost as if his lie was painfully obvious, and then nodded in turn.
"Sleep well, Gambit." As soon as the door slid shut Remy dropped into the small metal chair that lived in the dressing room, twisting his bodysuit almost hard enough to tear. What the hell had he been thinking? Had he been trying to seduce Jean? Jean, of all people? Whom he didn’t even think of as a sister but as an esteemed and certainly more powerful comrade in arms? The scariest part of the puzzle was that she had responded when he moved in like that. Maybe Jean had never experienced a forceful, stripped-to-the-waist man at close quarters. An’ dat’s still no excuse at all, homme, he said to himself. Missing time, telepathy, and the attempted seduction of a woman he both respected and didn’t find attractive…something was wrong with him. Remy knew in the back of his mind that the dream hadn’t been a dream at all. The telephone rang, and he grabbed it up out of a nervous reflex.
"What is—I mean, Xavier Institute."
"Remy?" said Bella Donna’s tearful voice. "Remy, what have you done?"
Go on to Chapter 3