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The Starlight Saga, Chapter Five
Gambit walked into the Danger Room at the usual time the next morning, dressed in full uniform, flanked by Beast and Wolverine.
“What’s he doing here, Henry?” Cyclops demanded.
“He’s ready to go back on active duty, Cyke,” Logan growled.
“He’s fine, Cyclops. Really.”
Scott nodded once. “All right then. If you can show me you’re in good condition, Gambit, and if you can work with Beast and Wolverine without problems, I’ll put you back on the team.”
“Merci, mon brave.”
They took up their positions and training began. Gambit did indeed seem to be in peak condition again, not even evincing any sign of injury, let alone of fear. But still, Cyclops sensed that something was off kilter. He just couldn’t put his finger on it.
Gambit actually felt damned good. It was good to be fighting and not to be afraid, not to feel anything at all but a sort of blissed-out serenity. His empathy was cranked to it’s highest degree, and he was picking up waves of sexual energy and an almost blinding affection from his two companions, and that was good, too. Hell, everything was good this morning, even being up early.
By the end of the session, Cyclops was ready to believe that this last fact was what felt so off. He couldn’t remember a time when Gambit hadn’t complained, bitterly and at length, on being forced to get up before noon for a workout. He was willing to believe that the man simply hadn’t wanted to say anything that might jeopardize his chances of getting put back on active duty.
“You’re up, Gambit,” he called out as they hit the showers. “I’m putting you back in action, but provisionally. I want you to stay close to Hank and Logan for now, until I’m completely satisfied that you’ve really kicked this Sabretooth thing.”
“Oui, Cyke. Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. You’re on probation, mister. Keep it straight.”
“And as for you two,” Cyclops said, turning to the doctor and the Canadian. “Keep your eyes on him. He did damned good out there today, but that’s just a training session. If we get in a real combat situation, I want to know I have someone watching out for him. I will not lose a man to a memory.”
“No problem, Cyke. Blue an’ I’ll stick close, won’t we, Hank?” Logan said.
“Good. And keep doing whatever it is you’re doing with him—I can’t believe how much he’s improved already.”
Logan and Hank shared a look. “Yeah, Slim, we’ll be happy to,” Wolverine said, grinning.
“Always glad to help a friend,” McCoy added.
It was Gambit’s turn to make supper, which was widely considered a great misfortune. It wasn’t that he was a bad cook—quite the contrary, his culinary skills were very impressive—but that most of the X-Men preferred their food a little less spicy than he prepared it. One-alarm entrees as opposed to four-alarm.
Wolverine didn’t mind hot food, but even he was duly impressed at how blasé Gambit was about spice. He had seen the man pop whole red peppers as a snack, and the hottest peppers in the world couldn’t make him blink. Logan sometimes wondered if the kid’s tongue weren’t made of adamantium.
Therefore, it was more than a little surprising to everyone when dinner turned out to be chicken Cordon Bleu, with virtually no spice in it at all, and no cayenne whatsoever. “This is really delicious,” Jubilee said around a mouthful. “And it doesn’t set my tongue on fire. Way to go, Swamp Rat.”
Gambit smiled vaguely and said nothing. It seemed to Ororo that her brother had been unusually quiet all day—under ordinary circumstances, he would be laughing and talking and telling stories, setting the room on fire with his electrifying personality. Although he was far from the biggest man on the team, he usually seemed to dwarf all the other X-Men, particularly at the supper table, his own peculiar social element. He was loud, expansive, charming, and often somewhat ribald—a dominating presence. This evening, and all of that day, he had seemed somehow diminished. Serene, yes, but that was hardly a natural condition for him.
He sat flanked on either side by Hank and Logan, and both men seemed to be trying to make up for their companion’s unaccustomed reserve. They laughed too loud, spoke with unusual animation, and studiously ignored Gambit and each other, as though they were hiding something between them and were afraid a wrong word or a look would give away their secrets. They, too, had been behaving strangely all day, and hovering around Remy like presidential secret service men. Storm wondered exactly what was going on.
“Brother, will you be going to Harry’s tonight?” she asked innocently.
Remy turned his head toward her with painful slowness. She half expected to hear hinges creaking. “No, padnat,” he said, his voice drawling more than usual. “I don’t t’ink I will be.”
Storm felt a cold chill go racing down her spine and she had to exercise incredible control to refrain from shuddering. She had just made a connection in her mind that she didn’t care for. She remembered the movie they had watched a few nights before, and how she had joked that her brother reminded her more of the big, slow-witted John Coffey, he of the healing hands, than the murderous little mouse-loving Cajun man in that movie, and she remembered his eerily perfect imitation of that deep, drawling voice. He was not consciously imitating that character now, she felt certain, but there were vacancy signs in his eyes that were hellishly similar to the empty serenity that was John Coffey’s trademark expression. They had killed the man before the movie was over, although they’d known he was innocent, although they’d known he was a miracle of their beloved God. Sacrificed him on the altar of their blind goddess Justice. She remembered a horrible time when her dear brother had been sacrificed to satisfy that malicious bitch, and knew he was still paying for that travesty of a cherished ideal to this day. Sudden lightning flashed outside the dining room windows and she marshaled her will against the anger and grief that rose in her breast at the memory.
“Remy, are you feeling quite all right?” she asked.
“I’m fine, chère.”
“Are you certain?”
“All aces, padnat. Why you ask?”
“It’s just that you seem a little…disconnected.”
He laughed, a short sound of embarrassment. “Maybe Gambit feel jus’ a little…humiliated. ‘Bout de way y’all saw him yest’day. Don’ like lettin’ folks see him actin’ like a scared li’l chile.”
It was a reasonable idea, and his faint blush and downcast eyes were convincingly genuine. Mollified, Storm turned back to her meal. But she couldn’t help but remember that her brother, goddess love him, put the art in con artist.
Beast pulled Logan aside after dinner. He was restive, nervous, his eyes darting about as if searching for eavesdroppers. “I…I want to do that again,” he said, wringing his hands. “What we did last night.”
Logan leered at the big mutant. “He’s really somethin’, ain’t he, doc?” he asked.
“To say the least,” Hank replied. “I really don’t know what’s come over me. I’ve never had any…any homosexual tendencies before. I’d like to think that I was open-minded about it, but…it just didn’t appeal to me.”
“Not to me, either, Blue,” Logan admitted. “And I certainly wasn’t always exactly ‘open-minded’ about it. But you know what I think?”
“I think that there are people in this world who are too beautiful, too exciting, too perfect to be passed up just because they’ve got the wrong equipment.”
Remy had disappeared quietly and efficiently after supper, and neither Hank nor Logan went looking for him. They knew him for a private person, and suspected that their constant attentions were putting a strain on him. Still, neither one was particularly happy that he was out of their sight—both men had developed strong protective instincts toward the young man, quite apart from wanting to fuck his brains out, and fretted over what might be happening to him while they weren’t there to take care of him, completely forgetting that he was ordinarily fully capable of taking care of himself.
They gave up trying to pretend to do anything productive almost simultaneously, and met each other outside Remy’s bedroom door.
“After you, doctor,” Logan said, holding the door open for Beast.
“Thank you very much, sir,” Hank replied. They sat down on the bed to wait.
Remy was in no hurry to rejoin the world. He was on the roof, that stretch between his gable and Storm’s that he’d long ago staked out as his own. He was still in a state of calm euphoria. It was like the way he felt when he separated from his body, yet he still felt very much together. Instead of his consciousness drifting away toward the heavens, it seemed like his entire person was weightless, flying toward the distant stars faster than light itself.
He returned to himself only with great reluctance as a warm updraft heralded the arrival of his unofficial sister. Storm landed on the roof beside him and settled her flowing garments around her as she sat.
“Good evening, brother. Star-gazing?” she asked.
“Oui, padnat. Dey beautiful, non?”
She nodded, but her eyes remained fixed on her friend’s face rather than the stars. He still seemed so…distant. His body was there, but she was afraid that he was light years away.
“You remind me of a star yourself, brother,” she observed.
He laughed, but the sound was slightly hollow. “How so, chère?”
“You’re too far away to touch,” she said.
He raised himself up on one elbow and looked at her. “I’m right here, Stormy. Jus’ like always.”
“Are you?” she asked, not even bothering to remonstrate with him for calling her “Stormy.” “I don’t think you’ve been anywhere near the mansion in days. Today in particular, you’ve been very far away. Maybe out there among those stars, hmm?” She gestured to the heavens.
“Sometimes Gambit wish he were, padnat, but no.”
She sighed. “Remy, you know that I am your friend. I have always been here for you, just as you have always been there for me. And I will always be here for you. You know that, don’t you? Tell me you do.”
“Of course, chère. Gambit love his Stormy, you know dat.”
His grin was his usual quick, charming, infectious grin, but Ororo sensed it was a con just the same. She didn’t know how she knew he was shamming, but she did.
“Please tell me what is wrong, then.”
“Ain’t nothin’ wrong.” He flopped back on the shingles and returned his gaze to the stars. “I feel fine, padnat. Better than fine. I feel better than I can ever remember feelin’ in my miserable life. Why are you so sure dey’s somethin’ wrong wit’ me?”
She shook her head, and a long lock of her snow-white mane tumbled down her shoulder. “I don’t know, my friend. I don’t know why I’m sure. But I am. And I intend to find out what it is, and help you. Just as I know you would help me if you were in my place.”
“Gambit gettin’ tired, padnat,” he said, and indeed his voice was suddenly heavy with exhaustion. “I t’ink mebbe I goin’ t’bed now. Bon soir, chère.” He slipped down the incline of the roof, swung himself from the eavestrough to his bedroom window, and was gone.
“Why do you always have to run away, brother?” Storm whispered. “Why won’t you ever let anyone near you?”
Gambit didn’t hear her, but he heard the low male voices in his room. They were waiting for him inside—he knew that even before he swung himself down to the window ledge. It took him a mere eye-blink to plaster a smile on his face that would have fooled Olivier. He slipped inside.
He moved so swiftly that neither Hank nor Logan, with his animal senses, even had time to fully register that he was in the room before he was with them, kissing them, caressing them, arousing them. The smile became a dazzling grin, and those serenely vacant eyes that so worried Ororo now sparkled with apparent lascivious pleasure. “You been waitin’ for Remy long, mes amours?” he said, his voice low and husky and incredibly sexy.
“Too long, Remy. Way too long,” Logan said, already beginning to strip the Cajun’s clothes off with ardent impatience.
“Of course, one could say that the anticipation is half the pleasure,” Hank said, tangling a hand in Remy’s long cinnamon-sugar bangs and kissing him.
“De wait’s over now, boys. De fun’s jus’ beginnin’.”
So intent on their foreplay were they, that none of the three men noticed that the sky outside had grown threatening, or that lightning had begun to crackle through the night like the anger of a scorned woman.
On to Chapter Six!