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Someone to Watch Over Me: Part One

Mac O'Roni

     The darkness pressed into him from all sides and the cold froze him to his very bones. He gasped and the frigid air set his lungs on fire. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. He was going to die here, cold and alone and terrified.
     Somewhere in the darkness, a voice echoed and reechoed.
No more than you deserve, you monster. No more than you deserve. He wanted to argue with that implacable voice, to deny that this was justice, to assert his humanity, but he could not. The voice echoed on, relentlessly, and it finally dawned on him that it was his own voice, his own slick Cajun drawl pronouncing judgment on a sinner condemned to death.
No, please no, don’ let me die here, don’ let me die like dis.
     All those people you hurt, his stone-hearted judge’s voice whispered in his ears, dey didn’ get de choice, did dey? You t'ink you deserve better?
     No! Please, God, no!
     You have no God, that voice said, flat and definite and irrefutable. And although he had known, deep down inside, for a very long time, he wept at the admission.
No, no that’s not true. No. No. No…

     He sat bolt upright in bed with a moan of terror, the heels of his hands pressed hard against his dull crimson eyes. His body and the sheets on his bed were drenched with sweat, which could have accounted for the tremendous bone-quaking cold he still felt upon waking. He turned and planted his feet on the floor, pushed himself into a standing position with difficulty. Bereft of grace, he plodded stumble-footed across the carpet to the thermostat positioned on the wall next to the door. He leaned against the door jamb for a moment, forehead resting on the back of one hand, eyes closed, panting from the minor exertion, and then yanked the slide arm as far as it would go. He heard the heat kick on with an ill-tempered grumble deep in the mansion’s ventilation system and wove his way gingerly back to bed.
     The red digital readout on the alarm clock on his bedside stand glared 11:00 A.M. into his face with pointed accusation so he turned on his side so that he couldn’t see it. He sighed into the dim early-afternoon light that filtered through the heavy window shades and hauled the heavy down-filled comforters—he had three of them—up over his shoulders, all but burying himself in their anonymous depths. He had promised Cyclops that he would meet him for a private consultation at 11:30, but there was no way he was going to make it all the way to the War Room under his own steam.
     Promised Cyclops. Nodded his head in dull reaction to terse command, more like. All he could manage these days. No more smart remarks, no more open insubordination. No more spark or breath of life in Jean-Luc LeBeau’s little demon-child Remy. Nothing left of him now but a hollow shell filled with ice and nightmare memories.
     He lapsed back into an exhausted sleep, but all too soon he was rousted by a pounding knock on his door.
     “Quoi?” he called, voice sleep-choked and dull.
     “Gambit, I need to speak with you. Right now.” Cyclops. Shit.
     “I don’ feel good, Cyke.” The truth.
     “I appreciate your current situation, Gambit, but this really is important. Let me in.”
     “A’right, jus’ a minute,” he coughed out. With a groan of effort, he rolled himself out of bed and staggered to the door. His hand trembled with unaccustomed weakness as he unlocked and opened it.
     Cyclops took one abrupt step forward and then faded back, shocked into hesitation by the Cajun’s haggard appearance. He overcame his initial discomfiture and demanded entrance. Gambit stepped aside to allow him to pass, closed the door, and sank to the floor in a sweating, shaking heap. He pushed his lank ginger hair out of his eyes and sat gazing up at the team leader. Cyclops couldn’t help but notice how little color was in those eyes. They had gone almost entirely black.
     “Dr. McCoy says that there’s nothing wrong with you, physically,” he began.
     “An’ Henry also said t’stop pesterin’ me t’start trainin’ again,” Gambit countered.
     “Let me finish. I’m not here to try and force you into active duty, Gambit. I’m here to request that you seek professional help.”
     “Professional help?” Gambit said. If he had been capable, the expression on his face would have been a sneer. “You mean a shrink?”
     “A good psychiatrist can help you overcome this depression and get you back on your feet. Surely you don’t like living this way?” Cyclops said, his voice taking on a distinctive wheedling note that was as out of place on him as a pink tutu.
     “Gambit don’ give a fuck one way or anot'er.”
     Cyclops sighed. “I wish you would consider it. Professor Xavier is more than willing to work with you, or if you don’t feel comfortable going to him he can refer you to a very good therapist in the city.”
     “Gambit don’ need help, mon brave. Gambit jus’ need t’be lef' alone.”
     “Will you listen to yourself?” Cyclops raged. “You don’t eat, you don’t talk to anyone, you just lay in bed all day. You’re killing yourself by degrees, Gambit. We can’t just stand by and watch you die.”
     “Naw, you’d much rather put me somewhere nice an’ out-of-the-way so’s you don’ have t’see it happen.”
     The words rocked the team leader on his heels, stung. “What happened in Antarctica was a terrible mistake,” he said, his voice soft and genuinely regretful. “It should never have happened, and I’m sorry that it did. I can’t change the past, Gambit, but please, let us help you now so that there can be a future for you, even if it isn’t with us.”
     “An’ why are you suddenly concerned wit’ Gambit’s future, mon brave?”
     “Because you’re an X-Man. What happened in Antarctica didn’t change that, and if you choose to leave us that won’t change it, either.”
     “Semper Fi, mon ami. Once a Marine, always a Marine.” There was a sarcastic edge to Remy’s voice now, but nowhere near as sharp as before, when Remy LeBeau was still the Gambit, still a man with pride in himself and his work, still a man who was a man and not a monster of his own invention.
     Cyclops had to restrain himself from expressing the exasperated insults that leapt to his tongue. “I’m finished here,” he said when he had himself under control. “Please keep what I’ve said in mind. We aren’t your enemies, and we don’t want to be. Don’t put us in the position of becoming such.”
     In other words, “don’t make us commit you against your will.” Gambit could smell the implication in Scott’s words as easily as Wolverine could sniff out a Porterhouse steak from the kitchen. The team leader took himself away and Remy stretched out on the floor, too exhausted to make it as far as the bed. Without really knowing he was going to, he began to sing.
     From the hallway, Cyclops heard the song begin. He was surprised; he’d never heard Gambit sing before. The strong, rich tenor voice was a full 180 degrees from the weak, raspy croak of his voice when they’d spoken. The song sounded a bit like a spiritual. He opened his psychic link with Jean and asked her if she knew it. She listened through her husband’s ears as the verse rolled on.

Take me in
My dreams recurring,
Cheerful as
A childhood dance,
Into one
More taste of freedom,
One more longing backward glance.

In the sway
Of somber music
I shall never,
Never understand…
Let me slip
Into the sweeter
Chorus of that other land.

     “The Gods Love Nubia,” she returned promptly as the words faded. Gambit did not sing the chorus; indeed, he had fallen asleep on the carpet.
     What? Cyclops returned, confused.
     “The Gods Love Nubia.”
     Which is?
     A song from
Aida. You know, the Broadway musical that they re-wrote from an opera. Elton John did the music, and Tim Rice wrote the lyrics.
     And why would Gambit be singing “The Gods Love Nubia?”
he sent.
     Well, I don’t know, she sent back, crossly. I can’t read his mind, you’ll recall. But I suspect he’s homesick.
     Homesick? What makes you say that?
     Well, that’s sort of what the song’s about. It’s sung by these Nubians who’ve been forced into slavery by the Egyptians, and they’re far from their homeland and want to go back. And Gambit’s a long way from “home,” too. And compared to the typical musical faire of New Orleans,
any music is somber, hmm?
     So, what then? Should we take him to New Orleans?
     We can’t, remember? He’s exiled. If he goes back, he could be killed.
     He’s gone there with us in the past,
Scott sent. We’ve never had any problems.
     That was with Gambit at the peak of his powers—there aren’t many, even in the Assassins Guild, who are very keen on the idea of taking him on when he’s in fighting form. He’s nowhere near that now. He’d be a sitting duck.
     We’d be there to protect him,
Cyclops sent, indignantly.
     Like we were when Rogue left him behind? she sent gently.
     Unable to formulate a fitting riposte, Cyclops severed the telepathic link and went to find a quiet place to think.

On to Part Two!