AD 2004, August 17
"Okay, let me get this straight,” Angelo Espinoza said to Jubilee. The gray-skinned mutant was staring across the pool at a group of the X-Men including Jean Grey and her husband Scott Summers. "Cyclops and Phoenix got married last year — in January — and this is their first anniversary, but they went to the future and lived there for twelve years, so it's also their thirteenth. Does that cover it, chica?"
"Duh. This like their belated anniversary party. Parties."
Jubilee stretched a little, enjoying the warm sun and beautiful weather provided courtesy of the X-Men's weather controlling member Storm. She had staked out the lounge chair by the pool after the quitting the basketball game earlier. There were enough various X-groups gathered on the mansion grounds today to let the games continue non-stop despite the players coming and going.
For the first time in longer than many of them would have liked to think, all was quiet. Emma and Sean had brought the members of the Massachusetts Academy to Westchester, most of X-Force, both X-teams, members of Excalibur, X-Factor, and various ex-members and associates had shown up for the picnic slash party for Scott and Jean. Girlfriends, boyfriends, siblings, and even a parent or two had shown, along with a few exes.
In a remarkable display of good spirits and tolerance, most everyone was ignoring the tensions and disagreements that often sparked between them all. Still, with so many people on the grounds, many sub groups had formed.
It was fascinating to see how they separated into different cliques that weren't based on their teams.
Betsy and Neal Shaara were chatting with Emma. Warren was with Scott and Jean, ignoring his ex-lover and flirting outrageously with the redhead. Lorna Dane, Jean's parents John and Elaine Grey, and several members of the Avengers were with them.
Storm, Paige, Colossus, and Sean were strolling through Storm's gardens.
Siryn, Warpath, Tabitha, Sunspot, Maddrox, Wildchild, Nightcrawler, and Marrow were currently playing basketball, sans powers.
Cecelia was talking with Hank, Moira, Renee, the Professor, Stevie Hunter, Doc Samson, Cable, Forge, and Reed Richards.
Bobby, Sam, Johnny Storm, and Kitty were plotting some prank.
Up on the veranda, another group had congregated to flout the house rules and indulge their tastes for cigarettes, booze, and cynicism.
Wolverine had one of his foulest stogies going and a beer in his hand. Domino had a cigarillo lit and was glaring daggers at Cable's back. Wisdom and Gambit were shoulder against shoulder, sharing a cigarette, amusing themselves by furthering an illusion of intimacy that would feed the rumors that they'd shacked up together in London for a time. Shatterstar was sitting on the terrace stones, in a lotus position, listening to Wolverine. Gambit's ex-wife, the assassin Belladonna, had shown up the day before on Guild business and stuck around. She'd been heard to comment that invulnerable or not, she was sure she could find some way to do in Rogue.
None of the groups were static, the members kept wandering back and forth.
Wisdom cocked his head at the pranksters. "Who's the Popsicle sleeping with these days?"
A snort of laughter came from Wolverine.
"Be nice, Logan," Gambit said lazily, exhaling smoke like a dragon through his nostrils. His scarlet-on-black eyes were half closed.
"Sure, brat," Wolverine growled. He angled a look at Wisdom, who seemed undisturbed to have a loose-limbed Cajun thief draped against his shoulder. The dark-haired ex-Black Air operative sneered at him. "No one's warming the Icicle's bed. The whoopie cushion bit gets old quick."
"Whoopie cushion?" Domino snickered.
"Ouai," Gambit murmured. The sun was warm and making him sleepy.
The people closest to him were some of the few he halfway trusted and so he'd let his psychic shields thin down, which meant his empathy was picking up the happier than normal ambient emotions. It felt good and he let a little of that seep back out, feeding the loop ever so delicately.
He wasn't sure most of the X-Men even understood that his 'charm' was alpha level empathy. He didn't use it as a weapon except in the direst of emergencies and never on his team-mates. He wasn't above nudging them into having a better time today though, anymore than Storm would hesitate to make sure the weather was perfect. He stretched lazily and dropped his head against Wisdom's narrow shoulder. Perfect, he thought, almost wanting to purr.
Wisdom glanced at the shiny auburn head now leaning against his shoulder. The thief looked half asleep and sexy as hell, relaxed as a cat. Something about him sent a jolt of attraction through Pete's system. He looked up and caught Logan's smirk.
"You think it's bad now," Logan said quietly, "you should be around him when he's had about three glasses of champagne."
"Fuck you, Logan," Gambit muttered.
"Ya make it tempting, Gumbo," Wolverine growled. He nodded at Domino. "Ya feel it too, right, Dom?"
The albino mercenary eyed the sleepy thief and sort of shook herself. "You mean the urge to strip pretty-boy's clothes off and rub up against him until he purrs?" she asked.
Wisdom's mouth fell open. That described the feeling he had around Gambit half the time. Especially when the thief relaxed. And that sound Gambit made at the back of his throat, like velvet and smoke if those were sounds; he did purr.
Belladonna laughed throatily and stood up, leaning over to ruffle her ex-husband's bangs. "Remy could get a nun wet." She strolled over to the edge of the veranda and surveyed the grounds, eyes taking in sight lines and cover unconsciously. "He doesn't even need to try most of the time."
"Pheromones," Wolverine explained. "Part of the kid's mutation, that 'charm' he talks about sometimes."
"Hunh," Wisdom said.
"The rest of it's some kind of psi thing," Wolverine added. "Gumbo keeps a pretty tight hold of it, unless he gets into the champagne. Only thing I've seen that'll get the kid drunk."
"An' I like champagne," Gambit complained. "Don' ever dare drink it 'round folks, much."
"You drank it at our wedding, sweetie," Belladonna commented.
Gambit slitted scarlet eyes open and gave the blonde a snarky look. "An' look how good that turned out, chere," he said. "Your brother an' me, trying t'kill each other. Don' know which of us Julian wanted more, mais."
Belladonna grinned wickedly. "Considering you'd both had me, it was probably you, thief."
Domino and Wolverine started laughing. "Ya got a sick, sick relationship there, Cajun," Logan said over a snicker.
"I do not understand," Shatterstar interjected.
Wisdom looked over at the Mojoverse warrior. "Brothers and sisters are a no-no, Gaveedra," he said. "Brothers and brothers-in-law is sort of frowned on, too."
"Which would be why Remy tried to gut him in that duel," Belladonna laughed.
Gambit shrugged and straightened up, sliding away from Wisdom, clamping his shields down tight and almost unconsciously charging the tiny particles that formed the pheromones he exuded, burning them to dust. The air sparked for a nanosecond and smelled like lightning, then nothing. He should have known better than to relax so much.
"I'm gonna get another beer," he muttered and retreated into the mansion, heading for the kitchen.
"Way to kill a mood, Boudreaux," Wolverine remarked.
"We just got too much past between us," Belladonna said. She gave a sharp nod. "Think it's time I got out of here." She slipped over the veranda rail and ghosted away toward the garage where she'd left her rented car on her arrival the day before.
He had his head in the big commercial-sized refrigerator, trying to unearth his Black Voodoo beer from behind Wolverine's Molsons.
"I saw the ex splitting," Rogue said to Gambit.
Her words didn't make him jump. His spatial-kinetic sense had registered her movement and the volume displacement of the air she moved through as she entered the kitchen.
Being able to manipulate the charge holding molecules together meant always being aware of his surroundings at that molecular level. Because Gambit had come to the X-Men already expert in his powers, no one had ever explored how they worked; no one had ever considered that at the levels he worked with atomic, chemical, and electric were indistinguishable. They hadn't a clue to the power he kept in check even after Sinister's surgery to curb it. Even with his shields closed down tight and his empathy shut down, he still knew whenever anyone was near. If anyone said anything, he'd say a good thief needed to always be alert.
"Hey, chere," he replied, then, spotting the bottles on the back shelf, "Gotcha!"
He bent and retrieved the last two bottles from the far bottom shelf, then straightened up, a bottle in each long-fingered hand. He bumped the fridge door closed with his hip. It was a show-off move meant to draw attention to those narrow, narrow hips and it did. Nature had given Remy LeBeau a beautiful body and face. He used both the same way he did his native intelligence. At some point, it had become reflex, especially around Rogue. He did another pheromone burn-off though. He didn't want to torture her — much.
"Got the Guild business done yesterday," he said. "She don't have much time to hang out."
Running the Unified Guilds had finally killed any lingering romantic feelings he had for Belladonna. She hadn't accepted any contracts on him since the Guilds unified, which translated as a good working relationship between a Thief and an Assassin, but not passion. They both had a nostalgic fondness for the past they shared, but no more. They'd just grown too far apart.
It was much too pretty a day to be worrying any more about his responsibilities as Patriarch of the Unified Guilds. They'd be Belladonna's headache soon enough if what they'd talked about last night worked out.
He headed for the back door. He figured the beer would be enough to bribe Wisdom into giving him another cigarette since someone (Storm, he thought darkly) had slipped into his room and made his own stash disappear.
Meanwhile, it was just too much fun to tease Rogue.
He stopped at the door and glanced back. "You coming with, Rogue?"
"You going to share that beer?"
"Non, this is for Pete."
A grin lit up Gambit's face as he turned around. Let her chew on that!
"What, chere?" he asked. He glanced over to the shaded bit of terrace and ascertained that Wisdom and the rest of Cynics Anonymous were still gathered there. It looked like Cecelia and Banshee had joined them.
Rogue hurried after him, letting the kitchen door bang shut behind her, and set her gloved hand on his arm. Gambit paused and raised an eyebrow at her. Rogue rarely initiated contact even when she was gloved.
"Remy…? Did you…." Rogue flushed pink. "Did you and Wisdom, um, were you … together?"
"Together?" Gambit echoed. He was enjoying this. It was cruel, but he was. She'd had her flings with Joseph and Piotr, but Dieu forbid Gambit find someone to keep him warm after she left him to die in Antarctica. He'd run into Wisdom in North Africa while the ex-Black Air spy was on the outs with Shadowcat. They'd got drunk together and cursed the day they heard of Charles Xavier's dream. They might have passed out in the same bed a time or two, but nothing had happened between them.
"You know. Together. "
"Ran into each other in Tangiers and did a little work together, chere, if that's what you're meaning," he teased.
"Oooh!" Rogue stamped her foot. Gambit had to fight down laughter. "No. Damn it, Remy, did you sleep with Pete Wisdom!?" she yelled.
Half a dozen heads swiveled around to stare at the couple just outside the kitchen.
"Yeah, Gumbo, did you?" Jubilee shouted from poolside. "Inquiring — non-telepathic — minds want to know!"
Pete Wisdom bent over and buried his face in his hands, nearly lighting his black hair on fire with his forgotten cigarette. Domino plucked it away. His back shook. From a distance, he might have been sobbing. Of course, from close up, he was sobbing with laughter. Wolverine just shook his head.
Banshee looked heavenward. "Jubilee!"
Her teacher clutched his head dramatically.
Emma Frost chuckled and commented, "She only says what everyone else is thinking."
Sam set his hands on Kitty's slender shoulders, obviously meaning to draw her to him for comfort.
Kitty shrugged him away and caught Bobby's gaze.
Both of them began giggling. The thought of her boyfriend and the X-Men's enigmatic thief in a relationship wasn't so strange, but they'd already discussed whether the rumor held water and dismissed it. Then they'd both admitted it was material for some damned hot fantasies. Something they were never going to mention to either man. Bobby put it simply, 'No way am I admitting to fantasizing about either of them. I don't want to end up skewered, blown up, or pancaked by a pissed off Rogue.'
Bobby loved a good practical joke too. He did admire the slick way Gambit and Wisdom kept the rumors going without a word. It had certainly stirred up the other X-Men when the gossip started. Once he'd been sure it didn't bother Kitty, he done a little rumor-mongering himself just to fan the flames.
"I think I better go after Pete. He's already been banged around by one pissed-off ex when Piotr showed up at the Chalk and Cheese that time," Kitty said. She clamped her hand over her mouth to stop any more giggles.
"He's dead meat if Rogue goes after him," Bobby said matter-of-factly.
"Ah don't understand," Sam interrupted. "How can ya'll just laugh?"
"Because if Pete and Remy were shagging each other senseless," Kitty explained, "neither one of them would have ever let it slip. They're just having everybody on."
"Well, Ah don't see what ya could do if Miss Rogue did get mad enough to go after Pete."
Kitty sighed. "I'd just phase us both and wait for Logan and Remy to get her calmed down."
Remy looked at Rogue with a smirk. Her face had gone beet red.
"Oh, my God," she moaned to herself.
He transferred the second beer bottle to his left hand with the first then stretched out his right and, using his gloved middle fingertip rather than his index since it was bare where he'd cut that finger of the glove out, tipped Rogue's chin up.
"Rogue, chere, if I did or didn't, I still wouldn't tell. Same as you and me. You understand, some things, they ain't secret, but they are private," he told her seriously. That much wasn't part of the game he'd been playing with her ever since returning from Antarctica.
Rogue blinked big green eyes at him.
"You want to ask me if I sleep wit' the hommes too, I'll tell you," Remy said seriously. He saw no reason to lie. Nor much purpose since Rogue had absorbed enough of his memories from their disastrous contacts in Israel and Antarctica to know the truth if she were willing to look at what she'd taken from him. "Ouai. You got enough of my memories in your head, you know that if you think about it. But who … well, that ain't your right to ask no more." He met her gaze until she lowered her lashes and nodded.
"Remy," she said quietly. "I want it to be."
"Chere, I don't think I can dance this dance again."
"I love you, Remy."
"Love ain't ever been the problem, Rogue, and you know it." He let his hand hover within millimeters of her bare cheek. "It's trust. You say you can't trust me, but you really don't trust yourself enough to do anything about your powers."
Remy shrugged ever so gracefully. He'd realized he couldn't go on letting Rogue use his past and his problems to hide her own. "Probably." His voice hardened, but held no anger. "I'm steppin' off the merry-go-round, Rogue."
He walked away from her and back to his companions, handing Wisdom the second beer and twisting the cap off his own. Rogue glared at them then shot into the air.
continued in next post