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They're Marvel's, but they like me better. No money. Don't sue.

Another in the Mooks series. Here's the coming out story. It's sorta serious, sorta not, and as usual it's high in mook-factor. There's also some non-explicit (I think the most risqué body part I mention is a tongue, and I don't even tell you where it goes ;) male/male sex, but it's all emotionally dominated and hardly deserves a strong rating. The language gets a bit ugly, though.

There's another story in this series coming out soon that's far, far more serious, and I'll put the full list of dedications on that. This story -- besides being for Poi, of course -- is for JB McDonald, who asked for more. :)

Comments to the list that you're reading this on (Note: If you're reading this on JayaList, the default setting is to go to the sender, not to the list. If you want to send comments publicly to the list you need to change the "To" header to "[email protected]") or to my new (and hopefully long-term) address at s[email protected]

Consider threats given wherever appropriate. :)

Enjoy!

An Open Kinda Closet
By Kaylee


"Y’ nervous?"

"Me? Nervous? I’m just about to change the way my closest friends in the whole world look at me for the rest of my life. What is there to be nervous about?"

"Jus’ checkin’."

"I think my heart fell into my stomach."

"Deep breaths, Bobby. Dis ain’ gon’ be so bad. We’re talkin’ ‘bout y’ friends here."

"Oh god, Remy, what if they don’t take it well? What if--"

"Hey, cher, hey... relax. Y’ don’ wan’ do dis, we don’. It can wait."

"... No. No, it can’t. I wanna tell them."

"Y’ sure?"

"No. But I wanna tell them anyways."

"Bobby..."

"Don’t you still want...?"

"Mais oui!"

"... Um. Assuming that means ‘hell yeah’ or something like that..."

"Close enough. Let’s do it, cher."

"Um..."

"Quoi?"

"You go first."

***

"So, Betsy," Remy began, smiling his ladykiller-est smile. "Dere’s dis li’l t’ing I wan’ talk t’ you ‘bout..."

She fixed him with an entirely unimpressed look. Elisabeth reserved her admiration for men who at least met the strict requirement of not being Remy LeBeau. "Yes?"

It took effort to keep the smile, but he was a professional. "See, I get t’ break it t’ all de ladies... we flipped a coin... an’ I figured I’d start wit’ you since you’re de least likely to... well, t’ care at all. Main t’ing is dat y’ don’ say anyt’ing t’ make Bobby uncomfortable. He’s nervous enough ‘bout dis as is." He slid his sunglasses down his nose, ignoring the bright glare of the sun off the pool’s water, and let her catch a glimpse of his warning look. If he pressed that too much he knew she just might do exactly what he warned her against, just as her version of cat and mouse. He still wanted to impress on her that he was serious. "Y’ ain’ ‘round here much dese days. Shouldn’ be hard f’ you t’ make it a non-issue."

She pulled her own shades down over her eyes and stretched her slim form back on the lounge chair. "Get on with it. I have to be somewhere in an hour."

He took a breath, distantly surprised to find even this small hesitation in himself. "See, de t’ing is... me an’ Bobby are... together."

"Oh."

"Romantically speakin’."

Her mouth quirked slightly. "If you find a telepath who’s been in range of you two in the past month who doesn’t know that already, I’ll be beyond surprised."

He carefully tipped the sunglasses up to cover his eyes. "Izzat so?"

"Yes."

"Y’ tell anyone else?"

She shifted and stretched a bit, one leg sliding up to catch a bit more sun. "Gossip is Henry’s area, Remy."

He remembered her lover. He remembered how much her lover disliked him. "What about Warren?"

Her expression didn’t change. "I suggest you have as little to do with him as possible."

"Does dat mean--"

"You’re in my light."

"’Lisbeth..."

"You’re still in my light."

He bowed, only slightly sarcastic, and moved out of her light.

***

Henry McCoy might have been Bobby’s best friend, but the younger man knew that Hank would never forgive him if he wasn’t the first to know The Big News. That made it simple -- there would be no warming up, no testing the waters. The first teammate he came out to would be the one who mattered most.

Be brave, he told himself sternly. Nothing to be afraid of. This is Hank. Best bud. Pally-est pal. Favorite friend. He probably already knows, anyway... and it’s not like I’m confessing to being a Summers or anything...

Hank wasn’t in his lab for once, meaning that Bobby had the echoing, lonely room to himself as he waited. He’d never really thought about that; about the way the walls down here were so bland and empty, or how the equipment was so sterile and cold. Hank spent so much time down here -- how did he keep that warmth and humor of his when he daily surrounded himself with this aloneness?

It wasn’t Bobby’s nature to dwell on such things for long, however, and there was something more immediately pressing to worry about. He settled his butt on a swiveling chair and turned a nervous circle, then another. A third, tipping his head back and letting his gaze travel idly along the walls. He couldn’t even name most of the equipment in this room, while he was willing to bet that his friend could not only name but also use everything here.

His own face flashed across his vision, then again. He let the chair’s motion squeak to a halt and stared in upside-down fascination at his slightly reddening face. Somehow the man in the mirror looked different from the man he’d been seeing there for so many years.

"Hank," he told the mirror. "I finally found someone."

The man in the mirror waited politely.

"I haven’t just ‘found someone,’ I guess... I guess what I mean to say is that I’m in... well, I think I’m... y’know... like storybooks, only with things a little bit different..." Light brown hair swung slightly from his inverted head. "I’m in love, Hank." He grinned suddenly and wondered how much the blood rushing to his brain was affecting him. "I’m so in love that I feel like an idiot most of the time and I keep thinking that these past weeks have been... just dreams. Which would really suck. If they’d been dreams, I mean, which they aren’t or else I wouldn’t be here." He paused a second, thinking things through just to make sure that he really was sure there was no way he was about to confess to a relationship with an imaginary Remy LeBeau. "Right. Not dreams. But better than the best dreams. Except that he hogs the pillow, but that’s okay ‘cause I hog the blankets." Which generally led around to the two of them being tangled around and atop each other, which then led to the most comfortable sleeping or a more energetic expression of closeness, depending on relative moods and exhaustion... but Bobby didn’t think that was really the sort of material one included in a ‘coming out’ speech.

And speaking of that... He swiveled the chair and straightened, blinking at the head rush and faint ache behind his eyes that marked the change in position. Hank might be here any minute. He’d better get serious.

He fixed the mirror with the most level stare he could manage, working a moment to put his eyebrows at just the right neutral position, studying the twist of his mouth to make sure it wouldn’t look as if he were making a joke. He really didn’t want someone thinking this was one more Bobby-ism. "Hank," he said, then cleared his throat and tried to make his voice sound less ready to crack. "Hank." Better. But third time-- "Hank." --was the charm. Perfect. Now to finish the thought. "Hank, what I mean to say with all of that..." Too wordy. Wordy was dangerous unless you had a much larger vocabulary than Bobby tended to utilize. "Hank, here’s the thing..." Too abrupt? Probably. "Hank, I want you to know..." No, no... sounded like the beginning of one of those commercials for women that had a mother and daughter bonding while talking about things red-blooded men cringed over. "Hank, you’re my best friend..." All true so far. "... and this is something kinda important that’s happened in my life..." Understating the issue, maybe, but the point got across, he figured. "... and I wanted you to be the first to know, since I know you’d do me bodily harm if someone else told you this..." Deep breath, swallow hard, face the music: "The person I’m in love with is Remy. I’m... gay."

The man in the mirror stared back with an expression akin to panic.

"Okay, new approach... keep it simple... Hank, I’m in love with Remy and gay." He played it over in his head and cringed. He was no grammar expert, but something told him that could be taken the wrong way. "Hank, I fell in love with Remy, and I’m gay." Redundant, probably. Falling for Remy pretty much shouted that he was gay, didn’t it? But it seemed more important to include the part about being in love than the part about being ‘gay.’ "Hank, I’m in love with Remy, therefore I’m gay." Better! A little more revising, a prayer for courage, a thousand years of preparation, and he just might be ready to share this. "Hank, I--"

"I heard you the first time, Robert."

Bobby jumped and spun with something too much like a squawk. In what had to be the only half-darkened corner in this lab, Hank was curled into a chair that was completely incongruous with the atmosphere. It was a recliner, thickly padded, covered in some sort of deep blue material and very worn. It was the sort of thing Bobby could imagine Jean sending down here, claiming that she wanted to hide it from view but really intending to put the tempting bait of ‘rest’ near enough to Hank that the man couldn’t resist it forever.

Not that he was thinking overmuch about the origins of the chair just then. "H-Hank...? You...?"

A blue-furred hand scrubbed over a blue-furred face. "I was resting, yes. It seems I misplaced those hours I should have been utilizing for sleep last night."

Bobby’s mouth worked, then sound caught up. "No! I’m not ready yet! Go back to sleep--"

"I’m no longer tired."

"--and forget you heard anything."

"Really, Bobby, it’s not--"

"Hank..." He knew his eyes were pleading. His pride didn’t even sting, though. "Just cover your ears, okay? Just for a minute."

"But--"

"Pleeeaaase?"

A long, long sigh from inside that barrel chest, then hands rose to rest lightly over ears.

Bobby turned sharply back to the mirror. "Hank," he said seriously, "I’m involved with Remy." No. "Hank, remember how you always used to say I was such a ‘happy’ guy? Well..." No. "See, it all happened so fast, and I guess I’m kinda sorta maybe..." No. "Hank, I’m--"

A hand closed over his shoulder, the mirror displaying its azure hue. Hank could move more quietly than a whisper sometimes. Bobby’s words choked down in his throat as the hand slowly turned him, then his eyes raised silently to meet his closest friend’s. He thought his heart had sprouted wings and stood poised, fluttering desperately, precariously balanced over a yawning chasm that might swallow him if he found any disgust in that gaze.

Hank squeezed his shoulder with a small fraction of the strength Bobby knew was in those hands. Smiled, looking amazingly gentle despite the fangs and beastly visage. The hand dropped from his shoulder to be held open between them as if waiting for his own, which Hank shook very formally when Bobby dazedly accepted the gesture. "Congratulations, Robert. I’m elated to see you so happy."

It wasn’t the words or the handshake or the smile or the kind eyes that let that fluttering heart leap up and fly. It was something more immeasurable and important than any well-meaning supportive gestures could have been.

He could see in the unfettered genuineness that Hank meant it. And that made all the difference in the world.

***

Remy had taken Betsy’s word for it that any decent telepath most likely already knew about his relationship with Bobby. That meant that Jean would hopefully not be hard to break the news to, which put her next on his list of jurors.

Bobby would hate that he thought of their teammates that way, but Remy didn’t see much reason to change the view. He hadn’t made much attempt to rekindle old ‘friendships’ after his return to the team. For the most part, neither had those ‘friends’ he now sought out to share a deeply personal detail with. Not that he could blame them entirely. How were they supposed to feel about the excommunicated son returning and refusing to leave the church?

How would they feel about his being with one of their own? It would be so easy for any one of them to take that single step from discomfort over the homosexual nature of their relationship to outrage over his seeming ‘corruption’ of guileless Bobby. And that would be the natural conclusion for any detractor to jump to -- it wasn’t as if anyone alive would believe that Bobby seduced him. Which he hadn’t... exactly... though he hadn’t been anything resembling a passive participant, either...

Merde. Too much t’ t’ink about.

He found Jean with Scott in the spacious living room just off the kitchen, and for a long minute he stood unseen at the doorway, watching them. Nearly a year since the wedding now, and they’d been through the fires of hell together. There was a fundamental closeness between them that he’d observed many times, wondering over on those times when he allowed himself that luxury. He’d never tell them, but it was beautiful to see. Bittersweet for him, but still beautiful.

He cleared his throat, grateful -- and not for the first time -- that telepaths found his mind so difficult to detect. As long as he had them both here he could save Bobby the effort of seeking out Scott later. "Y’ two have a minute?"

They looked up, almost as a unit, and Jean’s smile was considerably warmer than Scott’s professional nod. "Certainly," Scott said for the both of them. "Grab a seat."

He did so, faking utter nonchalance with practiced ease. "Y’ doin’ okay today?"

Jean handled the small talk. "Wonderful. It’s gorgeous outside, now that the weather’s warmed up. In fact, I was just working on convincing Scott to suggest a team picnic across the lake."

Scott smiled slightly, that familiar reserved smile with an added touch of warmth to it. "She wants me to encourage everyone to be lazy."

"That’s not what I said!" Her anger was obviously false, the tone of the words affectionately exasperated. "Remy, are all men as good at misinterpreting what a woman says to have it suit their own meaning?"

"Pretty much," he confirmed with a small smile of his own, not really willing to get into the spirit of the teasing. "It’s a trait a de species."

"An excuse of the species is more like it," she countered, closing her fingers over Scott’s and squeezing with a smile.

Scott snorted, shifting ‘til his leg brushed Jean’s and fixing Remy with his ruby quartz stare. "I don’t think you came here to talk about male-bashing, Gambit..." he invited, leaving the sentence trailing.

"No. No, dat definitely ain’ what I wanted t’ talk t’ you ‘bout..." He scratched lightly at his jaw, flicking his eyes to Jean’s and wondering who he should focus on to say this. "I know I’m not... not de most welcome X-Man right now." He held up a hand as Jean started to protest. Scott, he noticed with bitter amusement, said nothing at all. "I ain’ blind, Jean, an’ I’m t’rough wit’ bein’ a fool. Dat’s not really what I wanted t’ say, either. It’s just... what I am gon’ say ain’ gon’ make me any more welcome, an’ I want dat out up front."

Scott nodded into his pause. "Go on." No condemnation yet; just wary readiness. Jean’s expression was an odd mix that he couldn’t quite read.

"It’s about Bobby," he said, and watched with something like fascination as Jean’s lips spread in a quick, broad smile that she quickly erased. "An’ me," he added, watching her more closely, finding his suspicions confirmed when she pressed her lips tightly together to keep the smile back. She did know, and what’s more, she seemed absolutely delighted with the knowledge and the fact that he was telling them.

Apparently she hadn’t shared with Scott, who looked no more enlightened than before. "What about you and Bobby? Has there been a problem?"

"Well... I don’ t’ink dere’s a problem..."

"Then what is it?"

He called on cockiness and winked at Jean, bolstering his resolve with the conspirator’s grin that called from her. "Well, de t’ing of it is... we’re together."

Jean looked almost ready to bounce off the couch. Scott gave her a perplexed look, then sent the same thing his way. "Together on what? What are you talking about?"

"Together, Scott," he emphasized carefully, not batting an eyelash. "Me an’ Bobby. De two of us. As an ‘us.’"

Scott’s face didn’t seem to change expression at all, though of course Remy couldn’t see his eyes. "You’re... together."

"Oui."

"You and Bobby."

"Oui."

"But that would mean Bobby is..." A very slight headshake. "Wait. That means you are..."

"Gay," Remy confirmed, to Jean’s grinning delight. "Well, I s’pose I’m ‘bi’ if y’ wan’ get picky..." A sudden hint of disapproval from Jean which he hurried to alleviate. "But seein’ as I’m just wit’ Bobby dese days I don’ t’ink de label really matters." And that seemed enough to bring Jean back to grinning lunacy, for which he breathed a silent sigh of relief. This would be much easier if she were on their side.

Scott was staring at him. Remy had the distinct impression that only firm self-discipline kept the man from gaping. "But you... I always got the impression that you were... very much the ladies’ man."

There were so many answers to that -- so much that had contributed to that first night with Bobby and those following nights that’d built their foundation -- but today wasn’t going to be about baring his soul. It wasn’t anyone’s business except for the few he allowed it to be. "T’ings change, Cyke."

"But you and Bobby..."

This was heading more into the ground he’d expected. He’d ‘turned’ Bobby, or whatever crap word they wanted to use, and he doubted the response to that would be pretty. Inwardly he steeled himself, waiting, while outwardly his demeanor didn’t change by so much as a flicker.

Jean squeezed Scott’s hand again. "Isn’t it wonderful?" she said in that ‘agree with me or we’re gonna have one of those husband-wife moments that every man fears’ tone. "They’ve been so happy together..."

Scott gave her a sharp look. Remy could just imagine that the psilink was very, very full just then. "Look," he put in, feeling as if he were talking to a room that was busy with more interesting entertainment. "I know dis is unexpected... but it doesn’ have t’ change anyt’ing. I jus’... we... t’ought it was about time we stopped hidin’." His voice hardened a little. "An’ I don’ care if y’ have a problem wit’ it, either. Y’ got a right t’ y’ own opinion. Y’ just make sure dat opinion don’ hit Bobby hard, ‘cause he’s still pretty shy ‘bout all dis, an’--"

The leader looked at him again, not acknowledging his words, and cut in with, "Are you... talking about something long-term here? With Bobby?"

It made him bristle. "Y’ t’ink I’d face all de shit I expect t’ face wit’ dis if I wasn’ serious ‘bout him? Y’ t’ink I’d let him face dat if... Merci beaucoup, Scott, f’ remindin’ me exactly where I stand in your eyes." He stood abruptly, knowing that his eyes were furious and exposing the lie of the nonchalance, hardly caring. "T’ink what y’ want about me, but if y’ start puttin’ doubts in his head--"

"Sit down," Scott told him in a faintly irritated tone of voice. "I think that question was fair, considering your history. I’m not challenging your... relationship with him. Nothing of the sort. I just want to know if you’re serious about him. And vice versa, for that matter." His jaw hardened. "I think we’ve had enough broken hearts around here, don’t you agree?"

His blood was still up, but he couldn’t find much in the words to argue with. Glanced from Scott to Jean and back again as he tried to decide how best to handle this to keep them from deciding that Bobby had cast his lot with entirely the wrong person. "Dat’s... all you wan’ know? If we’re serious?"

To his utter astonishment, Scott actually blushed faintly. "I don’t think it’s exactly my place to ask about... safe sex. Or things of that nature." A hint of concern to his voice: "I’m assuming you both are... cautious. And I won’t give you so little credit as to ask..."

Remy blinked. Scott was -- words aside -- asking if they practiced safe sex. Scott. Was asking him. As if Remy didn’t hold a doctorate in such things. "Ah... if y’re askin’ what y’ say y’ ain’ askin’... oui, Scott. We’re careful. Even got blood tests, just t’ be on de safe side."

Jean bounced Scott’s hand on the couch. "See? I told you. Stop worrying."

Remy’s anger retreated farther. "It’s... real good dat y’ care enough ‘bout Bobby t’ be worried. It’s gon’ mean a lot t’ him."

A russet brow quirked upwards on Jean’s mobile face. "He’s not just concerned about Bobby," she corrected bluntly.

Scott said nothing, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

Remy slowly sank back down to his chair. It wasn’t true, of course. People didn’t direct concern his way, not these days. Somehow, though, even the illusion was warming. And much as he told himself that he wouldn’t bare more of himself than he was comfortable with today, he had to make sure that questions were answered satisfactorily enough to keep Bobby from being badgered later. His lover was more nervous about this than he’d been about almost anything in the entire time Remy’d known him, and it took practically nothing at all to set the younger man to blushing.

"So," he said with an expansive gesture of his arms. "I guess if y’ wan’ ask me anyt’ing... now’s de time."

***

Bobby fidgeted again and wondered if he should wait.

*And Coach Bulieux is sending out his best linebacker? What is going on here?*

Logan seemed very involved in his football game -- some Louisiana team against another Louisiana team, it looked like -- but Bobby’d been working up the courage for this conversation for nearly half an hour, and now that he had it he wasn’t prepared to let it get away. He had Logan in the house, stationary for at least the rest of the game, trapped comfortably on the sizable couch in the common area... so it was time.

*... out of the picture. Bulieux is willing to try anything to--*

"Uhm, Logan?"

Logan paid him all the attention he might’ve paid a fly. "Aw, c’mon Kline! Get some fuckin’ strategy..."

Bobby edged around until he was beside the television, almost directly in Logan’s line of sight. "Logan, can I talk to you?"

Logan didn’t even look at him until he’d inched his way in front of the television screen. At that point the dark eyes lifted, slowly, fixing on his with an expression that was either preparing to be dangerous or already there. "What," he said flatly.

Under that glare Bobby dropped his eyes to carefully examine his toes. He was suddenly wishing that he’d guessed ‘tails’ on the coin toss. "Well, see, there’s this little thing I need to tell you..."

*And he takes a knee? What kind of strategy is that?*

The shorter man appeared to be struggling to see straight through him. A grunt was as close as he came to an answer. That was at least a sign that Logan was in a good mood...

"It probably won’t matter to you, but... well, it’s important to me. I had to think a lot about this. Maybe I wouldn’t have decided at all if it weren’t for... for Remy."

Logan gave up on staring through him and turned that look a few degrees more toward scary-as-hell. "What, Drake."

He swallowed and thought of Hank’s warm handshake. "Well... I’m in love."

Logan waited.

"With... with a teammate."

Logan waited.

"With... Remy."

Logan waited.

Bobby remembered to add, "Therefore I’m gay," but that didn’t seem to make any more of an impression than the rest. The other man was still staring at him as though waiting for him to get to the point, expression giving nothing away other than impatience. Bobby stood there for a moment, shifting in awkwardness. "I just, y’know, wanted you to know..."

"Uh huh," Logan finally grunted, eloquent as always. "You done?"

Another fidget. "Well. Yeah. I guess I am."

"’Bout time. Now move. I got money on this game."

Bobby slid a careful step, another, away from the television. As soon as he was out of the way Logan’s attention was again riveted to the screen.

"Aw, shit, you call that a call? Fuckin’ ref..."

Bobby made his escape in a daze, dashing sweat from his brow.

***

She was the last one he wanted to talk to.

"Can I talk t’ you, Rogue?"

He wasn’t about to leave her for Bobby to break the news to, though.

"Won’ take long."

In so many ways, despite the break-off, she was still his responsibility.

"It’s about... Bobby." He gestured toward the front door directly out from the stairs they stood on. "Can we take dis outside?"

She was dressed tomboyish. It’d been a while since she’d done that, and whether she knew it or not he appreciated the change. For well over a year she’d dressed for style, for flair, for sheer classy femininity. He wondered sometimes if she realized how very much she’d allowed her interest in him to color who she was. Those cut-off shorts she’d been so fond of... they showed the utter disregard for her mutation that she’d acquired, as if by ignoring it enough she could make it unexist. They’d made her look good -- god, she’d looked good -- but every inch of those bared shapely legs was a trap.

And he’d hardly been any more fair in reverse. He’d learned early in youth that his looks could be a tool, and by the time he’d found himself with this team he’d honed that tool into a precision instrument. It’d started as a game, and she was just one more femme he would manipulate to secure himself a comfortable place with a group of people. Somewhere along the way -- somewhere after the Dream had started to mean something -- Rogue had become something other than a toy.

Finally, when it was clear that she was unattainable, he indulged his romantic side and called it ‘love.’

He’d hurt them both with that lie. And she’d paid him back, seeing the truth in his head and heart in Antarctica, leaving him to ‘suffer’ for his crimes and never acknowledging -- never letting him acknowledge -- that her own crime was a crime of passion, a mistake made in the midst of pain as her heart tore.

She’d been willing to go back to the lie when he found his way home, confusing her own emotion for his. He’d had enough of his own deceit by that point. There’d been tears on her face when he’d told her that there was nothing between them worth fixing. He’d been too cold inside to care.

He’d stayed cold, stubbornly refusing to give up his place here despite the fact that he’d forgotten how to relate to these people. And then Bobby, the Iceman himself, had melted Antarctica -- or at least the chunk Remy carried in his chest.

"I don’t wanna go outside," Rogue told him distractedly as she tugged her hair into a ponytail. "I’m hittin’ the weight room. Just tell me here."

Remy LeBeau was typically an eloquent man, and when he made half an effort he could even border on pedantic. Looking into those deep green eyes that he had, damnit, loved -- if not in the way either of them had really wanted -- he couldn’t find it in him to string her along. "Chere, I..."

"I thought we agreed that ya weren’t gonna call me that anymore," she said levelly, without accusation.

"Oui." He’d forgotten. That momentary stab of – grief? – over the pain he feared he was going to cause her had let him forget. "I’m sorry."

"Don’t worry ‘bout it. What’s up?"

One step at a time... "I’m... seein’ someone."

A flash of something across her expression, then a composed nod. "Good for you." It wasn’t said coldly, but her tone was reserved. "Why ya tellin’ me?"

He glanced down the stairs, then across the banister. After a heartbeat he realized that he was letting restlessness rule him so he forced his gaze back to hers. "It’s... someone y’ know."

Another nod. A swallow bobbed her throat. "I see. Someone on the team?"

"Oui." A hand rose to rub at his neck, then dropped. "I... It’s Bobby. I’m... I’m seein’ Bobby."

Even her determination to show nothing folded a bit under that snippet of information. Her eyes widened and her lips parted in a small ‘O’ of surprise. She didn’t even try to speak for the length of a very long minute -- just stared at him in unfeigned shock while he forced himself to meet her eyes.

Finally: "You... you an’... you’re..." Her chest bobbed as she took a deep breath and only firm discipline kept him from indulging habit and expressing his appreciation for the motion. Habit was comforting in turbulent emotional waters. "But you’re not..."

"It’s a li’l... complicated." He felt downright awkward for the first time in ages, knowing the thoughts and images running through her head. "I’m not... dis ain’ a joke or anyt’ing, Rogue. I know dat’s probably what y’ were gon’ ask next. I’m... serious. We’ve been seein’ each other f’ more’n a month. Closer t’ two now, actually." He tried to put sincerity in his voice, then realized that ‘trying’ to do so was ridiculous when he could simply let the natural emotion flavor the words. "He was... confused. But he’s pretty... pretty clear ‘bout what he wants. An’ I..." He trailed off as she took a step upward and away, shaking her head. "Chere, I--"

"Don’t. Call me that." She shook her head again, then blurted something very like a laugh. "You... you’re..."

"Rogue..."

Her teeth briefly gripped her lower lip. He thought he saw a faint tremble in her body. "This is rich," she managed. "You’re... y’all are... an’ you’re tellin’ me this..." With a sudden lunge she jumped the banister, floating there for a moment with terribly bright eyes. "Congrats," she choked out. Then there was something pleading in her eyes. "Please tell me... jus’ let me think I ruined ya for all other women, huh?" She tried to flavor it with a laugh, but couldn’t quite make it convincing. "I’m... happy for ya both." Her voice broke halfway through, and with that she fled.

He tried to tell her to wait, but she was already flying out through the front door in a swirl of ponytail and the scent of lavender shampoo.

Not that he had anything in particular to say anyway.

"I’m sorry," said a truly composed voice from the top of the stairs. "I had no intention of eavesdropping."

Remy raised a head that felt all too ready to sag, finding the faintest trace of a smile. "You were my next stop, chere. T’ought I’d save de best f’ last."

Ororo’s dark face was serene, her eyes thoughtful and searching his as she descended the stairs one slow step at a time. She wore a flowing pale skirt that ghosted about her legs like caressing hands and a light tank top that Remy knew was chosen merely because it allowed the most sun to bathe her skin. Her hair was confined in a simple, elegant braid. She looked, as he’d told her more than once, about a thousand karats of pure woman -- feminine and elemental and eternal.

She stopped one step up, which put her head a few inches above his own. "Why?" she asked simply.

A hundred ready answers sprang to mind to explain the complexities of the situation, but all that reached his lips were a few quiet words: "He made me laugh again." Then he was too tired for defensiveness. "As f’ what he sees in me... y’ gotta ask him ‘bout dat, ‘cause I ain’ got no--"

Another smile, faint and wistful. "I already know what he sees in you, my friend."

It was warmth -- the warmth he’d come to so crave in recent months -- and his throat tightened in grateful response to it. His feelings for this woman had never been simple. They’d been made considerably less so with the revelations following his mockery of a trial. She loved him, though, and he loved her. That at least was something neither had doubted even when he’d found himself unable to really talk to her, as buried in his own guilt as he’d been.

He found his own smile for her. A real smile. "Merci, Ororo," he said formally. "Merci."

She leaned the few inches and pressed a velvet kiss to his cheek. "Call me ‘Stormy,’" she murmured, that wistful look somehow creeping into her voice now, touching it with sadness. He pulled back and looked at her. Tried to tell her what this quiet acceptance meant to him.

Again he found himself wordless as a woman left him standing on the stairway, but this time it was with the realization that nothing more needed to be said.

***

Bobby stood in the doorway of the living room next to the kitchen and stared at Scott, debating. This spot seemed very comfortable and nicely safe -- he could just stand here all day and end this whole ‘coming out’ thing just like that. No more exhausting emotional pendulum. No more verbal tripping over words. No more...

He closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the wall. Warren had been... nice. Polite. Rather considerate, even. A few startled questions, then a repetitive ‘are you sure?’ for a few minutes... and that was pretty much the extent of it. The conversation had ended with an awkward shoulder-clasp from the winged man, eagle-keen blue eyes unwilling to hold his own for any length of time.

It’d been months since Warren and Betsy had moved out together -- and they’d been busy months -- but Bobby hadn’t realized just how very distant their friendship had grown. While he’d been spending his spare time learning to accept a part of him that was far easier to hide, Warren had changed as well. Not for the better, not for the worse, just... different. As he was different. Grown up and apart.

He was scared, deep inside, that he’d find the same thing with Scott. And he hadn’t even begun to think of how the women were going to act toward him when Remy was through with that half of the equation.

Okay, Drake... Scott’s the only male in residence left who doesn’t know. You don’t have to say anything to the Prof ‘til he gets back from Muir -- um... Dear God, please let Professor Xavier decide to live on Muir... -- and Sam’s at that reunion-thingy, and it’s not like he’ll have any problem with it, what with that Shatterstar-and-Ric thing... I wonder if Bish is ever coming back...? Dear God, please let Bish be happy somewhere far away from here. Forever. Amen.

Eyes opened. He cleared his throat and stepped into the living room.

Scott looked up from the newspaper as the sound registered. "Bobby." The younger man looked pale as a sheet, as if waiting to be blown over by a cruel word. I can’t even imagine what today must have felt like for him. "Sit down."

Bobby sank uncomfortably to the couch across from the recliner Scott had claimed. "I need to talk to you, Scott. Friend-wise, not team-leader-wise."

"Actually, I--"

A hand went up, forestalling him. "Please, Scott, this has already been a long day. Just lemme get this out."

"But--"

"I promise not to take too much of your time." Scott kept his mouth closed this time, and after a moment Bobby dropped his hand and continued. "There’s something you don’t know about me. I’ve never really talked to you about this, so I dunno if you’re gonna think it’s a big deal or not... but it’s really important to me -- it’s gonna be a big part of my life -- and I want you to know."

Scott said nothing and nodded. If Bobby needed to say this, let him say it. It sounded like he’d rehearsed this speech for hours, so he might as well get to use it.

Bobby gestured at nothing in particular, then brushed the same hand through slightly tousled brown hair. "This’s been going on for a while... two months next Saturday morning... and we sorta decided... I mean, we thought it was about time that we, y’know, told people. You guys, that is." A blush colored his cheeks. "Not that we need approval or anything, it’s not like that, but you guys are my friends, so... um..." His words faltered at the sound of feet on the stairs. Scott glanced past him and nearly groaned as a strangely thoughtful-looking Remy sauntered in.

"Gambit, if you’d just--" he began.

Remy dropped gracefully down onto the couch Bobby perched on, then unceremoniously flounced sideways, draped his legs over the arm, and laid his head in Bobby’s lap. Bobby froze. Looked at Scott with panic fully evident in his eyes.

Um, Scott thought, then decided that he didn’t care if it was the craven way to go and mentally called, Jean? Can you... please... join us in the living room? He was for once grateful for the red-tinted glasses that prevented them from seeing his eyes. Hurry?

Bobby could only imagine what was going through Scott’s head. He longed for a comforting, distancing sheath of ice, since disappearing into the furniture didn’t seem to be an option. His eyes dropped to Remy’s and he tried very hard to put his thoughts into his gaze until he realized that he wasn’t, strictly speaking, thinking anything except about how crimson his face probably was just then. Brief anger tried to grow at Remy’s utter lack of concern about being so public, but then he remembered that today’s purpose was exactly that -- coming out so they didn’t have to hide anymore.

Remy’s demon-laughing eyes were squinted slightly. "I got a headache," he said in a tone a half-beat from plaintive.

Bobby darted a look at Scott, who was all too obviously trying to look anywhere but at the two of them. That rare note of honest ‘ouch’ in Remy’s voice was too much for him, though, and his hands dropped hesitantly, fingers seeking those spots on his lover’s temples that seemed to ease these occasional headaches. Crimson-and-midnight eyes slid closed on a long sigh as the still-lean frame sagged into relaxation. Just like that. In public.

His face was burning, but somehow Bobby looked at Scott squarely. "Um. This is sorta... what I was gonna talk to you about. In case you, um, didn’t guess."

"A’ready tol’ him," Remy mumbled. "He wanted t’ know if we’re havin’ safe sex."

Bobby stopped breathing.

Scott scratched at his head and stared searchingly at the ceiling. "It, uh, seemed an appropriate question..."

Remy reached up and tapped his chest. "Breathe, Bobby. Y’d prob’ly die of embarrassment if I had t’ do mouth t’ mouth on y’ out here."

Bobby sucked in a deep breath. "S-so... you don’t... mind? I mean, you’re not... uh..."

The leader glanced at the doorway as though expecting something. A rescue, maybe. "Of course I don’t ‘mind,’ Bobby. I’m glad you’ve... found a way to express this... aspect of yourself. I’m surprised, of course, but..." Scott’s head cocked slightly as he looked back at them. A faint, Scott-patented smile found his lips. "For god’s sake, Bobby, we’re your friends. You can stop looking like you expect to be excommunicated."

Remy’s head rolled in his lap, the red-on-black eyes opening and fixing on Scott. It was a strange look he directed at the other man, and one Bobby couldn’t figure out. He knew the man well enough by now to feel a stab of worry -- something in those eyes, buried deep, reflected profound unhappiness -- but he doubted he’d’ve known what to say in the privacy of their own room, let alone out here where he was already unbalanced.

Remy didn’t say anything, so Bobby did. "I didn’t know what to expect..." A hand slipped half-consciously into Remy’s hair, running the smooth strands over his fingers in a habitual gesture that was practically second nature now. The tension that’d come into his lover’s long body eased a bit at that. "I thought maybe you’d think there was something... wrong with me. Or him. And..." He shook his head and looked down at Remy, waiting until the dark eyes turned back to him. "And it looks like I was wrong." His lips tugged sideways. "Well. We did it."

"We did," Remy agreed quietly, almost solemnly.

"You told everyone?"

The Cajun bobbed his chin in a tiny nod. "Oui. Ev’body in dis house knows. All de women, leastwise."

Bobby’s fingers kept trailing through the red-hued dark hair. "Then that’s everybody." He’d all but forgotten Scott’s presence. "Hank says ‘congratulations.’"

Remy smiled a little. "’Lisbeth says she knew an’ didn’ really care."

"Logan kinda grunted."

The smile seemed a little fixed now, but didn’t leave. "Well... Stormy’s real... happy f’ us. I t’ink she’d like t’ talk t’ you ‘bout everyt’ing sometime."

Bobby grinned a small, embarrassed grin. "Okay. Um. Warren’s... y’know, he’s pretty much okay with it."

"Jean wants t’ t’row us a 'comin’ out party.'"

A loud snort from Scott reminded Bobby that they weren’t alone. He sent an abashed look at the other man and tried to figure out if there were some sort of behavior code in this particular situation. If Remy was a woman, would this be too much? He actually thought about it, playing over social mores in his head until he realized-- No. And... and if this is just as ‘right’ as that is, then this is okay, damn it.

"Jean is," Scott informed him with a small grin, "your biggest supporter."

"So I’m guessing," he said wonderingly.

Remy caught one of Bobby’s hands and kissed the back of it. Nothing tantalizing, just simple affection. He was pretty sure that Bobby wasn’t anywhere near ready for real public displays of affection. "Y’ got some good friends here, Bobby," he told him, hoping he was right. They really seemed to be genuine about accepting this, for the most part... and he could still remember Hank’s ‘I know but I’ll pretend not to know but you’re still going to deal with my threatening your life if you hurt him’ speech. It’d ranged from ‘Bobby’s not very good with relationships’ to ‘Chatzky’s is his favorite restaurant’ to ‘You WILL submit to every medical exam I have the urge to inflict upon you whether you’re willing or not, Mr. LeBeau.’ Remy told himself that he didn’t give a flying fuck what any of them thought, but he knew how important their opinions were to Bobby. In some ways this team was the only family with whom Bobby felt truly comfortable.

As for him... He could make himself fairly comfortable anywhere. Even here again. He’d come back for his own reasons, but he’d never expected to find a reason in another person to stay.

Bobby gave him a tiny, Bobby-flustered smile, but before he could speak Scott mentioned almost casually, "Are you two wanting to... move into a single room?"

Bobby looked poleaxed -- not an uncommon expression these days -- but Remy shrugged against his lover’s thigh and found a mild, unflappable look. "My room’s got de bigger bed..." He knew enough by now to recognize Bobby’s fear of imposing. In truth, he wasn’t sure he was ready for the level of commitment that came with sharing a room, but... Well, there was only one way to find out, as the saying went, and if this was what it took to cement their relationship in the eyes of the team, so be it.

Scott gave them a semblance of privacy with his patient silence. Bobby held his eyes, a question in the searching blue. ‘Do you want this?’ Simply that, but with more than a little emotion packed behind it.

Remy pressed his fingers to his lips, then raised them to brush Bobby’s. "Whatcha say, mon cher?"

The response was warm and at least momentarily uninhibited. "I’ve always liked your room..."

***

He’d spent his life fighting for acceptance and equality. In any argument he invariably found himself on the side of the underdog, bitterly opposed to those who would discriminate senselessly. It was who he was -- a true guardian Angel -- and it was a rare day when he found himself looking at things from the other side.

Today, however, had been a very rare day indeed.

Accepting Gambit back with the team in any way had been a stretch for him. Warren more than anyone else knew the price of the Cajun’s betrayal. Thinking of it now made his wings shiver, shaking feathers in a quiet rustle of remembered pain. Sometimes he woke up feeling Blockbuster’s fingers curling around them, ready to close and crush and...

And now his teammate who’d helped the Marauders was sexually involved with Warren’s friend.

Bobby, he'd made sure, was on the other side of the house. Talking to Ororo, if Warren's quick glimpse from the sky had been right, which it almost definitely was. When Remy took the chance to venture outside for a smoke Warren dropped gracefully to the ground, letting his wings loosely fold around him so that they arched out from his body and -- though he didn't consciously think of this -- gave him the illusion of greater size, making him a more intimidating figure.

Remy spoke without looking at him, unnatural eyes lazily examining the burning cigarette. "I was wonderin' when y'd show up."

The stench of tobacco made Warren's nose wrinkle. "I talked to Bobby."

"Yeah. Figured that." The accent had lessened, chased back behind reserved, careful English. Warren had heard the Cajun do that before, and it never failed to unsettle him. The man had so many masks...

"How long?"

"Two months, a'most." Level, factual, unashamed. "Long enough f' it t' be serious."

Warren's chest rose. His wings flexed. "I don't care if you're gay. Or bisexual. Or whatever term you're using."

Gambit said nothing. Smoked.

"And I even more or less came to terms with the fact that the others were allowing a traitor like you to come back to the team. And maybe I even started to believe that you regretted what you did."

Those soulless red eyes flicked to his and held his steady stare.

"But now..." He had to stop and force himself to a semblance of calm to keep his voice under control. "Now you've made it so that I can't even talk to my friend. You've... I can barely look at him without thinking about... about the things you do to him. In bed." His lip curled. "You emasculate him."

The Cajun spoke, still with that minimized accent. "What makes y' think," he said softly, with a note of taunting maliciousness, "that he doesn't do those things t' me?"

The bastard was baiting him... indulging their mutual antipathy. Warren wasn't sure he had the self-control to keep himself from counterattacking. "How dare you get to him when he's vulnerable--"

"'Vulnerable'?" Remy cut in sharply with a hard gesture of his cigarette-bearing hand. "Where do y' get this shit? He's a grown man, Wings."

"He's naïve," Warren hissed. "And you made him..."

"I didn't make him anything he wasn't a'ready." A pause, followed by a cold smile. "'Cept maybe a practicing homosexual 'stead of just one in--"

Warren's great wings flapped, once, hard, drowning out the words and blowing the Cajun's hair back. "That's enough."

Gambit tossed the cigarette carelessly onto the lawn and stepped closer. "This ain' about you an' me," he nearly hissed, the accent creeping in again. "Y' don' hafta like me. I don' like you. Y' don' hafta t'ink about Bobby an' me at all."

"I'm thinking about what you've turned my friend into. The life you've let him in for."

A cocky toss of the auburn-topped head. "Dat ain' what's on y' mind. Not you. Tell me, Wings -- what bothers y' more? De idea a me fuckin' him or de other way 'round?"

The wall was invitingly near and Remy didn't even try to dodge. Warren slammed the man up against the mansion's old stone, forearm to his throat. It didn't register as odd that the Cajun wasn't struggling -- he was only aware of how very, very furious he was. Archangel's fury.

Even so, he didn't take the opportunity to lean in and constrict that throat beneath his arm. "I'd rather have you being his woman than the other way around any day." His teeth were bared. He hardly noticed. "You're not going to make him a joke!"

Remy didn't so much as shift. "Real... open-minded. I f'got dat we're not lettin'... fags in on de Dream."

Warren jerked away with a curse. "It's not about that, you bastard."

The Cajun rubbed at his throat lightly, not moving away. "So if Bobby was wit' another man--"

"If he were with anyone other than you I'd be happy."

"Izzat truth?"

Warren fixed him with a look of pure loathing. "That's god's honest truth." He held the other's eyes, letting him read whatever he could. "Leave him alone, LeBeau."

"Non."

Bobby's good nature perverted by this man's arrogance... "He deserves better than you."

"So? He wants me." A hint of a leer meant to do nothing but enrage. "He wants me."

"Fuck you."

"Not f' all y' money, Wings."

Warren sprang into the air, not allowing himself the luxury of another response that would just lead to yet another jibe, and beat his wings powerfully until he caught an updraft and soared swiftly skyward, hoping to burn off some of this rage and find an answer in the clouds.

***

Remy watched Warren fly off and told himself, in great detail, exactly what brand of craven asshole he was. It took a little while, since he kept switching from English to French, and he was getting more descriptive as the insults ceased to be strong enough by themselves.

The winged man made Remy hate himself. Not with any particular words or actions; just by his existence and the reminder it presented. Whenever he saw Warren, without fail, he hated himself. It was that simple.

It got considerably less simple when he rebelled against that self-loathing and struck out with these wild, uncoordinated verbal blows that seemed to be as much as he could summon up these days. Remy realized at these times more than any others that he was distinctly not the man he had once been. His wits and sly tongue had been frozen somewhere in the snow and left behind as unneeded weight that would only hinder his survival. What was left couldn't be called more than a poor mockery of abandoned talent. He was, melodramatic as it sounded, a man undone.

"Hey."

His heart lurched as his feet did. Cards were in his hand before he'd turned all the way, ready.

Logan didn't show it if he was impressed. "Wings never made a mistake in his life," he said with that flat tone of truest mockery. "Shits gold bricks and gives 'em to the poor."

Remy's disgust had already turned from Warren to himself, meaning that he didn't feel much like joining in the insulting. "What do y' want?" he asked as he slid the cards neatly back into their hidden deck, straightening.

"Fifty bucks."

"Henh?"

"Fifty bucks. Mud Dogs won the Bourbon Bowl."

Remy spat a curse at the ground, but was too distracted to focus much heat in this new direction. "Fine. You'll get y' money. Dat all y' came out here for?"

In answer Logan thumbed out a pack of cigarettes and made a leisurely show of lighting one. He even went so far as to offer one to Remy, which was accepted after a moment of scrutiny. The skin around the Canadian's dark eyes relaxed in satisfaction as he dragged deeply on the filter, inhaling impotent cancer. Remy wasted no time in breathing in his own more potent variety.

"Quite a jump," Logan said eventually.

"What is?"

"Rogue to Drake."

Remy felt that familiar knot of anger/frustration/apprehension in his chest. "Oui," was all he said, tightly.

"I was figurin' you were using him. These past couple o' months, that is." A blunt finger tapped his nose, then an ear. "If ya thought I didn't know, you were foolin' yourself."

"Didn' really see how it was any a your business."

"It wasn't. 'S why I stayed outta it. He's old enough to make his own mistakes."

"Merci," he muttered, too unsettled still to try veiling the sarcasm more cleverly. "Nice t' know what I am."

Logan snorted. "Save the self-pity for the women. They might buy it." Remy didn't answer, and Logan went on. "Changed my mind today."

That was enough to startle an "eh?" out of the Cajun, who quickly tried to hide his increased interest by sending a very diligent stare to the grassblades on the lawn.

"Changed my mind," Logan repeated willingly enough. "I don't think you've been usin' him. Whatcher doin', tellin' people... that takes a certain kinda guts. And honesty."

"Well," Remy said after a minute. "Dat's..."

"It ain't meant to be 'good of me' or 'good to know' or any o' that crap, Gumbo. It just is."

Remy smoked his cigarette and tried to decide if Logan was still giving him the respect of a man to a man he sees as his equal, or if he'd somehow dropped into that half-conscious condescension that seemed to come so easily when a man realized that another man did things in bed that common perception more comfortably relegated to a woman. Being underestimated was a tool that Remy knew how to use, but not one he wanted to have against people he fought alongside. Not one he wanted there every day. Not...

"T'anks," he said offhandedly, and he wasn't sure if he meant it.

Logan grunted. Not acknowledgment or agreement, but just a sound to fill the silence. Remy took another drag and sucked smoke deep into his lungs. It was a quiet moment, relaxing after the tension of mere minutes before. One thing Remy had always appreciated about Logan's presence was his solidarity. In battle the man was a keg of dynamite and in any touchy situation he was a borderline risk at best, but on those occasions when he reached out of his own will he was as steady as Mount Everest.

The Cajun finished his cigarette and tossed the butt to litter the carefully tended lawn with the earlier one. "Y' t'ink we made a mistake?" he asked casually.

A shrug of compact shoulders. "Hell if I know, kid."

That seemed as honest an answer as he could expect, so Remy didn't push the question any farther before nodding a farewell and heading inside.

***

Remy didn't notice him when he opened the door, and that was enough to warn Bobby that his lover was very distracted. The pensive, distant expression carried that message even more clearly. Remy only rarely allowed his face to show what he was feeling, and if he was showing this much...

The Cajun jerked the thin rubber band from his hair and sent it flying with a hissed French word. The word wasn't one that Bobby knew, but he assumed from the tone that it was about as foul a swearword as any. Auburn hair swept lightly to frame the elegant face and obscure his view of the flaming eyes.

Then Remy's head jerked around and the eyes found him, just like that.

"What're y' doin' here?" the man asked in a tired voice with more than a little edge of irritation.

Oh geez, he didn't mean it about moving in, he doesn't wanna, oh geez, how do I get out of this without making us both feel like awkward idiots? "Um," he began intelligently, stalling for time and praying for words. He still hadn't figured out how to respond to these occasional flashes of temper. "Weeellllll..."

Remy scowled, an expression so quick that it was barely noticeable, and Bobby's heart flopped down into his gut.

"I'm... sorry," he managed, a hand tangling ineffectually with his T-shirt. "I'll... I'll just go."

"Why?" Remy asked in a bitter voice. "Y' t'ink I'm a piece a shit, too?"

"What?" How the hell did he get that from 'I'll just go'? "Remy, what're you talking about?" I didn't even say 'shit' in there, I know I didn't...

Three, four, five angry strides along the far side of the room, then a sharp turn and returning steps, back and forth. "F'get it."

Maybe coming out had shown the Cajun how little he wanted this trouble. Maybe he was looking for a way to break it off. "I can... get my things. If you wanna be alone."

Another quick irritated look. "Heh? What're y' talkin' about?"

He gestured hesitantly toward the bag of clothing he'd brought from his room, feeling more than ready to sink into the carpet. "Just... y'know, Scott asked, and you said... but it's okay if you changed your mind... I mean, I won't be upset..." Except for the rest of my life.

Remy stopped suddenly, looking from him to the bag. "Oh," he said eloquently. "Dat's... oh."

He forgot. He's changed his mind. Bobby rubbed at his jaw. "Look," he said, taking a desperate gamble. "Do you want me here or not?"

And then he waited, scarcely daring to breathe, and imagined a safe wall of ice shielding his emotions. The wall melted instantly. He tried to imagine up another one and couldn't even hold the picture in his mind.

The Cajun sat heavily on the bed. "You're icin' up," he said dully.

"What?"

A loose gesture of one elegant hand. "Lookit your arm."

Bobby glanced down. His right fist was clenched tightly, a feather-thin layer of beautiful crystal water sheening his skin and traveling halfway up his arm. The more complex change that converted flesh and blood to living ice hadn't been triggered yet -- that required actual concentration, whereas the casual manipulation of ambient moisture was nearly as natural to him as breathing, and as unconscious.

He flexed his arm lightly until the ice-glove crackled and broke into tiny fragments that were too small to even worry about cleaning up. "Sorry."

Lips curled in a tired smile. "Y' 'pologize too much, cher."

He called me 'cher.' How mad could he be? "Do you want me to stay?" he asked again now that he was sure he had the other man's attention. "Just because you told Scott I could move in here doesn't mean I have to. We can even..." He so didn't mean this. "... go on like before. If that's what you want."

Another word in French, this one quite bitter. Remy looked at his hands and flexed fingers absently. "Bobby, sometimes..." He left it trailing, irritation in every dangling syllable. Bobby could fill in the rest on his own. 'Sometimes you make me so mad.' 'Sometimes you drive me crazy.' 'Sometimes I wish I'd never met you.'

Then Remy swore again. "Sometimes it needs t' be 'bout what you want."

"What I..."

"Yeah. What you want. Y' got wants, don't you?"

"Well..."

"Y' t'ink it's easy bein' de one t' say 'hey, my room's open'? Not knowin' if y're gon' t'ink it's too much too fast, or if y' want it at all?"

The universe hiccuped. Or moved in some other unpredictable and probably inadvisable way. Bobby blinked at Remy a few times and tried to wrap his mind around this new and startling concept. He wasn't quite so naïve as to miss the fact that Remy had brought up the subject of their openness with the team as much as a test of Bobby's dedication to the relationship as in a genuine desire to share. The Cajun had his own ways of ascertaining his value in people's eyes. Still... the idea that Remy was... nervous?... about suggesting something new to him...

The universe hiccuped again in sympathy to his confusion.

His lover went on, hardly pausing. "Y' t'ink I ain' 'fraid y're gon' say 'no' one a dese days? When I touched y' dat first night, Bobby, I was jus' waitin' f' you t' go nuts on me."

"What?!"

"Everyt'ing was so new t' you..." He ignored Bobby's reflexive blush. "Guess what, Bobby... I ain' a telepath. I don' know what y' want. I just keep hopin' I'm not scarin' you too bad when I do somet'in' new."

That was hard to answer. Sometimes it was true. A lifetime of ingrained social values wasn't abandoned in a couple of months, regardless of the enthusiasm of the one who tried to shed them.

"But... y' keep waitin' f' me t' make de first move. Like y' t'ink I'm gon' run hide if y' reach out. An' it wasn' easy, y'know, askin' y' t' keep comin' back here wit'out knowin' what dis is f' you."

"What it is for me? How could you doubt--"

Remy turned his hands over. Scrutinized the play of skin over bone. He cut in distantly, as if he didn't hear Bobby's words. As if his mind were very far away, and when his mind was far away there was really only one place it went. "Y' t'ink I wasn' scared t' say 'I love you'? Not knowin' if y'd say it back or tell me I... say dat I..." He trailed off, looking at his hands. He'd told Bobby once, deep into a frighteningly emotional night, that his hands had gone white. Frostbite. Dead skin over dying blood. He said that he still felt it -- that pain, and then that numbness -- at odd times, unpredictably.

Bobby responded to the empty ache in Remy's voice before reservation could catch up and hold him back. Three strides took him across the floor. Another had him dropping down to his knees by the bed, hands going instantly to cover his lover's and squeezing them tightly, making him feel the sensation, feel the warmth. "Hey," he said roughly, forgetting that he was insecure and worthless and didn't deserve this man's affection. "Hey. Look at me."

A flicker of red, black.

For once the words came, slow but honest. "Listen, I-- listen." He waited until he could at least reasonably assume that Remy was, actually, listening, and then he took a breath and said, "I'm sorry."

Eyes flicked away. "I ain' askin' y' t' say--"

"I'm sorry," he said again. "But I need to tell you this. I..." Am so scared right now that I can barely find words. "... keep thinking you'll come to your senses." The eyes flicked back to his, brows bunching in surprise. "Every single time I came to that door I thought you were gonna tell me to go away. And I keep thinking at every minute you're gonna realize that I'm--"

"Not good enough," Remy said hollowly.

Swallow. "Yeah. That."

The exotic eyes were still distant, barely focused. A hand slipped free with a small tug to brush along his jaw. "Tell me y' love me."

"You know I do."

"Say it."

Bobby said it, stomach feeling uneasy, knowing he was stepping into treacherous grounds.

Remy smiled a bare little smile. "Last person who said dat t' me lef' me t' die in Antarctica," he pointed out softly.

Oh god.

He closed his hand back over Remy's, this time on his cheek, and brought it around. Kissed the palm. Found the other hand and kissed it, too. This had been a day full of fear and the glimmering of hope, but all the emotional exhaustion from earlier meant nothing right at this moment. Remy needed him, damnit, and everything else could just fucking wait.

It must've been... so hard for him. To let me love him. To... trust me back. Wondering if I was gonna hurt him. Oh god, no... Believing that I'd hurt him just like...

He looked directly into Remy's eyes. "I'd sooner roast in hell."

Remy blinked. "Quoi?"

Wow. Did I say that? It sounded so... Bobby thought about it, then smiled inwardly. ... wow. Manly, almost. "I'd sooner roast in hell than... than hurt you. Ever."

Another blink, then another, too rapid to be indifferent. "Bobby..." But it was just his name with no message attached, and that was a message in and of itself.

A tear or a thousand lurked somewhere behind his eyes -- Remy wasn't meant to have to say his name that way, like it was a lifeline he was afraid to grab -- but he held them back. "God, Remy... you terrify me. You have since... since almost the first time I really saw you. And I absolutely couldn't believe that you considered me worth talking to. Me." He let it light his eyes and bring a smile. Was delighted when it found an answer in inhuman red. "I don't think there's anything you could do that would make me wanna be with you any less."

"'Iceman,'" Remy said hoarsely, wonderingly. "Y' ever t'ink 'bout de irony?"

"Yeah. I do."

"Y' scare me too, Bobby."

It was almost the nicest compliment Bobby thought he'd ever received. "I do?"

"Yeah."

And somehow that made them both smile.

The Cajun dropped his eyes to look at the hands holding his. "'S been a long day, innit?"

"Yeah." Bobby directed his gaze at the same place, as if somehow their eyes could meet through that channel. "It went... better than I thought." He grinned a little grin. "And Jean's just great."

"No argument." An amused snort. "Scott asked me 'bout safe sex."

Bobby's shoulders shook with embarrassed laughter and he dropped his forehead to rest briefly on their hands. "Oh god, don't remind me..." More laughter, silent, all-encompassing. "I swear I thought I was gonna die right there."

"You? What about him, eh? We actually made Cardboard Man blush."

A gasp as laughter escaped. "Why the hell didn't I think to have a camera handy today?"

Remy only shook his head, smiling, and tugged on his hands to pull him up, arms sliding around him and hugging tightly, briefly. Bobby pressed a chuckle-rumbled kiss into the hollow of his neck, then left his head resting there, breathing in against the warm skin that tasted faintly of salt. The position was a little awkward, so Remy scooted back onto the bed and brought Bobby with him. They ended stretched crosswise over the mattress with Bobby, who was on occasion horribly ticklish, falling into choked giggles when Remy's fingers stuttered across his waist. To defend himself he clasped the taller man close and whispered into his neck, which never failed to make the Cajun catch his breath and shiver. It didn't fail this time, either, and the loose sprawl took no time at all in becoming something more intense.

Oo, my...

Casually wandering hands became less casual. The heat of lips against an ear stopped tickling and moved all the way into tantalizing. Breath shortened and eyes met, just a glance needed, an accord reached between blue and other.

Warmth. He was always aware of warmth first, possibly because of Remy's obsession with it. It formed between them like a living thing all its own, then spread to encompass both.

"Bobby..."

His name never sounded so important as when it was breathed huskily through Cajun lips. (And oh, how he'd always think of those lips as Cajun lips, somehow a step removed from the ordinary mundane variety.) Thinking of them brought the irresistible urge to find them, taste them. He traced the sharp jawline with a featherlight touch, brushing a kiss over the ridge of chin before finding the waiting mouth and deepening the contact.

You shouldn't hurt.

He tugged at Remy's T-shirt to free it from the waistband of his jeans. Felt strong fingers move to help him, brushing here, brushing there...

It kills me to see you hurting.

Tanned chest, finally bearing something resembling the weight it was meant to carry again. Smooth lines of muscle and sleek, searing skin.

Just for once, please... let me be the strong one for you.

His clothes were shed somewhere -- he didn't really remember taking them off -- and now it was skin and sweat, harsh breath and murmurs, musk and red-black eyes and a word - "Cher..." - that felt as natural as his name now. Hands touching, unquestioned intimacy, and the heat - "God, Remy..." - centering low, radiating far. His lover had claimed he was no telepath - "Oh..." - and he couldn't know what Bobby wanted, but oh, how wrong he was, how very very wrong, why couldn't he see - "Bobby..." - that he knew where to touch, he knew how to caress, he knew what words - "M'amour..." - to say and when to say them. And he never seemed to stumble, he never appeared to search. A hand, there, and it was perfect, and then it was there, and that was even more perfect, and then his words were lost and there was a kiss and a tongue, and Bobby was taking risks - "Cher, yes..." - because they felt right, and he wanted more than anything for Remy to - "W-wait, let me..." - know how wonderful this was, how body and heart and mind all played a part, and how it was never taken-for-granted, it couldn't be, but each time was a new and unexpected gift and he never knew how to say "thank you" except with his body - "Mon dieu!" - and his heart - "I love you" - and his mind never caught up, never managed to match the eloquence of physical language, never...

"Bobby..."

And then his name

"M'amour..."

over and over, while he barely

"God... Remy..."

could master his own tongue enough for speech. And a grasp tighter than imaginable, but never too tight, forget the fact that he couldn't breathe. Again, lips, Cajun lips, and stubble scratching against his chest and a body flexing strongly against his own until the world went dark with light sparkles and a cry of release was in his ears and throat and maybe they were for just one moment telepaths maybe they didn't need words maybe this instant could last forever...

Maybe...

Just maybe it could...

***

Scott and Jean had moved out to the boathouse, but still it was a comforting habit for the team leader to walk the halls every now and then in the mansion, listening to the voices of friends and teammates, feeling that delicate thread of connection that kept them from being merely "comrades in arms" and elevated those few who were willing to the somewhat frightening level of "surrogate family." He couldn't help feeling disconnected from these people sometimes. Charles had warned him early on: "A leader will always stand a step outside of that camaraderie. It's the nature of the position. They must unite against something, and in peacetime, even with a foundation of friendship, you will be that something. Get used to it." These strolls through the housing wings alleviated some of the subtle alienation.

And today had been a pretty full day, all in all, giving him plenty to mull over as he let the myriad of conversations pass over and through him.

His thoughts -- atypically disorganized -- were interrupted by a familiar voice and a painfully anxious tone.

"But they're all gonna be... y'know... thinking about us!"

"Cher, no one cares... I mean, dey care, but dey ain' gon' be weird about it or anyt'ing..."

"I know them! Every single person, all night, just staring at us and going, 'Oh wow, that's Remy and Bobby, and they're gay, oh wow.' Just like that. All night!"

"No dey won'! Dey got better t'ings t' t'ink of dan what you an' I do in bed, mon--"

"Oh god! In bed?? They're gonna be thinking of what we do in bed?!"

"Non! I didn' mean... dat ain'..."

"Why can't we just... order pizza? Or Chinese? Or anything?"

"Jean's puttin' on dis dinner f' us."

"But they're gonna be looking at us!"

Scott wondered distantly if this was their version of a fight. An extremely long, extremely involved telepathic conversation with Jean earlier had brought him up to date on just what she'd been observing for nearly two months now, and from what he'd been able to gather it was extremely unusual for these two tentatively reaching men to find something worth disturbing their balance and arguing over. Jean found this adorable. Scott wouldn't give it such a... light-hearted label... but as long as their attention was turned so absolutely to doing nothing to offend each other, they weren't raising a ruckus in one way or the other with the team. This, Scott decided with total clarity, was a Good Thing. Without Remy's rebelliousness or Bobby's often poorly-timed pranks the team exercises ran so much smoother.

I should've known it was something big that was making them behave. Homosexuality as the cure for disorderly conduct. There's a thought.

Elisabeth appeared from a doorway down the hall -- Warren's room when he stayed here, Scott reminded himself -- and primped herself briefly in a hallway mirror before glancing his way and nodding a greeting. Scott was hit briefly with the memory of lean limbs enfolding him, violet hair brushing his chest as an uninhibited tongue found his stubbled cheek and marked it...

Then he choked that memory back. Betsy's brief flirtation had netted nothing more than a moment beneath the Blackbird, and even that was hardly something he needed to bear guilt about to this day. He'd made no move, accepted no advances, and she'd even talked to him about it once later. I'm sorry, Scott, she'd said. I wasn't entirely in control of myself. Kwannon, you see. You understand.

He understood. Kwannon. Right.

Right?

Betsy was looking at him as she strolled casually down the hall, her violet eyes flat and unreadable. It was his business to wonder just how much of her was subsumed beneath the Crimson Dawn, but he tried to keep that concern out of his more and more infrequent dealings with her. Jean and he had spent more than a few nights piecing the puzzle together: Betsy was a strong woman thrust into a world that she could barely comprehend, and she coped with that by seizing what control she could manage. Her sexuality was a weapon. He was a "strong" (Jean's word) target. And Betsy...

... was a beautiful woman that enticed his loins instead of his heart. He found himself caring for her. Honestly wanting to help her find her balance. Jean, however, held the only key to his heart. This was why it was with a sensation of deliverance that he received the news that Betsy and Warren had found something with each other, and he could even admit to himself a certain relief at the lack of her presence. Teammate, yes. Friend? No. Scott claimed precious few of those, and part of the entrance exam included the firm understanding of "Thou shalt not try to ruin my marriage."

He nodded at her, a small, formal thing. Started to say a simple greeting that would convey only manners, ignore the slinky summer dress that she probably called "casual," pretend he didn't see that hint of invitation hiding in her eyes, it was probably imagined anyway, she was with Warren, he was Scott, there was no leonine grace to her stride, no, not that he would notice, married man that he was, and Jean was gorgeous, not that she couldn't weigh three hundred pounds and still command his heart, and...

"Betsy!" From 'the boys'' room, sharply, in a Cajun accent. "C'mere!"

Betsy did so, the patient expression of a sated lioness on her face.

"Tell him," Gambit said in an exasperated tone, "dat he don' need t' be worried."

"About what?" she asked, her voice silvery liquid steel.

Scott edged around, standing in plain view so as not to assume the visage of an eavesdropper.

"Is everyone gon' be t'inkin' 'bout me an' him tonight?"

Betsy -- not one for tact these days -- shrugged her elegant shoulders once, pale dress shifting to emphasize her curves. "Everyone is already thinking about you. Of course."

Bobby stood. He'd been seated on the bed in Remy's -- their -- room, and now he was up in a hearbeat, crimson even for Scott's ruby vision, and fleeing for the half-bath in the room with a reflexive "Oh god!" and a palm over his eyes.

"Gee," Remy said, voice dripping with as much sarcasm as Scott had ever heard. "Merci, Betsy. Merde, woman... couldn' y' just lie a little?"

"And miss this moment?" she said blandly, face utterly still. Scott could only imagine the merriment going on behind those eyes. Sometimes she truly seemed more cat than woman. Did that make all of them her mice?

Bobby had retreated to the half-bath by then, voicing more than a few woeful comments on the state of his reality, and Betsy bowed her way out of the issue with a polite smile and dancing gaze. She actually went so far as to wink at Scott on her way out, a quick shutter of tawny lids over amethyst eyes.

knock knock knock Remy against the door of the half-bath. "Cher? Open up. C'mon, don' listen t' her..."

Scott couldn't help blinking behind his glasses at the image. Remy -- Cajun charmer -- tapping insistently at a bathroom door and trying to entice his lover out. This had to be one for the X-Men history books.

"Cher? Really, Bobby, she was lyin'... don' never trust a telepath, Bobby. Dey're fulla shit. Honest. Bobby?"

It occurred to Scott that if he took a picture, people would believe him later.

"Bobby, c'mon... who cares what dey t'ink? We been goin' months wit'out worryin', right? Just 'cause dey know now..."

If Bobby answered it was too quietly for Scott to hear.

"Come outta dere, Bobby. S'il tu plais?" Remy turned his head, making no bones about his awareness of Scott's presence. The tanned skin flushed with what looked like... a blush? From Remy? The unique eyes were glaring, and Scott averted his gaze in polite acknowledgment.

"Bobby? Look, I'm sure dey're t'inkin' good t'ings..."

Scott shook his head a little to himself and turned to head for the stairs before he lost control of himself enough to laugh. 'Remember,' Jean had said earlier, 'that they're young and confused.' It was a rare day that Jean acknowledged the true span of the lives she and her husband had lived so far. More than a decade had passed for them inside of a relative eyeblink on their honeymoon. 'And Remy is... hurting, Scott. In more ways than I think you realize. Bobby's as good for him as he is for Bobby.'

Not everyone's likely to agree with that, he mused. How the hell am I supposed to tell the professor about this?

Ten minutes later he was seated at one of the short ends of the rectangular kitchen table, breathing in appreciatively the exquisite scents of his wife's cooking. Logan had arrived before him, understandably drawn by the mouth-watering odor of filet mignon. Jean was currently threatening his life with an array of telekinetically supported wooden spoons if he so much as dared to try to grab a taste before everyone had a serving.

How's it coming, dear? he asked through the link, letting her feel his amusement.

::I'm going to skin him alive with pruning sheers in a minute. He thinks he's being complimentary.:: From her 'tone' Scott could tell that she was quite flattered, but of course it wasn't proper to admit that.

Leave him the use of his limbs, Jean. I've got an errand for him to run later.

::He heals,:: she informed him dismissively, and Scott had to hide his smile in his wine glass.

The others filed in. The story was that this dinner was one of those occasional events held in honor of the fact that most of the team was actually together in the same house. Sort of monthly reunions so they didn't forget how to function together in non-combat situations as well as under fire. Normally Jean scheduled these at least a week or so in advance, but today had seemed the perfect excuse to have one, so far as she was concerned.

Her guests of honor, however, were notably absent.

"Smells great," Warren said appreciatively. In the kitchen he tended to go immediately to his seat and stay there whenever it was crowded, daunted by the idea of maneuvering sensitive wings around bustling bodies. He sat there now, giving Jean the charming look to coax her into a free taste. She laughed and threw him an apple instead, not seeming overly put out by his overemphasized sorrow.

The table seemed far too quiet without Bobby's presence. Scott glanced at Jean with a raised eyebrow. She shrugged faintly. No answer. Bobby might still be locked in the half-bath, even. Rogue, he noted clinically, wasn't putting in an appearance. Hank either, but he'd probably just lost track of time and would be arriving shortly.

Professor, Scott began in his head, composing, sitting back comfortably and watching the generally amiable bickering around the waiting table. He sent Xavier e-mails regularly to keep him feeling connected with the team. It seemed the least he could do given the man's choice to sequester himself on Muir until he'd definitively proven that Onslaught was a demon of the past. Things have been interesting lately. That 'mutant rights' rally you were so worried about went off without much trouble. Hank's found yet another potential lead toward finding a solution to Legacy, but I'm sure he's been keeping Moira updated, so you've doubtless already heard that. There's someone new stirring up the FoH downtown. I'll fill you in when I call tomorrow. I'm signing off for now -- it's been a long night. I hope all is still well with you. --Scott. PS: Bobby's gay. Scott thought about it for a moment, then discarded that one with a sigh. Professor... LeBeau has apparently fallen for a teammate again. I don't think we'll see the same interpersonal problems this time as we did with Rogue earlier, but you might want to cancel that idea of having Bobby take out that congressman's daughter... No, that didn't do it. Professor... Jean has something to tell you... No. But tempting.

The kitchen fell quiet with amazing suddenness, and Scott pulled himself back from musing to look -- as nearly everyone else was looking -- at the source. Sources. Bobby stood framed in the doorway, body language that of a frightened animal about to bolt, and the Cajun was a step behind him with a long-fingered hand resting on the younger man's shoulder. Remy's expression was not surprisingly challenging. He met every pair of eyes that looked his way, one at a time, every line of him ready for any hint of conflict.

At Warren's eyes, Scott couldn't help noticing, the red-black gaze flicked past quickly, unchallenging.

Bobby cleared his throat. Then again. "Sorry I... we're... late," he said. "Are we... ready to eat?"

"Been ready," Logan told him impatiently. "Sit your ass down, kid. I'm hungry."

Bobby took a step. Remy mirrored it, not ceasing his openly wary scan of the room. Bobby took another step. Remy bumped into him because he was busy glaring at Betsy and didn't notice him stopping. Bobby blushed furiously at the contact, eyes flickering over his assembled teammates nervously. Remy clung to his shoulder with that same fake nonchalance he'd tried to pull off earlier.

Jean's mental voice was matter-of-fact. ::Scott, love? Say something. Bobby's about to have a heart attack.::

Following orders good-naturedly, he nodded at the two seats side-by-side near the head of the table. "Sit down, you two," he suggested. Only that, but Bobby had been trained to obey Scott's voice since he was a teenager and he seemed to seize on that familiar comfort now. A little stilted, a little awkward, he found his seat, face blazing. Remy sat beside him, still surveying. His hand dropped from the tense shoulder and both his and Bobby's arms shifted, moving closer in a gesture Scott knew well. If they weren't holding hands beneath the table, he'd eat his visor.

::Perceptive,:: Jean commented, while aloud she started into a cheerful recitation of the night's menu. Scott thought something warm and wordless at her and watched her lips tug toward a smile of acknowledgment.

Dear Professor, he thought again, gazing idly at the two, unable to miss the way their eyes frequently met, the tiny, nervous smile that Remy called from Bobby with a murmured word. Your thoughts a few months ago on pairing up Gambit with Bobby for fitness purposes worked out better than I expected. They've been very good for each other. Bobby met his gaze briefly. Smiled a painfully awkward but tremulously happy smile. Scott responded with a nod and a faint smile of his own. Nothing else to report that can't wait. No need to rush back. Enjoy your time on Muir. --Scott.

That would do nicely.

At least until he convinced Jean to write her own e-mail.

"I'm wastin' away here, Jeannie! Feed us, woman!"

"Patience is a virtue, Logan."

"Yeah, one that I don't have."

"Just a salad, Ororo?"

"Yes, please. It looks wonderful."

"Oh, Jean, divorce Scott and marry me!"

"I don't think Scott or Betsy would think much of that, Warren, though the offer's sweet."

"Dinner is served? And nobody summoned me? I was seriously beginning to contemplate the edibility of Twinkie wrappers, I'll have you know..."

"Hank!"

"That is my nomenclature, Robert, and-- my, Jean, this looks splendiferous! Have I told you lately that you put Martha Stewart to shame?"

"You say the sweetest things. Almost convincingly, too."

"Would I even dream of falsifying-- ... Bobby."

"Yeah, Hank?"

"This is my wine glass, Bobby."

"Is it?"

"My wine glass appears to be frozen, Bobby."

"Oh?" Bobby's face split with a familiar grin. At his side, seeing the expression, Remy slowly loosened his stiff posture.

"Just how would my wine glass have become frozen in the past three seconds, Bobby?"

Bobby's 'innocent look' wasn't quite as rock-steady as it once would've been, but it was getting there. "An act of God?"

Scott sipped his wine before it could find itself frozen, hiding another smile in its depths. Maybe this hadn't changed things quite as much as he'd thought. He'd have to find another cure for disorderly conduct.

The evening deepened gradually into shadows and laughter and the scent of celebratory wine, and somewhere beneath it all was the phantom whine of hinges as a door swung carefully open.


~end~

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