Any Kinda Breath part 3
by Kaylee



In between dusk and the quietude of midnight, when the sky was as dark as a New York sky ever got and the traffic in the city was easing out of chaos, there was a time, Marcus decided, for tired doctors and other weary souls. It was a time for contemplation and reflection to displace the fervent drive that kept him going day after day, heedless of exhaustion and fear of failure.  Within it he would stop, take a breath, look behind him at a day or a week or a month or six months and the culmination of that time in a single moment in which, today, he'd taken a lung from a living body and found himself pondering that unwelcome question:

Was it worth it?

He'd walked for an hour with no destination in mind, sparing the barest thoughts toward gratitude that his affluent neighborhood could easily afford to maintain this park.  As a young man he would have been evicted summarily.  These days his wealth bought him access, polite reception, and he couldn't find it in him to worry much about whatever hypocrisy there might be in that. Marcus cared little for the nuances of social realities. There were more vital things to spend his mental resources on.

Like the weight of two very blue eyes that'd watched his every move throughout the pneumonectomy this morning. Or the careful questions following the procedure, the very precise echoing of the technical speech as if it were being imprinted in memory, or the little tremble to Robert Drake's hand when he signed the waiver of indemnity forms, giving up his legal rights as current executor of Remy LeBeau's estate to sue should his lover die during the operation or come out of it with some unpredicted impairment. 

Marcus had particularly hated explaining the purposes of the forms to him.

And such questions...  In his field, seeing the faces he saw nearly every day, Marcus had warily allowed himself to consider hope an ally. Even the mildest cancer took its toll on the patient's fears; the very word - cancer - seemed ingrained in a collective unconscious, linked now with the kind of primal instinct that used to belong to scared hominids cowering beside tiny fires while things rustled and watched from just outside the light. Cancer.  Modern medicine knew so much, yet still what wasn't known could fill encyclopedias. Facing such an indiscriminate killer, knowing how little he really knew...  Yes, even a man who thought rarely about God had to learn a little something about faith. Often enough it was the only thing that sustained a patient when the percentages kept dropping.

He hardly noticed when he stopped walking.  The park sat in silence perfect enough to serve as backdrop for his heartbeat, his healthy lungs. Unobtrusive stillness. No helpful distractions there.

LeBeau had found that little bit of faith somewhere in the preceding months. Whether it was the realization of what he had to lose or the stark example of a child's strength or sheer stubbornness rekindled in any number of ways, he'd reaffirmed his decision to fight, and he'd done so with full knowledge that his chances barely even merited the label of 'fair.' Marcus had put it to him bluntly: the cancer was aggressive enough to have returned after the affected part of the lung was removed and the body was bombarded with chemicals designed to kill carcinoma cells.  It had spread to the lymph nodes surrounding the lung.  Those lymph nodes acted as filters, sifting the cancer from the bloodstream, but their effective defense wasn't foolproof.  If possibly as few as fifty cancer cells slipped through, it could easily recur yet again. A million cancer cells could fit in a typewritten period. Fifty was a very small number.

Knowing this, LeBeau had stepped in with his eyes open and trusted Marcus to do all he could.

Was a minimal chance enough to try for?  It had to be, because they were trying.  Would it ultimately have saved LeBeau and his friends and loved ones unnecessary suffering if they'd gone with pain management instead and allowed the cancer to run its course? That answer didn't even exist yet.

At the very least the operation and the chemotherapy would give LeBeau more time than he'd have otherwise. Marcus let his gaze wander up to be dazzled by a streetlight, lost in contemplation that he wished he could entertain instead in daylight, when the sun itself seemed optimistic. More time. If it came down to that...were a few extra months worth everything the man had gone and would go through?

An awful lot could happen in a few months, part of him remembered. The time could be worth as much as those living it permitted it to be.

So there was that hope again, that fickle companion.  Not comforting, invigorating or inspiring, no, but something at the least that he could take home at day's end. Maybe enough. Worth exactly as much as he permitted it to be.

Blinking half-blinded eyes, he shoved his hands deeply into pockets and started walking again.

***

Bobby's Journal:
            I love my parents. I really do. I love all they taught me.  I love all they gave me. I love them.

 

 

"Yeah, Mom, Jean told me you called. I've just been pretty busy..."

 

When I was a kid I used to think my dad was ashamed of me. Kids and their uncertainties. It wasn't until I became an "adult" recently (Hank says he thinks it happened around ten fifteen a.m. this time, but I'm inclined to nine forty-five) that I got it through my thick skull that I didn't have to think my dad was ashamed of me anymore. Now I can say pretty much positively that I know he is.
            Yea, and the truth shall set you free, grasshopper. Live long and prosper and throw the Trix away, boy, because Trix are for kids.  Grownups just get to deal.

 

"I know I didn't really explain Christmas.  I'm sorry I couldn't be there... Oh geez, Mom, please stop. I'm sorry, really, I just couldn't get away this year...and I can't believe you're still on about that..."

 

You know, when I came out to my friends and told them about me and Remy, I thought for a little bit that I could take on any challenge in the world after that, anything, and face it and win. Nothing could touch that feeling. For ONCE I showed everybody (not to mention myself, but I think I'd sort of suspected anyways) that I could be totally and completely ME.  Just Bobby Drake, no punchline. It felt like I was dropping off this big, huge, gigantic suit of armor that nobody ever even saw because it was don't-look-too-close armor instead of hit-me-and-watch-me-laugh armor, and it was honestly pretty freaking terrifying to ask people to look at me and listen to me when I wasn't wearing it, but the funny thing was, they did. And it was okay.
            I'm sure there's some valid psychological insight I could gain into myself right now if I wanted to examine all this. I want attention, right? That's why I clown around and replace Rogue's adamantium razors with plain old Bics and one time got a whole laundry basket full of socks all staticky and "accidentally" tripped and tossed all of them on Hank.  All for attention, all to make people look at me.  Makes sense. Probably true.
            But whenever someone starts to look TOO close, like behind the grin, I can't help feeling like - almost like -

 

"No, Mom, I don't wanna talk to him.  Not right now, okay? I don't-- Yeah.  Yeah, hi Pop. Look, I've already been through this with Mom... No, it's not that. I'm just busy these days, okay? Y'know, with saving the whole fucking world and that kinda thing.  ... No, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to say that...  Look, I'm just really tired. I haven't been getting much sleep."

 

Mom's always been kind to me. Always. Never the disciplinarian, not Mom. But she never steps in, either, when things are going kind of maybe a little too far. I don't know if she's afraid to stand up for me or if she really just agrees with him, deep down. If she thinks I'm as small as he does. Even though I spent a lot more time with her when I was a kid, I don't think I know her all that well. I can't find her in me when I go looking.
            Dad?  Well. He's there.  Some of him. I don't think he likes me very much.

 

"It's... No, I know, I need to make time for you guys. Stop yelling, Dad, I'm not deaf. I...  Upsetting her? I'm upsetting her? She sounds more worried about what you think than how much I'm visiting, Pop.  ... Yes. Yeah, there's a reason. There's lots of reasons.  A lot has happened that I didn't tell you.  ... No, not...not really 'that mutant stuff'...  I really just...I'm not real sure how to..."

 

He stood up for me once, my dad. Stood up in a crowd of people, right up in public, and told a racist bastard that he was proud of me, and that the guy could stick his bigoted rhetoric where the sun don't shine, and that he, Dad, would like to help. I'm embellishing. He didn't take it that far.  But he DID change my opinion of him entirely that day, and he got his ass handed to him for it. Never took it back, either, even while he was lying in a hospital bed. "My son is a mutant, and I'm proud of him."
            We figured out a little later that those words didn't make everything "okay" or anything. They were just a start.  I didn't really help to keep the ball rolling by hiding Remy from him and Mom, I guess. It's just that it seemed like such a GOOD thing, what was happening with me and Dad, and what I had with Remy was also such a GOOD thing, but if I brought them together it'd just all poof into smoke.  And. Maybe I was scared.  Because maybe I was kind of thinking - maybe I AM kind of thinking - that Dad's suspected for a long time, and that's part of why he was always so disgusted with me.
            Maybe.

 

"The past year's been really...really kinda rough.  I...I don't know how much more I can take, Pop, honestly, it's like I've been gutted... I...there's... No, I'm not, I'm just a little hoarse. My throat's dry, that's..."

 

My throat's all tight.  I'm crying again. I don't want anyone to see me like this. They'll think it's about Remy - I guess it is, a little bit - and they'll try to be comforting and they'll just remind me of how everything's so uncertain and he's so sick and I just - don't need that comfort right now.  I really don't.

 

"I'm so tired of doing this...and so damn tired of lying to you..."

 

Dad always told me to stand up for what I believe. "Have a spine," is what he said. Be like him, is the part that went unsaid. Stand up.

 

"I can't do this anymore. I can't. Dad, I'm gay. I'm gay and my boyfriend may be dying and that...that's why I haven't been around."

 

                        So I did.

 

"Dad? Are you still there?"

 

                        Still proud of me, Pop?

 

"... Dad...?"

***

"What's wrong...?" His voice was no longer his own.  Not his, rich and smooth and made of chocolate silk, but an imposter's. Too soft, raspy and weak with this painfully slow recovery from the surgery. Words he used as sparingly as possible, because he was noticing that when he talked too much he actually found himself growing short of breath. From talking.  Him.

Bobby shook his head and walked over to the recliner he was resting on, not smiling or really even looking at him.  A hand went absently to Remy's forehead.  Remy pulled away with a grimace.

"No fever. Stop.  What's wrong?"

For a moment Bobby's hand hung in the air, waiting patiently for the return of a forehead, but eventually his eyelids shuttered once or twice as his mind caught up and he dropped his hand.  "What?"

Every question meant more words. Why did they still ask him questions? "Y' haven' even looked at me," he said carefully, pacing himself. "Where's y' mind?"

"How should I know?" Bobby asked automatically, voice faking lightness with robotic efficiency. "I'm hardly ever in it."

Remy closed his eyes for a slow breath.  His throat itched, but he wasn't about to cough.  "Don't."

"Don't what?"  But when Remy looked at him from under heavy eyelids Bobby dropped his own eyes and sighed apologetically. "I just... I told my parents.  My dad. About us."

Breathe. Again.  Think. Bobby told them? "What'd he say?"

A pained smile and a glance flickering to him and back down too fast to be caught. "Nothing."

"Eh?"

With a whisper of jeans and a sigh of shirt over skin Bobby dropped into a crouch beside the chair and lightly rested his elbows on the cushioned arm, crossing forearms and very meticulously placing his chin on them.  His eyes were looking past Remy out the window, staring without seeing.  The Cajun hadn't felt so invisible in a long while.  "He didn't say anything. He just sat there on the line, breathing and not talking.  For like five minutes. Or two or something, but it was a long time."

"Not a word...?"

"Not a word."

Asked or not, Remy decided that a little human contact belonged here. He slipped a hand unaffectedly over the near shoulder (so tight, so tense, that shoulder) and rubbed lightly with circular strokes. "You say anyt'ing...?"

"I said I was sorry."

Remy's hand stopped. "For...?"

"Disappointing him.  Being gay. I don't know."

Fingers curled, closed, pulled away and rested in a loose fist over Remy's lap. "Oh."

"I didn't mean it."

"Non."

"I don't know why I said it."

"'s okay."

"I told him that if he wanted to talk to me again he should call, and that I wasn't gonna call him otherwise.  Then I hung up on him."

"If he wasn' sayin' not'in' it don' really count as hangin' up..."

"He didn't say goodbye."

"That's his problem, ain' it?"

Blue eyes slanted sideways, up, and fixed on his face.  Looked at him, finally. "Yeah."

Remy nodded and pretended he wasn't out of breath from that exchange.

"Yeah," Bobby said again, voice soft over hard.  "That is his problem, isn't it?"

"Oui, cher."

"And he'll have to get over it on his own."  Everything about him was motionless except the narrowing blue eyes and angry mouth. "Because I told him the truth. I did what I could.  I can't lie to him and just pretend everything's okay anymore."

An overdue realization, but Remy felt no urge to point that out. It was enough right then that Bobby was talking to him about this, sharing something that hurt and angered and had nothing to do with illness of the physical kind or fear of being alone or exhausted rambling about anything or nothing at all.

Bobby reached for his hand and grasped it firmly.  His jaw took on an uncharacteristic stubborn cast.  "I'm gonna call him back and say I'm not sorry," he said decisively.

What air Remy had left was wasted in a startled laugh, so it took him a few moments to get his breath back enough to say, "Non, cher, don'... Jus' let it be...let it be..."

Bobby searched his face openly, looking for a lie.  He got a half-smile instead, with a twist of Gambit spicing up a more sedate Remy.

"But I keep thinking that I shoulda--"

Remy squeezed the hand back and shook his head.  "He knows."

"... I'm not sorry...I was just tired and I said it and I didn't mean it...I hate that I said it..."

"Let it be."

Bobby pressed his face into the armrest with an unsteady sigh, falling silent. Not good enough, Remy decided. He pulled on the hand in his, tugged up, and found and gave a hug.  The arms holding him were tighter than the cautious, fragility-fearing things from the past few months. Like maybe Bobby forgot for a moment to think he was breakable.

It felt good. He closed his eyes and imprinted the feeling on memory with as much detail as he could.

Fleeting remembrance.  He wanted to grab every new thing, clutch every maybe-the-last-time old thing, and find a way to hold just a piece of it all and not forget this time when he could offer comfort or that time when he made Bobby squirm. A lot was changing now, faster and faster every day, and the world seemed so full of never-agains... 

It wouldn't do to forget anything anymore.

***

Bobby's Journal:
            Remy starts chemo again today. It's almost six a.m. right now, still dark outside. Everything's quiet. And here I am sitting at the desk and scribbling away like a good industrious student, except I'm not a student anymore and this is too rambly to ever show anyone anyways.  It's amazing how much you find in your head when you try to put it down on paper.
            Remy's still sleeping. He doesn't sleep so well these days. His body's going to take a while to adjust to the reduced oxygen level, Hank says.  Now there's a crazy thing to think about.  Reduced oxygen level. He's only got one lung left in there. I wonder what it feels like. Is it like you're sort of drowning a little bit, all the time?  Sometimes I sit here while he's sleeping and I just take deep breaths over and over again and try to think about how the air goes in and my chest expands and the air feels cool inside and warm when I breathe it back out and how AWESOME that is. You never really think about that, do you? As long as it WORKS you don't.
            I don't breathe when I'm ice. My body's made of two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen, and the energy conversion doesn't work the way it does with flesh and blood. I really can't imagine what it would feel like to lose what Remy lost.  I suppose if I did, I could just grow another one.  Ice-regeneration. Maybe it means I'll never hurt bad and long like Remy is.  Does he ever think about that? That I can't possibly understand what he's going through?
            Funny thing is that I can SAY it, and think I mean it. "I'd trade places with him in a heartbeat if I could."  I can SAY it because I can't possibly DO it.  I can hurt with him and for him, but I can't take THAT hurt on INSTEAD of him. So it's safe to say I would. I feel wrong about that.  I don't know how to make it right.
            Six a.m.  I have to wake him up soon to get ready to go down to the medlab so we can start it all over again. Bet you a million dollars he pretends it's no big deal.  I think he thinks that once he makes up his mind he can define reality just by deciding how to act about it. That's part of what got him into trouble in the first place when he started getting sick. This time he's facing it though. I just can't help feeling like some of his act is meant to make ME feel better, and he's got enough to worry about. I wish I knew some way to tell him I can handle it and he doesn't hav
            He's waking up!

***

What he hadn't expected, Remy reflected dully, was for the world to shrink so much.

Intellectually he knew it was just as big as it had always been. There were still almost sixty million miles of land surface area out there, thick with people.  New York was still a tightly packed forty-seven thousand, two hundred twenty-four square miles, and the Xavier estate still occupied four-point-eight-seven-five of those. Give or take a fraction.

But the world had shrunk, just for him, piece by piece, until the journey to the bathroom seemed about as laborious as any he wanted to undertake.

Bobby still went out.  Remy pretty much insisted that he do so, unwilling to let himself be the reason for Bobby's world to shrink as well.  Jean was his favorite coconspirator.  She had a gift tantamount to sheer genius for convincing his lover that there were indeed a few things worth doing outside the walls of the estate, and Remy truly wouldn't mind if Bobby took a few hours away from watching him vegetate to actually have something resembling a life.  Really. Trust her and go into town for a bit.

And when Bobby wandered reluctantly and temporarily out of this diminished world, Remy actually allowed himself the indulgence of acting every bit as miserable as he felt. Alone in their room he'd scowl at walls, curse fluently and profanely in English and French and a handful of other languages he never bothered mentioning he knew, pace unsteadily until his one remaining lung complained and he had to sit down or pass out... There was only so much he could hold back, reserve as his, and it was a wonderful irony that what he managed most effectively to keep from showing the others was his resentment.  His bitterness. His fury that this disease threatened a life he was just remembering how to hold dear again. Henri saw fear-tinged determination from him. Scott, Jean, and most of the others saw cultivated arrogance that he knew they worried over. Logan saw...well. Logan saw what Logan saw, and didn't see fit to share it.  And all Remy let himself show Bobby these days was calm resolution and unshakable confidence. On some level he told himself that if he acted it, then he believed it, and then it was true.

But with no distractions, no audience, he let himself feel it. He let himself get angry.  And afterwards he sagged into exhaustion and wondered if anger would ever be a strong enough emotion to carry a person through this. 

Today he'd already hit exhaustion and finally decided on a shower to wash the sweat away. Steaming water ran over him, cascading down shoulders that he thought dismally would never be muscled again, snaking to follow the sharp lines of the lean back and down legs that didn't look nearly as good in Speedos as they used to.  Here, where no one was watching, he let himself rest a hand against the patterned tiles, trying and failing to convince himself that he was holding the wall up. It took too much energy at the moment to invest any real will or humor into the thought.  Better to just stay up, breathe shallowly into his single lung (no backup spare anymore) and get this shower over with before a certain someone came home and got worried.

A few days into Round One of the new series of chemotherapy, and it had him against the ropes listening for the bell already.  This was the first shower he'd felt up to grabbing.  A layer of grime begged to be washed from skin and hair, and he exhaustedly moved to comply. A shoulder replaced his hand against the wall.  Damn cold wall, despite the water's heat.  He reached for shampoo and dumped too much in his hand, then, uncaring of the excess, ran it into hair lethargically.  Just scrub hair, rinse, crawl out and back into bed.  Curl up with a book or a boyfriend, if he was home.  Sounded like a plan he could really get...into...

His fingers froze, curved against his scalp, and he swallowed against a suddenly dry throat. That...had felt wrong. That had...his fingers, through his hair, and then the tension there had just...a dozen, a hundred tiny popping sensations, somehow almost a sound in his ears but-not-quite...

He brought his hand down slowly, fingers curling more.  Loosely woven through them were thick hanks of water-darkened auburn hair, pulled too painlessly from his head.  Dead leaves shed from a late autumn tree.

For a moment he stared, oblivious to the clouding steam and the faint aroma of shampoo tickling his nose and begging a sneeze.  His other hand lifted. Lightly rubbed at the slight roughness of newly bare scalp.

"Damn," he muttered, clenching fingers around the dark strands, momentarily squeezing tight.  He closed his eyes. Took a slow, controlled breath.

Then he opened his eyes, reached through the curtain to drop the wet mass in the garbage, and ducked his head back beneath the spray, refusing to let himself flinch as fingers slid again into hair and scrubbed hard.

***
Bobby's Journal:
            Something occurred to me today.
            This guy was standing outside the department store.  He was waving a bible and being loud, like a lot of people are when they wave bibles. He was being aggressive, too. Every time someone escaped, he turned right back around and jumped the next person who came out and said, "God is good, and it's GOOD to know God, hallelujah!"
           Everyone was pretty much just trying to ignore the loud guy. I still don't know what he was doing. He didn't try to sell anyone anything, he wasn't really preaching, he didn't ask anyone any questions.  He was just - yelling. About God, at anyone who looked at him. And extra loudly at anyone who didn't.
           I talked to the guy. I don't know why. I said, "Why is God good?" And he said he's good because he let us kill his son. He didn't say it like that, but that was still what he meant.  I said, "If I gave my son to a mob and let them murder him, would I be good, too?" He laughed and said only if I was God, but since I wasn't it was my responsibility to raise my son to THE WORD and see to it that he became the same kind of person as the yelling guy.
           So I said, "I don't have a son. I'm gay. I might never have one." Yeah, me.  I said that. Just opened my yap and bam, there ya go, I'm out to a total stranger. It should have been one of those Remember Forever moments, I think. That's what all the books say. But it didn't feel good or bad or memorable or anything, because he was pissing me off too much for me to care about that.
           He told me I was a sinner, but he said it the same way you say "Me llamo Bobby" in Spanish 1 after reading the first lesson.  You know the words and you know what they mean, but only sort of, and you're only saying them because you've got this vague sense that if you DON'T say them a time's going to come when you get an F, and then you'll have to do it all over again. And it'll be even more boring.
           I asked him how to be good. He said I had to put my faith in God, like whassisname - that guy who took his son up to an altar and was going to kill the kid because God told him to.  I told the guy that it seemed pretty cruel to me.  What right did whassisname have to decide something like that?  What right did God have to tell him to?
           The loud guy got all smiley, in the eyes, the way people do when they think you've just blundered and they've got an easy corner pocket to sink the last ball on the table into. "And it comes back to how God gave us his own son's life in sacrifice. He asked nothing more of whassisname than he later gave himself, hallelujah."
           I didn't get smiley, because I didn't find it fun at all.  I just told him, "The book says Jesus had a choice.  The kid didn't."
           That's when I walked away, and when it occurred to me that God is a hypocrite.  He is. Would we have built this huge religious culture around "the death of the son of God" if instead being crucified as an adult, Jesus was dragged to an altar when he was twelve and had his throat slit by someone he trusted?  Would we praise his dad for sacrificing him THEN?
           I know God let that father-guy off the hook at the last minute.  The whole thing was a test for loyalty - a "do you love me more than your flesh and blood" thing. Or that's how the story was told to me.
           But you know what I want to know? I want to know when EXACTLY God decided to let him off the hook.  Did he know all along, or could it have gone either way?  Would whassisname have gone to hell if he wasn't willing to murder his son?
           How many times before whassisname did God put people through that same test, and maybe it went - further?
           I keep thinking about all this stuff in circles.  I can't find a place for it inside my head anymore - it's driving me a totally new kind of nuts.  The only thing I can think that makes much sense about all of it is that God is really fucking MEAN. And I wonder why I ever bothered praying to someone like that.
           I don't know how much of this I mean. It's been a long day. My head really hurts and I feel sick and Remy shaved his hair off while I was gone because half of it fell out and I don't care about the way it looks but he never should've HAD to. It's not FAIR.  Why does God get to be so cruel to people who don't even OWN bibles?
           Me llamo Sinner. None of it's fair. 

***

Bobby wasn't there for his chemo.

It wasn't a big deal.  Practically routine now, really.  He seated himself in that cushy fuchsia chair down in the medlab, opened his shirt or removed it entirely (and thanked Henri mentally for always remembering to keep the room a bit warmer than the norm on those days), and often enough grabbed an alcohol swab and sterilized the port himself to save the doctor the two seconds it would take.  Then Henri smiled an amiable greeting and said something casual and efficiently connected him to the softly beeping machine and the chemicals it regulated.  Remy sat back, flipped open a magazine or newspaper, and something like an hour passed during which time his blood was filled with things he didn't like to think about and his mind didn't quite absorb that the world was honestly still turning out there without him, altering day by day in inky black and white.  Then Henri came back, smiled amiably yet again, said something else casual and disconnected him from the noxious lifeline, Remy nodded at the cautionary "take things slowly," and that was that.  It was over.  All that remained was to get back to his room and wait for the lovely side effects.  There was no logical need for Bobby to be there.

But Bobby'd missed his chemo.  Logic didn't apply.  Bobby never missed his chemo.  Bobby claimed the couch in a tremendous sprawl, occupying more space than a man of his height and build technically could, digging through papers and textbooks, printouts and newsletters.  Every now and then he'd be convinced to take a break from the research and go with a humorous book or the funnies from the paper, but he was there.  Bored, tired, grumpy, sad, whatever -- he was there.  That was just the way it worked.

Remy rested unobtrusively against the wall beside the elevator, eyes fixed unseeingly on a scuff in the floor varnish in front of the metal doors.  It was so...quiet, down here.  Big and lonely and quiet.  He couldn't get used to the sudden emptiness.  Routine wasn't supposed to be broken when it was all a person had.

The doors opened.  Empty.  Bobby would have probably taken the stairs, anyway, and he wasn't looking for Bobby.  The chemo was already over.  Bobby wasn't there.

It took forever to get to the room's level.  A general discomfort was already setting in by the time he started the wearisome walk down the hall.  Worked faster now, the chemo.  Faster than it had all those months ago, faster than it had earlier this week.  Stronger shit.  Last chance shit.  Pinch-hitter-called-to-bat-'cause-we're-gonna-lose-otherwise shit.

Air tickled over his scalp mockingly.  He couldn't remember feeling air directly on his scalp ever in his entire lifetime. 

He wasn't yet thirty.  His 'entire lifetime' really wasn't all that long, he supposed.  It just felt that way when he had ten more feet to go before he could open the door and shuffle inside and close the door and let his face and body show everything he felt. 

A body moved in a room to his left.  He willed it not to open the door.  Relief had come to the overworked and understaffed X-Men a couple of months ago in the form of old teammates, but all he cared about with regards to them was that they saw him as little as possible.  Never, if feasible.  So for a moment he indulged himself in wishing fervently that whoever it was stayed safely behind that door, just for a moment, just for a heartbeat, just long enough to let him ease by...

His hand -- swollen, goddamnit, swollen and distorted and wrong -- closed over the doorknob.  The mystery teammate didn't look into the hall.  He twisted the knob, then squeezed harder and did it again, sweat making his grip slip.  A curse beneath his breath, relief when the latch finally gave, two unsteadily hurried steps inside, and then -- he looked.  Inside.  And he forgot about teammates and slick doorknobs and puffy appendages.

 

Bobby's Journal:
            It feels funny.  A tickly kind of funny, not a bad kind.

 

"Hi," Bobby said.  "I'm sorry I missed your chemo."

Remy blinked.  And stared.  And blinked.

 

            Kitty helped me do it.  She said I'd mess it up and cut myself, and it'd be better anyway if she checked me out for embarrassing birthmarks or weird skull lumps while she worked so I'd hear it first from a friend.  Personally, I think she just wanted to feel like she could contribute something.
            Cuz, y'know, I kinda know that feeling. 

 

Bobby shifted like a barefoot beachgoer on hot sand, hands clasping before him, then behind him, then before him.  He smiled tightly and his throat bobbed in a swallow.  "Did it go okay?  The chemo?" 

Remy's right hand half-rose toward him, fingers open.  "Bobby, you..."

 

            What if he thinks I'm making fun of him?  What if I hurt his feelings?  I just want him to know he's got someone here, right?  For as long as - I can't write it.
            Yes I can.  For as long as it takes.

 

Bobby's eyes fixed on that not-quite-reaching hand.  "I planned to head down there, but I ran out of time.  It's Kitty's fault, really.  Perfectionist."

The hand fell.  Bobby's jaw tightened.  Remy stepped back, nudging the door shut, leaning against it as it clicked.

"Y' shaved off your hair."

Blue eyes rose to red and black.  "Yeah."

 

          Maybe he'll just get it.  I'm no good at putting words to these things, so I HOPE he gets it.

 

A sheen of moisture across dark mutant eyes.  Remy's lips parted, then stretched into a smile too large for his face.  "It's terrible."

"It is?"

"Y're beautiful."

"I am?"

The smile got bigger.  The eyes got shinier.  "Oh yeah, cher," he said hoarsely.  "Oh yeah."

 

            His chemo's probably over by now.  I should have been there with him.  I'm always there with him.  But I had to do this.
            I still don't have words.
            I want him to know that I'll do anything to keep him here.  Anything.  I want him to KNOW that when things get bad and he thinks about how tired he is or how much he hurts.
            I don't want him to ever think there's less reason to stay than to go. 

*** 

"Bobby?"

"Hmrrm mrrmph?"

"Bobby."

"Mph?"

"What are you doing back there?"

"Speak up, Scotty.  You're muffled."

"Why are you wedged behind the couch, Bobby?"

"Oh."

"...yes...?"

"Phone cord."

"I'm sorry?"

"I thought it might've come loose."

"The phone cord?"

"Uh huh."

"The jack's over here.  And look, it's plugged in.  Which you could've seen just fine without turning into a contortionist."

"I saw, but I thought something was wrong with the line."

"Why's that?"

"I haven't heard it ring."

"This phone?"

"Any phone.  I'm checking all of 'em."

"So it's a slow day for calls.  I don't get it."

"I'm just making sure, Scott, geez.  You lecture me about paying attention to details--"

"Not in months, I haven't."

"--and then you complain when I...huh."

"Look, Bobby, I think--"

"You haven't, have you?  Lectured me?"

"--you're more than capable of managing yourself as an adult."

"Why?"

"You've demonstrated a -- would you get out from behind there, please? -- a definite grasp of maturity since...since things became more complicated for you and Remy."

"I like it back here."

"Do you even have room to breathe?"

"Why do you always say things like 'complicated'?  Why word around it?  It's cancer.  Saying it won't give you it."

"Hey now, I wasn't--"

"Was that the phone?"

"I wasn't saying--"

"In the other room?  I thought I heard..."

"... No, I don't think so.  I didn't hear it."

"You sure?  I coulda sworn."

"No, it wasn't the phone."

"Right.  I'll go check."

"Don't you--"

"Trust you?  Sure."

"It wasn't the phone.  All the ringers are working.  No one's called today."

"I know."

"... Bobby, what's going on?  You know you can talk to me."

"Uh huh, I know.  Issall good.  Thanks, though."

"Yeah."

"Really.  It's nice of you."

"Hm."

"'scuse me.  I've got a couple of things to do before Remy wakes up."

"Is he--"

"Yeah, he's fine.  Chemo, y'know.  It's just kinda...  But he's okay.  Tired."

"What about you?"

"Huh?"

"What about--"

"I'm not having chemo."

"You know that's not what I meant."

"Umph!  Gimme a hand here?  I'm stuck."

"I knew it.  Slide your knee back a bit...yeah, there, okay.  Bobby?"

"Scott, I'm short on time..."

"...well.  Later then, I guess.  We can talk when you have time."

"You bet.  Thanks."

"Yeah.  Right."

"... Hey."

"Yeah?"

"I, um.  I meant that.  Thanks."

"... You're welcome.  And I meant what I said."

"Just.  Yeah.  Just not now, okay?"

"All right."

"If the phone rings, let me answer it?  Or.  Wait.  Let the machine pick up.  Or..."

"So you are expecting a call?"

"... Not really."

"Then..."

"But you never know, right?"

"No.  You don't."

"Yeah."

"... I'll check the phone in the kitchen, if you want."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah.  No problem."

"... That'd be great."

"Did you get the foyer?"

"Heading there next."

"Lounge?"

"Oh!  Forgot that one!"

"I can--"

"Can you?"

"Sure, if it'll save you time."

"It will.  God, really, thanks..."

"I only wish there was more I could do."

"... Yeah.  ... But this helps."

***

to: [email protected]
from: [email protected]

Sorry it's been so long.  Under the weather.  Wouldn't mind a phone call if you get some time free.  Could stand to hear a voice from home.

***

Midnight.

His pillow hugged him, snuggled him, whispering that he should keep his eyes closed, keep his mind closed, wander back into dreamland and ignore whatever had stirred him...

Something a little more convincing than his pillow spoke louder, however, and he blinked his eyes open in the dark room while his body stayed limp, his breathing as steady as it ever was these days.  Ears filtered noise carefully: deep, healthy respiration from the sleeping body curled against him; soft hum of electricity, an undercurrent to mansion life that few others seemed to notice; whimper of a branch against the window, whine-whine, nudged on by a crying, damp wind; far above on the roof, lower on the overhang, the tears themselves battering sadly, ineffectively.

Breathing that wasn't his, and wasn't Bobby's.

Softly, softly, water dripping to splash almost inaudibly against thick carpet, soaking in, dispersing.

Sighing with a sleeping man's ease, he turned restlessly beneath the arm Bobby'd unconsciously flopped over him, letting his hand drop down toward the floor.  One inch, maybe two, just underneath the bed...the chess board, dense marble figurines, perfect to charge, required less precision than the cards...

"Doucement, mon fils..."

It was less than a murmur and barely disturbed the air, but to his disbelieving ears it was thunderous.

"Tu vas reveiller ton ami."

"Non," Remy said softly.  "'s tired...sleeps like a log..."  But even logs had their limits, and it wouldn't do at all to test them here.  In a poor echo of his old grace he slipped out from beneath that claiming arm, bare feet finding the carpet as he curled Bobby's arm back against him.  Only a sleepy murmur and a face crushing into the pillow answered the motion.  The bed barely shifted when he stood, mocking his diminished weight.

Only then, standing, did he let himself look.  Shadowed eyes as unreadable as his own.  A proud face, intense and inscrutable.  Arms loosely crossed, legs comfortably braced, body displaying health and vigor at odds with the age of the mind behind it all.  Confident.  Invulnerable.  He looked every inch the ageless, unbreakable patriarch.

"Allo, Remy," Jean-Luc said quietly.

Remy only nodded, not trusting his voice to obey him, and bobbed his head for the other to follow.  Jean-Luc fell into step silently.  His eyes were probably tracing every line of visible flesh, cataloguing sharp bones, judging lack of color.  Jean-Luc had taught him.  Jean-Luc didn't miss anything.

Remy led him down the hall wordlessly, holding his breath a bit as they passed Logan's room, hoping this was one of those nights the man was actually asleep instead of catnapping as was his hyper-alert wont.  Jean-Luc moved as soundlessly as he himself had once upon a better time; it was only his own unreliable body he needed to worry about now.

They took the empty east wing and chose the farthest room.  Remy held the door, nominally scanning the hall behind as Jean-Luc entered but in truth taking the moment to catch his breath and slow his heartbeat.  The emotional cacophony inside his head made it hard to focus, annoyingly so.  He spent far longer scanning that hall than he could even pretend to explain.

When he finally stepped inside, eyes carefully lingering on the doorknob beneath his hand, Jean-Luc was suddenly there.  And Remy was the recipient of his first non-Bobby hug since this whole long, wearying thing started.

At first he was stiff -- "Papa..." -- trying to hold himself aloof, maintain whatever solitary strength was still his, but the arms didn't loosen, clasping him tight -- "Papa, stop, I jus'--" -- and there was such insistence there, such paternal demand, so much that he couldn't, just couldn't, just -- "P-Papa..." -- just couldn't believe he was really here, had left the Guild and all the complex duties of leadership, even for a night.  Not for this.  People depended on him, he took that obligation seriously, so Remy'd known he wouldn't appear, had accepted it as inalterable, hadn't - hoped - otherwise.  Not...too much.  Only...just perhaps, a very little bit, on very dark nights when he felt so trapped in this cage of a body and couldn't tell anyone how afraid he was because the only one who would listen and care was every bit as frightened...

"Je suis la, Remy.  I'm here."

The stiffness bled out through arms and legs that were suddenly weak and useless.  Rusty motioned, he folded into the embrace.

He'd forgotten...he'd forgotten how strong Jean-Luc's shoulders were, and how very much they could carry...

"I'm here."

 

It was false dawn when he slid back beneath sheets and blankets, trying to move unobtrusively enough not to disturb the man already parked there.  He needn't have worried; the only response when Bobby's sleeping brain noticed him was for an arm to flump over him, followed straightaway by a leg.  Remy eased his forearm around and caressed close-cropped hair.  His name was sighed out on a long breath as Bobby wriggled in and nuzzled unconsciously at his ear.

"Y'wake, cher?" he whispered.  No response beyond the warmth of regular breaths against his skin.  He exhaled slowly, pulled Bobby closer and stared at the unremarkable white of the ceiling.

It was good to see his father again.

Explaining the lack of contact, the complete communications silence for so long, had been less pleasant.

"Why?" Jean-Luc had asked simply, but Remy's tongue had tangled around the complexities of all the possible answers and he'd finally just shaken his head, silently bemoaning the death of his eloquence, and told the man who'd raised him that he didn't know why.  That maybe telling Jean-Luc made it too real.  That perhaps he'd halfway thought he'd retell the tale a year or so down the road over a bottle of the good stuff, laughing at one more close call that wasn't close enough to skin this Cajun, oh no, because people like him didn't succumb to cancer.  Cancer was for middle-aged WASPs, Republicans with mortgages, women on commercials about mammograms, bankers and lawyers and all varieties of Other People.  Not a man like him.

But it wasn't supposed to be for fourteen-year-old kids either, was it?

Bobby burrowed in until his lightly fuzzed head tickled Remy's chin.  Wandering fingertips, hardly callused at all anymore, grazed over that shorn hair thoughtfully.  It meant a lot, this gesture Bobby'd given unasked, and Remy wouldn't have changed it for the world, but he missed the comfortably disordered silk against his skin and between his fingers.  He missed the way his lover had sometimes ducked his head until the lengthening forelock obscured his face, freeing that delightfully mischievous streak.  He missed how it felt when they'd worked so deliciously hard to make it sweat-darkened, clinging to his face, wet and cool and salty.

He hated that when he considered missing these things, it sometimes occurred to him that he might never see that hair disheveled, blown irritably from blue eyes by an upward huff of breath, ever again.  It took time for hair to grow.

At least he'd see those eyes.

He hadn't expected Jean-Luc to ask him back, of course.  Once a man was exiled from the Guild there was no bargaining, no negotiating, and certainly no rescinding of the command that barred him from home and family.  It was enough of a surprise that one single day after he'd sent four short, stilted sentences en route to his father via cyberspace he'd woken to find they'd been answered more directly than he'd dared to wish.  It meant a lot.  It meant the world.

He'd wanted more.

He'd wanted to hear, "C'est plein temp de revenir."

It's time to come back.

His arm tightened a little and Bobby settled in closer, still deep in dreams, moving on instinct.  Outside the window the soaked night was giving ground to a soaked day.  Jean-Luc by now was hitting the highway headed for the airport, thoughts already turning back to the concerns of a man who legislated for many.  He wouldn't be coming here again.  It hadn't been said, but it hadn't needed to be.  They'd said too much else tonight to pretend that this visit wouldn't suffice as a goodbye.

"Travel safe, Papa," he whispered.

***

Bobby's Journal:
            I saw that same guy again.  The loud guy.  He was outside the same department store waving the same bible and shouting the same words.  He was being ignored the same way.
            I didn't talk to him today.  He saw me and yelled that God is watching and God is wrathful and I'd better repent if I knew what was good for me.  I tried to convince myself that was enough of a threat to act on.
            God needs better PR-reps, I swear.

***

The knock on the door was soft, intentionally unobtrusive, but it sounded too loud regardless.

"'s open," Remy muttered.  Then louder when it sounded again.  "It's open."

The door didn't creak, thank the god of oiled hinges.  It did, however, rudely spill forth a living, breathing, speaking human, which was one of the last things Remy wanted to see at that particular moment in time.  And a human with a brogue.  A lilting voice wreaked havoc on a spinning head and queasy stomach.

"Gam--Remy?  How you feelin', lad?"

He was sitting up, propped by pillows, breathing hard from the effort it had taken him minutes ago to get into this position.  On days when he'd received chemo, that was about as much exercise as he felt up to getting.  And beyond the fact that he was still short of breath, he felt like shit.  Worse than shit.  Like shit after a bender. 

"Peachy."  Like shit after a bender with a weak and raspy voice.  Marvelous.

Sean Cassidy's face was ruddy and sunburned, his hair bleached to a cheerful orange-tinted blond, his body as square and blocky and healthy as ever.  He was clearly unsettled, hands working slowly around the rim of a worn sunhat, eyes not quite managing his typical direct gaze.  "Afternoon."

"Afternoon," Remy echoed.  Looked out the window.  He'd watched Sean arrive earlier with Jubilee and one or two of the other kids through that glass.  "Nice day."

"Yeah, I'd say 'tis that..." 

His endurance for small talk had faded pretty dramatically over the past months.  "Somet'in' y' wanted, Sean?"

"I...well, yes, actually, there is somethin' I could really use your help on..."

That drew his attention.  He turned his head, raised an eyebrow, and waited.

Sean, if anything, looked more awkward.  He glanced at the chair beside the bed, then away.  Not going to sit, then.  Not here for a long visit.  Good.  "This may be a bit of a touchy issue here, what I'm about to bring up, an' if I'm bein' too presumptuous don't hesitate to tell me so..."

"What."

"It's about Angelo.  The boy, Skin?  Remember him at all...?"

"I got cancer, Sean.  Not Alzheimer's."

"Right, I'm sorry, lad, I didn't mean any offense.  It's just that Scott said you'd had a treatment today an' I was thinkin' maybe that'd have you a bit too muddled to remember..."  He cut the tangent off before it really became one, taking a breath and visibly redirecting himself.  "Look, I'll get right to the point, then.  Angelo's a good lad, but he's a stubborn one.  Real proud of his tough guy image, you follow?  He's not changin' for me or for Emma or...anyone, really, an' it's worryin' me.  I'm runnin' out of ideas."

Remy swallowed, chasing down a vaguely nauseous feeling that had come from nowhere during that brief speech.  His mouth started filling with saliva again too quickly, warm and metallic tasting, and he reached for the basin on the bedside stand, holding it ready in a hand.  Sean trailed off, watching him, but Remy just silently nodded for the man to continue.

"So...the problem is his smokin', y'see.  He's just a boy.  He gets started on that now, and no tellin' if he'll ever be able t' kick the habit, or if...  That is, he's so young, and..."

Remy spat into the basin to clear that taste from his mouth and stave off nausea that much longer.  "Yeah," he said roughly, slanting another look at Sean.  "I know.  What y' want from me?"

"... I'd like you to talk to the lad.  An' let him see..."  One callused hand made a vague gesture toward the wasted body on the bed, the pale skin that had replaced the Bayou-boy tan, the trembling hand holding the basin in preparation.  "I just think it might...open his eyes a little.  I hope."

So this was what it came to.  He was being used to scare a dumb kid.

The mighty, they done fallen.

"Send 'im up," he told Sean briefly.  His stomach heaved, muscles spasming painfully.  He fought it.  "In...in jus' a few minutes...gimme a few..."

"Lad, are you all right?  Can I get--"

"Non, jus' go, jus' go..."  And then the basin, cheap plastic, an ugly color of pink, and his stomach emptying green bile and nothing else because there was nothing else in it and it burned his throat and made him choke and he was always scared that he'd aspirate it, breathe it into his single lung, and 

Hands.  Blocky Irish hands.  Rhythmic brogue and reassuring, paternal words that had him longing for Jean-Luc.  His body was quaking, and this man he really barely knew was trying to soothe him, and it was so invasive, so uninvited, and he wasn't sure if he'd refuse it if he could because those calming hands on his back didn't ask anything of him, emotionally or otherwise, and that was such a relief right now...

When he was through he sat back, not very steady, reaching a fumbling hand to set the basin on the bedside stand.  Sean reached for it instead, took it to the adjoining bathroom and rinsed it, then returned with a warmly damp cloth and handed it to him.

He wiped his face shakily, looked out the window again, and managed, "...merci..."

The sound of shifting cloth, shifting feet.  "Moira, every now an' then...when it gets real bad, sometimes she's like this."

"She mus' be...glad t' have you..."

"You need anythin' right now, lad?"

The bare head shook a little, though Remy didn't even try to meet his eyes.  Easier to look out the window.  No pity there.  "Non.  Jus'...send up the boy."

"All right then.  ... I'm sorry to be askin' this from you.  It's not exactly fair, is it?"

Remy closed his eyes.  "The boy.  Sean."

Whispering fabric.  Oiled hinges not-squeaking open.  "Thank you." 

The door clicked shut.

Remy waited.  A cloud broke loose from briefly shadowing the sun and let light diffuse down, speckled with a thousand, a million tiny dustmotes.  It really was a beautiful day.  An Ororo-worthy day.  He could imagine her out there, sauntering with that stride that never seemed hurried, never rushed, as if she could well wait for the world to turn beneath her feet and still get where she was going in time.  Oh, he'd seen her stressed.  He'd seen her harried and angry and tense and scared.  Those moments never made the impression that the fleeting times of peaceful revelry did, however; it was when things were calmest that he saw the goddess, not when she was wrathful. 

He missed her.  There were so few genuinely friendly faces here...faces that knew him and had a basis for the warmth they offered...

A knock on the door.  Loud and cocky as the kid behind it.

"C'm'in."

The arrogant stride of a teenager: invulnerable, aggressive.  Even toned down for the environment, it was there.  The gait of immortality. 

Perceived immortality.

Angelo was a gray boy.  Rich Latino skin had faded, washed out once he'd hit puberty.  That skin used to be loose, sagging like an oldster's around his face, marking him so decidedly as different that he hadn't stood much hope of passing as an ordinary human before Sean and Emma started working with him.  That much at least had changed.  His up-thrust chin had no particular sag to it, and the skin around his eyes was facelift-tight.  But he was still gray.  Still forced to stand on the outside.

And Remy knew well that when a man stood on the outside by necessity, the most natural defense was to rewrite circumstances until the position was a choice -- the outsider no freak, but a rebel instead.

Patterns of a lifetime, LeBeau.  Get y' mind back on business.

Angelo was trying with monumental lack of success to hide his shock at Remy's appearance.  Last time they'd been in contact Remy was at least a fair imitation of the heartthrob he'd been for most of his life.  The GenX kids hadn't been privy to his 'condition' until recently when the inevitable leak had sprung and someone spilled the general details to the X-family at large.  Remy had managed for the most part to make it clear that he didn't want to hear the expressions of sympathy or horror or worse, and Bobby had run interference for him with the skill of an NFL blocker, but now...

"Yeah," Remy said blandly, having no trouble guessing at the thoughts behind the young face.  "It wasn' gon' happen t' me either."

Angelo stared.  Worked his mouth.  "I..."

With a macabre twist on his natural showmanship, Remy spread his arms and indicated his skinny chest, torso.  His eyes were unsettling enough on their own even now, he knew, so he merely fixed them on the youngster's own and didn't try to hide what was behind them.  Exhaustion.  Pain.  Sickness.  Anger.  Fear. 

Humiliation at being used like this.

"Y' smoke?" he asked sparingly, not wanting to get out of breath enough to have to pause.

"I..."

"Yes or no."

"I...si."

Remy made his gaze bite.  "Quit."

Angelo backed a step toward the door, another.  Swallowed and reached for the knob.  "I just did, hombre."

***

***

Bobby's Journal:
            Round two of chemo finished yesterday.  We've got a little recovery time before the last round starts.  He seemed okay for a bit, then I left for five minutes and came back and he was retching over the john again and shaking and sweating, and I can't say for sure because he didn't open his eyes but I think he may have been crying.  I sat down next to him and rubbed his back for a while and he rested his forehead on the toilet rim and didn't say anything.  Neither did I.  There are only so many things you can say in that situation, I guess, and we probably used them all up eight months ago when the LAST batch of chemo ended.
            I just got him back into bed right before I started writing.  He sort of passed out when his head hit the pillow, thank God.  Neither one of us has the energy for more of that right now.
            Time just moves so SLOW.  It's like we'll never get all the way through this.

***

Remy opened his eyes and stared into a mirror, except it wasn't a proper mirror because the image wasn't his, and the eyes looking back at him out of the gaunt, prematurely old face had a quality that his lacked.

Remy's lips moved soundlessly, forming a name: James.  The kid who had cancer.  The kid who beat cancer.

"Call me Jim," the boy said, his voice impossibly strong and deep.  He stepped from the mirror-that-wasn't, reached up to take Remy's face in his hands, tipping it down to see better.  Brown eyes under lashless eyelids critically examined red-and-black, searching.  Remy's heart pounded, fear and hope, as though he faced his salvation or damnation right here in the form of this fourteen-year-old wraith.

The boy's face fell.  "It's not there," he said sorrowfully.  "It's not there yet."  His hands fell away, collapsing to his sides as he backed, backed, became the mirror again.

Remy's heart lurched hard against his chest, its rhythm gone.  "Wait," he said, barely a whisper, but the image was of him, only him, and when he pounded on the glass it shattered into ice shards and cut him to ribbons.

***

Bobby's Journal:
            I think I'm kind of stupid.  Not stupid the way a lot of people are stupid because they just don't bother to think, but stupid in the emotions where you build up all these expectations and watch them fall over and over again.  But thinking that way is kind of selfish as well as stupid, isn't it, considering the amazing stuff that I never could've predicted or dreamed of or hoped for, that happened?
            It's all tied up so tight I can't really file things into neat drawers inside my head anymore.  I thought I could, and I tried to, but it's just not working.  You can't use one of those scales with those little cups to measure happy and nothappy emotions, right?  Like, Remy exists, that goes in the Happy cup, and Remy's really sick, that goes in the NotHappy cup.  It just doesn't work right that way because the Remy exists part weighs a lot more than any of the other stuff, but it's the other stuff that's hurting him so bad, and that definitely tips the scale into NotHappy, so I'm sort of left with a head full of something like double what I think my head was made to hold.
            Does that make any sense?  I just reread it and I don't think it does, but who am I writing this for anyway?  I'm sure as hell not going to let anyone read it.  Not that anyone could.  It's been so long since I've written much of anything longhand that I can barely read my own handwriting.
            Hank gave me this notebook and said he thought I could use it.  He didn't really say why, but I guess it's obvious.  He doesn't have time to listen to me ramble anymore.  Busy with Legacy research and trying to save Dr. MacTaggart and I guess the chemo and checkups and stuff with Remy are all pretty routine for him by now.  Just plug and play, right?  Hook up the chemo and walk away.
            That's bullshit, Bobbster, and you know it.  Hank's got more patience than God, and he's way nicer, too.  Where the hell did that self-pitying crap I just wrote come from?  That's it.  I'm putting myself in the NotHappy cup.
            I think I'm going to put this journal in the NotHappy cup, too.  All I want to write is depressing stuff.  This can't be good for you.
            Maybe I'll take up jousting.  Now THAT has to be cathartic.  A hell of a lot more cathartic than scribbling and eating a pen cap.
            Jousting.  Yeah.  Jousting goes in the Happy cup. 

***

Their room had grown accustomed to the sound of a scribbling pen in recent months.  Remy thought he'd reached the point where this went into the harmless 'white noise' section of his brain; things that he unconsciously catalogued as unthreatening and almost ceased to notice entirely.  He was tired a lot these days -- couldn't really remember when he hadn't been exhausted, actually, though he tried sometimes -- and the comforting scratch of the pen was almost never enough to keep him awake.

Thoughts, however...thoughts were another matter.  Particularly when they couldn't be turned from the man seated at the desk across the room, scrawling line after line, scritch-scritch-scritch, as the hours stretched.

"Gettin' late," Remy observed without bothering to glance at the clock.  The last glimpse had said ten twenty-three.  Once upon a time he'd've been just getting his night really started by now.

Bobby's writing hand paused.  He didn't look over.  "I'm almost done."  Unpaused, and the scritching was back.

It didn't sound much like white noise right now.  Right now it sounded annoying beyond endurance.

"How 'almost'?"

"Almost almost.  Last thought."

Remy sighed as loudly as he was able and turned his gaze to the windowpane, not even trying to look beyond it into the night.  If he tried hard enough, he thought he could convince himself he was going for melodrama and peevishness in an intentionally transparent whine for attention.

But evidently he wasn't trying hard enough, because he wasn't really believing that much at all.

"Long last t'ought."

Bobby sighed much more quietly than Remy had and the pen thumped down on paper.  He sat for a moment, staring at whatever he'd just written, then rolled his shoulders and reached for the switch on the lamp.  Red and black eyes only blinked once as the reflected light in the windowpane went out; then Remy went right back to staring, unnoticed.

For a minute longer Bobby sat, then gave another of those nearly inaudible sighs and pushed the chair back.  In wordlessness that could've been companionable, but wasn't, he hit the half-bath to get ready for the night, water running sibilantly down the drain, toilet growling when he hit the plunger, all the other normal little nightly sounds taking on a certain...irritation.  A certain frustration.

The light in the bathroom went out next.  Remy watched the window.  Bobby stripped off his plain white T-shirt absently and tossed it into the laundry basket, kicking out of his Nikes with a hint of a tired stumble.  Every day now.  Up early in the morning -- much earlier than the old days, the familiar days, the days there had actually been fewer of than the ugly days, but who was counting?  Up early, then an exhaustingly boring day more often than not, then parked at that desk for an hour or two, once or twice for half the night...  Sometimes when Bobby thought him long asleep, he watched.  His eyes were good for any number of things.  Better at deciphering faint images against shiny glass than an ordinary man's eyes.  Better at seeing the droop to tired shoulders and sometimes the way a head would find hands, rest in them, stay there for what seemed a very long time...

Remy swallowed.  His throat was dry, but the bathroom sink was too far away to be worth the journey.  So was Bobby, and what it would take to ask him.

Down to boxers, Bobby nudged his shoes toward the wall with a toe.  He used to bother to change for bed.  Like Bed was an event to be anticipated, prepared for, rather than the place a person went when there was nowhere else to be.  Like maybe when he was pulling on any old shirt and any old shoes in the morning, some part of his mind was racing ahead through the daylight hours and already plotting whether that night would be a Tigger night or a boxers night or a birthday-suit-and-tie night.

"Hey..."

Remy debated pretending sleep.  Cursed himself in annoyance when he noticed what he was considering.  "Heh?"

"You thirsty?"

His chest tightened, and somehow he was angrier for the question.  "Non."

"Sure?"

His response got shorter by a whole clipped letter.  "No."

A pause.  Bobby stared at his back.  Remy stared at Bobby's eyes and wondered that he hadn't yet noticed this unsubtle trick.  Hadn't yet looked closely enough.

"Everything okay?"

He felt edgy.  He wanted a drink.  He wanted to want sex.  "Sure.  Fine."  He wanted...

Bobby kept staring, but not for long.  It must've been tiring, staring.  Tedious.  He closed his eyes on a glare as the other man slipped beneath the covers, sheets shushing against skin, bedsprings sighing and debating a squeak.  Personal Space.  Bobby was in it, inches away.  Too far by fingerlengths and too close by leagues, with no possible happy medium anywhere that Remy could find.

A half-roll of the body beside him, bed shifting underneath, and then a hand on his upturned shoulder and sliding down his chest in something like a hug, careful of the alien presence of the securely taped-down port.  Lips against his neck, just down from his ear, with a perfunctory gesture.  No I-want-you kiss.  Not even an echo of that.  For a while those kisses had at least pretended to remember...

Bobby's hand rubbed down his chest and up again, soothing.  But not.  What time was it now?  He'd have to turn his head to look, and if he turned his head Bobby would meet his eyes, and if Bobby met his eyes Remy would...would...he didn't know.  But he didn't want it.

The window, though, he'd look at.  The ghostly image of himself, lying there, indistinct and wrongly proportioned.  The arm over him, the hand resting now against his sternum.  The muscle on that arm, the health of the skin, the light tan that was actually darker than his own complexion these days.  He was all lines and angles now more than ever before, while Bobby retained that wonderful human bluntness, that lasting solidarity.  Even in the reflection Bobby looked more real than he did.

His throat tightened.  Never wish it...never wish that...  He hadn't.  Quite.  But somewhere close enough to realization was an emotion like envy, and it was directed at that casually laid arm and the strength in it and the man behind it.  He was able to suppress the shiver, but his next breath was too unsteady.

"What is it?"  Only slightly muzzied, the sleepy voice.  "Remy...?"

"'m fine.  Go back t' sleep."

"I wasn't yet."

His chest hurt, burning and squeezing at the same time.  "Get y' arm off."

"What?"

He nudged the offending limb back and off with a sharp elbow.  The instant the weight was gone he wanted it back.  "Go t' sleep."

"I'm not tired.  Remy, what--"

"I'm tired."

Quiet.  The bedsprings sighed and managed a muted complaint as Bobby took that half-roll back and moved that much farther away.  No clock ticked.  Theirs was digital.  He wanted a clock to tick so he could listen to something other than the difference in his breathing and his lover's.

Lover.

How long had it been?

Time, again.  He needed that clock.

He stayed so perfectly motionless that there was really no hope of sleep, though he didn't admit that.  For a while it seemed as if Bobby were doing the same, and in a perverse way Remy was glad of that, pleased to find this accord in discomfort, while a deeper part of him despised himself for the satisfaction.  When Bobby turned over and pulled his pillow to him in what sounded like an honest attempt at sleep, that deeper part got lost.  The accord was broken.  Even though it'd never been made.

Not trying to hide his expression -- why bother? -- he rolled to direct a glare at his sleeping-or-nearly-so companion.

Whose blue eyes were open, glinting ever so faintly, and looking right into his.  Looking and seeing his undisguised anger.

Caught, Remy didn't turn away.  Bobby studied his face candidly, his expression hard, for once, to read.  Pillow to pillow they stared for some interminable time.

Then a quiet question: "What did I do?"

Nothing.  Everything.  Too little.  Too much.  "Nothin'."

"You're mad."

"Non."  When had his poker face gotten so rusty?  "Tired."

"'cause I kept you up?  I'm sorry."

Then why, Remy wanted to ask, did you do it?  "You write a lot."

"Yeah...?"

"What y' write?"

A look down, just to avoid his eyes.  "I told you.  Just...notes and stuff.  Impressions.  What I'm thinking sometimes."

"Yeah, that paper's real fuckin' unnerstandin', ain' it?"

The gaze flew back to his, the brow above it furrowed in confusion.  "I don't get you."

Too easy to take those words literally.  "Get used to it."

He could almost imagine that ticking clock in the long stretch of silence as he glared into startled blue eyes.

Eventually-- "What did you mean by that?"

Remy had no idea.  "What I said."

Bobby's face was carefully still, but his voice-- "What did you mean by that?" --nearly brought a flinch with its rawness.

Nearly, but not quite.  "Ask y' book," he suggested coldly.  "Easier t' share wit' paper, innit?  It don' share back."

"What did you--"

"Y' have the book, getcha'self some skin mags t' jerk off to...then you don't even need me anymore, neh?  Perfect relationship right there in your han--"

Bobby's hand was on his arm then, fast and hard, fingers gripping unconsciously tight.  His face twisted, eyes burning with hot liquid and lips drawing back.  "Remy, what the fuck did you mean?"

He stared, not-quite-human eyes unable to miss even in darkness every line that shouldn't have been there and every slightly deeper shadow marking a face that had aged five years in one.  Tired didn't touch that face.  Exhausted was too measly a word.  So goddamn much was wearing away at Bobby's youth...and every night he told the journal all about it with frantic pen-strokes, then presented calm support and steadfast composure to the source of it all.  A calm, steadfast fašade.

There was no...'them.'  Anymore.

He pushed the hand from his shoulder as roughly as he could, trying for dismissive, throat so constricted he had no idea how his words remained steady.  "Nothin'.  Didn' mean nothin'.  Maudi'crist, don' take everyt'ing so damn serious."

"You said--"

"F'get it."

"No."  He sat up, eyes still blazing, then abruptly slipped out of the bed.  Behind him Remy pushed himself up, too, and scooted back to let the headboard help him stay that way.  He wasn't sure what he expected -- some part of him fervently wanted Bobby to shout or hiss or curse or hit the wall, yes, hit the wall again -- but it wasn't for the other man to grab his jeans from the laundry basket, stepping in and jerking them up, buttoning them quickly and forgoing a shirt as he strode for the desk to grab that damned journal and then went directly for the door.

"I need some air."

The door opened, then shut behind him without a slam.  Not even an overly hard 'click.'

"S'go get some," Remy muttered, two beats too late.  His eyes felt hot and dry.  The room was suddenly stifling, the stillness smothering.  Maybe he needed some air, too.  Maybe he needed to go after Bobby and fight with him until they both broke wide open.

That would be easier to do if he could make it all the way down the hall.

He turned back to the windowpane and watched reflections and still didn't try to look through the glass.

***

Bobby's Journal:
            What the FUCK.
            "Get used to it"?
            Where the FUCK does he get off?  Christ, I can't believe he said that.  I can't believe it.  He just looked right at me and said it like it didn't matter at all, just said it like that was it, no question, stupid Bobby for ever thinking things were going to get fucking BETTER.
            What the FUCK.
            And now I'm shaking so hard I won't be able to read this later.  I don't think I want to read this.  I think I'm saying stupid things.  I'm thinking stupid things.  A whole pile.  Heaping gobs of stupid things.  And I can't fucking breathe.
            Jesus Christ.  He hates me.  He should hate me.  I'm not strong enough for this and I can't see what he needs and I'm so damn TIRED all the time when HE'S the one whose body's going nuts on him.  But he's in my head all the time.  ALL the time.  No matter what I'm thinking or doing or saying, he's in there, and it fucking HURTS.  And I need some more damn cusswords.
            What was it exactly?  I've got to get this down before I forget.  "I don't get you."  I think that's what I said.  I meant it like "huh?" but he said that I had to "get used to it."  "I don't get you."  "Get used to it."
            What the fuck?
            I still can't breathe right.
            His eyes were so angry.  He hates me, he fucking hates me, and I don't know why, but he does.  I can't do this, I can't fucking do this, there's just not enough LEFT to do this, I'm going to crack into a million pieces of ice on the floor and he'll hate me because I'm so cold and I can't STOP that, Jesus Christ, I fucking NEED that, you selfish bastard.  I can't breathe otherwise.  Just like now.  I can't breathe.
            Get some skin magazines, you said.  I DID.  I got a gay porn magazine for the first time in my life three weeks ago and I sat there in the bathroom while you were downstairs watching Judge-fucking-Judy with Jean and talking about me.  I looked at the pictures and read the smut and whacked off and I fucking hated it.  I don't know who the hell those men are.  I don't want to imagine fucking them.  I want YOU again.  And I can't tell you that because you've got enough to deal with without adding in a horny boyfriend.
            Pornos and this journal to replace you.  Jesus Christ.  Don't you dare fucking leave me.  Don't.  I can't - I don't know.  I can't.  Don't hate me, Remy.  I'll be stronger.  I'll figure something out.  As soon as I can breathe again.
            I can't believe you said that.  I just can't.  Fuck you, you didn't say that.
            What the FUCK. 

***

Jean...?

::I'm fine, love.  Go back to sleep.::

You're crying.  What...?  ...oh.

::I can't block it out.::

Sure you can.  You've blocked out more than this.

::I can't leave them all alone with this.::

A sigh, understanding.  "C'mere..."  Arms around her; solid, warm, healthy.  Share with me.  Let me help.

::How do you survive something like that?  That monumental separateness?::

I don't know.  But people do it every day, right out there in the ordinary world.

::There should be answers to this kind of pain.::

There should be, yes.  A tighter hug.  Are you going to be able to sleep again?  We've got to get the rest of the supplies transferred out to Muir tomorrow...

::I'm staying up.::

Standing watch?

::Just in case.::

Then I'm staying up, too.  Arms shifted as he got more comfortable, but didn't leave even for a moment.  You don't think either of them would do anything...well...

She leaned back against him in the dark.  ::Logan's up.  He's watching too.::

Then there's actually a danger?

Quiet resolve blanketed the sadness.  ::We'll just...be sure.::

***

In the sparse woods to the east of the mansion, as the sun tapped the rim of the opposite horizon, Logan did this little thing with his hand and sent Drake slamming face-first into the hard-packed dirt.

"Engh," the boy said, rather muffled.

Logan watched him from a few feet away, shoulder to a pine trunk, arms across his chest.  His face was impassive, as it had been for the half hour he'd been kicking the younger X-Man's ass.  He sweated only lightly.  His breath came steady and deep.

Drake drew himself to all fours and shook his head briskly so that dirt and dead leaves flew from his hair.  Spat, three times, then shifted weight and freed a hand to wipe across his lips.  It came away with brown-black dirt and plain red blood smeared across the back.

Logan waited 'til he'd pushed back to sit wearily on folded knees.  "Done?"

"No."

"Then get up."

"Working on it."

Logan straightened, walked across, then shoved, hard, and sent the kid down again.  Sideways this time instead of face.  Drake barely made a noise of protest beyond a startled grunt.

"I said are you done?"

He propped an elbow and got his torso up a bit.  "No."

This time Logan put him down harder, followed through and pinned him, with one of Drake's arms twisted almost backwards between them.  A hiss told him the pain was noticed.  "Either you're done," Logan told him levelly, "or you ain't.  And if you ain't, I ain't.  'Til you are.  Got it?"

"Got it," the kid managed against the dirt, voice strained and smothered.

"Good."  He eased the pressure off the arm marginally.  "So.  Done?"

With incremental movements, small and jerky, Drake got his head turned sideways until his mouth was clear.  He took a shaky breath, which Logan pushed back out of him by leaning heavily against his torso.  "Hhuh!  N-no."

That arm got twisted up, roughly, 'til experience told Logan it would give with any more force.  Drake's face twisted and his teeth bared and a wheezing gasp said that oh yes, the pain was noticed, and still what he said was, "Nnngh, no."

Stolid expression giving way to disgust, the older X-Man released him and stood.  Other than slowly drawing the aching arm down beside him into a more natural position, the boy stayed pretty much still, crumpled and panting on the ground.

"You're done, Drake."

Long seconds of panting, then, "Not until I...call it."

A guttural curse.  "Did it ever occur to you t' ask if I'd mind you doin' this?"

"Doing what?"

"Usin' me to hurt yourself."

Drake panted a bit more, then blinked an eye open and looked at him.  "Honestly?  No."

"I mind," Logan said acidly.  "I mind very fucking much."

The peeking eye closed.  "Sorry."  But the word sorely lacked conviction.

Tight-jawed, Logan strode to his discarded jacket.  Thrust a hand into a pocket, brought it out with a battered pack of unfiltered cigarettes.  An unpredictable wind had been snaking through the trees all afternoon, and it breathed past him as he struck a match, making him cup his hand protectively around the fragile flame.  It lived just long enough for him to light up with a deep, heavy drag on the cig.

When he refocused attention on his expended adversary, Drake's eyes were open and staring at him, though he hadn't so much as pulled his limbs into order.  Logan wanted to use that stare, wear it down, force some sort of concession from the kid.  But there was nothing in those tired eyes for him to work with.

Drake watched him smoke, tracking every motion, not saying a word.  Just lying there in the deepening dusk and blinking from time to time.

After a couple of minutes it got to be too much, and Logan dropped the half-finished cigarette to the loamy dirt, then crushed it underfoot.  "Okay," he growled.  "Shut up."

"I didn't say anything."

"You gonna stay there all night?"

A slow gathering, bracing, pushing, and he sat up, Indian-style.  "I don't think so."

Logan looked away, nostrils flaring as he caught a hint of scent on that fleeting breeze.  "You wanna get whomped in the future, go find a dive and pick a fight.  I can recommend a few."  Nothing worth worrying about, his nose determined.  So he was free to return to glowering.  "But I got better things to do with my time."

A single nod.  No expression.  No apology.

"What the fuck are you thinkin', kid?"

Drake hesitated almost long enough to prompt a more irritated question.  Just before it would've come, he said, "I."  Paused lengthily.  Continued.  "I don't think I am.  Thinking."

Logan waited for more.  Nothing came, so he commented, "That's a good way to get a body killed."

"I guess."

"That'll show Cajun."

Finally something: a flinch, and a glint of moisture in dimly lit eyes.  "Fuck you, Logan."

"Gettin' mighty foul there, boy."

"You don't know anything."

"I know some things," Logan said easily, finding his feet in the conversation at last.  "You told him how riled you are at him?"

"I'm not."

"You're not?"

"No."

"You ain't the least bit angry over how selfish he's being?  Not caring enough about you t' take care of himself?"

"I don't think that way."

"He prolly figured he'd go out fightin' before cancer caught up with him, Drake.  Nothin' to be mad about.  He just didn't plan ahead is all."

The kid looked down, blinking, and the wind kicked up to carry a taste of salt-water tears to Logan's nose.

"Hey.  Lookit me, Ice."  He did.  "Know who I blamed for Mariko's death for the longest time?"

"Yourself," Drake croaked out.

"Well sure, me.  But I blamed M'iko most."

Lips drew back in a helpless, hopeless snarl.  "It's not his fault.  You won't get me to say it's his fault."

"Your head says that.  But this ain't about your head."

"I don't have a right to be mad at him."

Logan assumed his former position, arms crossed, shoulder to tree trunk.  "Oh, I dunno.  He pretty much trashed all your plans without so much as askin'.  Stole more than a year outta your life.  Made you do a lotta shit you never dreamed you'd have to do."  He assessed the state of conflict on the drawn face.  Felt a sting of guilt for pushing, but pushed anyway.  "And he might even go and die on ya.  What the fuck kinda right does he have to do that?"

"Damn you," he muttered.  He scrubbed a palm over his face, then two, shielding his eyes.  "Why are you doing this to me?"

"I'm bein' your fuckin' brick wall.  That's why you came to me, wasn't it?"

Gleaming eyes briefly found him in the faint twilight.  "I wasn't talking," Drake said distinctly, "to you."

The wind kicked through, carrying messages, taking information.  Just passing by.

"Oh," Logan said.

"Would you leave me alone now?"

"Can you get back all right?"

"Please go away."

After donning his jacket and pocketing the abandoned cigarette stub, Logan did as he asked.

***

An appointment with Doctor Niles to see if Remy was strong enough yet to begin the last round of chemo.  This time they had to work into the doctor's busy schedule, meaning they traveled to the hospital.  And here they stood in an elevator without a chatty car radio easing the weight of all the not-talking.  Enclosed.  Just the two of them in a metal box, no one to distract them at all -- and still Remy, leaning a shoulder against the wall opposite, didn't even look at him.  The utilitarian gray carpet was so much more interesting.  Bobby blew out a quiet breath of frustration and gazed to his own heart's content, making no attempt to disguise his attention, willing the man to return it.

Remy didn't, but his motionlessness gave ample opportunity for study of what face was visible beneath shades and cotton skullcap.  Taken outside the environment they knew too well, walking in the mundane world where their mundane problems were the rule instead of the exception...felt different.  Almost alien.  In this world he could be Robert Drake, standing here in nerve-racking silence with Remy LeBeau, and maybe there'd never been an Iceman or a Gambit.  Maybe there were just two men in an elevator who had to find some reason for Now to be of value, since Then was behind them and couldn't be recaptured.

No spare flesh over jutting cheekbones, but that jaw was still finely drawn, sharp and strong.  Hairless due to the chemo, but unquestionably masculine.  Bobby's gaze shifted, lifted a bit.  Elegant lips, subtly arching, sensual even now, though they were currently set in an achingly emotionless line.  Up again, tracing the hint of a permanent groove that'd set in to the side of those lips, curving to lead to the straight, patrician nose.  Higher, guided by the natural artistry of the human face to distinctive brows above the occluding shades.  No hair there either anymore -- not yet -- but there was no denying the aristocratic refinement to this face that belonged to anything but a blue-blood.

It wasn't the rascal's face that'd first set his heart thumping far too fast way back when.  The vigor was gone, most of the pervasive sly humor drained from edged features.  Denied the sun, his skin had paled cruelly to reveal those shadows and lines of stress and fatigue and pain in a stark setting, and yet...

"You're still gorgeous."

He hadn't planned to speak at all and was surprised at the genuineness he felt, the honesty of the words.  For once his mouth was ahead of his brain in the right way.  He hoped.

Remy's lips pressed tighter together.  He didn't look up at all that Bobby could see, though with those sunglasses it was hard to tell.

"You don't like that word?  Handsome, then."

Not a twitch.

"Joli."

That garnered him a direct, startled look.  At least he thought it was startled -- without seeing Remy's eyes he was left to guess.

Managing an offhanded shrug, he smiled a little.  "I looked it up."

The elevator's quiet whir slowed to a halt with a 'ping.'  The doors shooped open to reveal a huge nurses' station at the right-angle junction of two long halls.  Remy stared at him a few beats longer, then wordlessly turned to step out onto the floor.

They were told that Doctor Niles was with a patient and pointed toward a cozy waiting room a short walk down the hall.  Remy was restless, though; a few minutes of sitting seemed all he could take, then he stood without comment and walked into the hall.  He moved like he had a destination in mind.

After a minute Bobby went for the doorway, pausing there to glance up and down the corridor.  Quiet here, even with the television murmuring softly in the room behind.  Peaceful, he supposed, for those who'd given up on trying to leave.

Beautiful.  Morbid.  God, I'm just batting a thousand today, aren't I?

Shaking himself internally if not outwardly, he walked back toward the elevators.  A nurse seated in a niche busily scrawling on a chart glanced up, smiled disinterestedly, ignored him.  He swallowed and kept his eyes carefully fixed frontward.  Almost instinctive, that.  Don't look, don't see, don't let it become real for anyone outside your own world, Bobbster.  It's harder to rage against the personal unfairness when confronted with a larger scale in which the suffering of you and yours is...unexceptional. 

Eyes front.  Mind front.  Find Remy. 

The last was easier.  The small alcove holding the fish tank just around the corner from the elevators was empty save for a tall, thin figure, dark from covered head to black hikers.  Remy's sunglasses were pushed up as he stared at the tank, but when he heard the soft scuff of Bobby's feet he lifted a hand and casually flipped them back down.  Hiding his mutancy from any random passerby, or hiding himself specifically from this one?

Bobby stopped beside him and looked at the fish and couldn't think of anything whatsoever to say.

Remy waited a minute or two, hands back in his pockets and stance that stiff, careful slouch.  Brightly colored fish moved lazily about their lives, uncaring of watchers, busier with their methodical explorations of the tank that made up their functional universe.  Bobby thought he remembered hearing somewhere that some fish had memories spanning only thirty seconds, nothing longer.  How fascinating could the world be if you forgot everything about it only moments after solving its mysteries?  Always a fresh start just around the corner.  Never-ending discovery.  A life that was pointless from the outside could be anything but to those within.

Remy glanced at him from behind those sunglass-shielded eyes.  Looked back to the tank.  Back to him a moment later, and then he was slipping the near hand from its pocket and extending one finger to touch the glass over the largest of the fish.  "'s PuffPuff."

"Do what?"

A headshake.  The finger stayed.  A sort of vague, ponderous curiosity seemed to hit the big, purplish fish, and it swam with exaggerated caution over to scrutinize this finger probing the edge of the world.  "Name's PuffPuff.  Lady was here las' time I was, standin' right here talkin' to her kid.  She named 'im, I think."

"Oh."  PuffPuff's mouth opened and shut, opened and shut.  The near eye rolled to follow the line the finger was attached to.  By the time the fish saw the Cajun's face, would it have forgotten the finger?  "That was months ago."

"Yeah."  Remy's head cocked slightly, his face expressionless as he drew a line along the outside of the glass.  PuffPuff didn't seem to notice.  "She might be dead by now."

Heart jackhammering suddenly, Bobby swallowed and made himself gaze steadily at the other.  "She might be alive."

The finger kept trailing.  PuffPuff bobbed forward in the water slightly, then gave plodding chase.  "I think she's dead."

Bobby looked away hard and had to swallow again and again.  His eyes filled, dried, filled until he closed them, then burned hotly under concealing lids.

A woman's voice, pleasant yet formal: "Mr. Le...bue?"

"LeBeau."  A hand touched Bobby's shoulder and squeezed lightly.  He didn't trust himself to open his eyes.  Before he could cover the fingers with his own the gentle pressure was gone.  Quiet footsteps moved away, leaving him alone in the alcove save for PuffPuff and crew.  And the latter could forget any moment that anyone else had ever stood there in the whole history of their existence.

Being a fish, he thought distantly, might be well worth the tradeoff in intelligence and lifespan and freedom and opposable thumbs if only it meant this hurt could be forgotten by the time he opened his eyes.

***

He wasn't sure what drew him in, what made him abandon his determination not to see what life was like in those sterile rooms.  A noise, a weak grunt of effort, or maybe a feeling itching beneath his skin.  Something, anyway, that caused him to edge warily through an open door into a lonely room with one little window set far from the bed.  In that bed was a man, an old one.  He wore tubes and wires attached to machines that hissed and dripped and showed the progress of animated lines across a stretch of black monitor.  One gnarled hand was grasping, trying to reach a fold of blanket lying across his thighs, inches too far away.

By now Bobby considered himself an old pro at covering people with blankets.  Hardly thinking about it, he moved to the bedside, pulled the cover up.  Gave the man a brief little smile and started to step away.  But there was that hand again, slipping out from beneath the blanket and still reaching, grasping.  And his eyes had no sense in them when they fixed on Bobby's unfamiliar face.

"Can..."  His hand waved toward his visitor with slow insistence.  "...can..."  Fingers grasped at Bobby's own, curled around.  But then the old man looked perplexed, gazing up at his captured stranger in something like confusion.  His hand felt like cold dry leather over thin cushions over brittle rock.  For a few moments it rested motionless in Bobby's softer, warmer flesh.

Then he tried to speak again.  "Can...can..."

"What?" Bobby asked, low-voiced.  "I don't understand you."

The eyes blinked with exaggerated slowness.  "Can..."  A slow, elaborate swallow.  Fingers squeezed harder.  "Can I...go now?"

Bobby's ribs suddenly felt impossibly tight, but he didn't look down.  Wouldn't look away from the question even if he didn't know the answer.  "Where do you want to go?"

A pause, not weighty or demanding, but just a pause.  Then-- "Can I go now?"  Almost impatient, irritated and grumbly, like a child's repeated 'are we there yet?' from the back seat.  "Can I go now?"  All while he was holding on to Bobby's hand tighter still.

Surreal, these few minutes.  A step through an open hospital room door and into a between world, a transitory rest stop between here and...not here.  A place where the rules just might not apply, and it could be a 'you' and a 'me' instead of 'us' and 'them.'

Could it? 

Bobby felt his lips draw away from his teeth and didn't know if he was smiling or snarling, feeling no connection to the expression on any level he could detect.  "I'm a mutant."

Faded eyes stared.  Didn't blink.

"I'm gay."

Only the slowly rising, falling, rising chest gave evidence of life.  Bobby stared back into the rheumy gaze without knowing what he was looking for.  Acceptance?  Loathing?  Wisdom?  This man, if he had mind enough left to acknowledge it, was more isolated and segregated than any Bobby could label 'his kind.'  He might never experience the world beyond this single undecorated, easily forgotten room again.

Heart feeling more constrained, beating in frustration against the vise around it, Bobby shook the expression from his face, took a half-step back and started to free his hand.  The old leather clenched with sudden strength that almost hurt.

"I'm," he said, wrinkled lips working carefully around the words, "I'm John."

Bobby stared this time, blinked his turn.  The grip loosened tiredly, but didn't let go, didn't release either of them.

"Can I go now?" John asked irritably.  His question, Bobby knew suddenly, wasn't for his guest.  He was asking himself.

Bobby found a painful smile that probably wasn't even seen.  "I don't know," he said, loosely clasping cool, bluing fingers and thinking that he could surely hold them a while longer, at least, if the old fellow wanted him to.  "You tell me."

***

Bobby's Journal:
            I sat there and held a man's hand today, and he's going to die soon and what I did didn't change that but somehow it still made all the difference in the world to him.  That holding of his hand.  It mattered.  It made things better.  Just a fucking handclasp from a stranger made things BETTER all by itself.
            I'm slow.  I'm really, really slow to catch on.  But I think maybe I actually get it now.  Jesus Christ, I think I get it.  It's how parts of life just get cut off and discarded because you can't spend any energy considering them anymore.  It's how you don't even NOTICE at first - you're too busy telling yourself to pay attention to what's right in front of you, taking tiny little small steps to BEAT THIS.  And then a day comes when you look up and expect to find the world and instead there's just - you.  You and no landmarks and no way to get back that you can see.
            We don't get it most of the time.  It matters so much, but we look right at them and don't even notice that they're not quite seeing US.  It's - that connection when hurting - that reaching in the dark and not expecting any answer, thinking all the answers are back there in all that light and energy with the voices that speak TO you instead of AT you.  A hand just kind of waving, bobbing like a windup toy that's almost run down, asking.  And then there's another hand finding yours and it doesn't matter whose and even if you can't hear the voice you know you're not alone.
            And maybe sometimes when they ask, "Can I go?" what they're really trying to say is, "Can't I stay?"

*** 

The room was shadows and moonlight.

The words gave themselves to the sentiment, and somehow they felt unquestionably right.  Shadows.  Moonlight.  If he found something more, maybe, just found a few more words then this twinge of faded, heart-tugging nostalgia would resolve itself into memory...

Fool, he told himself.  But even his scorn had no satisfaction left to give him.

The bed rested comfortably by the window, impervious to the tired glare that sought to scorch it and the whispered curses that sometimes damned it to hell, or damned him to hell, or damned his lungs--

--lung--

--or cigarettes or subzero temperatures or anything and everything that did or didn't deserve that damnation, burning forever in rivers of fire for every sin committed and every good deed gone wrong and every omission that might've made a difference, somehow, might have saved a life or a heart or a soul.

For every cruel word he'd meant without meaning.

For every apology he'd thought but not said.

Shadows.  And moonlight.  And given the choice of the two he'd seated himself in the chair out of direct line of the window, watching pale luminance crawl across the empty bed, nowhere near touching him.  Too much clarity in light, sharp-edged and real.  Shadows let him imagine what he didn't see, let the pain blur into something monumental and unfocused that assured him there was no real point in trying...anything.  That the best option was no option at all.

Fool, he thought again, because surely he could let himself forget, just for a while, how much he was lying to himself.  Surely he deserved that much, yes, even him.  Surely...

He heard the footsteps moments before the door opened and prided himself ever so briefly on attentiveness before remembering that he'd sunk too deep to be concerned with his surroundings.  He should have been surprised by the opening door.  Should have used that as one more thing to berate himself.  Too late now, however, so he just blinked tiredly and turned his head the fraction of an inch it took to bring Bobby's darkened form into view.

Notebooks were in the man's hands -- several of them, not just one.  They looked hard-used and ink-stained.  So did the hands holding them.  Bobby sat down on the bed, face intent -- then waited, silent, thrumming with tension but oddly patient. 

So Remy spoke.  "What."  It was meant to be a flat declaration.  It sounded like a whispered plea to his own ears and he wondered where the energy for that emotion came from, or if it could be heard outside his own head.

The notebooks shifted hands.  Remy didn't let himself watch them.  Journals, he couldn't help noticing, each of them.  Four...five?  He hadn't realized there was so much that needed to be said.

Bobby stood restlessly and dropped the notebooks to the bed with a few solid 'thwaps' and a mutter of blanket against sheet.  "It's everything."

Remy stared at him.

"Everything I've written," Bobby clarified with rushed, rehearsed, fumbled words.  "I want you to read it.  Them.  I wrote...a lot of it isn't...  I was figuring a lot of shit out, so I don't think all this stuff, not now, but I felt this, and..."

Remy stared more and hoped that his heart wasn't visible there, thumping up high and demandingly in his throat as it was.

"So."  A wave, awkward and aborted halfway, at the journals.  "There.  It's.  It's me."

Then he turned, strode a few steps away and rubbed uncomfortably at the back of his neck before twisting around on a heel abruptly and seating himself atop the edge of the desk.  Watching.

But by now Remy's eyes had pinpointed those bundles of paper-trapped thoughts.  Hesitantly he stood, less aware of his acquired gracelessness now than he'd been in recent memory.  Only a brief pause as a hand reached to touch, then he set aside the weighty pondering of sin and guilt and eased himself down by the small stack.  His lung at that moment felt woefully inadequate.  He wasn't sure two would be less so.

He picked one up at random and flipped it open.  Mutant eyes and natural nighttime light let him easily decipher Bobby's busy scrawl.

So much needing to be said...

Minutes passed.  He read, flipped a page, read, flipped a page.  Breathing, sibilant murmur of paper to paper, a creak every now and then as Bobby shifted restlessly on the desk, rested his feet on the chair, more breathing...

"'How we work so hard to kill ourselves and then work so hard to save ourselves,'" Remy read aloud, "'and when it doesn't work we blame God and when it does we credit ourselves, and I wonder if it really matters either way.  I wonder if it would change anything to blame an acorn in Montana instead, or to credit a footprint on the moon.  Maybe there is no blame and no credit, and all that's left is what is.  We either cope or we don't.'"

Wheels squeaked unhappily beneath the chair as Bobby pushed it back and forth, forth and back, staring at the seat instead of his eyes when Remy looked his way.  "Probably doesn't make as much sense outside my head..."

More pages.  More insights.  All of this...spurred by him?  These thoughts -- raw, uncensored and scared and angry and trying so hard to find hope that it made his heart ache -- were because of him?

He had to clear his throat to read aloud again.  "'Hank said today that it looks hopeful.  What he really said was more like it doesn't look hopeless, but they're close enough to the same thing except in different degrees.  Like a lightbulb versus a lightning bolt -- one's just a little more emphatic than the other is all.'"  A pause for breath, then he read on.  "'So since he got to be the bearer of good tidings I figured Hank deserved a lifetime supply of Twinkies.  Kurt helped me deliver them, so they probably taste like brimstone.  Whatever brimstone tastes like.  But now if anyone ever asks how many golden snack cakes it takes to fill a furry blue genius's bathroom, the answer is 'I lost count.'  Something like a gazillion and thirty-three.  No, wait, I ate two.  A gazillion and thirty-one.  So it's not a lifetime supply, but I'm counting on at least a month, barring famine.'"

Remy shook his head, lips curving, and let out a slow breath half a beat off a chuckle.  That part of Bobby wasn't gone.  This...tribulation...hadn't killed the impish prankster or choked out his grin.

Again, the squeaking of wheels.  "He was a little down.  I wanted to cheer him up."

"Did it work?"

This time when he looked Bobby met his gaze and gave a hint of a smile, more in eyes than lips.  "I'll let you know after he digs himself out.  You shoulda seen it.  Sweet blessed fat grams as high as the eye could see..."

Remy smiled back, cheeks feeling tight and unused to the motion.  His fingers snagged on several pages at once and turned them together.  Rather than flipping back he glanced at the words and found himself caught by the raggedness of the penstrokes on this particular sheet.  It took a moment longer to make out the handwriting here, then longer still to read through the entry three times, first word to last, absorbing nuances of penmanship and emphasis.

He cleared his throat again.  It wasn't as easy this time.  "'I wonder, and I hate wondering, but I have to wonder what I'll do if he dies.'"

Bobby flinched.  His feet stopped pushing the chair and his fingers gripped the edge of the desk on either side of his thighs, holding.  Even from the bed Remy could see knuckles going white.

A breath, then he read on, voice husky and thick.  "'What if a time comes around when I have to decide to let go?  What if I can't?'"  He had to pause, swallowing again against the rock, the boulder lodged stubbornly in his throat.  "'What if I can't,'" he started over, but couldn't...his throat just wouldn't...

"'And what if I can?'" Bobby finished softly.

Very carefully, mindful of wrinkled pages, Remy closed the notebook and set it on top of the stack, leaving the others as they were.  He drew his hand back.  Ran his palm across his bare scalp.  Looked out of habit at the window, the reflection, the safest way to view the other man and see what damage he'd caused.  He'd done this dozens of times, more than that, but this time Bobby was watching him closely.  This time when he snuck that surreptitious glance at the reflection, he found the reflection staring back.

"I thought y' a'ready had," he told the window-person distantly.

"Thought I had what?"

"Decided t' let go."

The shadow-image shook his head faintly in negation, eyes locked with his.

Remy turned away from the window, scooted up the bed and settled himself against the headboard, patting the blankets in front of him.  In a moment Bobby'd claimed the spot and sat in it with a loose clutch of arms over knees, feet bare of kicked off shoes, eyes meeting his as hesitantly as his did in return.

"There's lots more."  A slight headbob at the notebooks.  "Hundreds of pages.  I don't know where it all came from."

Remy leaned to extend a hand, tapping a finger against the firm chest.  "You got a lot in there, cher."

Skin flushed, but not the crimson blush those words might've once caused.  "You can read the rest.  If you want."

"Non."

"But I thought you--"

He felt that plea again, somewhere in his chest and just behind his words.  Was it audible at all?  "Talk t' me, Bobby.  I'm still here."

Bobby's face dropped to his knees.  "Jesus, please don't put it like that."

"Like...?"

"Like 'for now' is sitting at the end of it."

Thin fingers picked absently at the shoes Remy hadn't bothered to take off yet.  "A'right."

"Thanks."

And then...pregnant silence, heavy and awkward and raw.

"So," Remy prompted when it got to be too much.

"So," Bobby agreed into his knees.  Then again when he crossed his arms over them and lifted his face to rest his chin there.  "So..."

Another silence, slightly longer.

"This is easier on paper," Bobby said eventually with a faint scowl.  "And with a thesaurus.  If you're waiting for me to get eloquent we're probably in for a long night."

A smile.  Red-black eyes focused on the untied shoestring that he was slowly winding around his bony fingers.  "Got nowhere I gotta be.  A long night ain' no big t'ing."  He caught the second string and started threading it opposite the first.  "Y'eveh notice how time goes so fast lately?  Like y' can' even keep up any more?"

No answer.  A very loud no answer.  Remy glanced into startled, blinking blue eyes.

What'd I say...?

If he wanted Bobby to speak to him honestly again, though, like a whole person, he couldn't tiptoe around, second-guessing every word out of his mouth.  "'s like I'm on a roller coaster," he continued hesitantly, "an' it's goin' 'round, up an' down, over an' back all crazy-mad, an' I keep thinkin' I'm goin' in circles, then sometimes I think I'm goin' real far and fast, but truth is I don' know where it ends.  Or if it does."

Roughly-- "I wanna be on it with you."

"Not sure y' can, joli."  Said with a gentleness and self-possession Remy hadn't quite known he still held.  "We can p'tend otherwise all we want, but we both know this might be a one-way trip."

Fresh wetness sprang to blue eyes, but he barely seemed to notice.  His voice was calm.  "Are you scared?"

How to distill the ocean of emotions into an answer...?  Impossible.  Not in a lifetime, not if he were a poet.  The enormity of the waters would drown him if he tried.

Instead he shrugged one shoulder, smiling apologetically at the insufficiency of his reply.  "Yes, very, and no, not hardly a bit.  How 'bout you?"

Tears broke free.  Bobby nodded wordlessly, and Remy untangled his hand from the shoestrings to reach for Bobby's, grip it tight.

"Scared's okay."

***

Bobby's Journal:
            Today I took the loud guy to lunch.
            He was there outside the store again, trying his damnedest to make a scene, but this time I just stopped and watched him for a while.  Really looked at him.  And I noticed some things.
            He's skinny.  Almost as skinny as Remy.  His clothes don't fit, and they're pretty ragged besides.  He looks like he tries to stay clean, but there's a sort of grimy edge, like maybe he doesn't get to shower all that often.  Like maybe he's homeless.
            When I went up to him he told me again how I was going to hell, how I needed salvation.  I asked if I could buy him lunch, and he said sure.  So we went over to Burger King and got some whoppers and sat down to eat.  Soon as his mouth was too full for him to butt in I started talking about me and Remy.  I told him about Dad, and how Mom just went along with him and how they still haven't called.  I lied and said Remy was a fireman - close enough to a superhero without bringing up the whole mutant thing - and I told him being a fireman has to be doing God's work, if God's real, because a fireman risks his life to grab you out of hell.  God's gotta care more about that than about who a guy sleeps with.
            The loud guy listened pretty good.  Or at least he stayed quiet while I talked, probably because he was eating.  I gave him my burger too since I wasn't hungry and had more to say, so it was kind of a long lunch.
            Anyway, I finally asked what he thought.  He said, "I think I'm gonna pray for you."  At first it made me mad, real mad, but I figured I'd walked into that one.  I asked if he really believed there's a God up there who hates gay people and he picked up his bible and said he didn't know, he was just trying to do this right, and I asked what "this" is and he said it's living.  He was holding his bible against him like a shield or talisman or something.
            And I realized - he's scared.  Scared of doing it wrong.  He wants a roadmap to show him the right way to go, and that book's the closest thing he's found.  He's not going to listen to a guy like me, who hasn't even got a map.
            But I don't feel lost.
            When we went our separate ways he shook my hand and said he hoped my fireman got better.  I wished him luck with living.  He was already yelling at people again before I got out of hearing range.
            Hope he finds his way.

***

The man in the mirror had regained some of his color at last, but Remy wasn't looking at that.  He'd started adding a little flesh to his frame again, so nearly skeletal features now appeared only gaunt, but he wasn't looking at that either.  He wasn't even admiring the vigorous growth of red-brown fuzz atop his head that testified to three months out of treatment.  The past five minutes, maybe ten, he'd been studying the familiar uniqueness of his eyes and trying to decipher any oracular messages they might hold.

Three months out.  The odds still weighed against him, but...three months out.  It had to mean something.

Logan in the hallway, at the door.  Pushing through without waiting for an invite.  His face, if possible, wore more annoyance than usual, with dark eyebrows knotting up in intimidating bunches.  "Ain't you ready yet?  I swear, Cajun, you're turnin' into a woman."

Remy's lips curved a little.  He didn't look away from the reflection.  "It's my s'prise party.  I can be late if I wan'."

"Who says it's a party?" Logan asked, a token effort.  "We're just hangin' at Harry's."

"Ev'yone else is there 'cept you.  Tells me they wanted t' get there early t' dec'rate.  You hate dec'ratin', 'cept f'those odd times 'round Christmas."  He smirked knowingly.  "You'd never volunteer t' be my chauffeur if y' t'ought Jean an' Bobby'd letcha get outta helpin'."

Logan shrugged, unconcerned.  "I didn't tell ya."

"I'll fake bein' s'prised."

"Don't matter none t'me.  Can we get gone already?"

"Jus' sec."

"Whaddaya doin'?"

"Lookin' f' somethin'."

"Got somethin' in your eye?"

Remy peered closer.  "That's the question."

"Cryptic."

If any teammate would understand, it would be this one.  But Remy wasn't ready to explain.  "Sorry."

Logan pocketed his hands restlessly, jacket leather too broken in to creak.  "That doc's gonna be there.  He's a very busy man.  You're keepin' a very busy man waitin' on account o' your eye."

"He won' mind."

"Not to mention Drake.  He's gotta be goin' outta his skin by now, wonderin' where you are."

A snort.  "How long y'been dry, Logan?"

"A week," he said with eloquent vehemence.

"So you mus' be wantin' a drink real bad."

"As a matter o' fact, I am."

A sidelong glance, amused but unmoved.  "I'll be ready in a minute."

Logan flung his arms up in exasperation and left the room, muttering deprecations.  Nothing too serious.  Surly the man was, as often as not, but never oblivious.  Not about the important stuff.  And maybe Logan knew enough about gutting it out -- fighting right up to the edge, then laboring for each and every backstep away from it -- to recognize the way that changed a person.  Or the way a person had to change in order to make it through.

Question now being, had he changed enough?

The mirror eyes looked back at him, pondering him even as he pondered them.  A little lifetime ago he'd seen something in the eyes of a fourteen-year-old boy, stark and raw and essential, and he'd recognized a survivor.  He'd wondered if he'd one day see the same smoldering proof in himself.

Three months on the far side of the hardest fight of his life.  Ahead stretched a future -- be it six months or sixty years -- of incertitude and constant vigilance, with the possibility of recurrence always lurking.  Doc Niles and Henri, they'd explained that no one could guarantee the cancer'd been knocked back far enough to stay gone.  He knew this, but for him the answer should be there in his eyes, telling him damn the odds, you are what you need to be, live your time fiercely, LeBeau.

So he searched in the looking glass.  Asked himself the question.  Kept Logan waiting, dry as a bone, until the purposefully heavy step in the hall told him his chauffeur's patience had reached its end.

"Cajun, for the luvva god..."

"It's there, Logan," he said clearly.

A momentary pause.  Much of the irritation faded from the careworn face and Logan quieted some, listened to him.  "What is?"

"What I was lookin' for."

The footsteps now were hushed and deliberate.  Logan moved a little behind and to the side to get a view.  Met Remy's eyes in the mirror and studied them intently, his scrutiny reminiscent of Jim and the dream of ice shards and failure.  Except instead of tightening with grief his mouth slowly tugged toward a faint, approving smile, and his dark eyes warmed.

"Oh," he said.  "That."

 




::end::

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