Things Have Changed
by Janete
April 2001

Disclaimer: If they belonged to us, they'd eventually try to escape,
and, well. Tragedy.

Fandom: X-Men (movieverse)

Spoilers: A bit of movie stuff.  Takes place post-movie.

Pairing: Cyclops/Gambit, Cyclops/Jean Grey

Rating: NC-17.

Authors' notes: Suspenders. This came from *suspenders*.
Title snitched from Bob Dylan.

Feedback is our sunshine. Our only sunshine.,


He'd shown up on the doorstep of the school a week before.

One pitifully light duffel bag and the clothes on his back. Ragged,
indeterminately teenaged and far too thin, though as it turned
out the bag contained nearly eight thousand unexplained dollars.
A down payment on tuition that the Professor, of course, refused
to accept.

It's now stored in the vault.

Jean told me that he's been down to check on it, twice, a fact which
*all* the security monitors have missed. It's not difficult to imagine
how the boy got the money, but no one is interested in asking
pointed questions, though Jean and I agreed privately that keeping
a mild psi-monitor on him at times was just a good idea.

Not that different than what we do with any of the new kids, really.
Mutants have troubled lives in this world, and trouble tends to
follow a person, whether they deserve it or not. And even if we
wanted to -- and I admit, I was tempted -- a mild psi-monitor was all
that *could* be achieved.

The boy had a number of highly sophisticated psychic walls that
suggest he was at least partially raised around telepaths.

So, he called himself Gambit and knew a startling number of ways
to play the several decks of cards he kept on him at all times. An
interesting choice of weapon. Sometimes I feel that we are as
much a collection of beloved -- but dangerous -- oddities as
anything else.

Hank suggested we invite him to the Thursday night poker game,
but I wasn't sure. Even with everything that has happened, we still
don't even know how old he is.

He showed something like a savant's touch with the basic algebra
we started him with, reads on a tenth grade level, and his first
essay for Storm showed what we hope to be a vivid imagination.

He's had no problem fitting in with the other kids thus far, and I
like to think we all played a part in making them such a good
group. Bobby, especially, has reached out, and Gambit has
responded in kind.

A few of the girls giggle around him, and make up somewhat
painful poetry about his strange red on black eyes, which Rogue
laughs about in a voice that is still not entirely her own. The
Professor assures me the effects will fade with time, but I
understand enough about the world to know that she'll never be
the same girl she was when she joined us.

I suppose we all change.

When I joined us -- and when I came, "us" was me and the
Professor -- I know I was closer to being a ghost than anything
like a recognizable teenager.  I'd had my eyes closed for a year, and
for the last three months of that year no one bothered to talk to me.
>From the number of people I heard screaming on a daily basis I can
guess that I'd been relegated to state psychiatric care.  Nothing else
to do with a boy who won't open his eyes and won't explain why
he's keeping them shut.  I think the Professor was vaguely surprised
to find I was still verbal.

He got his challenge eight months later when he brought Jean
back, because she wasn't sane.  I only talked to her weeks after she
arrived, when the Professor had taught her to build her shields to
the point that she could stand to have me in the room.

I don't know whether it's a personal bias in my observations or
some deeper scientific pattern that most of the kids since fall into
either the Scott-model or the Jean-model.  Self-protective or self-
destructive.  Mostly the former, because the ones who survive long
enough for us to find them are the strong ones.  This one, though.
He seems happy, but he's got what I still think of as the Jean-aura.
Something brittle about him waiting to break loose.

I got my first sense of what might be waiting when I asked him to
work with me one-on-one in the gym.  No powers, just wanting to
see what he knew and what he'd been doing.  Maybe get some
sense of how dissociated he was from his body.  Most of the kids are,
to some extent.  Adolescents don't do well with their bodies at the
best of times, and ours have essentially had their bodies turn on
them.  So I was expecting some awkwardness, and I'd locked the
other kids out in anticipation of it.

He wasn't like anything I'd expected.  I hadn't seen anyone move
that fully *in* their body since Logan took off.  Whip-fast and
sloppy as any of the street-fighters we've taken up, but lacking that
essential awkwardness I expect to see in teenaged boys.  And I did
pin him, but it took a long time, and when I did it was only for a
moment.  Just long enough for him to twist like his spine was liquid
and kick me off.  So hard that when I landed I greyed out for a few
seconds, and by the time I could focus again he was standing and
watching me.

He didn't offer me a hand up, but I offered him a smile and a
rueful surrender.  The smile I was looking for didn't come, and as
soon as he was sure I was going to be able to stand up on my own,
he left.  Didn't ask, or look back.

I had to ask Jean to find him for me.  She was angry and I couldn't
tell why, and when I asked she only said that he was bleeding
across her psi-monitor and hissed a little in frustration.

When I knocked on Storm's attic door, she let me in wordlessly
and went back to her book without waiting for me to talk.  Nodded
to the open window.  Gambit took to Storm, for some reason, and
she's on the verge of making a pet out of him.  I can understand
why -- when he's friendly, he's utterly charming -- but I wish she

He was out on the roof, sitting with his coat pulled around his
shoulders and one pale, bony knee pushing out of the ripped knee
of his jeans.  The cigarette in his hand was almost, but not quite,
a surprise.  I'd smelled something vaguely sweet on him since he'd
arrived, but I hadn't put a name to it yet.  And I wondered whether
he'd been ducking into town to get it, or if he'd talked someone
else into doing it for him, or if this was just the tail-end of
whatever he'd brought with him when he decided to lay himself
down at our door.

I don't like drugs, but I understand the need to escape. The latest
studies show that drug use is as prevalent among mutants, if not
more so, as it is in the hardest hit groups. Escape the mind, if not
the body. I'd had more than one run-in with alcohol before Jean
began to accept me. I'd loved her from almost the beginning, fear
of her insanity easily shifting to fear for *her*.

Still, the rules were in place for a reason, not least of which was
the fact that, with training, Gambit could become a necessary and
*valuable* part of the team, if he decided to join us.

I crawled out on the roof and sat beside him. He didn't look at
me at all, still staring out at ground and sky, and offered me the

"We don't use drugs here."

Noncommittal shrug from under the battered trenchcoat and he
took another hit, breathing deeply and easily. He clearly wasn't
new to this. Sometimes I wish Logan were still here. At the very
least, *he* wouldn't have mistaken the smell for some odd

I smiled ruefully to myself. "I'd appreciate if you'd put that out."

Gambit turned to me and smiled, smoke drifting across his face.
"Gambit'd appreciate it if you let him keep it going."

Another thing, that disconcerting and somehow precious way of
talking about himself in the third person, the look which said he
knew full well he was being more than a bit ridiculous. I shook my
head. "Sorry, it's against the rules here." Bit back the urge to remind
him that he'd asked to enter the school, because I knew it would be
precisely the wrong tack to take.

"All right." Low, slow, smiling voice and Gambit took one more
hit before wetting his finger and putting it out with exaggerated
compliance. Stashed it somewhere within the coat and I knew it
would take federally trained dogs to find it again. "So. What you
wanna talk about, homme?"

"Why you're out here, for a start."

"The night is beautiful, it is warm enough." Another shrug.

"You seemed upset earlier."

Silence, broken once by the drum of Gambit's fingers on the shingles,
and then taken up again, so I started over.

"We'd all like you to be comfortable here."

He laughed. "Comfortable. Gambit don't need comfortable."

"I do."

"Ah, soft, soft. I think you'd like New Orleans, homme. Parts of it."
And he smiled lazily at me, in a way I'd call flirtatious if it was a
woman doing it, or if we'd been in a city somewhere, far away from
the trees and quiet.

As it was, it was more than a little disconcerting. "How old are
you?" I blurted, clenching my jaw at the break from formula.

A raised eyebrow to go with the smile. "Old enough."

Which made me think that the real answer was 'not very.'  All the
worse because the coquettish look he gave me was so effective.
One little tilt to the head was enough to remind me that this was
a startlingly pretty boy.  The effect wasn't damaged particularly by
the faint line of stubble along his jaw, but something about the
eyes threw me.

The red had almost vanished into the layers of black.  It left me
with a strong sense of the person being *not there*.  His focus
notwithstanding, because I suddenly had him inside my personal
space.  Not touching, but...

"The eyes bother you?"

"No."  I'd seen stranger things on the kids.  I'd seen stranger on
myself.  And he'd already put the joint away, so I wasn't going to
insist on anything further.

"Gambit could keep them closed for you..."  And leaned in and
kissed me.

Just his lips on mine, and it wasn't as deep or as demanding as I
might have expected.  Delicate little brushes of his tongue on my
mouth, never quite pushing in.  And strange, because if he'd been
more aggressive about it, it would have been easier to push him

The first time I kissed Jean had that same edge of imperfection.  It
served as the reminder I needed that the person trying to seduce
me -- and coward that I was, it was her who kissed first -- was
human enough to be hurt.  Enough to wake my protective instincts
as well as my hormones.  Enough to bring my hands up to hold
those shoulders for a second, not surprised somehow that he'd
crawled in to straddle my legs, and cling before easing him back.

I'd expected something flirtatious.  What I got instead was a half-
turn of his head while he tucked himself in against my shoulder
and hung on.  Both hands slid over my torso, getting under my
sweater faster than he should have been able to.

"Gambit, this isn't a good idea."  As softly as I could.  It wasn't
the first time one of the students had tried to seduce me, but it
was only the second, and it was the first time that it was one of
the boys.  Kept my hands out in space to avoid touching him,
because there wasn't anywhere to lay them where I wouldn't be
either groping him or hanging on.

"Gambit old enough to know what he wants."

It was punctuated by a shimmy against my lap.  I realized that I
couldn't push him off without potentially knocking him off the
roof, but the sheer awkwardness had me looking for another
escape route.  All the more prisoner a second later when his roving
hands caught the suspenders I had on under my sweater and
gripped them.  A little tug on them, and a smile while Gambit
leaned back a little to look at my face.

It gave me enough room to slide out from under him, but I was
still crouched inside his personal space when a dark hand rapped
at the window and Storm stuck her head out.

"Are you planning to stay out here all night?  I think it's going
to rain."

I wasn't sure whether Gambit knew her well enough to understand
the irony of that statement, but I know I was grateful to her.  I
stayed on the roof until Gambit was inside.  He hugged Storm
before he left.

Somehow, in spite of his size, it was a very childish gesture, and I
found myself cursing softly at the erection he'd gotten out of me.
Utterly wrong to respond that way to a boy who laid his head on
Ororo's shoulder and let her stroke his hair and was gone before I
came inside.

I think I understood Storm's keeping him as a pet a little better. It
was... safer that Gambit have an outlet for some of his needs. For
at least one of us.

I crawled in a little sheepishly, trying to take in Storm's mocking
smile as only my due, but it was hard. "So what did you do when
he tried to seduce *you*?"

Smile gone in an instant. "I don't think that's any of your
business."  Haughty and cold, but there was a faint flush to her
cheeks. I was thankful for her relatively pale skin.

"Took a night flight, did you?"

She snorted. "Don't think I did not consider it. Gambit is...
precocious."  Peace again.

I nodded, ran a hand through my hair, caught myself trying to do
it again.  Jean doesn't *need* our psychic link when I've fidgeted
my hair into a hay pile. "Thanks for the save."

"You're welcome."

Comfortable silence, and I realized that I had an invitation. I
could sit down, relax, figure some of this out. I compromised
and consciously relaxed again, shared a smile with her. "How did
you... discourage him?"

"I promised him sleet for a month. His own, personal sleet."

I laughed and saw myself out and was perhaps more passionate
than usual with Jean, who had a quirked but understanding smile
for me when we were done.  She trusted me to handle these things,
in my ability to lead. At least, she'd told me that enough times both
silent and aloud that I could tell when she was just thinking it.

I thought of the way he'd smiled at me on discovering my
suspenders, and the way Jean had teased me for them years ago,
and slept.

After math the next day I invited Gambit for another sparring
session -- after having argued myself into a headache over
whether it would be considered acceptance of his pass, and if being
alone with him was even appropriate right then. I couldn't decide
whether or not I was surprised when he accepted.

It was for mid-afternoon, when most of the kids were either
watching TV or moaning for us to move dinner up an hour. Gambit
walked in wearing the sweatpants we'd given him and a t-shirt of his
own, and I filed the knowledge away for later -- a sort of
compromise I've made with myself in order to deal with the random details
I'm always picking up -- to keep myself sane.

We stretched adequately and I had him shadow-box for a while,
studying the moves he was using and trying to determine which
ones he was holding back for the eventual attack. As it turned out,
there were quite a few, but, thankfully for my pride, they were
better designed for street-fighters than trained ones, and I didn't
make the mistake of underestimating his experience.

I had him pinned within a few minutes and he took it gracefully,
offering back a copy of my rueful smile before we stood up again.
He picked up the blocks I showed him easily, but he was... I can't
describe it as clumsy so much as body-reluctant to learn the
attacks, something I'd always internalized as being more of a
difficulty for women than men, though Jean had did her best to
disabuse me of the notion by sharing memories of spars she'd had
with Jubilee.

I've decided that the boy is more accustomed to ending fights
than started them, which is a good sign. Warming, somehow.

We're almost not qualified to teach Rogue anymore, with the
memories she's consciously retained from Wolverine and
Magneto. The only real challenge with her was guiding her to rely
less on Wolverine's memories, if only because most of his attacks
called for a greater level of physical strength.

In any case, the next spar was harder. Not necessarily because
Gambit learned the lessons quickly as because natural agility must
be a part of his mutant powers, or at least must have been
extremely thoroughly taught at some point. I pinned him again,
but getting him to *stay* pinned was another story.

It took three drops before I had a good hold on him, thankful for
the wrestling I'd learned from another boy at the orphanage, who'd
never told anyone his real name. It seemed insulting to just call
him 'John' as the adults did, so I'd never called him anything at all.

Sometimes I wondered if I remembered too much about my life,
if there was a limit to the number of semi-random memories I
could store before I wound up living in the past all the time...

I didn't realize the potential awkwardness of our position until
Gambit suddenly stilled altogether, then *writhed* against me,
both of us on our knees, my hips pressed to his buttocks.

"Gambit --"

He did it again, moaning softly, and I released him quickly,
stepping back a pace.

He shuddered, then rolled onto his back, sprawled but obviously

I tried to think of something to say to break it, but it took too
long, Gambit cutting off whatever idiocy I was about to offer.

"Gambit wants... Gambit just need a little *touch*."

And then he closed his eyes and ran one hand over his body,
tracing the bit of pale skin bared at his abdomen with his fingers,
dipping them below the waistband of his sweats for just a second
before simply letting the hand rest on his stomach.

He was hard.

I stepped back farther.  This was my fault.  For putting us in this
position, for not keeping aware of how we were touching when it
should have been the foremost thing on my mind.  For *missing*
something so completely that I still couldn't put a name to it.
Something essential in that word *need*.

Worse because I could feel myself respond just watching him.
This skinny, still-childish body offered to me, almost irrationally.
So disturbingly not the body of my lover, Jean, who'd been
sleeping beside me since I wasn't that much older than Gambit was
now.  Little scratches of wanting ran up the back of my skull in a
way that felt almost, but not quite, like Jean's mental touch.


It was what he wanted to hear, but he looked confused by my tone,
and more confused by the single hand I held out to help him up
with.  I stepped back when he moved to plaster himself against me
and pushed him towards the locker room.

"Go shower."

The stare he gave me was bitterly angry, but he didn't argue.
Except for sex, I've never seen him argue about anything.  He only
smoulders at you and then does what he wants to and then you have
to chase him down and explain, somehow, why he's never going to
do that again.  He walked away from me and all but slammed the
door behind him, leaving me alone and able finally to let my knees
give.  Knelt shaking on the gym floor a minute before I could pull
myself together enough to go after him.

Gambit was in the showers when I came in, and he didn't turn to
look at me, though he had to know I was there.  He kept his eyes
closed and his back against the wall, and stroked himself steadily
with one hand.

Private, intimate, very direct for someone who flirted so gently and
insistently.  I left him to it, came back when I was sure I'd heard
the bitten-off whimper, and washed down while he stalked away to
get dressed, still not looking at me.

A couple of minutes of hot water was enough to get the sweat off
and let me argue with myself again about what I was going to do
with him.  I had a sense this wasn't going to stop until we reached
some kind of compromise, and I wished briefly for enough of
Logan's animal nature to just take care of this.  All teacher-student
relationships aside, he was beautiful, and it would have been exactly
what my body wanted to press his face against the tile of the shower
wall and screw him until we both ached.

I'd trusted in Gambit's need to perfect himself before going out, and
it held for me, but just barely.  He was combing the last strands of
his shaggy hair into alignment when I came out of the shower, and
he headed for the door so fast I had to run to stop him.



"Because this conversation isn't over, but I don't intend to have it
while I'm naked.  And if you run off, I *will* track you down, but
I'll be angry when I do and I don't want to be."

"Gambit thinks maybe you already are."

I sighed.  "I'm not.  Yet.  So *sit*, and I'll be with you in a second."

He sat.  I was vaguely surprised, but I didn't question it.  There
were soft card-shuffling noises behind me while I dressed.  He
flicked a card at me when I turned, and I reflexively caught it.  The
smile he gave me in return was one I didn't recognize, but it had an
ugly little edge to it.

"You might not wanna do that in future, homme."  Softly.  An edge
of lust still smouldering under the anger crawled up my nerves
towards my scalp.

I sighed.  "Come on."

He didn't ask where we were going, but he didn't walk behind me,
either.  Long enough legs on him to keep pace with me out of the
school and across the grounds.

I didn't talk to him until we hit the woods and started following
the lake's opposite shore.  The school was far enough in the
distance that I wouldn't encounter the other kids, at least.  And if I
needed to have an inappropriate conversation, then I also wanted it
not to travel.

I sat down on a rock and watched him stand in front of me,
looking down.  I sighed.  "Gambit, you know what they tell you
when you become a teacher?  They say that kids'll try to seduce you.
And it's not because they love you, though they might think they do.
It's because they're looking for something, and since you're the
grown-up they're looking for it in you."  The look he gave me was
utterly impenetrable, thought it might have just been the eyes.
"So give me a hand, here.  What are you looking for?"

"Gambit had a long time to not be a kid."

And had I really thought we could play it calm, serene, straight out
of the text book in Xavier's head? I had about as much idea how to
handle this as this kid had about how to fly.

Who knew? Maybe he'd wind up doing some of that, too, before it
was all said and done. I scrubbed a hand through my hair, trying to
convince myself I was thinking, but I knew what I wanted to say.

Gambit lit a cigarette and waited.

"I wasn't on the street very long -- the orphanage only liked to lose
muties the hard way -- but it was long enough. Get me?"

He looked surprised for about half as long as it took him to suppress
it.  "You think you *understand* me, homme?"

"Not even close. But I know you can talk to me, if you want."

"That a better way to get in your pants?"

As a matter of fact... I spread my hands and smiled. "Try me."

Gambit nodded, thoughtfully, and headed back to the house. I sat
there and tried to figure out how to plan for an attack that may or
may not be an attack, that may or may not ever come. I think I was
missing Magneto.

The next day he skipped most of class, but came in looking so
bruised that I decided not to say anything, since he made it to the
rest. By the time the danger room was free for our usual spar, he'd
come out of whatever it was, and showed me he'd been practicing.
A good spar, but he was also trying too hard -- a difficult fault to
lecture on. He left too many weak spots open, going for speed and
a controlled sort of savagery instead of finesse.

I commended him for the spirit he put into it, and talked around
and through the idea that someday he might be fighting for his life
on a semi-regular basis. Much too soon for hints that broad, but
there was pride in his eyes. I was learning to read them, despite the
intensity of the red through the ruby quartz.

The next time he used more of his blocks, but it slowed him down.
I told him to practice those more intensely than the attacks that
night, and considered the possibility of including him in Storm's
kata practices, though it would make a big cut in his study time. I
could feel Jean's disapproval.

Perhaps we'd talk to him, all of us teachers, and work out a longer
term education plan. I *wanted* him on the team, all of a sudden
and much too soon... but undeniable.



"For your thoughts, Scott."

"Weapons," I said, mostly truthfully.

"I have my cards, and maybe eventually my own body, yeah?"

I couldn't tell if there was a double entendre there or not, so I just
let it pass. Grinned. "Never hurts to have too many weapons."

"Y'all don't use guns..."

"Never would've picked you for the kind to like things too
permanent." I was flushing even as I said it, and Gambit smirked.

"Ahhh, Gambit try and try to get to know you better, but..."

"Yeah, yeah. Let's spar again. I wanna get a feel for your strengths."
If nothing else, I was going to have a *damned* good poker face by
the time this all came to an end.

To my surprise, he took me at my word, consciously or
unconsciously fighting less with an eye toward power than speed
and agility. I found myself relying on my instincts more than
cataloguing his motions, but there was no good-teacher reason to
stop the spar. I'd see if we had time and energy for a fourth.

In any case, he was everywhere, and it didn't take me long to
figure out that he was going to try to wear me out before
attacking seriously.  A dangerous ploy, but he was almost --
almost -- good enough to make it work.  I slowed the pace to a
crawl and made him work harder to draw me out. As I expected,
frustration eventually made him incautious, and I was able to take
his legs out from under him, punching just hard enough at his bicep
to still him while I pinned him for a count of three.

Apparently, he'd tired *himself* out.

Getting up, I said, "you, my friend, need to eat more."

"Maybe you should do more of the cooking, Scott."

I was getting used to this, closer to some kind of revelation. I knew
enough about fighting to know that he hadn't faked his loss, but he
liked me to be in a position of power before turning on the
seduction. He would've had them all eating out of his hands. He
nearly *does* have all of us doing it. I sighed and shook my head
ruefully. "I want to *feed* you, not poison you."

He opened his mouth, than shut it again, shaking his own head.
There'd been real feeling in his eyes for a moment, but when he
looked up it was gone.

"Wanna talk?"


And he was up and walking toward the door before I could think of
anything else to say beyond his name... but it was enough to pause

"Not... not yet."

And he was gone.

And damn me, but I let it be.  I didn't go after him that night, went
back to my room and made love to Jean and threw every detail I
could think of out in front of her.  Laid wrapped half-around her
with her breast in my hand and my mouth open against her
shoulder, sucking softly and listening to the psychic white-noise that
was Jean thinking.

I was most of the way to asleep when she asked me, "Scott, if we
weren't lovers, would you have slept with him by now?"



"Shall I take into account exactly how unethical sleeping with one
of the students would be?"

"Do you want to?"

"I don't know."

I thought that it wasn't even the immorality, so much as the fact
that I couldn't tell what he wanted, or why he kept asking.  If he'd
just wanted sex, he could have approached any of half a dozen of
the male students.  If he wanted a protector, he'd have been better
served to go to Xavier than to me.  And he had Storm to baby him.

I went to sleep without doing bed checks, and the next day he
wasn't in class.  His homework was waiting on my desk when I came
into my office in the morning, along with completed assignments
for the next two days.  Xavier found logic and physics waiting on
his.  And I was happy to go with it.  I supposed he was going over
what I'd taught him yesterday, and he'd proved, at least, that the
time he spent learning to fight wasn't interfering with his academic
studies.  I left a note on Storm's desk about the kata class and
snarked back at Jean when she sent disapproval down the link.

Which meant that it was after suppertime when I realized he was
gone.  I'd knocked on his bedroom door, actually, wanting to talk
to him about joining Storm's class, and only found his roommate.
Who blinked at me when I asked where he was and then shrugged.
I asked Jean and got the instant of blankness that meant she was
checking on him telepathically.  She answered with a hiss and pushed
past me, ran to the Professor's office and told him without telling me
first that one of our students was missing.

The Professor found him with Cerebro.  In New Jersey.

I drove down.  I didn't take the Blackbird out of sheer impracticality.
It didn't commute well.  So instead I drove for four hours and ended
up standing on some godforsaken coastal boardwalk at dawn.
Watching Gambit sit on the pier with his knees pulled up to his chin
and an almost gothic array of crumbling sideshows silhouetted
behind him.



"This seems a bit Yankee for your tastes."

"Gambit don' bother with that unreconstructed shit.  S'just an
amusement park."

He didn't flinch when I sat down beside him, and I was almost
surprised.  I'd expected him to be angry, though not terminally.
We'd presumed he was coming back.  He'd left the money in the
vault and most of his clothes in the closet.  Taken his old duster coat
and his cards and sunglasses and anything that could have landed
him up on narcotics charges.  If we'd thought he was in danger, I
wouldn't have been the only one after him.

He leaned into my arm a bit.  I wondered how long he'd been
awake.  His eyes didn't give anything away, and the red-tones I see
in didn't give me a real idea of how pale he might be.  A bit tired, a
bit stoned.  He wasn't smoking, but the smell was in his hair and all
over his clothes.

I wrapped the arm around him eventually.  Didn't comment when
one of his hands came to rest on my thigh.

He did flinch from the light when the sun came up.  I thought he
was just burrowing at first, and I was trying to decide whether or
not to move away.  Caught the screwed-shut eyes out of the corners
of my vision.  Stupid of me to forget how well he hunts in the dark.

I put my arm out to shield his face from the light and helped him
up.  Stood for a second while he pulled himself together, shielding
him from the sun.  And then kissed him.

Slow, and not as gentle as I'd meant, just a sudden inevitability to
have the boy's mouth, and all the tastes within. Marijuana and
something sugary enough to be cloying, under the acid taste of my
own need.

Gambit's hands fisted in the material of what Jean calls my
'Security Sweater,' stretching the fabric and kissing me back with a
sleepy distillation of all the same desperation.

I told myself that it was good, *give* the boy something, bind him
to me with trust and the promise that I could give him what he
needed, given time.  But that was all bullshit, and didn't occur to
me until much later anyway.

We drove to a bed and breakfast willing to serve us food for an
exorbitant price. I chose to believe it had more to do with the fact
that we wouldn't be renting a room than our quasi-obvious

Or the fact that it probably looked as though I wasn't renting
anything more than the underfed boy beside me.

Midway through my somehow comfortingly rubbery scrambled
eggs, a young family walked in, blond and fresh out of the myth
of America. It was late, it was early, and my mind was moving in
ways I couldn't control. I remember it took me a long time to stop
staring, and by that point their little girl was staring back. A sort of
innocent apprehension.

She didn't seem old enough to understand what hate and fear really
meant, and I didn't want her to have to see her parents' faces go
ugly when they noticed my attention. Turned back to Gambit to find
him watching me, eyes narrowed slightly in thought.

I knew I couldn't control my voice if I spoke, so I simply gave him
what I thought of as my "ask me now" face and waited. For nothing,
it turned out, more than just a tiny smile and a head shake.

We took the Turnpike back up for most of the trip, until I finally
gave up on coping with the smell and moved to the Parkway, a toll
road, true, but it was relatively free of environmental abominations.
There was something distinctly frightening about New Jersey,
about being to drive mile after mile and see nothing but endless
houses, people, *sprawl*.

It could have been just the fact that we were on the highway, but
some random slice of memory pointed out that New Jersey was the
nation's most populated state. People everywhere, from Newark to
Atlantic City. A giant, fragmented city in its own right... I was
feeling claustrophobic.

It was one thing to live at the school with the endless sound of
teenagers, adults, and accidentally misdirected mutant powers,
but this was... a tiny voice told me this was the *real* real world,
endlessly normal and hopelessly full. I found myself reaching
toward Jean before I knew what I was doing. It was too soon, I
was unready, and there was so much and so little to say...

But she was there before I could pull back, somewhat irritated
with a warming glow of glad-to-feel-you-Scott underlying everything
else. I updated her on Gambit, and I shared the kiss. My own
confusion. In return I received wordless hurt and the cold bite of
scientific curiosity. Jean, my Jean, wants to know everything, every
last bit of knowledge, sometimes differing from Hank only in focus.

And I could *feel* it, part of her wanting to use this as a way to
understand both Gambit and me, and I loved her and desperately
wanted to protect him and wanted Jean with all of me. Nothing so
simple as love or lust so much as security, and normality, and those
terrifying embers of *hope* that I could be smart enough for her --
no -- *wise* enough.

Brave enough.

Good enough.

We shared an uneasy silence across our link, but neither of us
could seem to get it together enough to say even "we need to talk."

Finally, when Jean was interrupted by a student, we broke off
contact. And there was the road, spooling out endlessly before me,
reddish stone sound-baffling walls to the side, shiny cars in early
morning sunlight like something out of a road movie.

Gambit, right beside me, his hand on my thigh.

I didn't push him off.  He got something so obvious out of the
contact that I couldn't.  He didn't push, just held on and every so
often ran his fingers over the cloth as if he could read something in
it with his fingertips.  And eventually he dozed off and I could drive
in peace.

He slept quietly enough.  A few whimpers that stilled before I
could decide whether to comfort him or wake him.  And he drew in
on himself.  Half-roused at one point to lay his seat back, then kicked
off his shoes, pulled his coat over himself like a blanket, and curled
up tightly.

I got back to the school in the afternoon, long before I was ready
to be there.  I didn't have anything clear that I could say to Jean,
and no words for Gambit, and I couldn't turn him loose yet.  So I
didn't stop at the house.  Drove down to the boathouse instead, at
the edge of the lake.  We haven't used it for much other than
storage for the last few years, but the upper part's furnished.  Jean
used to sleep there whenever the collective thoughts of the mansion
got to be too much.  In the days when she couldn't even touch
another person without screaming.

I woke him with a hand on his arm and nodded to the boathouse,
then went in and trusted him to follow me.  Less because I did than
because I needed him to see I did.

Grey-dark inside.  I pulled most of the curtains back and sat on the
table because the chairs had plastic over them to protect the
upholstery.  I thought for a while about how we could turn the
building into something useful to the school.  More classrooms or
some kind of training facility or a study space for the older kids.
Turned at the rustle at the door and watched Gambit walk towards

I'd never been stalked like that.  He was rumpled and sleepy and his
shoes weren't tied, but he padded over as though he knew I
wouldn't move, rolled himself into my arms and between my knees
where they hung over the table's edge, and locked his mouth on

I made him stay gentle this time.  Took the kiss and worked very
hard not to give it back, brought my fingers up to span the base of
his neck and held him when he pulled back.

I said, "What's this about?"

He shook loose but I grabbed the shoulders of his coat and hung
on, let myself be pulled to my feet as he backed off.  "Nope.  Come
on, tell me."

"You best let Gambit go, homme."  Icy hiss, no *me* anywhere in it,
making me wonder again about dissociation, though Xavier still
hadn't mentioned any problem with it to any of us.

"Not a chance."

Flash of big, scared eyes, and he twisted, and I followed him,
dragging us both to the floor.  Held on until I landed on top with
my chest holding his down and my hips far enough to the side that
he couldn't mistake this for any kind of an assault.

Gambit stilled and I brushed a steadying palm across his stomach.
Felt him move a little under the touch, following it.  A little tug at
the edges of my brain, some kind of feeling of wanting, followed
it.  Enough to make me slide my hand under his shirt on the next pass
and stroke him skin on skin.  Itching and tugging and subconsciously
begging for touch until I realized what I was feeling.

"Gambit, are you telepathic?"

It wasn't beyond the realm of possibility.  The Professor had
learned to use his telepathy without a teacher, and Gambit's shields
suggested a fair bit of experience around people with a psychic

"Nothin' like that.  Just kind of... feel you.  Tiens?"

I nodded.  And then simply laid with my head on his chest and
stroked him for a while.  Remembered what it was like when I
was learning to touch Jean.  Her awareness of every touch was so
acute that I could bring her to orgasm by massaging the palms of
her hands.

I remember the vague sense that it could be like this here, that
Gambit's body was the *only* thing he allowed to have all of him,
public persona and private personality, warm and sleek.

I could hear his heartbeat, steady and pleased, feel his skin jump
with the mixture of satisfaction and anxiety, anxiety slowly
winning out even as he arched and moved against the palm of my
hand until finally he growled and made another nearly successful
attempt to throw me off.

"What you want Gambit to say? That he was neglected and abused
and raped and never hugged? Damaged little boy? That make you
*safe*, Scott? That make it all right not to touch him?

"But you want it both ways, homme. Gambit only gon' give you

"What if it had been Xavier pushing to get closer, Gambit? Or

Wicked smile. "Stormy not as pretty as you, homme."

And with that, realization and its own attendant wall of shame and
self-disgust. That *that* was what I needed to hear most of all. That
it was *me* he wanted, not just some accessible parent figure. And
it *did* make it safer to believe that, made it easier to rush him
along until he was a part of us.

Until I could *have* him, however I wanted.

I was so hard, and every wall I knew how to make was slammed up
between my love, my Jean, and my thoughts, even though I knew
she had to know I was there, and where I was.

The other thoughts of what this boathouse could have been for
Jean and I.  The other dreams, stained now with the sweat between
our bodies, and the raw simplicity of my erection.

Gambit's knowing smile, and the anger and sadness beneath just
far enough away for me not to be able to touch.

I remember how easy it was to blank it all away except for the desire,
to look at him selfishly, covetously. To strip him bare and touch him
everywhere, to drag him up to my body -- still half-dressed -- and
hold him still as I probed the cleft of his ass, explored and pressed,
and pressed *inside*, while he panted against my throat and begged.

Gambit, sweet and ripe. Unshowered musk and sex against my
tongue as I laid him down again and took him in my mouth. Made
love to him despite every reservation, reveling in the shocked silence
of my mind as Gambit buried his fingers in my hair and moaned.

I remember it being too much to take, how I wanted to devour him
right there, the way I knew it wasn't enough to simply take him with
my mouth -- finally pressing him down with one hand while I jacked
him fast and rough, his legs trying to curl around my body.

All that bare skin denied the touch I'd promised myself to give. I
used Gambit's semen and my own spit to slick my way in. Spreading
him open and *spitting* at his hole to make him jump, maybe make
him remember that I was just a man.

Maybe just to make myself remember, to allow myself the luxury of
taking for taking's sake, even as I pushed myself inside and fucked
him hard. Gambit laid out before me, holding his thighs apart for
me, tears streaming from the corners of his eyes even as his cock
grew hard again.

Even as I growled and took him harder and harder until everything
grew white and silent. Until I spilled inside him with an unlovely

Stayed inside him as I softened and held his eyes, hoping he could
read more in them than I could understand from behind them. I'm
not the one, I wanted to say.

This is enough, said his first open smile.

Then and only then could I hold him close, not letting myself
understand his endearments, and his promises.

So simple now, to see. Gambit only wanted someone to whom he
could promise things, and perhaps so much the better that the person
was an oathbreaker himself.


The next week was a blur of silent recrimination and training. Jean
left me to my own devices, moving into another room. Storm stayed
in the attic. The professor made it clear that he wanted to talk to me,
but I kept my walls up high.

And turned Gambit into a warrior with a staff in his hand, and
bright colour in his eyes.

Tried very hard not to make him my whore, and only succeeding in
crying my own tears into the pillow as he took me for the first time,
gentle and reverent and all-encompassing.

I missed Jean. I missed my self-respect. I was so very hungry, and it
bonded me closer to the boy than anything else possibly could.

I made him sleep on his own.  My rule, and not one he was happy
with.  Partly for the very public reason that I didn't want the other
kids noticing more than they already had.  Partly because it was far
too easy to imagine having him in my bed, and holding him there,
entirely mine and fucked through the mattress every time I wanted
him.  His room was at the opposite end of the house, with the other
kids and a desk to study at and some semblance of normalcy.

I think I was afraid.

Warren had been able to leave the school, but Warren lived outside
anyway.  His family fortune and his social position in the
aristocracy of the east coast were armour for him.  He met the
Professor at a party, of all things.  There with his father, with whom
he'd apparently had a fight, and the houseful of children the Professor
had acquired was attracting just enough notice that Warren found
him.  And at some point, when we were finished secondary school
and deciding what we were going to do with ourselves, Warren found
it in himself to walk away.

Gambit had been able to walk away.  Somehow, in spite of his semi-
obvious mutation, he could survive in the real, *real* world, the one
that crawled in towards me and sent me constantly running back to

It was something I wanted to be able to do.  I might never have
kissed him if he'd stayed at the school and played the child seducer.
Looking in him for the independence I'd never quite reached.

Something in that train of thought took me outside.  The silence
around me had developed into raging claustrophobia, to the extent
that I didn't stop shaking until I was off the grounds and three
quarters of a mile down the road.  And then kept walking.  Desperate
to get away, even with just my jacket and the loose change in my

Looking for breathable air and whatever I'd been looking for when I
was fourteen and running towards New York, blind and desperate
and somehow surviving in a way I'd since forgotten how to manage.

I was four or five miles away, and freezing cold, when I caught the
growl of my own motorcycle's engine coming up behind me.  Only
half-restored, but I'd only had a few months to work on it.  I didn't
expect that I was ever going to see the one that Logan took again.
Scream of the engine that I deliberately ignored until I realized that
it was going to clip me.  And then jumped sideways, fell, and rolled,
pulled my feet under me and was up on my knees in time to see the
bike skid out.

Gambit was off it before it hit the ground.  He landed with the
grace I hadn't taught him and stalked towards me.  Rage crackled at
the base of my skull, and some part of me knew it wasn't mine.  The
same part that was prepared for it when he kicked me in the shoulder
and knocked me back.

He dropped and crouched over me, knees on either side of my hips
and both hands on my shoulders, holding me down.  Probably the
first time he'd been in that position and not trying to seduce me.

"Gambit saw you leave from Stormy's roof.  Where you goin',

Oddly reasonable tone, just the edge of contained anger at the back
of my mind pushing me towards an understanding of how upset he

I said, "I can't do this.  I'm sorry."

Probably they were the most pathetic words of my life, but they
were all I had.  And perhaps cruelly, I dropped the shields that Jean
had helped me build and let the bleeding frustration and terror
rush towards him.  Not a telepath, but still very sensitive, and if
he could broadcast, I didn't doubt he'd be able to feel me.

He rocked for a second.  I ended up holding him, my hands on his
hips to keep him from falling until he pulled himself together.  I
wondered if I should have done that, given him the raw, stupid boy
inside his teacher a week ago, and saved us this.

And then he pulled himself together and smiled crookedly down at
me.  Tears against the black of his sclera that he ignored.  "S'okay,

"It's not."

"No, really.  S'okay."  He rolled up to his feet and offered me a

Which I took.  Stood and was struck by vertigo and deja vu.  More
so when he leaned in and kissed me.

Gently.  When I was his age, I hadn't known how to kiss like that.
Apologetic and affectionate and warm and still insanely welcoming.
Sticky-warm at the edges of his mouth but trying desperately hard
not to acknowledge that he was crying.  And I could give him that,
at least.

He'd taken the new chrome completely off my bike, and for a
moment I wondered what it would look like if I cried over it instead
of him.  Then pulled it upright and mounted and let Gambit press
up behind me, arms around my waist and face in the crook of my neck.
I would have bet my eyeteeth that he wasn't licensed to drive even a
car, and he hadn't taken the helmet, but I only added those to the list
of insanely dangerous things he was entirely too willing to do.

No boathouse.  The room he insisted on was mine.  I protested on
the back stairs, but he kissed me again and whispered, "You don' ever
walk away mad, cher," against my lips.

He kissed me with my back against my bedroom door and pushed us
inside.  Dropped his coat into a pool on the floor and crossed the
room, sat on the edge of my bed, unlacing his boots and watching

There seemed to be a need for symbolism, a ceremony of some kind.
A celebration of being wide awake, sober, and *knowing*. Even
doing this. I took off my sweater, but waited for the most part. I
wanted him to notice my suspenders.

I wanted him to give me that gentle, pleased smile again. That one,
from the roof, that made me want my own parents, my own
semblance of a family.  Something that had nothing to do with the
Professor's blank disapproval and Jean's cool silence.

I owed her. Blood. And she wasn't afraid to let me feel it, even if
technically, officially, our link remained closed. God, Jean. The only
person who could take me from the sight of Gambit stripping down,
all that pale skin, rosy here and there with a flush that had nothing
to do with embarrassment. Every rib present when he stretched, eyes
on me, and Jean...

I couldn't even comprehend what I'd done, it was too much, it was
*everything*. I've lived these past few years defining myself as
Cyclops, as Xavier's team leader and teacher. Jean's lover and stop-
gap, a good, sensible man who would never, *could* never batter at
her shields. I thought it a man, solid and whole, but it was nothing.

Less than dust, and yet I still stood there. Wanting this boy.
Wanting him to speak of himself as *I* -- but only when he was
telling me he wanted me.  Needed me. Oh, needed me... another lie.
Right there, right then, I wasn't the one being comforted, and when
he told me to take off my clothes, I did.

Suspenders first -- and yes, something very close to that smile as
they swung by my thighs. Undershirt and naked beneath. I touched
myself as I studied him. Touched myself where my mouth and hands
had left marks on the boy, and his look was heated. Hot.

Toed my shoes off, bent to push down pants and gather the socks,
too. My boxer briefs were snug, good against my erection and not
yet wet. What was left for us to do? He'd already taken me... my
mind was blank on the surface, roiling beneath with things that
made me swallow dryly. Made me hesitate, still at the door, while
Gambit sat nude and motionless.

"Come here." Not a drawl, not a whisper. Command in low, rough,
liquid tones and I knew what I needed.

I walked to him until I stood between his legs. Hands loose at my
sides only until he placed his palms to the bones of my pelvis.
Shaped them and caressed. Hands nowhere not covered by cotton.
Held my buttocks and smoothed over them, slipped between my
thighs to touch me there, shaping my balls through the fabric. I
was holding his shoulders by then, trembling.

I remember arguing with myself to be still, be *strong*, but I lost.
I lost. I showed him everything, broadcast everything much too
loud. I needed Gambit to hear it. Maybe I needed Jean and the
Professor to feel it, too. What I had left. What was left of me, as
Gambit stroked my cock and looked up into my eyes.

"Cher," he said, and I gasped. He touched me so softly, gently and
so. So controlled.

*I'm sorry I'm so so sorry,* I thought. Said only "please."

Gambit nodded and cupped my ass again. "Gambit... I. I'm gonna
hurt you the first time, tiens?"

"How much?"

"Enough." And he cupped my cock through the shorts and
squeezed hard enough to make me cry out. Hard enough to make
me give in. I like to think I needed that. A reason. An excuse.

He pushed me back and stood, shorter than me but not by all that
much. Leaned in to kiss my shoulder once, lingering there. Tasting
my skin before he bit down, and drew blood. It hurt, missing
pleasure altogether but I didn't soften when he sucked at it. Not
when he bit the other shoulder. Not when he worked and worried
at my nipples until they were spikes of pain.

I stood as still as I could, shaking and moaning as he raked short
nails down my back. When he pushed me back another pace and
punched my biceps, one, then the other. Moved around me to bite
and tear at my back, my neck. Yanked my hair and squeezed my
cock again. Ripped my shorts down and bit at the root of my

Over and over, all over me, fast then slow until I just left my
mouth open, only moving to bite my lip or arch into it.

Balanced while he lifted one foot to sink his teeth into the hollow
of my ankle.

I couldn't catalog after that. I just remember my sweat and
blood running down my skin. His teeth in my lip for a
heart-stopping moment. White noise and the haze of it,
Gambit's hands always there to steady me when I faltered.

And then it stopped, and he took the belt from its loops while I
watched. I didn't have to be told. I arranged myself on the bed,
too worn to brace myself on my hands, so I rested my head on
my forearms.

He didn't make me wait.

Hot, and red, the feeling more like being cut than whipped.
Gambit's steady silence, ready for me to pour out every sound, and
I did. I did. Crying into the pillow, my pillow. Still smelling faintly of
Jean as he beat me, as my cock bobbed and swung uselessly with
every move.

I was harder than I'd ever been in my life by the time he stopped and
spread me.

Spit again and again on my hole. Slicking my cock just once,
practical, gathering the pre-come and shoving in two fingers
without warning, hands so cool against my ass. He stretched me
fast and rough and then just plunged in. And it hurt, it hurt badly
and I knew I'd need time to recover from this. Knew I was marked
inside and out now.

Fucked mercilessly, my own pleasure obviously incidental, and I
moaned and cried. Gambit's silence broken with a rhythmic series
of impersonal grunts, fingertips leaving bruises at my hip while he
held me right where he wanted me. And I thought of his eyes,
thought of the black and moaned and let myself fall and fall until I
had to scream, spraying the coverlet with my semen as he pounded
into me, harder and harder.

Fell into the black until I woke up with him curled around me,
holding me close and kissing my neck.

He stayed holding me for the rest of the night. Steady and half-
protective with an arm holding me while I held myself together.
Dozing on my side because it was the only part of my that didn't
hurt like fire, turned towards the window.  Clinging to the few
words he offered me, nothing like promises or even comfort but
solid and necessary and and undemandingly given.

And woke hours later with my face salt-tracked and my knees
pulled up nearly to my chest.  Light through the window, but not
much.  We were west-facing; there wouldn't be real light in my
room for hours.

Gambit still held me, his body contoured to mine.  Knees behind
my knees, hips curled around my ass, one arm around my chest
and one raised so that the palm cradled my skull.  Contained.
Beard-stubble on my back that I needed as much as I'd needed to
take what he gave me.

Just still against him until he woke and rubbed his cheek gently
against my shoulder blade.  I hissed at the sensation, startled him,
and I felt him pull back for a moment.  I know he looked, but the
touch he gave wasn't sympathetic.  Proprietary.  His wounds that
he'd inflicted.  My blood on the coverlet and in his mouth.  And
even the kiss he gave me reflected that.

Then pulled back and I rolled to face him.  Thought a little about
how my face must have looked that first time, when I was willing
him to leave me.  Hard like his now, but lacking the compassion
he offered.  That I didn't have in myself, yet.  Not for years,

Entirely too willing when he bent in and kissed me.  Careful of
the ache of my face and rousing my body through the raw nerves
detailing my mouth.  Final in some way that didn't keep me from
moaning and pushing towards him.  While he pulled me in to him
and then upright and into his lap without breaking our mouths'
seal, passionate and pushing down.  Stroking down the salt-raw
flesh of my back towards my ass.

I hissed the first time he touched me intimately, but he didn't pull
back, and after a moment I could breath through it.  Just accept
the grazing of swollen flesh and even moan when he traced up to
rub at the base of my scrotum.  My breath into his mouth or across
his skin.  He wouldn't let me pull back, drew me after him even
when he reached for the hand lotion on the nightstand, silver-white
aloe that Jean used on her hands before she slept.  The smell
disturbing and out of place but he wouldn't let me protest, only
clamped down harder and then gentled when I relaxed.

Stayed kissing me while he fingered me open.  One so-slick touch
that pressed in and stayed, waiting me for to warm to it.  Long,
slow process during which the pain of last night's taking eased, and
he rubbed my prostate as soon as he was deep enough.  Delicate,
focused massage that woke my cock and brought it up to rest against
my belly.  Against his.  And he smiled on my mouth, tickled my ribs
with his free hand until I laughed and squirmed against him and
half-wrestled the touch away.

Touch that came up to brush my face and my mouth and my eyes
and I would have sworn he was older than I.

His palm laid on my chest while he pushed into me.  Slow and
careful, and he listened to me breathe and paused when I needed him
to.  Burn and cool slickness and pressure.  His affection radiated out
from his palm's touch, creepers of longing that pulled me closer in
against him and bound me to him.  All over wanting while the hand
dropped down to cup my ass and brace me for the first real thrust.

Careful of each other while this built.  The lovemaking I'd wanted to
tell the kids to enter into, the few times I'd taught sex ed: aware
first of your partner and only second of yourself, cautious of the
physical injury you could inflict and rolling towards something
intimate and loving that didn't have to have love behind it to be
good.  While I pushed down onto him and gasped with the deep,
sweet ache of it and he drove up in every instant I paused.

His touch was protective and just a little sorry, and I was grateful
to be tall enough that he couldn't see my face.  Vaguely ridiculous
for someone of my height to straddle my partner during sex.  My legs
too long and too easily tangled, held in place by one of his hands and
my own will.  But I could brush his forehead and his body-warm hair
with my cheek, and curl his face against my throat.  And whenever I
bent to him, he kissed with his eyes closed, and I was grateful for
that too.

I was aching and moving carefully, and it was good, but he came
first.  Moaned and mauled the little undamaged skin of my throat,
held me down against him.  Drove as deep as he'd been at his most
brutal the night before and spurted, then lifted me gently off him.
One shaking arm around my shoulders while he laid me back on the
bed, too aware of my openness and the wet semen sliding out and
onto the in-curve of hip and thigh.

Gambit bent and kissed me.  Laid a hand on my chest to keep me
where I was and twisted, rolled onto his belly and down close to my
hip, took me in his mouth and sucked me.  Something he'd never
offered to do before and for which I couldn't have asked.  Warm,
sliding tongue and careful throat, his teeth nowhere in evidence.
Tears sliding from his nose into the tangle of my public hair, but it
could have been just from the effort of breathing while he pressed
his face down.

Licked and worked me, and there was a hand rolling my balls
gently when I came.  I didn't buck.  Careful of him because I'd never
quite told him that I remembered how hard it was to do that.

He swallowed, careful to make sure I saw him do it.  Then bent and
kissed me, so shallowly that I couldn't get a sense of my taste in his
mouth.  Curled in beside me and laid his head on my shoulder and
stared away towards the door while I rubbed his back awkwardly
across the width of my own body.

When he got up, he held onto my hand for a long minute without
meeting my eyes, then dressed and walked out.

I went back to work.  Not forgiven but teaching better than I had
been.  I ran on my own for a few days and showered in private
instead of in the locker rooms, rode out the pain like I needed to.

Crouched at the edge of the grounds and watched Jean getting out
of the car when she came back from an overnight in New York and
quietly loved her.  In the absence of the link, I tilted my head toward
the sound of her voice in the house.

I turned towards her in the kitchen in the morning and she put
sliced apple into my mouth and went back to cutting things up and
I felt her brush the outer surface of my thoughts.  Chewed on the
fruit and stayed quiet beside her until she went to meet with her first
class of the day.

And stepped that afternoon from the school's dark wood to the
underground's shadowless chrome and saw Gambit at the end of the
hall, stretching out his shoulders and waist in black leather that had
to have been tailored to his too-thin body.  Nothing of mine would
have fit him that well.

He turned towards me.  Twisted the staff back under his arm so that
it half-vanished against the line of his body.  And grinned so

Actually happy, which I didn't think I'd ever seen before.  And so
completely one of ours.  I hadn't ordered him the uniform, but I
was going to need to commission a locker for him.  Glass case
marking his ownership.

Quiet and kinetic, brave in a way he hadn't been before.


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