Disclaimer: If I owned these characters, I would probably have enough money to buy a pony. Do you see any hoof prints around my house? Yeah, didn't think so.

This chapter is so long. Please don't hate me, but I'm so worn out now from writing it, that I'm skipping review replies. Yes, I know, I totally suck. But you guys don't, you rock! Seriously, I loved all your reviews. The feedback from the last two chapters was so insane and heartwarming. You all totally made my holiday season.

We do have a Reviewer Quote of the Week, though. From Chapter 19:

"I just wish they'd bang already though." - From Saturnian Solitude. I did a serious spit-take when I read that. Crack. Me. Up.

And on a related note, this chapter is dedicated to Saturnian Solitude, as well. SS is an amazing writer, one who's level of skill and sophistication I can only dream of one day achieving. She has a way of saying so much with so little words. Clearly, based on the word count of this chapter, I haven't mastered that little trick yet. However, during so many points in writing this, when I just got stuck on auto-pilot and couldn't make the words stop, I thought about SS and tried my hardest to, well, stop typing. So, here's to you, SS! I hope you kick ass in school this semester!

And last but not least, to answer two important questions about our little Interlude: 1) Yes, that was seven years in the future of this story, and 2) No, we're not going to be sticking around in that seven-year future. We're popping back into the old time line. So, think of that Interlude as a quick little glimpse into the future before we go back to the story at hand…


Chapter Twenty-One: The Beginning

He clung to her, his arms wrapped around her in a desperate embrace. A lump was forming in his throat, and he knew he was starting to cry. Quite frankly, he didn't really care at this point.

"Remy, yer makin' it awfully hard for me ta leave."

He tightened his hold around her body. "S' don't."

Rogue was freaking out. He should have seen it coming. She should have seen it coming. He'd had a handful of freak-outs of his own in the lifespan of their relationship so far, and she had just as many intimacy issues as he did. It was just a matter of time.

Ironically, it was that absence of past freak-outs that had set her off. Apparently, she realized that they'd been together for over a year, and she had yet to lose her cool over the relationship… and she was losing her cool over that, as she put it when she had talked with him about it the night before. Her lack of freak-outs was freaking her out. It was the stupidest thing he had ever heard. It sounded just like something he would do… which was exactly why he knew for certain that it was the stupidest thing he had ever heard.

So she was running. A slow, controlled, and completely planned-out run.

The timing turned out to be perfect, coincidentally. Jean had a big O-Chem project due the following Monday that required her to be on campus, either in the library or the lab, for as much time as humanly possible, and so she was taking Warren up on the offer to use his place in the city for the week. Apparently the penthouse was rarely used, and conveniently located just a couple blocks away from NYU. Rogue decided it would be a good idea to go with her. She'd spend some time in the city, get familiar with the campus she'd be attending in two months, talk with her program advisor, but mostly, she'd be getting some space. Taking some time to reevaluate the relationship, making sure what she wanted was really what she wanted.

And he could understand that, right? He thought he could, when she had unloaded all this on him the night before. Sure, the larger part of him was panicking in a major way, but a small, more mature part of him could see where she was coming from. He could give her some space. He could be cool about this. She just needed some time away, but after that, she'd come back to him. He knew she would.

Or, at least he had. Now, standing in the front entry way with his arms wrapped around her as he sniffled like a little girl, he wasn't so sure.

"Remy," she said, her voice slightly muffled from where he had her pressed against his chest, "ya said last night that ya understood."

"I lied."

"Remy…" she sighed. When she pulled away from him (with a great amount of force), he couldn't hold back a tiny sob as a few mutinous stray tears dropped from his eyes. "I need ta do this. Please don't make this any harder on me than it already is. It's not fair."

He leaned forward, resting his forehead against hers. "Please don' go," he whispered.

He should really be embarrassed. This should be embarrassing. It would be bad enough if he had reduced himself to tearful begging in private, but they had an audience here. Scott and Jean were saying their own goodbyes a few feet to the left (sans the tears, or course, because F-ing Boy Scout over there knew his girlfriend was coming back), and a small group had gathered behind them near the stairs to see the two girls off. Here he was, Gambit, the Ragin' Cajun, le diable blanc, and all around Bad-ass MoFo, sniveling like a baby in front of Logan, Piotr, Kitty, Kurt, and half of the New Recruits. He should be embarrassed, but he wasn't. At the moment, his emotions were a little preoccupied with the fact that the love of life was kicking him to the curb.

She reached up, looking into his eyes as she traced his jaw line with a soft, gloved finger. "I'm doin' this for us."

He sniffed. "If y' were doin' dis f' us, you'd stay."

She sighed again, her eyes shifting to the side for a second before she awkwardly tugged him a few feet to the side, further away from the uncomfortable audience watching in the wings. At least she seemed embarrassed by the scene he was creating. That was fine, she could be as embarrassed as she liked… as long as she didn't leave.

She lowered her voice. "Remy," she began, "ya hafta understand where I'm comin' from. What I feel for you… well, it's serious. And that scares me. Yer the first person I've ever been with. Yer the first person I've had feelin's for that's had feelin's for me, too. We've been practically livin' together since we started this relationship, an' I just need ta make sure that the way I feel has nothin' ta do with the fact that yer here, and yer wonderful, and I love you…" She took his head in her hands. "Because I do love you. I love you. I just…" She dropped her hands. "I just need some space ta get my head on straight, that's all."

He took a deep breath, his eyes dropping to the floor. It was too hard to look at her. "Can I call y'?"

"I wish ya wouldn't." His bottom lip quivered as the tears began pooling in his eyes again. She put a hand on his chest. "Hey, they say absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? A week without seein' ya or hearin' yer voice, and I'll be running back ta you in no time." She leaned in and wrapped her arms around his waist. He took the hug, bending down to bury his face in her hair. "Ya understand why I'm doin' this, right?"

"Non." He did understand, but he didn't want to say it. Saying it would just be giving her permission to leave him, and he just couldn't do that.

She held him tighter. "I know ya don't mean that."

They held each other for a minute, and he felt her breath hitch with a sob of her own. Good. She should cry. She should cry so hard that she'd figure out how stupid this idea was. Even though the tiny, rational part of him was saying that this was a good thing, and a natural step in any serious relationship, the larger, insecure part of him knew that this was it. This was the end that he always knew was coming. She was going to go away and realize that he was no good for her. She'd take a few steps back and finally see him for what he really was. This was it.

She pulled back from him. "This isn't the end, Remy." It was like she was reading his mind. She took one of his hands, placing it above her heart. "Ya know I love ya, but if ya need some proof, just use yer empathy. Feel what I'm feelin'."

He did as she asked, opening up his empathy and pulling her emotions. She was right, she did love him. He felt it, pounding against him like a powerful ocean wave. But he felt fear there, too, and another emotion that he couldn't quite name but was pretty damn familiar with.

She really did need this.

He sighed, leaning forward to rest against her forehead again. "I wish y' didn't have t' go."

She swallowed. "I know."

He released her then, knowing that if he didn't do it soon, he'd never have it in him. She hesitated before she stepped away, looking at the ground as she kissed her two fingers, touching them to his cheek before she turned away. She was too much of a wreck to control her powers, he knew that.

She walked the three feet away from him where her small suitcase was waiting by the door. He looked away as she waved sheepishly in response to the few scattered and uncomfortable 'Bye, Rogue's and 'Bye, Jean's emitted from the students by the stairs. Yeah, it was awkward as hell at this point. He sniffed, reaching up to wipe away his tears with a little more force than necessary. Okay… now he was embarrassed.

He didn't look back until he heard the door close behind the two girls, and she was gone.

As the crowd dispersed, he heard Logan step up behind him, his footsteps always a little heavier and sturdier than anyone else he knew. The older mutant placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"Let her run, kid," Logan said, his voice low and gruff. "It's her way. She just needs ta get out every once in a while, but she always comes back. Always." He gave Remy's shoulder a forceful squeeze, shoving him lightly on the arm in reassurance as he began to walk away, his voice trailing into the background.

"Just let her run."

Riding out the hours of no-contact with Rogue was hard, but surprisingly, it turned out to be a lot more bearable than he thought it would be. Horrible and mind-numbingly painful, but bearable none the less. That first night, Logan took him out to Harry's. Didn't say a word, just ushered him into the X-van and drove him out to get nice and hammered. Fed him shot after shot and let him pass-out at the bar. Apparently, he even brought him back home and tucked him into bed, because Remy awoke the next morning - or, technically, afternoon - in his own room. Logan even took care of David for him, taking the dog into his room for the night so he wouldn't be troubled by his standard 5 a.m. wake-up call.

The following day had the benefit of a face-melting hangover to help take his mind off Rogue. But even as good a distraction as it was, it wasn't foolproof. He still thought about her. He still missed her. He still wondered where she was and who she was with and what she thinking about their relationship. He decided, without a doubt, that being on this side of the whole freak-out thing definitely sucked something major. Basically, it was just a long ass day, and he was thankful when the night finally came.

Normally he loathed medication in any form, and only took it when completely necessary, but he figured it was a good time to make an exception, and accepted Kitty's offer of a Tylenol PM. At ten o'clock, he snuggled himself down in his bed, with David at his feet, ready for a solid seven hours of blissful unconsciousness. He had made it through his first whole day without her. There was a half-formed thought in the back of his mind that this may the first day of a lifetime without her, but he didn't want to think about that. No. She was coming back; Logan said it, and he had to believe it. He had to, or else he might just break down again. He closed his eyes and let the medication do its work.

.

.

.

Like most untimely deaths, Jean-Luc's came suddenly, and without warning.

.

.

.

Some hours later, he was awoken from his slumber by a shrill trill resonating through his room. He jumped up in his bed, his mind still heavy and foggy with medicated sleep as he looked around his darkened bedroom for the source of the noise. David grunted sleepily from the end of the bed. It took him almost a full thirty seconds to come to his senses and realize that the sound was being emitted from his cell phone on the bedside table. He glanced at the clock as he reached for the phone. It was almost 4 a.m. He rubbed his eyes with one hand as he snapped open his cell, pressing it to his ear.

"'Allo?"

There was a brief pause before a man's voice answered on the other end. "Remy."

"Henri?" A wave of dread swept over him. His brother shouldn't be calling him, and there was something in his voice that he didn't like. Instantly, he sat up straighter in his bed, all traces of sleep gone from his system.

"He's dead, Remy. Père is dead."

A cold chill ran down his spine and the room suddenly felt smaller.

He sat there, still, until finally he spoke the one word that came to his mind. "Assassins?"

On the other end, Henri gave a short, humorless chuckle, sniffling a little at the end. "Actually, non. Would have t'ought it, though, right?"

Jean-Luc was dead.

Remy shook his head, willing his brain to work as he felt his heart seize up. "I don' understand…"

"Heart attack," Henri answered. His voice was thick and hollow. He sounded tired, like he'd been crying and had finished some time ago. "He didn't feel good all day, we knew somet'in' was up. Den he got real bad after dinner… we took 'im t' da hospital. He, uh…" Henri trailed off, sighing. Remy sat there, in the dark, in his room, the phone pressed hard against his ear. "He was doin' better, for a time. Was waitin' t' go t' da Cath Lab, whatever dat means. Dey were gonna do somet'in', t' fix his heart. Doctors t'ought he could make da wait, but den… he just got bad again. All of a sudden. An' den he was gone."

The line went silent. Remy didn't know what to say. He didn't know what to think. The air in his room felt thick and hard to breath. He suddenly felt nauseous.

Jean-Luc was dead.

"Remy?"

"Did he-" He wasn't sure what he was trying to say. He ran a hand down his face. "Did he… say anyt'ing? I mean… before it happened?"

"Yeah." Henri sighed. "He talked some, while we were waitin'." There was a pause, and Remy heard his brother take in a deep shaky breath before he spoke again, his voice quivering. "I'm so sorry, petit. I should've called y' den, let y' talk t' him. Da way he was goin' on… I t'ink he knew. But I figured it was jus' da drugs talkin', cuz da doctors t'ought he'd make it t'rough…"

Remy closed his eyes and tried to swallow back the lump that was forming in his throat. "What did he say?"

"Oh, da usual, y' know? How he'd had a long life, but dere was still stuff he woulda wanted t' do…" Henri paused, swallowing audibly. "He wanted me t' tell y' dat he loved y'." Remy bit his lip as his brother continued. "Said he regretted not doin' right by y'. Wished he had fought da exile, screw tradition an' all dat shit." Henri's breath hitched. "He said dat was da one t'ing he'd regret… not takin' care of y' better." Remy covered his eyes with his hand as his brother let out a small sob. "I'm so sorry, petit…"

He shook his head, willing himself not to focus on the growing ache that was taking over inside his chest. "I don' understand… it don' make no sense. He was healthy."

"He was over 150 years old, Remy." It should have come as a shock to have the rumors confirmed, but in that moment, he couldn't feel it. "Even still, he shoulda lasted longer, but I don't t'ink he's been takin' Tante's elixir since Maman died. I guess it just takes a while for it t' wear off an' let nature take its course…"

Remy took a moment to breath. This was all too much. It was too much information, too fast. He wasn't processing properly.

Jean-Luc was dead.

"Look, Remy," Henri said, breaking the silence, "I'm sorry, but I gotta go. I got all dis Guild shit t' deal wit' now. Da funeral's tomorrow mornin'… gotta git 'im in da ground b'fore I can take over officially. I need y' down here by den."

Remy shook his head, even though his brother couldn't see him on the other end of the line. "I can't. 'm exiled."

"Don't matter. It's Guild Law. As his son, y' presence is required at da funeral. It trumps any ot'er declaration, even exile. No one's gonna give y' any trouble. Y' need me t' send someone up t' get y'?"

He shook his head again. "We have a jet," he said numbly.

"Okay, den. Y' just go grab Rogue and get y' ass down here, d'accord? I need mon frère wit' me, don' wanna be worrying about y' dealin' wit' dis up dere."

He cringed as a fresh pain stabbed at his heart. "No Rogue. Just me."

There was a very noticeable and awkward pause before Henri sighed. "Oh Remy… what happened?"

"It's…" he trailed off, not really wanting to bring this into the mix. "It's not'in'. She's just takin' some time."

Henri sighed again. "I'm so sorry, petit. You just get down here, d'accord? Y' get down here, an' I'll take care o' y'. I'll take care o' everythin'. I gotta go." The line clicked, and Henri was gone.

He sat there on his bed, silent and still. The room was eerily quiet. He felt strange. Looking down, he noticed for the first time that David had moved up to his side sometime during the conversation, laying his head in his lap. He thought absently that he should pet the dog, give him some assurances, but he didn't want to move. He didn't want to touch him. His skin felt tingly and oversensitive, and the ache in his heart had grown to overwhelming proportions.

Jean-Luc was dead.

Suddenly, the silence in the room was broken by a soft knock at the door. He looked up, but before he could move or answer, it opened slightly. Logan peeked his head in through the crack.

"You up, Gumbo?"

He nodded dumbly, staring absent-mindedly at a random spot on the opposite wall, and Logan took that as permission to enter the room. He stepped in lightly, stopping near the side of his bed. "I heard talkin'."

Remy blinked, his body still frozen. "I got a phone call."

Logan waited. "Yeah?"

He continued to stare blankly for a few moments before he finally answered, his voice soft and thin. "Mon papa est mort." He looked up at Logan, standing in front of him. "Jean-Luc is dead," he repeated.

A moment of silence passed between them as the older mutant processed the information. "Damn, kid," he said softly. "I'm sorry." He paused. "Assassins?"

Remy shook his head. "Heart attack."

As a quiet fell upon them, the reality of the situation opened up to him, and Remy felt that nausea that had settled upon him flare up unexpectedly. His stomach did a flip and he suddenly felt himself dry heaving. Logan reacted faster than he could, grabbing a nearby trashcan and holding it front of him in time for him to empty his stomach contents. In the early hour, it was mostly acid, and the bile stung at the back of his throat.

Confident that he had finished, Logan set the trashcan down, walking into the adjacent bathroom and filling up a glass with water from the sink. He returned to Remy's side, wordlessly offering him the glass.

As he slowly drank the bitter-tasting water, Logan spoke. "What can I do for ya, kid?"

He finished his drink, setting the glass down on the bedside table. "Nothin'." He paused. "I need t' go down t' N'Orleans."

"Okay," Logan nodded, "I can get that set up." He crossed his arms. "How about now, what do ya need?"

He hesitated. "I don' know." It was an honest answer.

Logan shifted the weight on his feet. "Ya want me to call Rogue?"

"Non." His answer was automatic.

"Kid-"

"She said not t' call." He looked up Logan, knowing that the man had a habit of doing things anyway. "Please don', Logan. You'll only make it worse."

It was with begrudging reluctance that Logan nodded his acquiescence. An awkward silence fell upon the room.

"Look, kid," Logan mumbled, looking around with discomfort, "this emotional shit… I don't do it too well. You want me ta wake up the Professor?"

Remy closed his eyes briefly. "Non." He sighed. "I t'ink I jus' wanna be alone."

Logan nodded. "Okay."

Remy looked up. "Can you take da dog wit' y'?" He wanted to be really alone.

"Sure, kid." He gave a short, high whistle, and the dog's ears perked up. Immediately, David jumped off the bed, coming to rest at Logan's side. He was the only other person the dog responded to without question, and Remy had a feeling that it had something to do with the mutant's more feral instincts. Logan left the room without another word, with David in tow, shutting the door quietly behind him.

Alone in his room, Remy let the silence and the darkness wash over him. He laid down in his bed, curling up in a ball on his side. Pulling the covers up and over him, he closed his eyes, and cried.

.

.

.

He awoke some hours later, his body still achy and sluggish, his eyes puffy and tired. His ears were ringing. Sunlight was streaming in brightly from behind his window curtains, and he could hear the sounds of the other students filtering up from downstairs. He hated it. He didn't want to deal with today. He didn't want to deal with tomorrow. All he wanted was to go back to sleep where nothing matter and no one had died.

He didn't even know why he was so upset. He had hated Jean-Luc for so many years. The man had used him, lied to him. They fought with one another constantly, and when he needed his father the most, the man had sidled up with the enemy and banished him from his hometown and his family. Jean-Luc's death should have come as a relief, if anything.

But it didn't.

It hurt, and it left him breathless.

He stayed curled up in his bed with the covers over his head for twenty minutes, willing sleep to overtake him once again, before someone knocked on his door gently. He listened beneath his blankets as the door creaked on its hinges and two sets of footsteps entered the room.

"Remy?" he heard Kitty whisper. He cringed from inside his hiding place. "Remy, are you, like, awake under there?" She paused. "Remy?" Pause. "Remy?" Pause. "Remy?"

He groaned, reluctantly pulling the covers down and sitting up in his bed. Clearly, the girl wasn't giving up.

"Oh good, you're up." Kitty was standing in the middle of the room, a tray of food in her hands, as Piotr stood silently behind her. "The Professor said that he sensed you were awake, and I was worried that the old guy was, like, totally losing his touch or something."

Piotr leaned forward, placing a hand on the girl's shoulder. He looked to Remy. "How are you, my friend?"

"Peachy," he deadpanned, rubbing his face with both hands roughly.

This was just great. As if feeling like absolute emotional shit wasn't bad enough, he now had to deal with everyone's sympathy. And pity. He wished there was a nice big rock he could go crawl under.

"Well, we, like, brought you breakfast, or I guess it's more like lunch at this hour, and um…" He looked up, surprised as Kitty's voice caught. Her bottom lip was quivering. "…Logan said that… when you're… done… he'll have the… jet… ready…" She was holding back sobs now, and a sea of tears was pooled in her eyes. Remy watched her silently with morbid fascination as she placed the tray of food at the foot of his bed. Why the hell was she crying? "… and… while you're… gone, I can… take care… of… Da-…Da-…Da-…" At that, she broke down, dissolving into a violent crying fit. She threw herself into Piotr arms, clutching him as her body racked with sobs.

Remy sat motionless on the bed in stunned silence. What the hell was going on?

Piotr put his arms around the crying girl. "What she means to say is that she will take care of your dog while you are away. We all will." It was then that Remy noticed the tears in Pete's eyes as well as he comforted the petite girl in his arms. "There there, Katja, it will be alright."

"I… I just…" Kitty bawled. "I just feel so awful for you, Remy!"

He continued to stare at the pair. Their behavior was… beyond strange. But on the bright side, based on the way they were holding one another as they cried, they were probably going to get back together over this. Well, wasn't that nice. Hey, his dad was dead, but at least his friends would be getting some action out of it. Super. That nice big rock was sounding better and better.

Before he could open his mouth to ask what the hell they were going on about exactly, the Professor wheeled into the room.

"Piotr," he said, addressing the large mutant, "why don't you escort Miss Pryde back to her room? I'd like to speak with Remy alone."

Piotr nodded, leading the sobbing girl out of the room and shutting the door behind them. Xavier made his way to the side of Remy's bed.

"Remy," he began gently, placing a comforting hand on the young man's shoulder. "My greatest sympathies are with you, dear boy. How are you holding up?"

He stared at the sheets, not wanting to make eye contact. "Peachy," he deadpanned again. This was going to get old… fast.

The Professor dropped his hand. "I sincerely doubt that. I know this a confusing and emotional time, and I'm sure, at this junction, you probably don't want to talk about it-"

"I don't." Remy interjected.

Xavier nodded. "I understand. However, if the time should come that you do desire to talk, please know that my door is always open. I'm here for you, in whatever way you want me to be." He steepled his fingers in front of him. "Now, I understand you wish to be alone, however, I see now that there is a small matter that we must deal with… your empathy. This power is so new to you, and I fear that your current levels of control will be too weak to protect you from an onslaught of outside emotion at an event as highly charged as a funeral. But even more pressing than that… well, the problem is… you're projecting. Quite powerfully. In fact," he swallowed, "I'm having some trouble holding myself together as it is."

At that, Remy looked up, surprised to find tears streaming down the Professor's calm face.

"Dat's…" he fumbled, "dat's comin' from me?"

"Yes, it is." Xavier reached up to wipe away the tears from his face. "It's quite overwhelming, actually. I can only assume that you are responsible for your friends' outbursts as well. I can place a psychic shield around your empathy that should hold until you return."

Remy closed his eyes, and wondered briefly if the Professor could just take it all away while he was at it. Just lock away his emotions and make him numb, so he wouldn't have to deal with this hollow aching pain that wouldn't go away and threatened to swallow him whole.

"I could," Xavier said, answering out loud the question he had apparently projected in his mind, "but it would only be a temporary relief. As much as it pains me to say it, my dear boy, this grief is yours. You must endure it, one way or another."

.

.

.

He looked out the window as the X-Jet slowly began its descent into the city he had missed for almost a year and a half. He couldn't help but sigh. This wasn't quite the reunion he'd been hoping for, and the Crescent City didn't shine out as vibrantly as he had remembered. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the plane's window as a lump began forming in his throat. He was tired of crying.

"Strap in, Gumbo. Those geeks in the tower have a hissy fit if they don't see everyone buckled up when ya land."

Logan had insisted on coming. He was waiting for him, his bag all packed, when Remy arrived in the hanger. Said they didn't trust him to fly in his condition. That was a load of shit and Remy knew it. Xavier just wanted him to have a chaperone. It was unnecessary, and intrusive, but if he was honest with himself, he could kind of see where they were coming from. He was an emotional wreck, and it might have been safe to say that he couldn't be trusted in his current state of mind not to fly the jet straight into the broad side of a mountain. If he had to have an escort, at least out of all the X-men, Logan probably knew how to carry himself in a Guild setting.

After landing, the two mutants exited the plane, stepping down the ramp with their duffle bags in hand to find a black, Guild-owned town car waiting for them on the tarmac. Leaning precariously against its hood was a short, red-headed man. Upon seeing them coming, he jumped off the car, a huge smile plastered across his face as he waved at them excitedly.

Remy groaned as they walked towards the car. 'Why the hell would they send Lapin to pick me up? He can barely even reach the pedals…'

"Remy Etienne LeBeau, y' sorry fils de putain!" Lapin exclaimed once they reached his side, throwing his arms around Remy in a brutal bear hug. "Is dis y' lucky day o' what, y' handsome bastard?! Da Big Easy ain't been da same wit'out y'!" He pulled back, the grin on his face dropping as soon as he took in Remy's tired, morose appearance and his red, puffy eyes. "Shit, boy, y' look terrible! What's da matter?" A look of realization sprang across Lapin's face. "Oh, right, he was y' père. Oops!"

Logan, who remained silent for this exchange, looked to Remy questioningly. He rolled his eyes in response. Lapin was an idiot. Jean-Luc had been a well-respected leader, but he wasn't exactly beloved. It was clear that his sons would probably be the only ones to shed any actual tears over his death, and even Remy was still unclear on why he was.

"Logan," he said with a complete lack of enthusiasm, gesturing between the two men, "dis is m' cousin, Emil Lapin. Lapin, dis is Logan." The two men shook hands.

"Hey," Lapin asked excitedly, "you one o' da mutants dat came down a few years back t' help spring da old man?" Logan grunted in affirmation. Emil beamed. "So, which one are y', da one wit' da laser eyes, or da one dat controls da weat'er?"

"I'm the one with these," Logan said as he unsheathed his claws with a distinctive 'SNIKT'.

Lapin's eyes widened. "Ooh. Shiny."

Remy groaned again. "Can we jus' get goin'?"

"You got it, mon cousin," Lapin said as he slapped Remy playfully on the back. "I got da trunk popped, s' just t'row y' stuff in da back and we'll get dis show on da road. But why don' y' turn dat frown upside down, hein? Y' ruinin' dat pretty face."

Remy flipped him the bird as he tossed his duffle bag in the trunk behind Logan.

The older mutant hesitated before opening the back passenger door. He looked to Remy. "You sure this kid has a license?"

He almost laughed at that. Emil Lapin had the misfortune of looking perpetually 15 years old, despite the fact that he could grow facial hair and was a good three years older than Remy.

"Hey," Lapin called out as he sat down in the driver's seat, "you'll be jealous o' hommes like moi when y' old an' wrinkly an' I'm still gettin' carded at da bar."

Logan grunted, begrudgingly getting into the car. "I can guarantee that will never happen."

The backseat passengers remained silent for the duration of the trip to the LeBeau Mansion, and Lapin was more than happy to fill the silence. Remy closed his eyes, dropping his head back against the seat as the town car sped through the streets of New Orleans while his cousin filled him in all the important things he had missed while he was away - in other words, all the pranks that been pulled, all the jobs that got botched, and all other general mischief his cousins and brother had been up to. He sighed internally. He wanted to be interested in the five-hundred-year-old vase that Henri broke last month, or the hot twenty-something blonde that Theo banged only to find out that she was actually the sixteen-year-old daughter of one of the more crotchety Guild Elders… he really did. But he was just so tired, tired in a way that penetrated deep into his core and left him feeling heavy and stretched out. Quite frankly, he wished this whole homecoming was happening another time, some time when he could truly appreciate it.

As they drove out past the city on the long, familiar road towards the Thieves' secluded headquarters, he couldn't help but think back to the first time he made this trip, and the man that had been sitting beside him where Logan sat now. That had been the beginning, and now, ten years later, he was pulling up to the front steps of the great mansion to send off the only father he had ever known.

Stepping into the mansion's elegant foyer, Remy was taken aback by the flurry of activity. He'd never seen the place so crowded before. Lapin noted his shock as he entered behind him with Logan.

"Dis is da place to be, hein? I guess when it comes t' da Guild-master's funeral, da Guild Law says somet'in' like 'be dere or be square', an' ain't no one wanna find out what 'bein' square' entails, 'xactly. People been showin' up all day. But hey, da famile's been holding court in da main livin' room mostly, so's dat's y' best bet f' finding Henri. I'm supposed t' bring y' straight t' 'im. Come on."

Emil led the way through the ornately decorated home, weaving them around the various Thieves that roamed the hallways. Looking around, Logan gave out a low whistle.

He turned to Remy. "I wish I brought my camera…Chuck would turn green if he saw this place. He'd never admit it, but the old man's pretty prideful when it comes to that damn mansion of his. This place would put him ta shame."

They entered the living room, a huge open space filled sporadically with various formal couches and loveseats. The room, like the rest of the mansion, was packed with people. Remy noticed Henri near the back, standing to the side as he talked with one of he Guild Elders. He looked up upon their arrival.

"Remy!" Henri called out as the trio made their way towards him, bidding farewell to his previous companion. He looked down and frowned. "Lapin, vous idiot indolent, y' makin' dem carry deir own bags? What da hell do we keep y' around for?" His tone was mostly good-natured, though Remy detected more than a trace of real annoyance in there. He looked almost as tired as Remy felt.

Immediately, Lapin snatched up Remy and Logan's duffle bags, bowing dramatically towards Henri. "Desolé, mon Guild-master, Sir!"

Henri rolled his eyes as they reached his side. "An' now dat shit starts…" he muttered under his breath. He sighed before turning to Remy. "Come 'ere, petit."

He let his brother wrap his arms around him, pulling him into a deep hug. Henri always had a way of making him feel small and protected, even though by this point he was a couple of inches taller than his older brother. He'd been calling him 'petit', something like four times already. It was an old nickname that hadn't been used so frequently in years, not since before he hit his growth spurt at fourteen, and its use, while somewhat embarrassing, was also oddly comforting. For just a moment, in his brother's hold, Remy was extremely happy that he was home.

Henri pulled back, examining his face. "How y' holdin' up? Y' look terrible."

He rolled his eyes. "So I've been told."

Henri slung an arm around Remy's shoulder as he turned towards Logan. "Monsieur Claws, it's good t' see y' again."

Logan nodded. "Sorry about your dad, Big Gumbo."

Henri shrugged a shoulder. "C'est la vie, non?" He paused before chuckling lightly. "'Big Gumbo'… I like dat. Hey, merci beaucoup f' makin' sure mon frère got down 'ere safely. Can't believe I told 'im t' fly down here by himself. Guess I wasn't t'inkin' straight at da time. Da t'ought occurred t' me 'bout two hours ago, so I called dat school o' yours only t' find out dat you people were already on top o' it. Saved me a world o' worry, y' did."

Remy groaned. Everyone was treating him like he was five years old and his puppy just got run over.

"It's no problem," Logan grunted.

"I apologize f' da state o' dis place. Hey! Theo!" Henri called out suddenly to his left. Their cousin lifted his head from a poker game on the other side of the room. "Monsieur Claws over 'ere is takin' y' room. Y' gonna have t' find someone t' bunk wit', d'accord?"

Theo treated him with a hearty salute. "Oui, mon Guild-master, Sir!"

Henri groaned. "As soon as I'm sworn in," he muttered, "I'm shippin' dose smartasses off t' Siberia, or some ot'er desolate, forsaken hellhole… see how much spunk dey got left when dey come back wit' dere balls frozen t' da side o' deir legs…"

They hung around the living room for a while longer, with Logan making small talk with Henri and others while Remy, for the most part, remained silent. Normally, Logan wasn't the most social guy, but he seemed to fit in well with the Thieves, especially some of the older ones. Remy just wasn't in the mood for talking. He was worn out and sullen, and everyone seemed to pick up on that. He was given his space.

He barely ate at dinner. He was in a mood; Mercy told him so outright after she hugged him 'hello' and he asked her why she was giving him that look. He barely acknowledged seeing the baby for the first time. His father had died less than 24 hours before and he was back home for the first time since his exile. He was still confused on why he had such strong emotions about Jean-Luc's death, but he was self-aware enough to realize at this point that he wasn't taking it well. Even Henri was holding up better than he was.

In fact, his brother was impressing him. He appeared to be grieving as well, yes, but more apparent was the air of authority that now hung about him. Maybe it was fatherhood that had changed him, or simply having the crown thrust upon him so unexpectedly, but Henri was really stepping up to the plate. Although he wouldn't officially be the Guild-master until the ceremony the next day, he was already carrying himself as the steady, authoritative leader, and with the exception of their cousins, the Guild seemed to be responding to it. Remy was impressed. He just wished he didn't feel like hell himself.

He excused himself to bed early, right after dinner. It had been a long day, and he just wasn't in the mood to prolong it any further. He didn't even want to think about what he'd have to deal with tomorrow.

When he entered his old room, a rush of emotions spilled over him. His room had been kept exactly as he had left it. His bed was unmade and there was even a half-empty cartoon of cigarettes on the nightstand. He knelt down, picking up a wadded-up t-shirt he had left on the floor. His room was the same, but it was clean, immaculate even. Someone had kept it up, dusting all the surfaces and carefully vacuuming around the items on the floor, waiting for his return.

He was home.

Had he really only been gone for a year and a half? It had felt like so much longer, while he was away. Sitting down on the edge of his bed, he thought about Rogue for the first time since Logan had mentioned her name in the wee hours that morning. He missed her. He wished she was here with him instead of Logan. That thought alone almost made him cry. She had picked a really shitty time to need some space. He needed her and he wanted to call, but he knew he wouldn't. She had asked him not to, and he would respect that. As crappy as he treated her sometimes, he had always respected both her boundaries and her wishes, and he would do that now, even if it was the hardest thing he could possibly do.

He got ready for bed, not bothering to do more than strip down to his boxers, and slipped between his soft, Egyptian cotton sheets. He closed his eyes, sighing contentedly as he pulled the covers up around his torso. This bed… no matter where he traveled, or for however long, this bed still felt as warm and welcoming as it had that first night he slept in it as a scrawny 10-year-old. It still felt the same. It still smelled the same. He focused on his breathing as his body relaxed, trying not to think about what tomorrow morning would bring.

.

.

.

He stood next to the casket, small piles of dirt stacked haphazardly upon its top as it waited to be lowered into the grave. The late fall air was unusually brisk for the Southern city, and a bitter wind whipped at his black overcoat, causing the ends to brush against his calves. He couldn't move. The other mourners and well-wishes had all long-since left, but he couldn't move. Tears streamed down his cheeks, and he was powerless to stop them.

The funeral had been short and succinct, as Guild tradition stated. A grave-side service with a closed casket. A few words by the Priest - empty, hollow passages that did nothing to ease the aching in his soul - followed by another Thieves tradition. Each member of the Guild in attendance was to lay a small handful of dirt upon the casket, quietly voicing their last vow of loyalty to the fallen King, finished off by taking a small pinch of another's dirt and placing it in their pocket. Henri and Mercy had gone first, the new Guild-master being too burdened by his own grief to linger by his father's grave. Remy had held back, unable to bring himself to say goodbye. And now, the others had all gone, having done their duty, and he was left alone.

It wasn't fair. This man… this man should not have so much power over him. When he was alive, Jean-Luc had used him, manipulated him, lied to him, all for his own benefit. Remy had hated him, and still, when his father needed him, he came. Even in death, laying in a casket waiting to be buried six feet under, he could render his youngest son motionless. Even now, Jean-Luc still had a hold on him.

He couldn't control his gentle sobbing as he stared at that damnable pine box. It really wasn't fair. He didn't even get a chance to see him, just one more time. Alive one moment and gone the next, and he couldn't even see his father's face. He couldn't even say a proper goodbye. It was if he had vanished suddenly, without reason or warning.

His fingers were growing numb from the cold, and knew he should go, but he couldn't. As he cried quietly, he willed his feet to move, but they wouldn't obey. He had been there for far too long, but he just needed one more moment, one more second. There was so much he wanted to say, but he couldn't find the words. If only… If only he'd had one more day with Jean-Luc, one more hour even, they could've fixed everything between them and then maybe, maybe he wouldn't be left with this horrible open wound that didn't seem to want to heal. He just need one more moment. Just one more.

A heavy hand fell upon his shoulders. He knew who it was without turning around. He tried to ebb the flow of tears, but they wouldn't stop.

"C'mon, kid." Logan's voice was softer than he ever remembered hearing it. "It's time to let go."

He nodded, and the hand on his shoulder urged him back gently, helping give him that final push to make the first step. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

Closing his eyes, he turned… and walked away.

.

.

.

Sitting on a loveseat in the corner of the packed living room with an empty shot glass in his hand, Remy was pissed.

Mercy was being a bitch. This was a Wake, and a Thieves' Wake at that… he was supposed to be drunk. Really, really drunk. A bartender and catering service had been hired for that very reason, but whenever he sent someone to get him another bourbon, they mysteriously disappeared, and curiously, the only servers who came around his corner of the room were carrying hors d'œuvres. He would gave gotten up and walked over to the bar in the back of the room himself, but that opened up the chance that someone might want to talk to him, and he wasn't exactly in a talking mood. He was being left alone to sulk in his little corner, and he wanted to keep it that way. He just wanted the addition of alcohol. Lots and lots and lots of alcohol. It was no coincidence that Logan, Lapin, Theo, and some new young Thief he didn't know but who clearly recognized him by reputation based on the reaction to his eyes had all been conveniently side-tracked before they could bring him back a drink. He knew of only one person that lived in the LeBeau Mansion that would interfere in his life like that, and coincidentally, she was walking straight towards him, the baby in her arms.

"Remy," Mercy said, tossing her long, blonde locks over her shoulder with the flick of her head, "Ah need ya ta do me a favor."

He glared up at her. "Why da hell would I do dat? I know what you've been doin', by da way."

She didn't even try to deny it. "Ah'm just lookin' out for ya. Ya got every reason in the world ta be moody, Remy, but ah know ya. Ah know how ya are when ya get drunk in that state o' mahnd. Ya get self-destructive." She shifted Elle in her arms. "Ah need ya ta hold the baby for a minute so Ah can get a plate of food together for your brother." She turned her head to the side, watching Henri from across the room with a look of concern. "I don't think he's eaten anythin' all day. He puts up a good front, but Ah know this is hurtin' him. Granted, he wasn't as close with Jean-Luc as you were, but either way, he was his father."

Remy furrowed his brows in disbelief. "I wasn't close wit' Jean-Luc."

She scoffed, turning back to him and shaking her head. "Ah love ya, Rems, but yer an idiot sometimes. Everybody knows you two were close, that's why we're all givin' you some space."

He looked away. "All we did was fight."

"Don't mean ya weren't close. You two, ya had a bond, fer good or bad. Maybe ya didn't always like each other all that much, but you were connected."

He looked down at his feet. He didn't even know how to respond to that.

"Anyway," she said, shifting the weight on her feet, "are ya gonna hold Elle for me or not?"

He looked back up at her. "Non. I don' hold babies."

"Not even yer niece?"

"She's still a baby, ain't she?"

Mercy glared at him as she knelt down, taking the blanket that was wrapped around Elle and awkwardly laying it on the floor by his feet with one hand as she held the baby with the other. "You can be a real asshole, ya know that?"

Remy almost laughed at that. Pre-motherhood Mercy wouldn't have whispered the curse-word the way she just did. It was kind of cute that she was trying not to corrupt her child. He made a mental note to teach Elle that specific word later.

Mercy carefully laid the baby down on her back on top of the blanket. She stood up. "Ya think ya can watch a baby?"

He scowled at her. "Maybe if y' bring me anot'er drink first."

She folded her arms, raising an eyebrow incredulously. "Yeah, that's what Ah'm gonna do. Bring ya some booze and ask ya ta supervise my kid."

He frowned. "How about after?"

She paused for a moment as she thought it over. She sighed. "Fahne. One drink." She knelt back down, smoothing out the edges of the blanket before standing up again. "Now, Ah'll be just a few minutes. Don't let her put anythin' in her mouth, an' don't let anyone step on her. If ya can't handle that, we should get ya tested…"

He nodded, keeping his eyes on the baby as she walked away. Well, this shouldn't be too hard. The baby was just laying there. She wasn't even looking at him… she wasn't looking at anything, really, just staring in his general direction with a glazed, unfocused look in her eyes. This wasn't so hard.

Then, she started moving. Shit. Arching her back, she wriggled a little to one side. She was starting to tip over. Remy looked up desperately, but unfortunately he could no longer see Mercy in the crowd. Shit, shit, shit.

He looked back down at the baby. She had turned over, now laying on her stomach. Oh. He took a deep breath. So it turned out to be nothing, just the baby rolling over. Babies did that… right? He relaxed back in his seat.

Until she started fussing.

He looked down at the baby at his feet. She was pushing furiously against the floor with her hands, clearly trying to roll back the other way, but she couldn't quite get it. 'Well that's dumb,' he thought. 'If she can do it one way, she ought to be able to figure out how to roll back over again. Must be Henri's genes.' Seeing that she was just about there, he reached out one foot, gently nudging the baby the rest of the way. She rolled onto her back easily, and the fussing stopped. He breathed another sigh of relief.

He looked away from the baby, scanning the room for Mercy, wondering how much longer he was going to have to watch this kid. However, after just a moment his attention was brought back down to Elle by the sounds of her whimpering. His jaw dropped when he looked at her. She was on her stomach… again. He furrowed his eyebrows. That was fast, wasn't it? Already, the baby was struggling to roll back over. Like the time before, he nudged her with his foot, and was she happily on her back once again.

This time, he kept his eyes on the child. Sure enough, as he had predicted, she immediately rolled over, and upon making it onto her stomach, began protesting her self-appointed change in position. He nudged her with his foot, and then leaned down towards her.

"Stop doin' dat," he whispered to her. "It's jus' stupid. If y' don' like bein' on y' stomach, don' roll over."

He glared at the infant as she ignored his words of wisdom, flipping over with more gusto than before.

He nudged her back over. She just laid there, staring up at him dumbly with those bright, clear blue eyes. She made a gurgling sound in the back of her throat and stuck her tongue out. Just for a moment. He narrowed his eyes at her. Message received.

"What the hell are ya doin', Gumbo?" Logan asked, startling Remy who hadn't noticed the feral mutant's approach. "You look like you're havin' a pissing contest with a baby."

He sighed, leaning back against the couch. "I t'ink I am."

Logan chuckled as he carefully side-stepped the baby, sitting down next to Remy with two drinks in his hand. "I got your bourbon," he said, handing the younger man his drink. "I would've brought it to ya sooner, but that sister-in-law of yours intercepted me and told me not to. I see her point, but I figure as long I pace ya, you'll probably be alright." Remy nodded, placing his glass on the side table next to him. He did tell Mercy he wouldn't drink while he was watching the baby, after all. Logan gave him a hard once-over. "How ya holding up, kid?"

Remy closed his eyes, running a weary hand over his face. "Honestly," he sighed, "I feel like shit."

"You're at your father's Wake," Logan grunted. "You're supposed ta feel like shit."

Remy dropped his hand. "See, dat's da t'ing. He wasn't even really m' père. He only took me in s' he could use me f' my powers. I should hate him. I did hate him. I don't understand why 'm so worked up about dis."

Logan finished off his drink, dropping the empty glass on the side table. "Look, kid," he started. "People are complicated. Look at me. I'm an ageless, mutant killing-machine, and I work in a school, of all the damn things I could be doing with my life. And not that I'll ever admit it to them, but workin' with those kids is the best part of my day. Sometimes I wanna kill 'em, but I love 'em, too, ya get that?" He looked at Remy. "Your old man might have been an ass, and maybe he used ya, but that don't mean he didn't love ya just the same. You're probably justified in hating him, but you can't say that ya didn't love him, too."

Remy swallowed hard, that now familiar lump in his throat beginning to form.

"But hey," Logan said, "ya gotta stop dwelling on this, 'cuz it's gonna eat ya alive. Yeah, maybe the guy tried ta manipulate ya while he was alive, but it doesn't matter a whole lot now, does it? He's gone, you didn't have ta get hitched like he planned, and the Guilds still got their peace," he said, waving a hand in the direction of the few Assassins attending the wake, distinct in the crowd in their own guild's traditional garb. "This is a new beginning for ya, Gumbo. All the shit he did to ya doesn't matter anymore. You can let it go. According to the stories your family's been tellin' me, you two had some good times, too. A lot of good times. You oughta focus on that. Just let the other stuff go."

Remy turned his head away as a few tears fell from his eyes. He figured Logan had seen him cry enough for one lifetime.

They sat there quietly for a few minutes, idly watching the activity of the Wake and a few drunken Thieves who were singing on the other side of the room before Elle cooed, bringing their attention back to her on the floor.

"Ya oughta pick that baby up," Logan observed.

Remy scowled. "I'm not pickin' 'er up. You pick 'er up."

"Uh uh, no way. Until their x-gene manifests, I don't touch 'em."

Mercy groaned as she emerged from the crowd. "Yer both babies. How 'bout I pick her up?" She knelt down, scooping up the baby in her arms as a deep, authoritative voice cut through room.

"Remy Etienne LeBeau."

Mercy stepped to the side as the entire room went silent. Remy looked up. There, standing in front of him, was Marius Boudreaux. Leader of the Assassins Guild. His former future father-in-law. Father of the girl whose heart he had broken and the boy that he killed.

Staring up at him, Remy felt as if time stood still, and his heart was beating out of his chest. He had always known, in the back of his mind, that this meeting would come eventually. He just didn't think it would happen today.

Marius eyed him carefully. "Stand when I speak t' you, boy."

Understanding the seriousness of the situation, Remy did as he was told. He observed the man before him. The past year and a half had hardened Marius. He looked older, a lot older, and he held himself with a more dignified carriage than he remembered. The old back-woods persona had died, probably along with his son.

The leader of the Assassins spoke slowly. "Your father and I," he began, "formed a friendship while y' were away, over da peace talks. He was a wise man, an' a great leader. I came t' understand dis." He paused. "He was also a great father. He understood da importance of steerin' his children's lives in da right direction. I was too indulgent wit' m' own son, I see dis now. I wanted t' be his friend, when I should have been 'is guardian. My boy did not respect me… not da way Jean-Luc's sons respected him."

Remy's heart stood still as Marius stepped closer.

"Your father told me about da girl. You were in love wit' anot'er, and yet y' were willin' t' marry Belladonna because it was y' father's wishes. You were a good son. You were obedient. Julien… he was not. He went against m' wishes when he attacked y'."

The room was stone silent as Marius reached out his hand, placing it upon Remy's shoulder. All breath left his body.

"I was blinded by m' grief, but I can see clearly now. Julien's death, as well as da deaths of his friends, is on his own hands. Remy Etienne LeBeau, vous êtes pardonnés."

You are forgiven.

Marius turned, his voice raising as he addressed the room as a whole. "Too many families 'ave been broken up over dis sordid affair. If da Thieves' new Guild-master were t' revoke da exile of Jean-Luc's son, I would not oppose it. I would encourage all ot'ers t' do da same." He dropped his hand, turning away fully. "Come now, m' Assassins. We have paid our respects, now let's leave dese Thieves t' mourn deir fallen leader in peace."

The Assassins pulled in ranks, following their Guilder leader as they exited the Wake, the crowd parting to make way as they left. The hush that had fallen over the spacious room remained long after they departed. All eyes were on the young man in the corner, still standing in the spot that he had remained in for the entire exchange.

Remy was stunned. He didn't know how to move, how to breath. He was forgiven, and his exile would be lifted. It was the one thing he had wanted more than anything for so long, and now, finally having gotten it, all he could think of was that it was too late.

He could finally come home, but not in time to see his father one last time before he died.

.

.

.

Two hours later, Remy sat near the head of the long table in the Board Room with Henri, the Guild Elders, and Rupert DuVall, who had been Jean-Luc's Conseiller, or chief adviser. It was time to read the will.

Remy slouched down in his chair, closing his eyes. This had been the longest day in the longest two days of his life. He couldn't believe it was only the afternoon. It seemed like so much had happened already. He wanted a nap. And more alcohol. But more than anything, he wanted to call Rogue.

He really needed her. She had this inherent strength and life about her, and she just had a way of making him feel whole again with her very presence alone. He hated that he was doing all of this without her. He needed her, and not just as a woman, but as a friend. Because she was his friend, his best friend, and she should be here with him, not a thousand miles to the north on some stupid campus trying to convince herself that the two of them being perfect together wasn't such a bad thing.

Once everyone had taken their seats, with Henri at the head, Rupert, sitting across the table from Remy, began reading the will.

"D'accord, dis bein' da last will and testament of Jean-Luc LeBeau, Guild-master an' King o' Thieves, it reads: 'I, Jean-Luc LeBeau, being of sound body and mind, declare this to be my last will and testament. I hereby name Henri Robert LeBeau, the Prince of Thieves, to be the heir to my thrown, to reign in my stead or preside in my death as Guild-master, and King of Thieves.'" Rupert looked up from the paper. "If dere be any objections, let it be known now."

The room was silent. Rupert smiled. "Alright den, Henri, it's y' show now, s' go on an' read da rest." He handed him the will.

Henri cleared his throat, straightening out the papers before he began reading. "Okay, den, so… I'm named da King, we did dat. Dere's an official recommendation dat Remy Etienne LeBeau, da Prince o' Thieves, be named as m' Conseiller."

There was a gentle murmur about the room in response. Rupert leaned forward. "Now, Henri, jus' so y' know, any recommendations in da will is just dat, a recommendation. Da throne is yours, s' you can do whatever y' want."

Henri nodded. "I know, but I agree wit' Jean-Luc on dis one. I want mon frère as m' advisor, if he's willin' t' fill da position."

Wordlessly, Remy leaned forward, folded his arms on the table and laid his head down atop them, his face buried. This was all just too much for him to handle at the moment.

"But hey," Henri piped in at his reaction, "we can talk about it later, d'accord petit? We don' gotta worry about all dat right dis minute."

Remy didn't move or respond as he felt his brother ruffle his hair good-naturedly.

The rest of the will, for the most part, was fairly mundane. Guild Law stated that all financial assets and all items in the Guild headquarters belonged officially to the reigning King, and would automatically transfer ownership to the newly appointed Guild-master unless specifically noted in the preceding King's will. This usually included smaller, more personal items given to family members and friends. Generally, Remy didn't care what he got from Jean-Luc, if anything, and what would be given to Henri. None of it really mattered. Well, except…

"Okay," Henri spoke as he read through the will, "da next t'ing he's got listed is his motorcycle, which he's givin' to… Remy." He paused. "Damn." There was another small pause before Henri placed his hand on his brother's back, who still had his head buried in his arms. "Hey, Rems," he said optimistically, " y' gonna wanna keep dat down here in N'Orleans, right?"

"Non." He didn't bother lifting his head from the table. Okay, so that little present from Jean-Luc he was actually pretty stoked about, not that it was enough to break him from his somber mood… yet. Not only was Jean-Luc's Ducati 848 an amazing bike, but he hadn't had his own mode of transportation up in Bayville since he lost his motorcycle back in January. He could have replaced it, but driving around the X-Van for the past ten months had seemed like a good penance for ditching Rogue for three days to go on a bender.

"So," Henri began as he continued to read, "looks like da next item is f' Remy as well… it's da Guild's piano."

That one got him moving. Remy's head popped up off the table in surprise. "Quoi?"

"Dat ol' piano in da sitting room. He's givin' it t' you."

Remy stared at Henri in disbelief. "But it's been wit' da Guild f' over a hundred years."

Henri smiled. "An' now it's yours."

As Henri continued on, Remy sat back in his chair, folding his arms in front of him. Jean-Luc had given him the piano. The motorcycle was neat, but this… this meant something.

And now he was getting emotional. He thought back on his younger years and the hours he had spent practicing as Jean-Luc listened from his study down the hall, occasionally calling out with instructions, keeping tabs to make sure his youngest son was perfect in his musical training. Maybe it wasn't exactly a happy memory, with his father as the stern taskmaster and himself as the overworked child, but the truth was, as much of a front as he put on, groaning about the hours of practice, he actually enjoyed the work, and as strict as Jean-Luc was, he always made it clear how proud he was of Remy's talent. The fact that he would choose to give the instrument to him in his passing said more about the man than words ever could. His heart ached just a little more.

The rest of the will was fairly uneventful. Rupert and each of the Guild Elders were all endowed some small item of personal note, and a few other LeBeau artifacts were designated to different family members. It wasn't until the very end that Remy's attention was caught once more.

"An' last but not least," Henri droned on, obviously having grown tired of the exercise himself, "is Aveline'sjewelry collection, which he's givin' t' Mercy, wit' two exceptions, da first bein' a diamond an' emerald tennis bracelet, which he's designatin' f' one Rogue Darkholme."

Remy's jaw dropped slightly before he pulled himself together again. "F' Rogue? Why da hell would he do dat?'

Henri just flashed him an all-knowing smirk as he looked up from the paper. "Probably f' da same reason he's givin' you mère's engagement ring."

Once they finished going through the will, all that was left was for Henri to be officially sworn in by the Guild Elders. Remy excused himself, as his presence was not necessary for the ceremony. He really needed some time to himself.

He walked through the long hallways of the LeBeau Mansion, and by the time he reached his room, he had made his decision: he needed her.

Perching himself on the edge of his bed, he fished his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed Rogue.

After three rings, she picked up, but her greeting was not exactly what he was expecting.

"Why the hell are ya callin' me, Remy?!"

He was momentarily shocked into silence before he responded. "Chère, I-"

"-Don't 'Chère' me, Swamp Rat, I told ya not ta call me!" she spat out venomously, stepping over his words.

He sat motionless on his bed, completely aghast at her reaction. She wasn't even letting him get a word in. "I-"

"No, Remy! I told ya ta give me some space! I don't need ya checkin' up on me, I can take care of myself!"

"Rogue-"

"Don't call me again. Just leave me the hell alone!" Without warning, the line went dead.

He sat there, on the edge of his bed, in stunned silence. He stared at the phone in his hand. Slowly, he took two deep breaths.

Finally, he closed up his phone with a distinctive 'snap' before heaving it against the far wall with all his might. It burst into pieces upon impact.

.

.

.

Hours later, he found himself roaming the deserted hallways of the LeBeau Mansion. The place was quiet, most of the Guild visitors having left after the Wake. He'd skipped dinner; he wasn't hungry and just about the last thing he had wanted was any sort of human interaction.

He didn't know a person could feel so many emotions at one time. He was mad at Rogue, really, really mad. He couldn't ever remember feeling angry with her before, but he certainly was now. He was sad, because he was pretty sure from the phone call that she was done with the relationship, and somehow he hadn't truly believed it would come to that. He was relieved, because his exile would be lifted and he could call this city 'home' again. He was confused, because he found a part of himself, a large part, wishing he could go 'home' right now, and that 'home' was somewhere a whole hell of a lot further north. And he was devastated, down to his very core, because his father had died, and underneath all the other emotions that Jean-Luc's death evoked, he found that he missed him, so very much.

As he let his mind wander, it seemed that his feet had taken it upon themselves to take him where he really wanted to go. He stopped, looking up to realize that he had inadvertently brought himself to his father's study.

He walked in slowly. It seemed so big and empty now, this immense, opulent room that had always served as a symbol of his father's power and status.

Looking upon the large, ornate desk fixated in the middle of the room, he realized suddenly that he had never been behind it. It was Jean-Luc's desk, and he had never dared to invade his father's privacy, not in his office, at least. It had always seemed like the proverbial line that his father's child should never cross. There were a few frames sitting atop the desk, and he wondered now what photos they held, what images Jean-Luc had chosen to greet him each day as he worked.

Slowly, he walked around the large piece of furniture until he was behind it, leaning against the chair.

There were three frames. He reached out to the first. In it, it held an old, time-worn photo of Jean-Luc and Aveline. It was their wedding day. Aveline looked stunning in her white gown, her long blonde hair falling about her face in angelic curls, and Jean-Luc… Jean-Luc looked younger, lighter than Remy ever remembered seeing him. It was a good memory.

He moved on to the second frame. This one held a family portrait, somewhat stiff as most professional photos are. Jean-Luc and Aveline stood side by side with a young Henri, no older than nine or ten by the looks of it, standing dutifully in front of them. It wasn't an overly emotional photo, but they were an attractive family, a cohesive unit. Remy also noted, based on Henri's age, that it might have been one of the last family portraits taken before Aveline passed away. It was the type of picture you would want to keep close.

The third and final photo was different. It wasn't professional and posed like the previous two. It was smaller, just a snapshot, and black and white. The shot seemed to have been taken from a short distance, and its subjects were unaware that they were being captured.

He picked up the smaller frame, bringing it closer. It was himself and Jean-Luc, when he was just a boy. He had to have been maybe eleven or twelve… either way, it was before his powers had manifested, based on the absence of his gloves or the scars underneath. They were on the back lawn, and it appeared to be the fall. He was standing, looking to Jean-Luc as the older man knelt down beside him, his hands in front as he appeared to be explaining something. Remy couldn't remember this particular moment, but it didn't matter. There was a tenderness there, between the two of them, father and son. It was a simple photo, but it said something.

His throat closed up as a tear escaped his eye and traveled down his cheek. This was how his father saw him.

The clearing of a throat caught his attention and he looked up, finding Henri standing in the doorway. Remy gave him a wry smile as he wiped away the tearstains on his face, and his brother took that as permission to enter. He stepped in the room slowly.

"I was just takin' a little walk around da place," Henri began, "an' I sorta ended up here." He grinned at Remy. "Great mind t'ink alike, I guess."

Remy chuckled lightly. "So," he started, looking around the room, "I guess dis is gonna be yours now, hein?"

Henri sighed good-naturedly. "Yeah. An' if y' t'ink dat's weird, I'm gonna have t' move into 'is room, too." He chuckled. "Mercy's totally freaked out 'bout dat one. Says she won't even look at da place until all our stuff is in dere, alt'ough I doubt dat's gonna make it any easier f' her t' sleep where her husband was conceived."

Remy raised an eyebrow as he walked around to the front of the desk, leaning back against it, the photo still in his hands. "Y' do know y' only have to move into da room. I'm pretty sure y' can replace da bed."

Henry moved forward, turning to lean back against the desk at Remy's side. He smiled. "Oh, I know dat, I just haven't filled Mercy in on it yet. It's fun t' let her squirm f' a while."

They both laughed at that, and the sound filled the room. The air felt light. When it was quiet again, Henri spoke.

"I want y' t' go back t' New York."

Remy turned his head to the side to look at his brother questioningly. Henri continued.

"Well, da's not exactly true. Da selfish part o' me wants y' here, 'cuz y' mon petit frère, an' I miss y' somet'ing fierce. But I can see dat being here ain't da best t'ing f' you, not right now. What y' got going f' y'self up dere, it's a good t'ing." He sighed. "It hasn't been fair f' you. You were all alone when y' were a pup, an' den as soon as we took y' in, you were da heir t' da throne, right off da bat. Until recently, y' never got a chance t' do somet'ing because you wanted t'. I want y' t' have dat chance. Rogue told m' about dat cookin' college y' got into, an' I t'ink dat's great. You should go do dat. An' you should go be wit' y' girl. Dis life will always be here f' you, but right now y' got an opportunity t' try somet'ing different, somet'ing normal."

Remy didn't know what to say for a moment. He looked down at his shoes, fingering the picture in his hands awkwardly. "It's a really good college."

Henri smiled. "Dat's great, petit."

He scuffed his foot against the carpet. "An' I could come down t' visit all da time, like f' holidays an' such."

"Oh, I'd require dat."

He paused, sighing. "Don't know 'bout Rogue, t'ough…"

At that, Henri got just a little bit angry. He turned, leaning into him a little. "Now dat's jus' bullshit an' y' know it."

Remy shook his head. "I don' know, Henri… y' don' know what she said-"

"-Don't matter," Henri interjected. "I know you, an' I know how she talks about y' in all dose letters she's been writin' me. You two love each ot'er. Y' might be stupid about it from time t' time, but it don't change da facts. Mercy an' I fight, too, but when y' meant t' be toget'er, y' work t'ings out in da end."

Henri looked at Remy intently, sighing upon seeing that his younger brother wasn't buying his words. "You in da middle of it right now, so y' can't see da big picture here, but trust me. It's all gonna work out between y' two. So, regardless, I t'ink y' oughta go back up dere. I still want y' as m' Conseiller, but Rupert can hold da position f' now until y' want it, if y' ever do. In da meantime, y' should go. Do all da stuff y' been planning' on doin'. Go cook, an' be an X-man, an anyt'ing else dat y' t'ink might make y' happy. All I ask is dat y' call me all da damn time. I'm talkin' every day. Twice a day. I wanna get sick o' hearin' y' voice."

Remy smiled. "Yeah?"

Henri slung his arm around his brother's shoulder, reaching up and messin' up his hair. "Yeah. But I'm settin' up a bank account f' you. No more livin' off dat poor, defenseless old man. Y' spendin' Guild money, an' lots of it. I want y' t' have solid gold pots, an' silver spoons-"

"-Silver spoons?" Remy laughed. "I t'ink dat's just an expression."

"Whatever," Henri chuckled, "I just wan' y' t' be da mos' spoiled student in dat whole damn college. Make da ot'er kids jealous o' y'."

Remy rolled his eyes. "Yeah, that'd go over well."

They both smiled, letting a peaceful quiet settle over the room. Henri squeezed his brother's shoulder.

"Je'taime, petit."

"Je'taime aussi, Henri."

.

.

.

He spent the next day simply enjoying the company of his family. It was nice, spending time with his brother, and cousins, and Mercy and the baby, without funerals and wakes and the overwhelming influence of death permeating everything. Logan made himself scarce, heading into town on the pretext of sight-seeing, but Remy knew that the older mutant was simply giving them all some time just for family. They talked, they laughed, and they played a hell of a lot of cards. Remy knew that last one was mostly for his benefit, because he was still in an off-mood, and nothing could cheer him up like winning at poker.

After dinner, it was time to head back to Bayville. He would come back to visit, soon, but for now, he needed a little distance to help him work through his emotions about Jean-Luc's death. Henri came with them to the airport, helping to load Remy' new motorcycle into the blackbird. The piano would stay for now at the Guild Headquarters. He was pretty sure there had to be a rule at the Institute that prohibited storing large musical instruments in the dorms.

After having said goodbye to Henri, promising to come back the next month for Christmas, they were off. It was a quiet, two hour plane ride, and Remy was grateful that Logan was giving him the time to think. Actually, he was pretty appreciative of all of Logan's actions the past three days. He had been there when he needed him, and gave him his space when he needed it, too. If he really thought about it, he was lucky that the man had come along with him.

Realizing this, he turned in his seat towards the feral mutant behind the plane's controls. "Logan, " he said quietly. "Merci."

Logan nodded, keeping his eyes on the horizon. "No problem, kid."

They arrived back at Mutant Manor without incident. As soon as he walked inside the mansion, he was greeted by the sound of David running down the hall towards him. He felt bad; he hadn't thought about the dog the entire time he'd been away, but it was clear from the dog's enthusiastic greeting - jumping up and knocking him to the ground in a flurry of wet, doggy kisses - that his pet had missed him terribly. He made a vow to make it up to the dog.

It was an hour or so later, after he had called to check in with Henri and had spent a good amount of time practicing his canine massage technique, that he finished unpacking his bag. He pulled out the last item, the framed photo from Jean-Luc's desk. He had figured it was appropriate for him to take it with him. He was just about to place it on his bedside table when he was interrupted by a short, frantic knock. He held onto the picture, taking it with him as he crossed the room to open the door.

It was Rogue.

"Remy!" He looked her over as she stood in his doorway. She was a hot mess. Her hair was pulled back in a haphazard tail, her clothes were somewhat wrinkled, and she looked like she hadn't gotten much sleep in the past few days. It probably should have made him more sympathetic towards her, but it didn't. He stood his ground by the door, not moving so she could enter as she continued. "I just got back, and Kitty told me about yer dad… Remy, I'm so sorry!"

He kept his face as emotionless as he could. "I called t' tell y'."

Her face fell in obvious shame. "I realize that now."

"I needed y'."

"I know."

He couldn't help the trace of anger that tinged his voice. "Y' yelled at me, f' no reason."

She looked horrible now. "I know. Remy, I am so sorry. I've been feeling horrible about that since it happened, that's why I came back early. I tried callin' ya, but ya didn't answer yer cell phone."

"I t'rew it against a wall."

"Oh." She swallowed. "Remy, ya have ta believe me, if I had known about yer dad, I never would have-"

"-You would have known," he cut in, "if y' had let me talk." He sighed. "Look, I don't really feel like dealin' wit' y' right now. I'm tired, I've had a long t'ree days, an' I'm just over it at dis point. Jus' go away, Rogue. Just leave m' alone."

He shut the door on her, slowly but purposefully, using all of his self-control not to slam it in her face. He turned around to face his room. He felt like throwing something again, but he realized in time that the only thing in his hand at the moment was the picture of himself and Jean-Luc, and he definitely did not want to break that. He took a deep, calming breath before walking over to his bedside table and carefully placing the frame on top of it.

He spent the rest of the evening with David, curled up on his bed watching pointless television, letting his mind wander before he finally and unexpectedly drifted off to sleep.

She was waiting for him the next morning, sitting in the hall outside his door.

It was nearly 10 am; for some reason, the dog had let him sleep in, and for that he was grateful. He felt somewhat refreshed. Rogue, on the other hand, looked like shit. He told her so.

"I didn't go ta bed last night," she said, picking herself up off the floor. She had a large, rectangle-shaped package in her hand, hastily wrapped in bright colored paper. "I was hopin' you would talk ta me."

He thought about it for a moment before sighing. He stepped to the side, allowing her entrance as the dog exited to do his morning business. Remy closed the door behind them.

She placed the package on his bed and stepped back, looking around the room awkwardly.

He stood a good three feet away from her, his arms folded across his chest. He wasn't as angry with her as he had been the night before. Basically, he just felt numb. He tipped his head to her. "S' talk."

She took a deep breath before she spoke, looking him straight in the eyes. "I'm so sorry, Remy. I'm sorry about yer dad. I'm sorry about not being there for you during all that. I'm sorry for leavin' in the first place. And I'm really, really sorry for how I acted when ya called me."

His heart softened a little as she took a hesitant step forward. "I was missin' you. Hell, I missed you from the first minute after I left. And I hated that. It made me feel weak, like I was one of those girls that can't be on their own, that have to depend on their man for their own personal strength. So I tried not ta think about ya, and just focused on New York, and NYU, and findin' out about my classes and all that stuff."

He watched her silently, letting her get all this out. "When ya called me, it was probably the worst timin' possible." She sighed, looking down at the ground. "I found out that I lost my scholarship. I guess when I deferred my enrollment until January, I didn't inform the scholarship committee properly or somethin', I still don't know what went wrong, but the bottom line is, that money, it's gone. It ain't mine." She shook her head. "I was furious. I mean, I wanted ta do this whole college thing on my own, be strong and independent, and I thought I'd figured it all out. But then all of a sudden I'm finding out that I'm gonna have ta ask someone for money. It just… it sucks."

She looked up at him again. "So, I was talkin' with Jean about it, and first she suggested askin' the Professor, which is totally out of the question. Then… well, then she mentioned that I could always get money from you…" She paused, looking down at her feet once more. "And, I don't know, I sort of snapped at that. I was already feelin' like some sort of weak sap because I couldn't go two days without missin' you like crazy, an' here Miss Perfect was suggestin' I ask my boyfriend for money." She sighed ruefully. "It doesn't sound that bad right now, but at the time, it sounded like just about the most pathetic thing possible."

She looked up at him. "And that's when ya called." She rolled her eyes. "I know, like I said, it was just the worst timin' ever. I snapped at you, and that wasn't fair. Ya didn't do anythin' wrong."

He sighed. "Do you need some money?"

She let out an ironic chuckle. "Yeah, I do, but we're not gonna talk about that right now when I've just been the biggest ass on the planet." She boldly stepped up to him, closing the distance between them and taking both of his hands in hers. "Remy, the way I treated you, it wasn't okay, regardless of what happened to yer dad. But addin' to the fact that you were hurtin', and I turned ya away… I don't think I could ever express ta you how awful I feel. I'm so sorry. I know I can never make it up to ya, but I want ta be here for ya now."

She squeezed his hands, willing him to look her in the eyes. "I love you, Remy. I love ya more than I ever thought possible. I was stupid ta let that freak me out. We're soul mates, I know it. We're meant ta be together. I just hope you still feel that way, too."

He swallowed. "Dey're gonna lift m' exile."

"Oh." She stiffened. "So, you're gonna go back down t' New Orleans, then?"

He nodded. "Yeah. Well, t' visit. I was t'inkin', dat if y' weren't done wit' me… I wanted t' be here… wit' you." Looking her in the eyes, saying those words, he wasn't very mad anymore.

She wrapped her arms around him, burying her face against his chest. He held her close, breathing in her scent. He had missed this.

After a moment, she pulled away from him. "So, uh, I made ya a present." She walked over to the bed, picking up the package that she had laid there. "Okay, so I didn't exactly make it, but I supervised."

He eyed her curiously. "When did y' have time t' do dat?"

She handed him the package. "I told ya, I didn't go ta sleep last night. Open it."

Slowly, he pulled the paper off. Inside, was an 11x14 canvas. On it, sketched in charcoal, was an exact replica of the photo he brought home from Jean-Luc's office. He felt his eyes begin to pool with tears. It was beautiful.

He had a hard time speaking. "How…"

"Pete did it," she answered. "I noticed last night that ya were holdin' a picture, so I snuck in after ya fell asleep and… well, borrowed it. I woke Piotr up ta ask him ta help me enlarge it on the computer, but he said it'd look better in charcoal, so he stayed up with me and sketched it for ya. He was right, though, it looks amazing. We can get a frame for it later, when… Remy?"

He had stopped listening as the emotions overtook him, and he began to sob. He hadn't cried like this in over a day, since the funeral, but he couldn't help himself. He was mourning, and the sketch Piotr had done did more than just enlarge the picture, it had enhanced it. It showed everything he missed about Jean-Luc, all the memories he wanted to keep, and at that moment, he wanted nothing more than for Rogue to hold him and tell him everything was going to be alright.

She wrapped her arms around him, taking the canvas from him and carefully placing it on his desk as she led him to the bed, laying him down and placing his head in her lap. He sobbed against her as he held her tight. Gently, she ran her fingers through his hair.

"Shhh, baby," she soothed. "Everythin' gonna be alright."

It was just what he needed. He needed her, and he needed this, and he needed to grieve the loss of a man who had been so many different things in his life. But most of those things, they didn't matter anymore. In the end, in his passing, Jean-Luc was only one thing to him. He was his father.


So, there you have it, the penultimate chapter of 'Normal'! And no, Finn, "penultimate" does not mean "super ultimate", it means "second to last". Yep, you read correctly, there is only ONE. MORE. CHAPTER. LEFT!

(before the sequel, that is)

Sort of makes you want to review, doesn't it?