Disclaimer: This story was started by me in October of 1997. All characters belong to Marvel, except for the dazed redhead, who belongs to me (metaphorically speaking). Characters are used without permission. I'm penniless, so don't hunt me down and sue me. This work of fanfiction was written strictly for the purpose of enjoyment, and should not be used without permission from the author.
"So what is this little expedition supposed to prove?"
The baritone voice, slightly sour in tone, could barely be heard over the general noise of Fifth Avenue. It belonged to a tall, well-built man whose long white hair was gathered into a ponytail at the nape of his neck. Despite the shade of his hair, the man was youthful in appearance, and his bright blue eyes were clear and alert - even if they were, at the moment, narrowed in annoyance.
His companions - a stately black woman who carried herself with a majestic air, a brunette whose curly locks were marked with a white stripe down the center part, and a lanky young man with longish brown hair and a stubbly chin - rolled their eyes as one. "It's s'posed t' be fun, Joseph," supplied the brunette.
"Y'know, gettin' out de house, enjoyin' de sunshine, stuff like dat," added the other man, with a smile at the brunette.
"Just relax," advised the other woman, with a flick of her own snowy tresses. Hers, too, were straight, though she had them styled in a pageboy save for one long lock on either side of her face. "Not everything has to be a life or death situation; we can have a good time once in a while. That's the point."
"If you say so, Storm," the man named Joseph stated, but the tense expression did not leave his face.
"Maybe we should go shoppin'," Rogue suggested cheerfully. "That always makes me feel better."
"No wonder you got dat walk-in closet, chere," muttered the other man, at which point Rogue began to smack her beau. Ignoring the antics, Joseph glanced ahead. His eye fell on a red-haired woman several feet ahead of them. It wasn't the loveliness of her face or body that caught his attention, but rather the wavering way in which she stumbled along the crowded sidewalk. It wasn't quite a 'drunk' walk, but in no way could she be sober. Feeling inexplicably worried, he pushed through the people ahead of him in an attempt to reach her.
Closer, he could see that her leaf-green eyes were glazed and dull, and a padded bag dangled loosely from one hand. Just as he reached her, her body went limp. He just had enough time to reach out and catch her as she slumped.
"What is it?" Ororo was right behind him, the lovebirds in close pursuit. No one else crowding the sidewalk had seemed to notice - or care - about the fallen woman, whom Joseph was now cradling in his arms. An astonished look was on his face.
"I'm not sure," Joseph replied. "Her behavior seemed to be... odd. I managed to catch her just before she hit the ground."
The others bent around them, creating a dent in the flow of movement on the sidewalk. Already, the woman in Joseph's lap was stirring, mumbling something inaudible. Her eyes blinked open, clearly lucid now. "Wh-what happened..?" she finally managed to say, staring in surprise at the people around her. There was a startled look on the face of one of the men, but he hid it so quickly that she doubted she'd seen it.
"You fainted," Joseph replied softly, helping the woman up. "Are you feeling all right?"
"Yeah, I - I guess," she said, putting a hand to her forehead. "Uh, this is weird. I don't even remember leaving my apartment... what time is it?"
"About noon," interjected Rogue, picking up the padded bag - which appeared to be a camera case - and handing it to the woman.
"Is your apartment far from here?" asked Ororo, her voice gentle and considerate. "We could escort you back--"
"I'll take her," interjected Joseph, surprising all of them. "Your name, my dear?" His tone was almost - shame the thought - hopeful.
"Lee," the redhead said with a soft smile. "Lee Holland."
And, as the others stared after them in befuddlement, Lee and Joseph walked off down Fifth Avenue, looking as natural together as if they'd known each other for years.
"What's wrong, Remy?"
"Who said anyt'ing was wrong?" The young man's voice was casual. Too casual.
"Well, I usually don't find you watering my plants," Ororo commented wryly.
The Cajun shrugged, offering a half-smile. "Felt like helpin' you out for a change."
"You know I can water my 'children' perfectly well," his friend replied as she came over to the window of her attic where he was standing, watering can in hand. Despite his claimed task, he appeared to be focused on a distant point outside. Ororo peered out, trying to discern what he was looking at, but there was nothing but clear blue sky.
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked.
He shrugged. "Guess so. If y' don't mind."
"Of course I don't. Here, have a seat." She sat down on the loveseat, but Remy didn't seem to be in the mood for standing still. Setting the watering can down, he began to pace. "It was dat woman," he said finally. "De one Joseph caught today."
"What about her?" Ororo asked. "She seemed like a nice enough person."
"Dat's just it. I've met her before." There was an oddly strangled tone to Remy's voice. After a moment, Ororo realized that he was extremely agitated. "But she didn' recognize me."
"Perhaps she didn't want to," the woman suggested lightly. "You have made enemies, after all."
He shot her an exasperated look. "Dat's not it. I - we--" One hand shot into his hair, as if forcing the words to come out by dint of pounding on his brain. "She used t' live in N'awleans. Worked down dere. She's a photojournalist. I met her when she was workin' on a story. Dis was a long time ago," he added. "We, well, had ourselves a little affair. Was fun while it lasted. But it ended with a bang. A big bang."
"I see," Ororo replied, hiding a smile.
"She said she hated m' guts and never wanted t' see me again. So you'd think she'd have been all upset to see me. But she didn't even recognize me. Dat was what threw me."
"You don't think she might have been hiding a reaction?" Ororo suggested calmly. Remy stopped, then shook his head and continued pacing.
"She's a redhead, 'Ro," he stated. "She's got her a temper..." For a moment, he was lost in memories. Then he shook his head. "No. She would'a said somet'ing. It was one o' those t'ings."
"So what do you propose to do about it? It would appear that Joseph is quite taken with her."
"Oh, I don' care about dat - well, I do, 'cause it means ol' buckethead's gone and got himself a carin' streak. But dere's one other thing about her that I learned back in N'awleans."
"Which is?" One thing that annoyed Ororo about having a conversation with the former member of the Thieves' Guild: it was like pulling teeth to get information.
"She's a mutant."
Ororo was not terribly surprised by this revelation, as she had sensed there was more to the woman than her immediate appearance. "I assume," she stated dryly, "that her mutant power is not to stumble along the street in a daze."
"Neh," Remy replied, sounding even more annoyed. "She's an illusionist. Casts images - holograms and d' like - goes by d' name of Imagerie."
"Remy." Ororo stood up and walked over to her friend, placing a hand gently on his arm. He looked at her with worried eyes. "All this is interesting information, but why are you telling me this? Are you worried about her? Or about Joseph? Or... is it something a little closer to home?"
He shook his head at that last suggestion. "I'm over her. Been dat way since we broke up. No, I'm jus'... jus' worried, dat's all. Not sure why."
"Well, I'm glad that you feel you can share your concerns with me, Remy."
"Dat's what friends are for, eh, mon amie?"
"Thank you for walking me home, Joseph. I really appreciate it."
"It's no problem at all." At the moment, Joseph was ensconced on the small, slightly dingy couch that was the central feature of Lee's living room. She had disappeared into the kitchen, from where she now emerged with a tray bearing two mugs, a sugar cup, and a small cream dispenser.
"I just wish I could figure out what happened," she said as she sat down next to him, carefully placing the tray on the coffee table. "One minute I'm getting ready for work, the next thing I know, I'm on the sidewalk with you picking me up." Offering one of the mugs to him, she smiled almost shyly. "Cream or sugar?"
"Black is fine," he replied, taking the mug and sipping from it. His eyebrows went up over the rim of it. "Good," he managed, smiling. "It's good."
"Thanks," his companion replied. Brushing a stray lock of hair back from her face, she took the other mug, liberally adding sugar and cream. "For me, it's not perfect unless it's sweet."
"That makes sense," Joseph said softly, cryptically.
They drank the coffee in silence for a while. Joseph's eyes wandered to the walls, where he noticed a variety of photographs framed and hung. "What do you do, Lee? For a living, I mean?"
"Oh, I'm a photojournalist," she said. "That's my work up there." With a gesture, she indicated the walls. "Some of my favorites, anyway. I used to go all over the place. Now I'm here, for a while anyway."
Finishing the coffee, Joseph stood and walked over to one grouping of pictures. Lee leaned back on the couch and watched him. "These are... very good," he said, surprised. The setting appeared to be ravaged countryside, and the photographs of young children with hopeless eyes and despairing faces moved him in a way he couldn't describe.
"I took those in Columbia," Lee said suddenly at his elbow. "But they could have come from anywhere, really, if you think about it."
Joseph nodded, his eyes distant. "So sad. I... you never think about this kind of... inhumanity... until it's shown this way."
"One of the reasons I got into doing this. It's my way of making people aware of the tragedies that go on around the world..." She rolled her eyes, then, and grinned. "Gosh, what a fun conversation," she stated in a tone of joking sarcasm.
"I should probably be going," he stated quietly. "My friends will be waiting for me."
"Well, it was nice meeting you. Maybe... maybe we can do this again sometime."
"I would like that," Joseph said, surprising himself.
He moved to the door, almost a little reluctantly, and stood there, looking down at her, for a moment. She wasn't that much shorter than him, but there was just enough of a difference in height that he had to bend his neck. Her hair was long and thick, wavy, and unbound as it was, it fell to nearly her waist. She was dressed in jeans and a silk blouse of hunter green that beautifully set off her pale skin. In so many words, he found her lovely. And was a little amazed at himself that he would - or could - regard a human so.
"Here," she said suddenly, pressing a card into his hand. "Call me."
He glanced at the inscription of the card. It was a business card, giving Lee's name, profession, and two phone numbers as well as an e-mail address. Sliding the card into a pocket, he smiled. "I will."
Woman's got no life, was the thought going through Remy LeBeau's head several hours later. He had perched on the small balcony of her apartment, which was well adorned with leafy plants, perfect for skulking. He would have sworn that no one could lead a more boring existence than certain folks at the mansion, but it seemed that Lee was proving him wrong. She'd been in the bathroom, developing pictures (if the red light coming out from under the door had been any indication) for at least a couple of hours, and now she was sitting at a word processor, staring at the screen, occasionally typing something. Maybe she's not Imagerie after all. That thought had gone through his head more than once now. No, she's gotta be. No one else has those color eyes. I even saw that birthmark on her neck. It's her. What is she doing now? For, rather abruptly, she was standing up, donning her coat, and hurrying out of the apartment. Remy glanced at the clock hanging on the far wall. It was nearly 10:00 p.m., not a good time to be walking the streets of Manhattan alone. He decided to follow her, just in case, and make sure she was all right.
He was starting to get that feeling that tickled the back of his neck during appropriate occasions; that feeling that warned him when danger was near. It wasn't anything so sophisticated as Spider-Man's 'spider-sense', but after being a thief for so many years, one came to sense trouble. And this situation was definitely it. The street was mostly deserted, with only the occasional passerby appearing and then disappearing from the murky light of the streetlights. Remy stayed back a good hundred feet as he trailed Lee. Granted, she was dressed down, in jeans, big hiking boots, and an oversized jacket, but her silhouette was still very feminine. And in this part of town, it didn't matter what you were, only that you were alone. So he was hardly surprised when the first gang member peeled himself out of the shadows and stepped in front of her, blocking her path.
"Where you goin', lady?"
Lee tried to duck around him. He stepped in front of her again. Remy had stopped, concealing himself neatly in a shadowed doorway. Come on, girl, he mentally urged her. Just make yourself invisible, keep going! He was more than a little stymied when she didn't draw on her powers; didn't even act as if she knew what to do. She stopped suddenly, head down, showing all the signs of submission. Ripe for the picking. Remy's eyes began to glow dangerously as three more young men appeared. In the light, he couldn't tell their race, but it didn't matter. They were all about to be toast. One of them was yanking at her bag, another reaching for her waist. He took a step from the shadows, drawing a card from his pocket and sending the mental command to begin charging it with kinetic energy.
"Leave her alone!" a commanding voice bellowed from above. Every head snapped up at once - including Remy's, while he mentally swallowed a curse. He should have guessed. Above their heads, floating effortlessly a good ten feet over the ground, was Joseph. He was dressed in his X-Men togs, blue and gold spandex showing off his musculature, while his long white hair flew freely about his face.
Curses began to sound from the gang members below, while Lee merely stared in honest apprehension. The curses became louder and more profound when every piece of metal the young men were carrying - knives, a couple of guns, a variety of bits and pieces - slipped from pocket and holster and clattered to the ground.
"Go now," ordered Joseph ominously, "if you wish to live." Not too theatrical, mon ami, Remy thought to himself as he stepped back into the shadow.
To a man, the gang members wore expressions of fear and shock. Remy had to give Lee credit; she looked around at them all, having recognized her salvation, and proceeded to jump up on her toes, shouting, "BOO!" That was what broke them. The four men took off at a run.
Joseph lowered himself to the ground before Lee. "Are you all right?" he asked softly.
She nodded, head tilted up toward him. "Yeah, I'm... I'm fine. But... you..." she began. Joseph shook his head.
"Not here. We can talk someplace else..." A glint of light caught his eye. He looked past her, noticing a shadow move ever so slightly. Then the shadow splintered, fabric flapping as a figure took off running. Though the footsteps were silent, Joseph recognized the silhouette. Why, that no-good Cajun-!
"Joseph?" Lee's soft voice distracted him. I'll deal with him later, he decided, and took her arm. "Let's get you back to your apartment," he suggested.
this page last updated on 18 january 2003