To Lee's credit, she waited until they had returned to her apartment before uttering a word. Her voice was low and calm as she set her things down on a table by the door. "Joseph... what was that all about?" she asked, not facing him.
He stood a few feet away from her, arms folded, feeling curiously vulnerable and doing his best to hide it. "This isn't the best way to start."
"No, I guess it's not." Her hands rested on the table, and her shoulders were shaking. After a few moments, she turned to look at him. Her hair had fallen in her eyes. "Tell me how you did that. That would be a good way to start."
Joseph had been trying to think of a good way to tell her that since the incident had occurred. Too many half-forgotten memories had been flickering into his mind, then disappearing, like an annoyingly vague and poorly edited movie, warning him of a past where he'd been hated and feared for protecting innocents... He took a deep breath. That was the past. This was now.
"I'm a mutant," he stated as calmly as he could.
"I figured that much," she replied in a sarcastic tone of voice, and began to pace the length of the small apartment. Joseph watched her from his position near the door. It seemed best not to say anything for the moment, but as the silent moments stretched out, he began to worry.
"So, you can do - what?" she finally said, stopping and turning towards him. "What was it? The metal thing?"
"Metal, yes," he replied, feeling better now that he could respond to her. "I can control anything with metal in it."
"Mm. I see." She stopped pacing and stood in the middle of the room, looking forlorn. "And that's why you have the cute pj's on."
"The cute..." He trailed off and looked down at his outfit. "Well. Um. It's a uniform..."
"I guessed that," she said, and her voice had softened now to include a teasing note. "The big X kinda gave it away."
In the half-light of the room, she couldn't quite tell, but she thought there might be a blush rising on his cheeks. It was what she had been wanting to see. That he wasn't soulless, or a monster, the way all mutants were 'supposed' to be. This was the man she'd met earlier and liked.
"Well, thank you," she said after an awkward pause. "For... for saving my life."
"You're welcome," was Joseph's equally soft reply. He ran a hand through his hair, pushing it away from his face. "Just be more careful next time, all right?"
"All right." She stepped up to him as he reached for the doorknob. "And, Joseph..."
Her hand, lightly resting on his arm, stopped him. He looked down at her, eyebrows raised. She looked up at him, eyes guileless and wide, and leaned up on her toes to offer a quick kiss on the cheek.
"You take care, too, all right?"
He looked down at her, surprised anew. "All right," he replied, bemusedly.
"So what was all that about?" Joseph calmly asked of the figure standing in shadow in the foyer of the mansion.
"Might ask you th' same thing." A puff of smoke billowed towards Joseph. He ignored it, striding towards Gambit.
"Were you following her? Why were you there?"
"'Cause I was," the Cajun replied calmly. Standing in the dark as he was, the only hint of his presence - aside from the glowing cigarette tip - was the moonlight hinting off his red-on-black eyes. "What 'bout you?"
"I was concerned for her," Joseph replied, somewhat short-temperedly. "I wanted to make sure she was safe."
"So was I," Remy replied casually.
Joseph let out a hiss and moved forward to grab Remy's arms, but suddenly he wasn't there. Elusive as the shadows in which he hid, the other mutant danced out of reach. "Neh, Joseph, we ain't scrappin' tonight. Dis isn't somet'ing we need to fight about."
"That can change," the silver-haired man stated. "I want to know your intentions towards her."
"Truth?" Remy's voice sounded as if he was about to begin laughing. "It's a long story. Y' can ask Ororo if y' don't believe me. All I'm concerned wit' is that you treat her good."
Joseph was too stymied by Remy's comments to come up with an answer, and by the time he had another question, he could tell that the Cajun had soundlessly disappeared.
They're back again.
That was her first thought. It was quickly followed by others: How many of them? Where are they? Why do they want me?
The last one was irrelevant, she admitted, but the others were pertinent. She was standing in the darkness, the air freezing cold around her. The space seemed wide and open, at least from what she could sense. The figures melting out of the shadows, forming into a circle around her, were cloaked in black. She instinctively tried summoning her powers. An illusion of mist would shroud her, as well as disable the infrared goggles she somehow knew they wore.
But no matter how intensely she concentrated, the air remained clear. She cursed silently at whatever was preventing her from using her powers, then dropped to the ground. Though the rocks were hard on her bare hands and knees, she could scramble away from them before they knew she was gone.
And then the ground was gone, too. She barely had an instant to realize that she had flung herself over a precipice and into thin air--
Hands grasped her forearm firmly, yanking her away from the abyss. She kicked at the rock wall to keep from slamming completely into it, scrabbled at it with her free hand, and looked up into the eyes of her savior. They were red on black, and maddeningly familiar. Nonetheless, she wasn't about to question her good fortune. He pulled her up while she pushed at the rocks for more leverage. Finally, having achieved the relative safety of the ground, she collapsed, panting.
"Could say merci," said her rescuer, calmly lighting a cigarette. Lee stared up at him. He was wearing a black shirt and jeans, topped off with a brown duster. She knew him. She was positive of that, even though she couldn't remember his name, or the circumstances in which she'd met him, or, for that matter, why he was in her dream now.
"Cause you're dreamin'," he replied, offering her a hand up. She stood, then pulled her hand away. "And y' remember in your dreams what y' don't remember when you're awake."
"Stop that," she said, annoyed.
"All right," he chuckled. "But when y' wake up, don't forget dis. It's important."
The indistinct figures were closing in on her again, and he was gone, whoever he was.
Lee awoke suddenly with the sound of a pounding fist on wood ringing in her ears. Blearily, she registered the sound as someone knocking on the door of the apartment. What in God's name, she thought to herself, glancing at the clock on the nightstand: 3:47 A.M. Summarizing her state of mind at the moment, she uttered, "Gah." The white cat curled up on the nightgown further down the bed looked up and meowed thoughtfully.
Whoever it was, they were still knocking. Lee muttered a curse, then reached for the gown, ignoring Aria's protests. She stuck her arms into the sleeves, found slippers to keep her toes from going numb on the hardwood floor, and stumbled into the front room and to the door.
"What?" she demanded crossly, unlocking the deadbolt.
"Lee? Need t' talk t' you."
Her hands froze on the lock. That voice. The one from her dream.
"Who... who are you?" she asked shakily.
"Let me in," said the person on the other side of the door. Suddenly, Lee was afraid to see who it was. Unhappily, almost against her will, she undid the chain and cracked the door open.
He was looking at her with red-on-black eyes that she recognized instantly.
"You're Joseph's friend," she said in an almost accusing tone of voice.
"Guilty as charged," he stated. "C'n I come in?"
Reluctantly, she stepped back from the doorway, admitting him into the apartment. He stepped in quietly, duster flapping around his ankles. He was wearing all black. The image resonated from her dream, and she felt the sudden desire to bolt. Instead, she leaned heavily on the couch.
He was walking around as if inspecting the small flat. "Not much of a place to live, chere," he said finally, wrinkling his nose.
She started at him, astonishment on her face. "Excuse me? Did you come here just to comment on my style of living?"
He shook his head. "Sorry. Was tryin' to be p'lite. You... really don't remember me, do you?"
Lee sighed, sitting down on the arm of the couch on which she'd been resting. "No. I don't know who you are, or why you think I should know you." Or why I let a complete stranger into my apartment, she added to herself.
"All right." He leaned on a curio cabinet, fiddling with a statuette of a woman dancing. "M' name's Remy LeBeau. Used to live in N'awleans before I moved up here. Met this woman, once, she was workin' on a story 'bout the 'men of New Orleans.'" He carefully pronounced the last four words, giving them a whitebread all-American accent. "She was real nice, but real fiery."
Lee glared at him. "Look, Mr. LeBeau, I'm sure you didn't come here to tell me about your romantic interludes."
"Nope, I didn't," he agreed. "But this redhead sticks in my mind. I didn't think I'd ever f'get her. And I didn't. Which is real funny, cause I met her again t'other day. On Fifth Avenue."
She stared openly now. "You think it's me."
He only looked at her. "I know it's you," he replied after a second, but he sounded a little less sure of himself.
"I don't believe you," she stated flatly, and stood up.
"No?" His gaze returned to the statuette. Eyes focused on the figurine, his long fingers traced the lines of it almost sensually. "All those steamy nights in d' Quarter? I'm crushed, chere."
"Get out of my apartment. Now." Her voice shook very slightly, but she stood firm, eyes burning. "Before I call the police."
Slowly, he replaced the dancer in her place of honor on the cabinet. His eyes moved to hers, his gaze locking into hers. "Lee Meriwether Holland. Born on April 23rd in Manhattan, New York. Ran away from your parents' house when y' were fourteen with a couple friends o' yours. Lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, went to college there, got a job at the paper. Any of this ringin' a bell?"
Her face had gone white. She backed into the couch and stopped there, frozen, as he began to move towards her.
"Oh yeah. And th' reason y' ran away. 'Cause your parents found out you're a mutant."
"A what?!" The words exploded out of her in a sharp gasp. "You're crazy!"
"Just say it, Lee!" he snapped, suddenly exasperated. "I know it's you!"
"I don't know what in God's name you're talking about! Get away from me!"
He had advanced on her until he was mere inches from her, and he was strongly tempted to grab her arms and shake the bejesus out of her. But the fright in her eyes was honest. She was telling the truth, as far as she knew it.
"I'm... I'm sorry," he said quietly, and stepped back. "I'll leave y' alone."
"Do that," she snapped.
Without another word, he strode to the door. She sensed him pause there, as if looking back, but refused to turn around and look at him. Then the latch clicked shut. The sound jolted her into action. She hurried to the door, bolting the locks after the man... LeBeau, or whatever his name was.
Too wired now to immediately return to bed, Lee decided to work instead. She went into the bathroom, which was also equipped as a makeshift darkroom, being the only room in the flat without any windows. As she prepared solution and stop bath, her mind tumbled over the mystery of why LeBeau was so familiar to her. It was like a missing tooth, where you couldn't keep from probing at the empty space with your tongue. Almost like a hole in her memories. He should be there, she thought suddenly, and was annoyed with herself for thinking it.
And what about this thing he'd told her of being a mutant? Why would someone say something like that to a person they didn't even know? Unless he was some random psycho who'd picked her as his next victim.
Great, she thought. Now I can forget about getting back to sleep at all tonight.
this page last updated on 18 january 2003