AUTHOR: Kibou No Tenshi

RATING: Unrated

SUMMARY: "This piece was inspired by Uncanny X-Men #386."

The club has no name, but makes up for it with the hottest jazz in New Orleans. Like all good night clubs, it survives on reputation and exclusivity. On any night of the week, it is packed with knowledgable locals and tourists fortunate enough to stumble on it and look beyond the ramshackle exterior. Beneath the almost institutional, concrete facade, the club remembers Lousiana’s French colonial heritage. White, parquet walls and marbled floor are golden beneath the lamplight, while the people shimmer sepia as they dance. Were it not for the clothes of the dancers, it could be a scene from an aged, yellowed photograph.

Music aside, that is why Gambit loves it. Unlike New York, which wears its past lightly, New Orleans is a city of history and years are nothing in comparison to centuries. When he comes to the club, he feels as if he is fifteen again, has sneaked out of the upstairs window to meet Belladonna for a night of dancing. His father must have known of his son’s nocturnal activities, but winked at them for reasons Remy does not want to consider now. Retrospectively considered, no aspect of his youth would seem innocent and he refuses to see the club in the same light - as a place where the alliance between the two guilds was cemented. He glances around the room, almost expecting to see Belladonna in the corner where she always met him. He knows she still comes to the club, comes for much the same reasons he does: to escape the reality and the responsibilities of adulthood. She always danced recklessly as if to lose herself in the music but delighting in her control, in much the same way that Rogue does now.

He was surprised when his lover (or so he hopes) told him that she was coming with them to New Orleans. Although things were comfortable between them again, she did lead the other team and took her responsibilities very seriously. Self-confessed control freak that she was, he half-expected her to have spent the entire quiet period between missions in training with her group. She laughed when he mentioned that to her, and commented that, thank you very much, she was not quite Cable yet. That they needed to spend time together and, if he was in New Orleans for the week, that was where she would be.

"Woolgatherin’ again, LeBeau?" Rogue’s voice is challenging, as she looks up him with a half-smile, "Ah guess Ah should take it that Ah’m not interestin’ enough ta hold yo’ attention."

Laughing, "I was t’inkin’ about ya. As always."

She raises an eyebrow, "If Ah were you, Ah’d take your sweet-talk somewhere it might do some good. Jean needs a dance-partner an’ Ah’m volunteerin’ yo’ services."

The comment about not being a rent-a-stud dies on his lips as Remy looks over her shoulder to where Phoenix is standing against a pillar. The music has changed from fast zydeco to slow, sultry jazz, and people have paired off accordingly, leaving her alone. He does not need his empathy to see how lonely, how much in agony she is. Her eyes flicker around the room, as if daring someone to comment on her isolation. Her partner, her soul-mate, is dead in all ways that matter, incorporated into one of the X-Men’s worst enemies, and she is forced to go on without him. His arms tighten slightly around Rogue as he nods.

"Oui, dat she does," he replies, "Ya’ll be okay?"

"No, LeBeau, in th’ five minutes you’ll be away from me, Ah’ll turn into a gibberin’ wreck an’ end up killin’ everyone in this club," she drawls sardonically as she gives him a playful shove on the chest, "Ah’ll be fine, but Jeannie needs you."

"Ah well, gibberin’ an’ psychotic be pretty normal f’r ya, so I guess we c’n risk it," he kisses the top of her head, then turns to find Jean before she can reply.

Jean Grey-Summers - she clings tenaciously to the second part of her surname - wishes she had not come to New Orleans. Ironically, she was one of the keenest advocates of Gambit’s idea to pass some time in his native city, while he dealt with Guild business. She thought at the time that she could avoid the memories, the history, the pain, by avoiding the mansion, but she did not take into account the fact that New Orleans is a city of ghosts. That the dead seem to walk the narrow streets and laugh at the living from the wrought iron balconies. If there were a city where she could imagine Scott returning to her, it is this one and that is more painful than any of the memories that Westchester could invoke.

Worse still, the frenetic zydeco music and the communal dancing has been replaced by the seductive purr of jazz and the intimacy of entwined couples. Unsurprisingly, with an apologetic smile at Jean, Gambit quickly claimed Rogue and guided her to an open space on the dancefloor. She glances enviously at them, as the younger woman fits her head beneath his chin and he wraps his arms tighter around her. Evidently, they are together again and blissfully content for it. She looks around for Nathan, wondering whether he will be prepared to dance with her, but he is glowering in the corner and she thinks she will have more fun without him. When she looks back, Remy is standing in front of her, hands in his pockets.

"Hey, Jeanne," he always gives her name a French lilt that never ceases to make it sound sexy, "Can’t have de prettiest girl at de party not dancin’. Care t’join me on de dance floor?"

"Rogue sent you, didn’t she?" she folds her arms across her chest, looking at him with amusement. Impartially speaking, he is easily the most gorgeous man of her acquaintance. A tight, white shirt and tighter jeans flaunt a perfectly proportioned body. Unlike the other members of their team, Remy has the build of an acrobat - tall and slim, muscular without the bulkiness of someone like Wolverine. His face has the angular lines of his French ancestors, softened by his designer stubble (or the result of a four o’clock meeting with an Emil Lapin), while his demonic eyes are as alluring and tempting as sin.

"How did ya know?" he grins, "T’ought ya couldn’ read either o’ us."

"Please, Remy, I know a pity-invitation when I see one," she shakes her head, "They usually happened to other women, but . . . ."

"I don’ know," he shrugs, his smile broadening as he gestures her to follow him, "Pity’s one t’ing I don’ feel when I’m dancin’ wit’ de best-lookin’ woman in de room."

"I’ll add that particular comment to my list of things not to tell Rogue," she says wryly, as she steps beneath the sepia lights of the dance-floor.

"I’d be obliged," he sounds amused, as he places an arm around her and intertwines his fingers with hers. She notes with some amusement that his grip is text-book, his free hand rests in the center of her back and there is clear air between them. Realising that he is dancing with her out of politeness ironically helps her to relax, and she leans a little closer to him. He smells of a muted, expensive cologne, and Rogue’s light, citrusy perfume.

"So, what d’ya t’ink of my town, Jeanne?" his conversation is as polite as his dancing.

"I’m still trying to process your house, let alone New Orleans in general," she laughs, making half-a-truth do for a lie. She doubts that any of the team expected him to have a mansion, let alone one that made the X-Men’s home in Westchester look small by comparison. On some level, they knew that he was probably a multibillionaire that made a lie of the adage that crime did not pay, but it had always been much easier to dismiss him as the stereotype he portrayed - the poor, uneducated Cajun boy who had been forced into a life of crime because he was not fit or intelligent enough for any other job. Instead, the truth seemed to be closer to a man with a genius-level IQ who chose his lifestyle because he loved it and was damn good at it. She was being forced to reevaluate him, and she was not finding it comfortable.

"Ah, oui, chez Remy," he grins, "Ya gotta love a place dat makes a style statement outta white sheets, cardboard boxes an’ dust."

She laughs, a brittle tinkle like glass smashing, "I’ll have to get your decorator for the boat house now that I’m moving back to the mansion."

He is silent, but she can feel the waves of empathy coming from him. Usually, he is psionic static - a grey, neutral blur to her awareness - and knows that he is allowing her to read him. It is comforting in a way that words cannot be, and she allows herself to relax into it. For a moment, she can almost pretend that he is Scott and she is feeling all of this through a wonderful, mystical psychic bond. For a moment, she rests her head on his chest and tightens her arms around his waist. For a moment, she lets herself breathe with him and revel in the warmth of a body against her own. Lost in the game, she says his name: "Scott."

"Gawd, Nate, impossible as it seems, ya look even grimmer than usual," Rogue comments as she comes to stand beside Cable on the edge of the dancefloor. Expression on his face implacable, he is watching Gambit and Phoenix sway together in the intimate, personal dance of lovers. Even knowing it is a pretense on her boyfriend’s part, even knowing that she is the one with whom he loves to dance, she has to admit that it makes her uncomfortable. She is acutely aware of the way the golden light catches Jean’s hair and makes it into an aura of glory; of how her brown shoulders slip out of her red shirt; of how touchable and kissable she looks; of how the woman can offer Remy everything that she cannot.

"She called him Scott," Cable’s voice is flat and blank, "And he did not say anything to her. He just carried on dancing with her like that."

Grimacing, trying to sound more confident than she felt, "What could he have said to her, Nate? ‘Ah’m not your dead husband, but Ah’m very sorry fo’ yo’ loss’."

"He should have said something," he repeats, "He’s allowing her to delude herself."

"Nate, hon, we all have our delusions," she replies, "Me, for example, Ah’m pretendin’ that you aren’t the cold SOB Ah know you are and that you’re gonna let Jean have hers for an evenin’."

"That’s absolutely . . ." he begins angrily, but pauses with a strange expression on his face as he looks back at the dancing couple. Rogue follows the gaze to where Jean is smiling, arms around Remy’s waist, head on his shoulder. Her eyes are closed and she is swaying in his embrace. She looks happier than Rogue has seen her in a long time, looks almost content. "Yes, Rogue, I think I will."