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Chapter 1

And Then I Remembered... - REVIEW THIS STORY

Written by K-Nice
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 1

I got off the plane at LaGuardia, Gucci carry-on bag on my shoulder and no one waiting to greet me.

I don't have a problem with that, really. I was born and raised for independence. But it seems a little repetitive after weeks of coming home to an empty mansion, sleeping in a master bedroom all alone. Sure, there are servants, attendants, guards--but not family. Not anymore.

I slip on tortoise-shell shades to conceal my jet-lagged eyes. Brussels is far warmer at this time of the year and my dove-gray silk suit is suddenly inappropriate. I could hunt around for a coat, but I feel more tragic letting the wind whip through me as I exit the terminal.

I fork over three crisp twenties for a taxi to Salem Center. I'd rather the back of a stuffy yellow-cab, serenaded by the sounds of Iranian pop music, than the crush and hurry of a commuter train. I lay my head against the greasy seat-back and wade through the memories that are coming to me in painful rushes.

I was in the middle of a somewhat dicey job when I felt the whisper of hands on my shoulders. I almost spun around, giving away my precarious position, but instead I slipped a knife from my uniform boot and arched it back . . . into air. The ghost touch was only in my mind.

I'm a professional, even before I am a woman or a Cajun or anything else. I kept my legs wrapped around a gargoyles wings and gained my aim though the tiny latticed window across the street. Three shots and the job was done. Once the scumbag, who had double-crossed some other equally scummy but certainly well-paying scumbag out of some scumlike deal, was lying in a bathtub of warm water and blood, I was free to explore the touch that was not.

Back at my hotel, I slipped into a warm bath of my own and felt strong arms pull me back against a muscled chest. I spun that time, splashing water on the floor and starring at the porcelain for a full minute before regain my wits.

Perhaps it was the stress of the job, of running the Assassin's Guild long before my time was to come. Maybe it was the pressure placed on me to lead, when all I really want to do is ply my trade. Or possibly the fact that I lost

my husband, brother, life, memories, brother, father, husband in that order and in quick succession.

The water was suddenly clammy and I quickly dried off and went into the bedroom of my hotel suite. I lay on the bed, hugged by imaginary arms. It took me a full night of dreams and nightmares and sweating and screaming to realize I was getting my memories back.

I asked my friends to tell me about myself, to help me be the Belladonna I once was, before that mindsucking-witch stole her from me. They told me I loved Remy LeBeau. But it was words, like the words telling me my father was a proud man, or that my brother cared more for me that his life. Just words.

They couldn't tell me what I felt that night: the aching need that used to simmer between us, the power in his arms as he held me close, the fear in his eyes when I went out on a job, the confidence in his stance when I returned.

They couldn't show me the scar where cut myself making dinner for him when our fathers were out of town, the heat the flamed my body when I looked into his demon eyes, the hurt that made me willing to die to prove I was still his.

It took a box of Godiva chocolates and a fifth of Jim Bean for me to admit it.

I loved him. I remembered, all of it. The moonlight walks though rotting swamps. Learning to pick a lock so I could sneak out to see him. Defying my friends, my Clan, my Guild, for the sake of his touch. Marrying him because I could imagine no one else more worthy of my freedom.

As the memories crash over me, they become me once again. I don't feel like a shadow of a woman, acting the part though I have only a digest of the lines. With the return of my lover to my heart, I find myself whole, remembering

things about my father, my brother, my life.

Now I know, no matter what has happened between us, I love him.

I would weep over things I said and did to him, not knowing what he meant to me--but Papa told me the strong do not weep. And I must be strong to do what I must.

The cabbie nudges me awake with a lecherous smile. My skirt has risen up and I don't want to think about how long he's been looking at my thighs. His look changes as I tense, the muscles of my legs, honed in battle after battle in a futile war with the Thieves, flexing beneath my stockings. He doesn't even see me palm coming as smack him across the face. The slap is hard enough to wake us both up.

I leap out of the taxi to keep from shooting him. He had stopped at the cross section, in need of further directions, when he became "distracted." I'd call him a pig but he's Muslim.

I'm in the middle of Salem Center, which is obviously synonymous with Nowhere. I spoke to my former father-in-law, Jean-Luc, at the airport in Belgium. He had been reluctant at first but unlike my father, he was willing to let his son make his own decisions about me. I have the address and phone number memorized, because, I suppose, he and his little friends are in hiding from whatever government agency has taken on the mantle of the harassing mutants in the wake of OZT.

What a load of crock. Mutants versus humans, what a stupid war. But then, Assassins have fought Thieves for hundreds of years. Which just proves how stupid the whole thing is, in my opinion. People don't consider me

philosophical, or even that moral. Even my friends see a blood-thirsty, remorseless professional killer--although, they admire those qualities in me. Remy is the one that used to meet me late at night at the city library, laboring for weeks through Sartre and Marx, so we could both pass the collage philosophy classes we had enrolled in at Tulane. There were many sides of our souls that we only showed each other.

I walk into a drug store and make a beeline for the pay phone. As I dial the numbers, I envision the address labels we had made up, our names side by side in bold calligraphy. We never did send out our thank you cards for our wedding gifts.

The ringing stops and I wait for his voice. Instead, "Xaviah School fa Higher Learnin', how ken Ah help you?"

I grip the phone so tightly that my nails burst through my gloves. My other hand contracts into a fist and I scratch my palm to keep from screaming. The Mom 'n' Pop behind the counter start to stare in my direction and I'm suddenly glad I have said nothing to them. That makes this easier.

"Hello, I'm Ayanna Williams of DiTel Communications. I'd would like to speak to . . .Mr. Remy LeBeau about an exciting opportunity for telecommunications savings. Is he available?" My voice goes to Midwest Cornsyrup in seconds, but I speak quickly to hide any slips. I've spoken nothing but French for a solid week, albeit Belgian French, and I don't trust my accent but she seems to buy it.

"Sure, Ah'll go get him." There's a sickening giggle in her voice. She probably figures it's a great prank, sticking him on the phone with a telemarketer. Idiot.

Several minutes pass and I use them to plan my first words to him. I let my anger at Rogue slide away as I ponder the man I remember as Belladonna and the man I have seen since I awoke. Somehow, they are the same and they both belong to me. I just have to remind him, the way he reminded me of who I am.

"Allo?" His voice is scratchy, tired. It's two in the afternoon on a Saturday, so as far as I know, that's pretty normal. When you work nights the way we do, you didn't really want to see both twelve o'clocks if you could avoid it.

Only, I suppose he isn't working anymore, at least not the old job of dashing thief. Then again, I also remember the time he stayed at a party for three days and stayed in bed for four days afterwards. "Remy?" My voice cracks as I put back on my own accent, my own face as it were. I know it's him of course, but I had no idea it would feel like this.

He recognizes me, I can almost see his surprise. "Belle, where are you?" he whispers in French. That smoky, smooth voice embraces me, filled with the Cajun French of home and more than a little bit of worry. He sounds so much older, though its only been a year since we saw each other last.

I push the anxiety and fatigue from my voice, answer in our native tongue, "Edmounds Drugs, in Salem Center." I say the words coolly, formally. It's not an invitation, only information. "I just wanted to let you know ahead of time before I came to visit. Didn't want a repeat of last time." We probably wince in concert, if the intake of air at the other end on the line is any indication. I'm not sure which last time I'm talking about, but we both get the point.

"Non, chere, ya can' come here, not now. I'll meet you, t'night, Milford, PA--de Best Western. De Edmounds can give ya directions." And then he's gone, suddenly and sharply ending our first civil discourse in ages.

I slam the phone down, stomping my feet, which is not the smartest thing to do in high heels. I stumble but do not fall. Snatching my bag from the floor, I stalk up to the pharmacy counter and ground out a request. "I need directions

ta Milford, Pennsylvania."

Ironically, or maybe not, they have no clue. But for $5.99 I can buy a map of local interest. I charge $50 worth of maps to the account of a woman two years dead and leave the store, eager to find my way to the commuter train station. Along the way, I walk with my head buried in a Mid-Atlantic Atlas, thanking God for Rand McNally.

No one notices me, certainly not the security guard and I drive out in an unassuming little Jetta. The simplest way is I84, although, in true Assassin fashion, I don't make a move until I have two alternate routes. Even on the map that Route 209 looks like child's scribbled drawing and I just came from New York City so why should I go all the way back there, then through New Jersey and who knows what else. But, its good to know that I can if I have to.

It should be a forty-five minute trip but I'm in no hurry so I set the cruise at fifty-five and grapple with my anger.

I feel rejected, hurt and bitter. I came all this way and he sends be away, not even willing to talk for a moment. Part of me says to keep on driving and let him wonder if I'll show up. But my father drilled me and in the last months of leadership, I've learned--first impressions are powerful but usually false.

I examine his words, the texture and force of them. He was begging, not ordering. Why? Then I remember. Antarctica. Jean-Luc mentioned it in passing--"I saw him right after Antarctica. They abandoned him there, as punishment." Jean-Luc had sneered even through the phone and she had felt a resonant pain within her own heart. I know it wasn't a "they" that left Remy. It was a "she." Rogue. Or Carol Danvers or Mary Katherine Gallegher or whatever that witch was calling herself these days.

I 'm not sure who Remy was protecting--her, me or him--but if thinks it's best to meet on neutral ground, then maybe he's right.

I pull off the interstate, and the hotel is right in front of me. I decide to park the car myself, since valets usually want keys and I have none. As I approach the car port I realize the hotel has no valets. Wonderful. But then,

it's a Best Western, not a Ritz Charlton.

The lobby is full of natural light, which has faded the carpet to a dull warmth. It has charm if not style. The clerk smiles at me, a smile that grows as I ask for a double room and gains wattage as I offer cash.

Room 342 is somewhat better looking than the lobby, but the view is off the highway in one direction and the scrubby little town in the other. I kick off my shoes and dump my bag on the bed. It contains my body armor and two used changes of underwear.

In the bathroom, I turn the shower on as hot as I can get it. I feel somewhat mechanical, the fatigue and jet lag catch up with me as the emotional stress only grows. Inspecting each part of my suit, I hang it on a hotel hanger. I check my stockings for runs as I peel them off. My slip joins them across the chair, along with my bra.

I rinse out my panties in the sink, which is a somewhat humbling process. I feel poor yet proud, but I've never been either one of those things. Rich and arrogant is more like it. I place them on the air conditioning vent and walk

into the bathroom nearly naked. I finally remove my gun holster and hang it over the shower bar, just outside the curtain.

I wash up quickly, efficiently, but there's no reason to rush. It's only five o'clock and to people like Remy and I, "tonight" means after 11 pm. I sink to the floor of the tub, the mat rough against my bottom.

I'm so, so tired. I let the water soothe and punish me at the same time. Drops of water strike me, half massage, half beating, pounding the aches out of my muscles and the pain into my heart. The only thing on my mind is the drumming against my skin and on the fiberglass walls of the shower/tub. I let the rhythm lull me, cradle me, poison me. I'm stronger than this, but should I have to be?

Instead of weeping at the bottom of a deep basin, I finger my braids. Grabbing a slightly thicker one from amongst its thinner sisters, I begin the paternoster. "Our father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive our debts, as we forgive--" I choke on the words "--our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil; For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory for ever. Amen. Hail Mary, full of grace . . ."

I don't falter again, not once during 15 rounds. I end on the last braid, on the opposite side of my head, my conscience whitewashed of my recent kill. I dry off in a haze and strap my holster back on.

Wrapping my hair in a towel, I grab my suit and try to hang it in the bathroom so the steam can smooth out the creases travel has left in the fabric. I grow frustrated quickly, vowing to find out why they don't put hooks on their

hangers and create my own hook for the headless hanger by shoving two knives from my uniform into the wall.

Frustration abated, I ignore my hunger and lie naked under the covers. I'm not sure when sleep overcomes me but I wake with a panicked feeling. I don't remember the dreams, but for one image. Remy standing over my brother, staring in shock at the blood on his sword. I blamed Remy for Julien's death, because that is what people told me to do. Now, with the truth in my own heart, I know it's just like so many things in our lives. Reckless behavior and noble intentions collide for a spectacular, rubber-neck-worthy explosion of pain and guilt.

I watch the clock turn over the minutes. After a few mindless moments, it's 10:30 and I can justify getting up. My underwear are stiff and cold but at least they are fresh. I slip my clothes back on and check my profile in the

mirror. I look like I just left a business meeting. No good. I lose the jacket and unbutton my silk blouse. Still not enough. I rummage through my bag, pulling out the black bodice I wear under my armor. The high collar makes it impossible for me to go bare-legged, and I certainly can't wear white stockings after 5 pm. I call the desk and wheedle and plead and beg until they agree to send a busboy to the drug store. I have to be content with cheap Lycra and nylon but at least their dark. I don't have a purse, just my luggage bag, but carry case for my knives is black and small. I add my lipstick and cellphone to its gleaming metal contents and make it out the door by 11:50.

As I exit the elevator, I have two choices. There is what must be a hotel bar/club and the hotel restaurant. I can hear chintzy piano music, even worse for being live, wafting from the dining room, so I duck into the club. It's almost as low-brow, but I suppose it passes for classy in Sticksville, PA. I grimace at the pounding pop but manage to avoid an "Assault by the Macarena" by mere inches. Ouch, don't these people know that thing is deader then road 'possum.

Then the unthinkable happens. Remy walks in just as I hear "Its Electric" starting up on the stereo system. He winces and comes no farther into room. He beckons me and waits by the door. I manage not to cower and cover my ears only because I need my hands out in front to protect me from the thundering line dancers.

Once in the hall, I stiffen as he hugs me. It's too much, too soon. The same warmth I remember holds me, caresses me, tugs at my eyes until they tear. He has my arms pinned and he doesn't seem likely to let go very soon. I awkwardly pull my arms up so I can hug him back. His musky scent is the same but the body I hold so tightly is far too thin. Slipping my arms under his trench coat, I run my hands along his back and bite my lip to keep from gasping. I can feel his ribs even through his suit jacket, dress shirt and undershirt. But he feels me anyway, always so aware of how I feel.

"Don't worry 'bout me, chere. I'll be back in fightin' form b'fore ya know it." He takes off his coat and holds it over one arm because there is no coat check. He still lies with uncanny ease, the right words at the right time still his stock in trade. Forget thieving, he would be a wicked politician.

I laugh. A brittle sound, not the twinkle of stars he is accustomed to. I can see in his eyes that he has fought too many battles, too hard and in too short a time. His eyes are fiercer than ever before. He is always in fighting form.

"Oh, I don' know cher, you look ta be in fine form, to me." I try to cover the cover my sympathetic pain with flirting. It is our oldest and dearest form of communication and I smile as he bows to kiss my hand.

His red-black eyes rise to meet my violet ones, and he smiles that old smile. I control the shiver like I control my breathing in the final moments of an assassination.

"Ya like lobster diners and oyster's fa desert?" He is leading me into the dining room, where a sign proclaims this "Seafood Buffet Night."

"Well, I suppose "all ya can eat" might help ya put some weight on dem bones." I try to ignore his wince. I come from a long line of Cajun women who truly believe a well-fed man is a well-loved man. It's Rogue that's done this to him and she hasn't done a thing to help him. I may have never forgiven her for trying to kill him, but no I'm certain I shall damn her to hell for letting him waste away. I can see kicking a man down, but not helping him back up again is out of my range of relationship savvy.

A bland little waitress seats us, and takes our drink orders. I want alcohol between me and him. I don't like apologies--whether I'm giving them or hearing them, and I know we both have things we need to say.

He seems reluctant to start to conversation, but then, I'm the one that came to him, so he must be waiting for me do what I've come to do. I'm not quite ready. "So, where's dis lobster I been hearin' 'bout?"

My delaying tactic is foolproof and we both fill our plates with shrimp, crabs, oysters and of course lobsters. I make an effort at getting greens and rice but all they offer are salad and pasta so I compromise. Remy, on the other hand, goes straight for the Hawaiian pork roast. That man will eat meat all day long and never gain an ounce.

When we get back to the table, I dump half my pasta onto his plate. "Ya need ta eat more carbs if ya gonna fatten yaself up."

His eyes suddenly snap with fire. "So, what, you didn' come 'ere ta kill me, ya came to make sure I was eatin' a balanced diet?" His voice slaps me with his anger.

I put down my knife because his violence is infectious. I put down my fork because I know far too many lethal uses for it. I place my hands on the table because my gun is at my waist.

"No, I didn' come 'ere to kill you." I can say no more. How can I take back the threats, the price on his head, the capture, the betrayal to Candra? I can't not with words. But the softness of my voice calms him. Barely.

He sits back from the table, crossing his arms, the picture of defiance. "Den why you 'ere?"

I grab my wine glass, the quick movement causing him the rear back, away from me. I drain it. Such a display of nerves is unprecedented for me and he watches in disbelief. He doesn't realize I hurt inside, cut to the core by the fact that he can't imagine any other reason for me to be here than to commit murder. I feel as if he has rent the bond I only recently realized existed--the bond between two souls that are so similar that they must either be very close or very far apart.

"I'm here to, to . . ." To beg your forgiveness, to avenge you, to remember you and me and us. I stop, tongue-tied. He melts, flowing forward until he cups my hands in his own, his eyes searching mine. I try again. "I came ta see you. Ta see what you are now. And to find out what we are."

"I'm still me, Belle. Maybe a little bit betta, in heart. I'm still findin' out who I am, who I wanna be. We're . . ."

He pauses. His eyes drink my soul, savoring it. I feel his charm, which he has honed from a passive quality into an aggressive skill, wash over me. My hands shake a little as he takes them. It's plain on my face, in the quiver of my body, that I love him--then, now and future; once, still and forever.

His hands reach for my face. He thumbs stroke my cheek, carefully avoid the tear there, because he knows I hate to cry. And the love that shines in his crimson eyes is the love I remember.

From when we were children. "We're friends, Belle. Dat's what we always been, what we always gon' be. Dat ain't changed."

Friends. I'm not going to dignify that with a response. I won't. I can't. Because I came all this way to find my husband and found a friend instead. I don't want a friend but, perhaps, I need a friend. But I can't just give him up so easy. "Is dat 'causa Rogue, or 'causa us?"

He rips his hands from me, drawing away again. I lean into his touch for one last second, then steel myself for the fight ahead. His eyes are confused, guilty. Because he was touching me and he can't touch her. I reach my hand out to remind him of that fact. He doesn't move as I take his hand in mine. His fingers are so long that my hand looks like that of child in comparison.

His grip tightens and he begins to caress the back of my hand with his thumb. I can feel need simmer between us again. The electricity of his touch charges me like he charges his cards and I wait to hear his answer. He is here with me; he need never leave.

"We could stay here, togedda, always." But I already know we couldn't. His eyes lit like fireworks as he spoke of his new life. I could never deign to live in a place like for more than a few days. But those would

be some amazing days.

He smiles at my plaintive gesture. There is regret in his eyes, an image I know I will make dear to me. "T'ink 'bout Belle--we can' make forever out of yesterday. We can' live our memories: no matta how sweet dey are, dey gon' and past now." He releases my hand and stands. "Our time togedda is over, Belle. But our time apart has just begun."

I hang my head because he's leaving. But a shadow runs across my face and I look up. He's offering me his arm.

We walk out the restaurant and into the lobby. I try to steer us toward the elevator. His chivalry will force him to see me to my room and then I can convince him of what he's missing. But he resists without appearing to notice my efforts. We leave the hotel arm in arm. His car is parked near mine, which now bears new license plates.

I reach up to kiss him, and he accepts my thanks. How he knew I'll never know, but I can at least thank him for his efforts. He pulls away before I can entrap him.

He opens his car door, the black of his suit disappearing against the Benz' shiny exterior. I guess it belongs to his friends; he hates sedans, even stolen ones. He tosses his coat across the passenger seat, which basically says I'm

not welcome to join him.

And somehow that's fine with me. I wish he would stay and sate the hunger he has awoken in me, but some local from the club will do just as well. I suppose he is right about us. Maybe all that remains are memories of the good and bad times, nothing more.

He has had all this time to think about me, remember me, and us. I just found my memories, but perhaps in time, I will come to the same conclusion he has. Friends. I don't think I could stand to love him and not have him. But if he survives living with that whore he insists on caring for, then I can. I've always been the stronger of us two.

He turns back toward me and I offer my hand for a "friendly" shake. Instead, he takes me into another one of those hugs, tight and fierce so he doesn't have to say goodbye with words. I cling to him, letting the memories freshen and bloom. I let go as he does, because I hate to feel needy.

He pecks my check like a brother, on both cheeks because we're not that far from home. I try to reciprocate, but my love is new and strong, not dulled by time as his is. My lips linger on his cheeks and he lets me.

Then I step back to let him get in his car and drive away. I watch him through the rear view glass of a nearby car.

The night is far too cool for me to be walking around in. But I do it anyway, to soothe my frayed nerves and calm my raging hormones before I do something I might someday regret from my deathbed. I work my way through half a pack of cigarettes in four hours. He tends to have that effect on me.

Back in my room, as the moon begins to set, I pick up the note left on my night stand and begin to undress.

Still the same old Gambit. Left me with the check and stole the clip from my gun before I even had a chance to use it. All I can do is laugh.

Subject: From a lady friend

Date: Nov 9 1999 3:45 AM PST

Sender: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Mr. Steven Dupont:

I hereby inform you that your half our dinner and hotel bill come to $76.43. Please remit payment by cash, check, money order or credit card to Ms. Adele Marquis at 342 Best Street, West Milford, PA.

I'm waiving the usual fees since I had such a wonderful time.

Ms. Marquis

PS--I've sent a copy of this correspondence to a Ms. Sorcière de Verte in hopes this will speed up the process.

I watch through bulky hi-tech binoculars as she shoots up from the ground, obviously dissatisfied with whatever explanation he has chosen to give her.

I contain my belly laughs to smug snickers. He said we would be friends from a far but he didn't say how far.

I sense movement behind me and turn, keeping careful balance on the rocky cliff. All I see is yellow and green, brown and white before she knocks me backwards with just one open handed slap. She doubled back while I was enjoying my little prank.

I leap from the ground, ignoring the blood in my mouth and the pain in my back. I step away quickly, grateful that I fell away from the cliff edge. She is no longer advancing on me but I crouch defensively, ready to fight on whatever terms she sets.

"That was for Cody. And for making Remy lie to me." So he told her the truth and she didn't believe him. How typical. How Rogue. I started this trouble, but she took it to the next level.

I whip out my Nina, loaded with Cop-Killers that should make at least a dent in her filthy hide. "Dis is for

Antarctica, you putain chienne." But before I can fire a single round, he is there between us. He glares at Rogue, and I fairly crow as she backs down.

Then he is walking towards me, right in my line of fire. "You alright, Belle."

He reaches up to wipe the blood from my chin. But he places his other hand on the gun and before I can jerk it from him, I see it shimmer red at charge he places on it. I have to hurl it from me before it kills us both. He looks at me in horror as I toss it toward Rogue, but she understands in ways I never thought she could. He dives toward her futilely, but she does what she has to anyway.

The gun explodes seconds later, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean where Rogue has thrown it. Remy puts a relieved arm around the woman he loves and I realize I'm done here.

I guess I just wanted to see if he still cared. I know Rogue will suffer over it, but I sashay over to him and kiss him like the friend he is. He returns my goodbye, hugging Rogue to his side all the while. She looks away, too proud, too afraid, to watch us touch.

I slip away, back into the night that spawned me. I won't look back, but there's someone watching me go, someone loving me like a father, a brother and a friend. A friend sticking closer than a brother in times of need.

I light a cigarette from the pack of Remy's favorite brand, with his favorite lighter, both of which he always carries in the left inside pocket of his trench coat.

I'm not that far from home.

Disclaimer: Belladonna, Gambit, Rogue, the X-Men, the Thieve's and Assassin's Guilds all belong to Marvel Comics. "A friend sticking closer than a brother in times of need" is from the book of Proverbs and belongs to God. Mary Katherine Gallegher belongs to SNL Studios, Lorne Michaels Productions and future episodes of MST3K. "Supersuck!" The Best Western of Milford, PA, its bar and its restaurant belong to the franchise owners or whoever else claims them. The story itself belongs to K-Nice ("That's me!") and any unauthorized use of any kind is verboten. Alykat, of course, can have it, If she want's it that is, but I think she's the only person I've given carte blanche.


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