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Chapter 1

Moral Majority - REVIEW THIS STORY

Written by NicoPony
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 1

Her outfit was tasteful. It was a smart, business-like suit in gray. The skirt came to just below her knees. Her shoes were practical flats and her hair pulled neatly into a French twist. A red, white and blue cravat completed the ensemble. Bella Donna hated it.

She was standing in a hall of an apartment complex, staring at the innumerable doors before her. Belle had been at this all day. It was not going well. Clutching her sheaf of papers, she knocked on the first door. How did I let him talk me in to this? Bella Donna thought.

The door squeaked open. "What?" said a suspicious voice on the opposite side. A milky blue eye framed by a wrinkly face peered up through the crack between the door and the jamb. The eye looked Belle up and down.

"Are you selling something?" the old woman croaked.

"No ma'am," Belle said, trying her hardest to sound pleasant. "I'm here on behalf of the campaign to elect Kevin Montgomery as our next mayor." Bella Donna's last few words came out in a rush. The door was slowly closing on her speech.

"If I could only have a moment of your time," Belle said, offering her a pamphlet.

"I don't want any!" the crone replied before the door slammed shut.

"Aah!" Belle screamed, turning away and stomping her feet. She shook her fists to complete the tantrum. It had been the same all day. A succession of slamming doors and people suspecting her of selling everything from power tools to religion. Some people even had the nerve to hide behind the couch. Belle angrily slapped the offensive pamphlets against the wall in a poorly veiled attempt to control her anger.

Someone cleared his throat behind her. Belle turned, pamphlets poised to take another whacking, to see Gris Gris, one of the members of the Assassins Guild. He was dressed in a suit as well, and she was taken aback by the strangeness of it. For some reason, he was also holding a plate of cookies. Bella Donna lowered her pamphlets. "Yes, Gris Gris?" she said coolly.

He gave a curt bow. "Mistress," he said. "I would like permission to leave."

"Where are all your pamphlets?" she asked him.

"I gave them away," he replied.

"You were supposed to give them away to different people, not to one person, all at once."

"I did as I was instructed, mistress."

"You mean you've all ready talked about the campaign to everyone in dis building?" Belle exclaimed. "But I gave you over one hundred of these things!" She shook her stack campaign letters to emphasize her point.

"Yes, ma'am," Gris Gris replied.

Belle's anger turned to mild shock. "And where did you get those cookies?" she asked.

"Mrs. Alice DeBourney gave them to me," he replied. "She also said she would be voting for our candidate next week."

Belle's mouth was slightly ajar. She snapped it shut, her anger returning. "Give me those!" she said, snatching the plate of cookies from him. She put her stack of pamphlets into Gris Gris' hands.

"Of all the stupid ideas!" Belle raged, stomping down the hall. She shoved a cookie in her mouth. "I can't believe this!" she bemoaned around a mouthful of chocolate chips.

Gris Gris looked at the pamphlets in his hand and looked at the retreating form of his guild's mistress. "Mrs. DeBourney made me promise to return her plate to her," he said to Bella Donna's back.

Belle's exasperated cry echoed down the hall. Gris Gris sighed and knocked on the door in front of him.

"What?" said a cranky voice from between the door and the jamb.

"Good afternoon, ma'am. I am here to discuss our candidate, Kevin Montgomery, who is running for position of mayor," Gris Gris said.

"Why, what a nice young man," the old lady said, opening the door. "Why don't you come in and have a seat. Would you like some cookies?"

Remy LeBeau was sitting in a corner booth of one of his favorite diners. Sun spilled through the large picture window and fell across the worn Formica table. Across from him was his sister-in-law, Mercy. She was opening and closing her laminated menu, listening to the sticky sound it made. She wrinkled her nose every time the pages unstuck.

"Are you going to stop doing dat?" Remy asked, as Mercy unglued the menu's pages again.

"Why do we have to keep eating here?" she asked. "Could we at least sit in a different booth? My seat is concave, and I keep falling into this dent that some fat trucker's butt left."

"I like eating here, I like dis booth, and you're making everything worse dan it really is," Remy replied, pursuing his menu, even though he had known what he was going to order before he walked in the diner's doors.

"Mph," Mercy replied, flicking back the menu's page with her index finger. She promptly wiped her hands with her paper napkin.

"Coffee?" said a bored voice from above.

"Please," Remy said, eyes still focused on the menu as he turned his mug upright in the saucer before him. A moment passed and no coffee flowed. Remy glanced upwards to look at the waiter. He was standing with the coffeepot poised above Remy's mug. Their eyes met, and the young waiter swallowed hard and filled Remy's cup with a shaking hand. The waiter then turned and hurried away.

"What was dat all about?" Mercy asked.

"Beats me," Remy replied. "Never seen him before. Must be new."

"Hm," Mercy said, picking up her spoon and examining it. She scratched an imaginary speck from it with her fingernail. "So why did you want to talk to me alone?"

Remy glanced up from stirring his coffee. "It was about the campaign," he said.

Mercy sighed. "Look, Remy, I'm not going to hand out fliers like you have Belle doing. What exactly were you thinking when you sent her out on dat mission? She'll actually have to talk to people. You can't have dat."

"She'll do fine. Belle's a people person."

"Yah, a people killing person. You can't unleash her onto normal folk."

There was a pained look on Remy's face, and he scratched the stubble on his cheek.

"You're going to ask me something bad, aren't you?" Mercy said.

"It's not necessarily bad, per se," Remy responded.

"You'd better tell me now or get prepared to wear the contents of this bear," she said, pointing the plastic container of honey at him.

"Kevin needs a wife," Remy said as quickly as he could, like ripping off a Band-aid so that it would be less painful. Mercy raised the honey bear in a threatening manner as her eyes widened. "Wait, let me explain!" he said hurriedly. "It's de family values thing, see. Kevin needs a lovely companion to share his life with. I'm not telling you to actually marry him for real."

"Like just do guest appearances, right?" Mercy said, both hands on the bear at this point. "You had better tell me this is one big joke."

"Kevin's de model candidate. He's just missing his better half. All you have to do is smile and wave. Simple, right?" Remy held out his hands in supplication.

Mercy's eyes narrowed and she reluctantly put the honey down. "I'm going to say 'yes', despite the nagging feeling that I'm going to regret it," she said finally. "But I'm not going to do anything else. Just smile and wave."

"Smile and wave," Remy repeated, as his attention returned to his coffee mug.

Behind Remy, on the diner's bar, dishes clattered and smashed. The waiter that had poured Remy's coffee just moments before slammed his serving tray down on the counter. A glass sugar container and a chrome napkin holder crashed to the peeling vinyl floor.

"Freakin' muties everywhere!" the waiter cried. Beside him, the diner's manager raised his hands, supplicating the waiter to be silent. He was looking desperately from the angry employee to the corner booth where Remy and Mercy sat.

"I ain't gonna work in dis place!" the waiter continued. "You can sit here and put up wit' dese filthy freaks, but I won't!" The waiter threw his plastic serving tray to the floor and ripped off his apron. He spun around and pointed a shaking finger in Remy's direction. "Y'can go to hell you freak! Get de hell out of dis city!" With that, he turned and stormed out of the restaurant causing the bells above the door to clang madly.

The restaurant had fallen silent during the waiter's tirade. People sat as if frozen, their eyes going from the door to stare at the back of Remy's head. Remy sat quietly sipping his coffee as if the entire scene had not taken place. The restaurant's owner, a heavyset balding man with a stained apron, slowly came to the table where Mercy and Remy sat. He was wringing his hands nervously.

"Mister LeBeau," he began, his voice shaking slightly. "I'm terribly sorry, sir. Please---I mean, I promise it won't happen again."

Remy looked up from stirring sugar into his coffee. "Ca va, Marc. Don't worry about it," he replied quietly with a smile.

"Can I---is dere anything I can get you?" Marc continued.

"De coffee will be all, merci," Remy replied.

"I'd like one of those muffins from de display case, please," Mercy said smiling. "To go, thanks."

Marc nodded and hurried off. Slowly, the diner regained its motion, but the patrons kept their voices low and their eyes to themselves.

"I guess dat means we won't be coming back to eat here," Mercy said meekly.

Remy slammed his palm down on the tabletop, making the silverware clatter. He glared at her, got up, and left. Mercy stared at the space where Remy's hand had hit the table. A fifty-dollar bill lay for tip.

In the subterranean levels beneath Xavier's School for Higher Learning was a mass amount of technology unbeknownst to anyone on Earth. There was a room that could simulate any kind of experience, many of the scenarios programmed within turned the room into a battleground for practiced war. Down the metal corridor was a machine that could connect the most powerful minds to those of the entire planet. Central to it all was a room where information was gathered and meetings were held. Computers and immense displays lined the walls. They called it the Ready Room. It was a place where their leaders debriefed the team, strategies were planned, and orders set in motion. At the moment, the wonderful technology, which rested solely in the X-Men's hands, was channeled to one thing: football.

Bobby Drake, also known as Iceman, was sitting on one of the swiveling chairs with his feet up on the circular table. "Run you bastard! Run!" he cried at the large screen before him. A member of his favorite football team, the New England Patriots, fumbled and was crushed by several of his largest opponents. "Oh man!" he wailed.

"Bobby!" said an angry voice, that bore the hint of a southern accent. "Change it back!"

"But---," Bobby said, pointing to the screen, as if what was shown there was excuse enough.

"Now," Rogue said.

Bobby sighed and switched the station. The screen was divided into quarters. On each section was a broadcast, each from different times and places. Rogue, the current leader of the X-Men, had programmed their computer, Cerebro, to record various programs across the United States. Her specifications were for Cerebro to locate various campaign speeches given by candidates who would take positions of higher power if elected. The catalogue of speeches from potential mayors of large cities, governors, and senators were sifted through, in search of inflammatory remarks made against mutants. It was an arduous task, but since Senator Robert Kelley had entered the race to become the U.S. President, many other political candidates had taken up the flag of anti-mutant standing.

The team of X-Men had dwindled down to four; Rogue, who had taken the reins of leadership and was directing her team members via long distance communication, Wolverine, Psylocke, and Iceman. Rogue had dispersed the other members of the X-Men to different locations, to quell the sudden rise in anti-mutant hysteria. As voting time drew ever closer, there had been an outbreak of riots and violent acts against the small mutant population.

Currently, the remainders of the X-Men were surveying four potential problems. A senator from California, a governor from Texas, and two mayors from large cities, Chicago and New Orleans.

Rogue aimed the beam of her laser pointer to the forehead of the California candidate. "Ah can send the team in Washington down t'patrol Las Angeles later this evening. He's having himself a little shindig tomorrow, and Ah don't want to see another bear baiting like what we saw in Michigan," Rogue paused at the thought. "Jean is with that team, as is Cable. Good. We'll need the heavy hitters for that job."

Rogue continued. "Ah think we can leave the Texas job alone for now. They've been pretty quiet, and the candidate only seems to be making the remarks he is in response to the press. Ah don't think he's going to be much of a problem," as Rogue spoke, the image of the governor from Texas winked out and the screen was now divided into three.

"You think these other two guys are worth checkin' out?" asked Logan, also known as Wolverine, from behind her.

"Ah've all ready sent a reconnaissance team to Chicago," Rogue began.

"Leavin' us with New Orleans," Wolverine smirked.

Rogue stood firm, unimpeded by Logan's comment. "Beast, Angel and Thunderbird were all ready located in Michigan. They should be in Chicago within the hour."

"Will we be leaving for New Orleans?" Psylocke asked. "That's Gambit's turf. Shouldn't he be able to handle it?"

"Ah haven't been able to contact him," Rogue admitted, somewhat angrily.

"You should have sent me to Michigan," Psylocke added. "Why you've kept me here, when I could have helped---."

Rogue cut her off. "Ah've kept you here for backup. Neither Wolverine's powers, nor mine are very helpful against large crowds of angry people. Ah've been holding you back because your powers are wider ranged, that is," Rogue added, "if you think you can handle them."

Elizabeth cringed and held her tongue. Rogue turned back to the display and pressed a button on her pointer. The screen zeroed in on one face, the Independent running mate, Kevin Montgomery. "Be ready to leave in twenty minutes," Rogue said, tossing Iceman the pointer. "Bobby, you stay here and keep us updated."

"No problemo," Bobby said as the other three filed out of the room. Bobby patiently waited until he heard their footsteps fade down the hall. He paused for a moment, looking up at the young face of Kevin Montgomery. He looked harmless enough. Bobby pointed the controller Rogue had tossed to him at the screen. Bobby groaned when he realized he had just missed the New England Patriots' winning touchdown.

"Cerebro," he said to the air. "Instant replay!"

Kevin Montgomery was waving to the large crowd gathered below his podium. "Thank you! Thank you!" he was saying.

Remy LeBeau stood behind the dais where Kevin had just finished giving his speech. Thierry Ribault, the commissioner of the New Orleans Police Department, trotted down the steps to stand beside Remy. Remy had wanted the commissioner there to stand in silent support of Kevin's campaign. The citizens of New Orleans trusted him completely, especially since the crime rate had made a dramatic decrease over the past several months.

"Do you think it's wise for Montgomery to be taking an anti-mutant stand?" Thierry asked.

Remy looked out over the crowd and adjusted his sunglasses. "Do you think it would be better if he didn't?" he replied. "Ideally, Kevin wouldn't have to talk trash about extra police protection against mutants, or promoting small businesses from barring mutants for insurance purposes, but dis ain't ideal. It's politics. You say what you can and you get de votes."

"Dis ain't a mutant loving crowd," Thierry said. "And dere's a lot more mutants in dis city than before. I'm worried someone might get hurt."

"Who? De norms or de muties?"

Thierry shrugged. Kevin Montgomery leapt down the steps towards Remy and Thierry.

"How'd I do?" he asked.

"Fine," Remy said. "Great as usual. Dey love you."

It was easy to like Kevin Montgomery. Remy had liked him from the moment they had met. Thierry had introduced the pair shortly after Remy had explained his plans to place someone as mayor of New Orleans. Thierry had known Kevin from his college internship under the District Attorney. Kevin had retained an exuberant boyishness about him. His crooked smile and good looks made him immediately likeable; his vibrant personality kept people coming back for more. Despite his relatively young age, and his lack of years in a professional office, he was leading in the polls.

Kevin's face split into a grin. He had begun to say something when a shadow crossed his face and a small, perplexed line formed between his brows.

"What's wrong?" Remy asked, as he turned to look in the direction Kevin was staring in.

Bella Donna was storming past the line of press and news reporters. She came to a halt before Remy and put her hands on her hips.

"Belle, honey, you look…lovely," he said. "Still blazing the campaign trail?"

Bella Donna assaulted him with an informational pamphlet. "I'll blaze your behind!" she announced. "Of all the insufferable, stupid things you could have me do! Why did I agree to do this? You tricked me! You must have used your powers on me!"

"Quit! Quit it!" Remy struggled to deflect the blows and avoid getting rather nasty paper cuts. "Belle! Calm down, dere are people watching!"

Belle stomped her foot, a signal that she had finished her tirade, but was only just keeping another at bay. "Where's Gris Gris?" Remy asked.

Belle mumbled something that almost sounded like: "Returning Mrs. DeBourney's Tupperware."

"What?" Remy asked.

"I don't want to talk about it!" Belle exclaimed.

"Perhaps it would be best if we continued dis…discussion at home?" Thierry asked.

Remy nodded. "Thierry, why don't you and Kevin go back to de campaign headquarters. I think Belle and I might go for a walk."

"Don't wanna walk," Belle muttered.

"All right," Thierry said. "I'll see you later tonight then."

"Later, Remy," Kevin said.

Remy waved as the pair got into Thierry's old Buick. The press snapped photos and people waved and held banners with Kevin's name on them. The media and the people liked Kevin's humble image. Like everything else, it was all carefully orchestrated.

Bella Donna reluctantly took Remy's arm when he offered it. They walked in silence away from the bustling crowd that was still dispersing after the speech had been given. Together, they turned down a quieter street.

"I take it your campaigning did not go well," Remy said to Belle.

"Hmph," Belle replied. "Well, at least not on my part," she added. "The others we've hired to promote Kevin seem to be faring better than I."

"I know what will cheer you up," Remy said conversationally.

"What's that?"

"Kevin is about to take a wife," Remy replied.

"A wife? Kevin? But I thought he was---."

"Not a real wife," Remy cut in. "Mercy is going to play the part of the lovely Mrs. Montgomery."

"Hah!" Belle said, more out of cynicism than humor.

"I thought you'd appreciate knowing dat."

Belle sniggered to herself. "I'd prefer handing out pamphlets, thanks."

The two passed a gang of young men. Instead of throwing out idle threats to the couple walking alone in the gathering darkness, the gang members backed away into an alley. Remy watched them carefully from behind his sunglasses. The streetlights above flickered to life, throwing yellow light onto the sidewalks below.

Belle broke the silence finally when the two reached the street corner. "Since you've officially turned de guilds over to me," she said, "what do you plan on doin' after de election is over?"

Remy and Belle stood under the street light. Moths had all ready begun to circle its inviting glow. Leaning against the light post, Remy replied: "You know de answer."

Belle sighed and crossed her arms across her chest. "I couldn't convince you to stay here, could I?" she said, looking away.

He shook his head. "I've come to realize what dis place means to me," he said. "I'm tired of being de outcast everyone only just tolerates. De way I'm treated, recognized by de locals who know about de guilds. Dey're afraid of de guild, dey're afraid of me as a person, and afraid of me as a mutant."

"Is dat going to change once you go back t'your happy little X-Club? Dey must welcome you wit' open arms dere."

Remy looked down at his feet and scuffed the toe of his shoe on the pavement. "I've done what I can as a thief and as guild leader," he said quietly. "De X-Men, they can take me or leave me. I jus' think its time I be my own person, stead of what others want me t'be."

Back down the street, one of the members of the street gang threw a bottle. The others around him laughed.

"I want dat for you too, Remy," Belle said, ignoring the scene behind them. "I just wish I could be there wit' you."

Remy enclosed Belle in his arms. "It's not as if I'm going away forever," he said into her hair.

"It isn't de same," she whispered to him. "Why can't I just have you back like it was before? You an' me, stuck together at de hip. You're my best friend, Remy. Sometimes I think you're my only friend."

"Hush, cherie," Remy said. "No worries, enh? If you call, I'll answer. I'll be by your side when you need me most."

"I need you now, Remy," Belle whispered, looking up at him. Her cool, violet eyes searched his fiery red ones.

A shout from the street beyond snatched away the breath they shared between them. There was the sound of breaking glass and something heavy hitting the pavement. Another cry followed.

"C'mon," Remy said, breaking away from the embrace. "Sounds like those punks are up t'something."

Belle nodded silently and the pair dashed down the street toward the sounds of a scuffle.

"Hell!" one man cried out. "Why wait fer de election? Let's start cleanin' up de streets now!" He hefted a garbage pail and brought it down on the figure lying at his feet.

"You son of a bitch!" called out another individual. The second speaker was brawnier than the first, and he knocked the man wielding the garbage can from his feet. The two rolled across the pavement.

Another shouted encouragement, two others kicked the fallen figure. The fifth member of the fight struggled to pull the assailants away from the man lying in the street.

"Y'all need to settle yourselves," Bella Donna announced as she and Remy approached the scene.

"What're you gonna do about it, bitch?" called one kid in a denim jacket. He flicked out a pocketknife.

Belle smiled coldly and in one smooth motion, pulled a dagger from beneath her blouse and threw it toward the gang member. With perfect precision, the blade struck the hand carrying the weapon. The kid fell to the pavement, clutching his impaled hand.

The two men who had been striking the fallen figure looked up in surprise. They looked from their fallen comrade to the blonde woman who was currently locating more daggers on her person, and preparing to use them. They turned to flee as she set upon them.

Remy tackled the third and fourth figures standing beside the man in the street. He landed knees first, on the chest of the gang member and toppled down the fourth man by clothes-lining him with an outstretched arm. The pair landed with a grunt. Remy's sunglasses went skittering across the concrete. He leapt to his feet and back-flipped, landing beside the injured man.

"Are you all right?" Remy asked, turning the man over. To his shock, the man had not two eyes, but three. All opened and blinked rather blearily at him. Blood trickled from the mutant's nose.

"I---I think," he said, his voice hoarse.

Belle leapt upon the two fleeing individuals, knocking them both from their feet. They landed hard on their faces while she rolled past and quickly got to her feet. "Hah!" she said, brandishing a blade in each hand and showing her teeth in a gruesome grin. The pair scrambled to stand and turned and fled back toward the fight scene.

Two figures were still scrambling in the street. The large man was straddling a gang member, and laying his fist into the fallen man's face. His hand struck the kid's head with the sound of a large rock hitting peat. The fist raised again and was about to fall on the now-unconscious gang member when Remy gripped the big man from behind.

"I think dat's about enough," he said, straining against the strength of the large man's arm.

The large man gave an unarticulated cry and knocked Remy back. Remy stumbled backward a few paces toward the injured mutant and the two other men he had knocked down earlier. Crouching beside the injured mutant was a smaller figure, who was trying to help the hurt man to his feet. Behind him, two gang members were quickly approaching, with Bella Donna in hot pursuit.

Remy brandished a playing card. It ignited with a hot, alien glow that sizzled in the night air. "I said, that's enough," he repeated.

All the gathered combatants froze, captivated by the energized card. The big man turned slowly. The strange light cast from Remy's hand danced across his flat features. His skin was covered in scales, his face flat and nose-less. Slit-like pupils contracted in the light.

"You're---you're Gambit!" the scaled man said.

"A freak! Another mutie!" cried a gang member.

"Mon Dieu! Le Diable Blanc!" cried another.

"Thieves Guild, run!"

"An X-Man!"

"Montgomery's campaign manager!"

Am I wearing a nametag? Remy asked himself. Maybe I should wear one of those sandwich boards that can just advertise who I am to everyone? I should ring a bell and hand out fliers while I'm at it.

"Yes!" Belle cried. "You've all heard de stories! Beware of de evil campaign manager! Kissing hands and shakin' babies! Now run, all of you, before he sets upon you wit' de promotional pamphlets!"

She lashed out with one of her blades and sent the two she had chased earlier running. A third and fourth man got to their feet and pounded off after the first two. The scaled man, the bleeding three-eyed mutant, the unconscious gang member, and a fourth unidentified individual remained behind. Remy tossed his card aside, and it fizzled out in the gutter. The fourth person stepped into the light to hold the shoulders of the wounded mutant. It was a woman with shockingly red hair and a deep brown complexion.

"Care to explain what happened?" Remy asked. "Though I can pretty much guess from dis point."

"They attacked us," grumbled the scaled man. "Obviously."

"How's de punk?" Remy asked, indicating the fallen gang member at his feet.

"He'll live," the big man replied.

"How do you know my name?" Remy asked.

"I've lived here my entire life," he replied. "I've heard the stories."

"I ain't seen you b'fore."

"Never bothered to come out until I met my new…friends."

The red haired woman and the injured mutant smiled at him despite their situation.

"How does it feel to have betrayed your race then, Mr. Campaign Manager?" the scaled man continued.

Remy imperceptibly flinched at the accusation. "Gotta understand de circumstances, monsieur. But you seem t'be a man in de know. You look like someone what can see through de bullshit to de truth of de matter. Montgomery's got a hidden agenda all right. And it's gotta do with mutants, dat's true enough."

The large man nodded.

"I hope you'll come to de acceptance speech next week to show your support," Remy said, extending his hand, which the scaled man accepted. "Believe me, I wouldn't leave my city in nothin' but de best of care."

"I understand," the man replied.

"Do you have some place to stay?" Bella Donna asked him.

"We were on our way to my place," said the redhead shyly before adding: "Thanks for your help." The woman paused and pointed to Belle's lapel. "May I have your pin?"

Belle looked down at the red, white, and blue pin that read "Montgomery for Mayor" on it. "Uhm, sure," she said, removing it and handing it to the girl. "Be sure to vote on Tuesday."

The redhead nodded eagerly as she pocketed the pin. The scaled man and the girl helped the injured mutant to his feet and they ambled off down the street.

"Dat seemed to go okay," Remy said, nudging the gang member lying on the curb. The kid let out a low, pained moan.

"'Okay'? 'Okay'!" Belle said, incredulously. "A gang fight is not "okay"!"

"I meant your campaign," Remy said looking away, as he struggled to hide a smile. "Except you forgot to give her a pamphlet."

Belle found an apple core lying in the street and flung it at him. Remy skittered away and danced down the street, laughing. Bella Donna dashed after him; her profanities and exclamations echoed off the tall, picturesque buildings of New Orleans.

"This has gotta be the place," Rogue said, eyeing the estate before them. She and Psylocke were on the opposite side of the street, sitting on a staircase of concrete steps and drinking coffee. "Fancy digs for a guy who's supposed to be down t'earth and humble."

"I've seen nicer," Psylocke said flippantly.

Rogue rolled her eyes.

A tan Buick was parked behind the house's black, wrought iron gates. It had been there all day. The two women had taken turns walking back and forth, examining the house from all angles. So far, they had seen nothing. It was very quiet for someone at the focus of a campaign that could determine his future, and that of the city of New Orleans, for some time to come.

A dark shadow fell across the two from above. Rogue and Psylocke turned to look up at the stocky figure of Wolverine, who had mysteriously appeared at the top of the staircase.

"Word has it Montgomery's got some hidden agenda, directly involving mutants," he grumbled.

"Where'd you hear that?" Rogue inquired.

"Kept my ear to the ground," Wolverine replied, putting a finger to one side of his nose. "Got a few connections here. They gave me the scoop."

"And what, pray tell, would this agenda involve?" Psylocke asked, returning her focus to the estate across the street.

"Something about relocation," Wolverine replied, following Psylocke's gaze.

"Relocation?" Rogue asked. "What does that mean, exactly?"

Wolverine shrugged. "Tag em and bag em," he said. "No word of the Cajun," he added.

Rogue made a snorting sound, dismissing his comment. "We should take a look-see around Mr. Montgomery's grounds," she said.

"You want I should knock?" Logan asked.

"Ah was thinkin' we'd take a different approach," Rogue answered. Beside her, Psylocke smiled. "Logan, I want you to take patrol around back. Betsy and I will find our way inside."

"In broad daylight?" Psylocke asked.

Rogue pointed to the leafy canopy and flowing wisteria shielding much of the house from view. "We've got some cover from the street. We just have to worry about the people inside, and hope they're not expecting visitors."

Psylocke nodded and the three dispersed in different directions. Rogue meandered across the street and slipped away from the sidewalk, walking along side the high iron fence. Pretending to admire the architecture of the estate next door, she let her hand trail over the fence posts. As she rounded a large growth of weeds, she lifted herself and flew over the fence and perched in the branches of an overhead tree. Below her, in the shade, Psylocke was all ready whispering along the side of the house. Rogue touched down beside the woman and they crouched behind the masonry of the house's chimney.

"There is an entrance to the cellar just around back," Psylocke said. "There is a simple combination lock on the door."

"Sounds good," Rogue replied, and followed Psylocke's lead. The two came to a halt and peered around the corner of the house. The backyard was densely planted with wildflowers and heavily covered with foliage. The stone walkway leading to the back door of the house was slightly overgrown with long grasses. Psylocke pointed to the double doors of an old cellar entry. The two women stole across the back of the house. Upon coming to the cellar doors, Rogue reached out and snapped the lock from the hinges. Psylocke lifted one of the doors and they ducked inside. She carefully replaced the door soundlessly and she and Rogue lightly made their way down the wooden steps.

The basement was cool and silent. There were no sounds of life from above. In the darkness, Rogue came to a slow realization that the basement was not as quiet as it first seemed. All around them was a faint electronic hum.

"Computers," Psylocke said quietly. Rogue could make out the faint bluish light emanating from several monitors nearby. Rogue sidled over to one and touched a keyboard. A monitor flickered to life.

"Does this interface seem familiar to you?" Rogue whispered.

"It looks like…" Psylocke paused. "It looks like the database we use---."

"At home," Rogue said. "This is the same way Cerebro's database is set up!"

Psylocke approached another monitor and clicked it on. An image of Bobby Drake, sitting before a monitor and watching a rerun of America's Funniest Home Videos appeared. "Oh my god," Psylocke said, her eyes widening. "This is live feed from the mansion!"

"You're kidding me!" Rogue said, standing behind Psylocke and studying the screen. Bobby took the inopportune moment to pick his nose. "Ew," both women said in unison.

On the floor above them, someone pulled a chair across the floor. Rogue and Psylocke froze and followed the noise with their eyes. Muffled voices murmured down the stairs to their left. "Ah think this is cause enough for a little eavesdropping," Rogue said, indicating the monitors.

The two inched up the worn wooden staircase that led upstairs to the house's interior.

"What do you think of dis tie?" someone asked.

"Uhm, too busy," the other replied. "Try this one."

There was a pause in the conversation. "Do you t'ink she'll like it? My wife is so picky. She's always asking me 'are you really going to wear that?'."

"I think it looks good on you. Now your coat on the other hand…"

"What's wrong wit' my coat?"

There was a long drawn out sigh. Psylocke and Rogue looked at each other in the darkness. It certainly didn't seem like a conversation between people plotting the end to all mutantkind.

"I suppose it will be fine for the luncheon," came the final reply. "I'm looking forward to it. The seniors are some of the biggest voters in the city. I hope I don't come across as too young and too inexperienced to them."

"You'll do fine," said the other voice in a way that made it sound as if he said it every hour.

"I suppose…" returned the younger voice in a shy manner. The sound of a door opening and closing came from somewhere else in the house.

"That'll be him," said the older man. "He's got a surprise for you."

"What?" the young man asked.

Someone burst into the room. "Don't get any smart ideas!" a woman's voice announced loudly. Rogue felt that she recognized the voice. She leaned closer to the door. Psylocke followed suit. The two spies held their breath.

"About what?" the young man asked again. "What's going on here?"

A fourth person entered the room. He spoke in a low voice for a few moments. The older man burst out laughing.

"It isn't funny!" the woman cried.

Rogue shifted her weight and the step beneath her creaked. Psylocke's eyes widened and the voices on the opposite side of the door went suddenly silent. Rogue prepared herself for a flight back down the stairs when suddenly the basement door flew open and threw her off balance. Bright light suddenly blinded the two women and they tumbled forward, crying out in surprise.

"What in de world?" said a voice above them.

Rogue looked up at the lithe form of Remy LeBeau, who was holding open the door with one hand.

"Gambit?" Psylocke and Rogue exclaimed.

The young candidate known as Kevin Montgomery was getting to his feet. An older gentleman, who Rogue recognized as Thierry Ribault, chief of the NOPD, was holding a pair of ties. Lastly was Mercy LeBeau, who was standing with her hands on her hips and her mouth in a pout. They were all standing in a large kitchen. Suddenly, the slightly bewildered audience was distracted once again as the sound of breaking glass filled the room. A snarling Wolverine burst through the back window, landing on the kitchen table. Kevin flipped over his chair in surprise. Thierry had dropped his ties and began to pull a gun from a holster under his jacket.

"Not one move, bub," Wolverine growled, brandishing his claws.

"Would you mind getting off my kitchen table, Logan?" Remy said dryly.

Wolverine looked at Remy then and looked down at the table on which he crouched. He then turned to look at the broken glass window.

Remy crossed his arms over his chest. "You kids're gonna pay for dat window," he said mockingly.

"Gambit!" Rogue spluttered from where she lay tangled on the floor with Psylocke.

"Get off of me!" the other woman cried.

Remy grabbed Rogue's arm and lifted her to her feet. Wolverine climbed down from the kitchen table and bodily picked up Kevin from the floor.

"Gnh!" Kevin said.

"Well said," Psylocke retorted. "Gambit, what is going on here?"

"What, can't you tell? I thought it was pretty obvious that I was setting Kevin up as New Orleans' next mayor, creating a network of higher-ups to maintain my plans to protect my family and de growing mutant population," Remy took an exaggerated deep breath. "Since I'll be leaving and all, I thought it would be best to leave my city in good hands," Remy said. "Actually, I was expecting you. I just didn't think you'd break into my house and tumble out of de basement. Knocking on de front door would have been easier, don't you think?"

"For starters, we didn't know this was your house. Secondly, we wouldn't think you'd be in bed with an anti-mutant politician," Rogue replied.

"In bed? Remy's not really my type," Kevin replied, carefully eyeing Logan as he brushed bits of glass from his sleeves.

"I take it your secret agenda really doesn't spell ultimate doom and gloom for the mutant populace, then?" Psylocke said.

"Uh, not unless you think governmentally based support groups and housing is a threat," Kevin replied.

"Well!" Rogue proclaimed, pointing a finger at Remy. "You could have kept us informed so we could be working on real problems instead of wasting time here!"

"Here I thought you'd be happy to see me," he replied, shrugging helplessly. "But I hope you'll stay, at least until election night."

"We're not interested in being part of your mock campaign," Rogue said.

"Actually, I was just hoping you'd give me a ride back home," Remy responded.

Rogue rolled her eyes and looked at Wolverine and Psylocke. The pair shrugged. "I don't think I can spend another five minutes in the Ready Room," Psylocke said. "Please don't make me go back just yet."

"Yah, please," Wolverine muttered in a mocking plea, a bemused smile on his face.

Rogue glared at Kevin, then Thierry and Mercy. "Hey, don't look at me," Mercy said. "I'm just here to smile and wave." She demonstrated the performance.

"Fine!" Rogue exclaimed. "We'll stay! Fine!" Rogue marched down the hallway and slammed a door behind her.

"Dat's de closet! De front door is to your left!" Remy called after her.

The door reopened and slammed shut. "Fine!" Rogue's muffled voice called back. More stomping echoed through the house until the front door was located and slammed.

The party in the kitchen stood quietly, trying to avoid meeting each other's eyes.

Thierry broke the silence. "Mercy, you're a woman. What do you think of my jacket? It's all right, isn't it?"

She gave him an appraising glance. "Not with that tie, it ain't."

A light mist fell over New Orleans, but the dampness in the air and on the street did not prevent the crowd from amassing before the large, outdoor grandstand. People cheered and waved flags and banners in support of their newly elected mayor. Rogue stood on the edge of the crowd, splitting her gaze between the crowd and the man standing before the podium. The grandstand cast a warm, yellow glow, holding back the dark night around them. Wolverine stood to her left, a few dozen yards away. They made brief eye contact and nodded discretely to one another. Psylocke was further away, on the opposite side of the crowd. A small mass of strangers huddled in the sidelines, sharing quietly in the celebration. Rogue had realized the group consisted mainly of mutants. Although many of them had no physical characteristics of being mutated, their close proximity to those who were was clue enough that they were more than human.

So far, all had been relatively quiet. Despite the mutants' closeness to the human crowd, there had been no outbreaks of violence. Many had been more perplexed by their presence, perhaps wondering why the mutants were supporting Kevin Montgomery. More likely, they kept their distance because of the very apparent presence of the New Orleans Police Department.

Rogue pulled her gaze away from the mutants to focus on the stage before her. Kevin was clearing his throat and beckoning with his hands for the crowd to settle. The rain of red, white, and blue balloons that poured down from above interrupted him further. The result only caused the crowd to raise their voices in approval. Rogue scanned the group of people on stage. Thierry sat on a folding chair to Kevin's right. Mercy hovered by his left side, doing her part to appear as the doting wife. She thought she spied a few members of both the Thieves and Assassins Guild hanging back, away from the lights. However, there was one person missing.

Remy LeBeau walked through the crowd toward the grandstand, his long, black coat flaring behind him. The crowd silently dispersed before him, parting as he passed. He walked as if he owned the city itself, and the people around him seemed to acknowledge his self-assurance. He passed through the security unimpeded and made his way up onto the grandstand. The world around him suddenly became a hundred times brighter. Down below, lights flashed from dozens of cameras, both from the press and the television media. The stage lights lining the grandstand shown upwards, reflecting off the lenses of his sunglasses. Remy came to a halt just behind Thierry Ribault's chair. Thierry became aware of his presence, and looked up with a smile.

All around them, the crowd cheered.

Mercy LeBeau was smiling in spite of herself. She had to look good for the cameras, after all. Kevin waved cheerfully at his adoring public. Tearing her eyes away from the press for a moment, she looked out across the crowd of faces. It was all so dazzling, brighter than anything she had ever seen. Being a thief, she had always kept to the shadows. But it was always the spotlight that she had so craved.

Thierry found himself scanning the crowd. Across the sea of bodies, he could pick out the distinctive blue uniforms of New Orleans' finest. Reassured, he began to relax back in his chair, momentarily at peace despite being completely surrounded. At least up here, he wouldn't have to be answering any questions posed by the persistent news media. Neither was he being forced to defend his choice in attire to his wife.

Far back in the crowd, a dull glint of light caught his eye. He blinked, thinking the light was caused by the residue of the flashing cameras. In that instant, a shriek rose over the crowd, and a ripple of fear moved through the audience.

"He's got a gun!"

The warning cry came too late. Remy suddenly had a vision of strings, so intricately and skillyfully woven together, come unraveling between his fingers. All the careful planning, the gentle pushing and prodding, and the positioning of pieces on a game board, were to be dashed to nothing.

A thought formed in the chaos of his inner vision. "The mutants, my family…my city," his brain screamed to him. What would happen to them?

Two shots were fired, causing the crowd to panic. Their shouts, which had been so supportive and happy only moments before, suddenly turned fearful. Remy dashed across the stage, his arms flew out to encompass the newly elected mayor, and they dove to the ground.

Remy gasped, and a sudden pain screamed in his side. The ground seemed to rise up to meet his fall, hard and fast. Under him, Kevin wheezed, his breath knocked from his body. Remy scrambled to his knees, using the podium as cover.

"Are you all right?" he asked Kevin, frantically searching him for the source of blood which was splattered across the stage.

Kevin gasped for breath, tears in his eyes and nodded. "Fine," he squawked.

Behind them, Thierry had all ready leapt from the grandstand and was running through the crowd, in the direction the gunshots had come.

Remy jumped to his feet and dashed after Thierry's retreating figure.

The world suddenly exploded into chaos. The crowd seemed to explode outwards, away from the gunshots and the bearer of the weapon.

"Where's the shooter?" Rogue screamed above the din of the frightened mob.

"I couldn't get sight of him!" Wolverine responded. "Not in this crowd!"

Rogue rose, using her gift of flight to try to see above the fray.

"Freakin' muties!" someone called from below. From out of the crowd, a bottle flew, striking Rogue in the chest. "You killed him!"

Rogue brushed shards of glass from her shirt where the bottle had shattered harmlessly on her invulnerable form. The accusation spawned a succession of flying debris aimed both at Rogue and the bewildered mutants at the edge of the crowd. Somewhere, something crashed and a voice cried out in pain. A fight broke out between the largest member of the mutant group and several humans.

"Logan!" Rogue called out again. "Find Betsy, now!" Rogue pushed up her sleeves and purposefully aimed herself at the brawling figures. "I can handle these guys for now!"

The sound of the firing weapon could have been the shot from a starter's pistol. Thierry had been on his feet and running head on into the crowd after the shooter. The kind of pursuit he gave ran in his blood; the Bloodhound Instinct, was what his grandfather had called it. To chase down anything that ran. His grand-daddy had it, and his daddy had had it. And now, shoving his way through the crowd, he could only growl as people scattered across his path that led to the shooter.

The bloodhound in him howled as the scent grew cold.

Someone had been shot. She was laying on the ground, several police officers doting on her, struggling to keep the frantic crowd at bay. People were being trampled in their fright to escape the would-be killer.

People jostled him, no longer keeping the distance they preserved for him so earlier. Remy gasped as the pain of hundreds of bruises made themselves felt each time someone collided into him. Remy came to a shambling halt, giving up his chase of Chief Ribault. Leaning over, he put his hands on his knees and tried to breathe.

On stage, someone cleared their throat.

"Everyone needs to calm down," the voice said, booming in the audience's brain, amplified by the speakers. "Just calm down."

Mercy stood beside Kevin, doing what she was there to do: be supportive. She had decided to take it literally. She held Kevin tightly, his arm slung across her shoulder as she held him up. He had stood before the podium and had spoken.

His voice was clear and calm. It rang out through the crowd, and echoed in the minds of the people before him. The microphone lay on the ground, untouched, several feet from where the two stood. In unison, the crowd slowed and paused. En masse, they turned to face the stage.

Captivated by the speaker, they failed to notice the shroud of pale pink light that lay over them, like a warm secure blanket.

The crowd had parted, and Thierry continued his chase. He had seen the man bolt from the edge of the crowd, heading off down the darkened street. Amazingly, Remy had caught up behind him, and the pair dashed down the wet pavement.

"Where---are---we---going?" Remy asked, as they pounded down the darkened street.

"This way!" cried Thierry, turning down an alley. Up ahead was the clinking sound of something hitting a chain link fence. In the darkness, a shadowy figure was leaping over the top of the barrier.

Theirry hit the fence full force, grabbing the top and propelling himself over. Remy followed suit and landed on the street beside him with an audible grunt. The quarry was just rounding the corner at the end of the alleyway. The two men sprinted after him. As they came out into the street, the man they had been chasing came into full view.

"Stop! Police!" Thierry cried after the fleeing figure.

"Lissen mon ami," Remy panted. "Speaking from experience, after having de words 'Stop! Police!' shouted at me many times before, it has never once occurred to me to actually 'stop', 'halt', or 'cease and desist' in my effort to escape."

Thierry darted a dark glance in Remy's direction. Ahead of them on the street, the shooter was rounding down another alley. Remy ran faster, passing up the older man in the chase. Just as Remy turned the corner, the fleeing man stumbled over a metal trash can. He cried out, spinning around to face his pursuers. As he span, he held his hands forward, clutching a gun. Before he could take aim, Remy leapt forward, catching the shooter around the waist, and the two fell back into the garbage-strewn alley.

A pair of gunshots rang off into the night as the man hit the ground under Remy. He grabbed at the weapon, pinning the man's hand down to the pavement, and smashing the shooter's knuckles into the ground until he released the gun. In his effort to stand, Remy pressed his knee into the attempted-assassin's abdomen, causing the man to double over in pain.

Remy yanked the man to his feet by his collar, and the light that shown through the alley lit on the gunman's face. Remy found himself gasping in surprise.

"You!" he cried.

The gunman blinked his eyes as a trickle of blood ran down his forehead. "Get your hands offa me, freak!" the assailant managed through his gritted teeth. "I wasn't gonna let you get away wit' it! You mutie freak!"

Thierry had arrived just as Remy had pulled the struggling man to his feet. The gunshots he had heard earlier sent dread through him, and he was relieved to see that no one had been injured. "Remy, you know this kid?" he asked.

"He's my…was at de diner," Remy mumbled. "He was my waiter."

"Small world," Thierry grumbled, grabbing the kid's wrist as Remy released him.

"Y'can't let that freak be mayor! I can see through you, freak!" the kid railed on.

Thierry pinned the kid's arm behind his back and pressed him against the brick wall of the alley. "You're under arrest," he said, before going through the Miranda Rights. During the drill, he cast a glance back at Remy, who was standing in the same spot, looking rather dazed.

"Hey," he said. "Remy, you all right?"

Remy wavered slightly, and put his hand to his side. His fingers came back red with blood.

"You've been shot!" exclaimed Thierry.

Remy paused, looking at his bloody hand. "Oh yeah," he said, before falling to his knees and crumpling to the street.

Rogue pushed her way through the dazed crowd, making her way to the stage. Wolverine was all ready there, as was Psylocke. They were both leaning over, examining Kevin, who was sitting cross-legged behind the podium.

Rogue climbed up onto the stage and marched over to the trio. The recent events playing over in her mind. As soon as the fight between the humans and mutants had started, it just as quickly ended. All those involved had suddenly come to a standstill, turned and faced the stage. The entire crowd had fallen eerily silent, and had turned as one body, to look at the man who had spoken. It had taken Rogue a few moments to break out of the momentary daze.

Now she cautiously approached Kevin Montgomery. "You're a mutant," she said quietly.

He smiled, and nodded somewhat glumly. "This isn't the way I'd hope you'd find out," he said.

"Are you all right?" she asked, suddenly taking in the smattering of blood across the stage.

"Looks like a twisted ankle," Psylocke said, looking up at Rogue. "But he's otherwise unharmed."

Rogue's gaze went to Mercy, who was standing towards the back of the stage. "I'm fine," the woman replied to Rogue's unspoken question.

"Then Remy must be the one who…" Rogue paused, scanning the milling crowd. An ambulance had arrived and was loading an injured woman into the back of the vehicle.

"He saved my life," Kevin said, mulling over the words as shock stole over his features. "I can't believe it."

"We'd better go find him," Wolverine said.

Rogue looked at the blood on the stage. Nodding grimly to Logan she said: "Lead the way."

Remy winced slightly as Bella Donna shifted her weight on his bed.

"Sorry," she murmured.

Remy smiled lightly at her.

"I can't believe it," Thierry spoke up. "I thought you were dead for sure. I don't know anyone who could have survived that. What kinda mutant are you anyway?"

"Tis but a flesh wound," Remy said, with a dismissive wave. He was sitting on his bed, naked to the waist save for the bandages wrapped around his midsection. His mutant ability allowed his wounds to heal far quickly than those of a normal human being. However, he was unable to assimilate the bullet from the gun; it had been travelling too quickly and was too unexpected for his powers to have taken effect. The biokinetic field that surrounded him was only able to prevent serious blood loss.

Belle leaned forward conspiratorially. "At least I'll be able to keep you here longer," she said with a secret smile. At that moment, Rogue appeared at the bedroom door. Belle caught the other woman's eye for a split second before leaning forward and kissing Remy on the lips.

Remy blinked, somewhat surprised, as Belle stood up. "Can I get you anything else?" she said.

Remy couldn't help but smile. "Maybe later," he said, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

Belle stood and sidled past Rogue through the door. The two women glared at each other. Only after Bella Donna had left did Rogue fully enter the room.

"Feeling better, Ah see," Rogue said.

Remy smiled in return.

"We were planning on leaving this afternoon," Rogue said.

Thierry cleared his throat uncomfortably in the silence. "I, uh…I'm gonna go now."

"Ah didn't know if you really wanted a ride home…or not," Rogue said after Thierry had left.

Remy gave her a perplexed look. "I think there's a few things left I need to check up on," he began.

"Right," Rogue said before turning on her heel and walking to the door.

"Hey, wait. I was hoping you'd stay for a while at least. Before we went home."

Rogue looked back over her shoulder. "So you're not going to stay here?"

"No. No, of course not," he replied. "I thought you knew I wanted to leave."

"How am I supposed to know what you want and don't want?" Rogue asked angrily. "You leave for weeks and tell me nothing. You play these games with people, and take unnecessary risks."

"I've been a little busy, or couldn't you tell?"

"Ah thought you were done with this, Remy. When Ah saw you last you said you were ready to come home. Then all this went down. Ah wish Ah knew what was going through your head."

"Look, I've got all these problems piled up on my shoulders all at once. Dhis is my way of putting my affairs in order. I'm sorry I can't keep you up t'date, but I can all ready hear y'naggin voice in m'head tellin' me what's right and what's wrong."

"'Nagging!?'" Rogue exclaimed. "Boy, you are somethin' else!"

"Yeah, yeah, and I'm sure I'll hear all about it on de ride home," Remy replied in a bored voice.

"Ah'll send you home in a box!" Rogue cried, pummeling Remy's chest and shoulders with her fists.

"Ow! Okay! I'm sorry about the nagging comment!"

Rogue huffed, crossing her arms across her chest. "Are you finished? Ah mean, really finished? Done? Kaput?"

Remy reached up and took Rogue by the shoulders. Looking into her eyes, he replied: "Dere's just one last thing."

Before Rogue could open her mouth to protest, Remy placed his lips over his. "All right," he said. "Now I'm done."

Remy LeBeau's departure was a quiet one, taken away in a rented Volkswagon with his lady at the wheel. It was peaceful, save for in Lafayette, when there was a rather loud argument about whether or not they should stop for directions. The stones of a carefully crafted foundation shifted slightly at Remy's leaving, and power balanced evenly. The marionettes had learned their dance and found themselves freed from their strings. Now they danced on their own, upon the stage of New Orleans. Unbeknownst to the players, however, the solid ground upon which they played had once been wagered on a gambit, and built on foundation like that of a house of cards.


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