They were less than five miles away from the Mansion when Anne finally began to express her doubts about the wisdom of bringing her unannounced to the home and headquarters of the X-Men.
"So, are you sure that this Professor Xavier won't mind that you invited a complete stranger to the Mansion?"
"You ain't a stranger, Annie."
"You know what I mean, Logan."
"An' I'm tellin' ya' that I don't care!" He looked at her through his rear-view mirror, his face lost in evening shadows. They had driven for the entire day, and the sun had set less than an hour earlier.
"Darlin, why are ya' so nervous all o' the sudden?"
"I'm not nervous!" she protested vehemently.
"You are, darlin." He tapped his nose. "I can smell ya'."
Anne grimaced and gave him a dirty look. He ignored her and continued.
"What I can't understand is why. Ya' got stuck in a bear trap for a couple o' days, left your home with two strange men, got involved in a brawl, and in all that time ya' never even broke into a sweat. But somethin' little like this has ya' tied up in knots."
He stared at her expectantly. Finally, Anne sighed and shook her head in resignation.
"All right, all right. I'll tell you what's bothering me. The only reason I can even conceive of living with the X-Men is because of the two of you. But it eats me up on the inside that I don't have anything to offer in return for my stay. My mutant powers aren't terribly practical, and Professor Xavier is filthy rich so offering to pay ‘rent' is laughable at best. I keep trying to think of jobs that the X-Men would need done, but I can't think of anything that you people wouldn't already have covered."
"Ya' don't want charity, right darlin'?"
"Exactly. But that's how it looks to me from every angle. I can find a job in any town I go to. I have qualifications up to my eyeballs. But as far as being useful to the X-Men...that's an entirely different story."
"I got my degree at MIT. That school may have had about as much personality as a cement block, but when I wave the name around, it gets me into places that would have slammed the door in my face without it."
She saw the look on his face, and smiled wryly. "Surprised, Remy?"
"Nah," he answered easily. "Gambit knows you're smart."
"Trust me, graduating from MIT had very little to do with being smart. I'm just good at memorizing. But that's beside the point. We were talking about my usefulness, or lack of, to the X-Men. Let's face it, talking to trees is not going to help mankind learn to tolerate mutants."
"It's not just about having a lot of power, darlin'. It's what ya' do with it that counts." Logan grimaced at his own words. "Can't believe I'm givin' pep talks." He muttered.
"Ooo, how the mighty have fallen." Anne mocked, a grin pulling at her lips.
Gambit snorted at the brief mixture of surprise and humor that flitted across Logan's face. There weren't many people who could talk to him like that and walk away without missing a limb.
"Chere, when you talk to de trees, does it matter where you are?"
Anne acted surprised by Gambit's question and she frowned thoughtfully.
"No, not really. I remember when I was twelve, my family took a trip through Death Valley. No trees there, but I was still able to...make contact...despite the distance between me and the nearest forest. Sometimes, I think I can even hear the trees in places as far off as Japan, but since I've never seen or touched a Japanese tree, I'm not sure if I'm really hearing them. But that's what my gut tells me."
"Chere, you mean to tell Gambit dat trees talk different?"
"Sure. I mean, every culture has their own language. Why not different species of trees? There's a common thread of thought for all trees, depending on their location, but really, every one is unique." Anne's face was all seriousness.
"Darlin', are ya' sure it's trees you're hearing? Could ya' be picking up human thoughts?"
"Definitely not." Anne stated firmly. "The two are completely different."
"So ya' can hear both?" Logan pressed.
Anne hesitated before answering, her silence not lost on the two men.
"Yes, but I don't use my telepathy on human minds any more. I haven't for eleven years, at least."
"What happened, darlin?"
"An accident." She replied shortly. "I—I was fifteen. I had a habit of randomly probing people I thought looked interesting. My parents didn't know, of course. They would have thought it was awful of me, observing other people's thoughts. Looking back on it now, I know that it was a horrible thing to do, but when I was fifteen I didn't think anything of it.
"One day I was in the store with my mom, and I saw this incredibly handsome man. Blond, blue eyes...he was perfect. I just had to know what he was thinking...I think—I think I also wanted to see if he had noticed me, because I was standing near him."
Anne shuddered, carefully taking a deep breath. "His was the most heinous, perverted, twisted mind I had ever touched," she spat out. "And I was so—so shocked, so frightened by the images I had seen, that I lashed out. I completely wiped away his personality with just a thought." Her voice was haunted. "I remember—I remember that he collapsed on the ground, just twitching, eyes rolled up in his head. Everyone thought he was having a seizure, but I knew better."
"Darlin'?" Logan pulled the jeep over to the side of the road and cut the engine. Both men twisted in their seats to look at Anne, whose head was bowed.
Logan reached out and placed his callused fingertips beneath her chin. He gently lifted her head until she was staring in his eyes.
"Ya' don't have ta' feel guilty fer what ya' did." he spoke gently. "If he was as terrible as ya' say, then the world is a better place without him."
"I've told myself that, Logan. But it doesn't make what I did right. I shouldn't have been in his mind in the first place."
"So, you gave it all up, chere?"
"Yeah. Seemed the safest thing to do."
"Ya' know, Professor Xavier and Jeannie are telepaths. If ya' want, I know they'd be happy ta' help ya' control your powers."
Anne smiled sadly. "Having control over my telepathy isn't an issue anymore. It's the fear of what I can do with it that keeps me on a leash."
"Takes time, chere. Don' worry though. Gambit and Logan help you any way poss'ble."
"You know darlin, the Professor was just talkin' the other day about how he wished the X-Men had more telepaths. If you're as strong as I think ya' might be, ya wouldn't need ta worry ‘bout earnin' your keep. Not that ya' ever needed ta'."
Anne nodded slowly, her eyes lost in shadow.
"It'll take some time to get used to the idea of employing my powers like that again. Compared to everything that I've gone through in just the past two days, you would think that it would be a snap. But I've never been more scared in my life."
"Sometimes darlin', the smallest jobs in life are the hardest ta' do."
She nodded, lifting her eyes to study their faces.
"I'm lucky to have friends like you."
Logan cleared his throat gruffly, while Gambit grinned.
"Gambit and Logan feel de same ‘bout you, chere. Feel de exact same."
Logan parked the jeep in front of the Mansion, and the three piled out of the vehicle, Anne lugging her duffel over her shoulder. Gambit wordlessly took it from her, Anne smiling with appreciation.
The two men could not help but notice how Anne's shroud of quiet dignity once again masked her face and body. Despite the nervousness they both knew she felt, she hid it like a master, carrying herself confidently up the front steps.
Jubilee met the small group at the door, the heavy oak entrance whipping open to reveal her ecstatic face. She immediately launched herself at Logan without a glance to anyone else.
"Wolvie!" she cried, amidst a tangle of limbs and clothing.
He hugged her back, and then gently set her on the ground, trying unsuccessfully to peel her limbs from his body.
"Why aren't you in school?" He asked gruffly.
She shrugged, an effortless gesture that made her seem that much younger.
"Frostie and Mr. Cassidy thought it would be a good experience for Gen-X ta' work with the X-men for a week. I think they're hoping you guys will be good role models an' rub off on us." Jubilee smirked, which gave her opinion about the likelihood of that happening. She turned to Anne, who stood just between and behind Logan and Gambit.
"Who's this?" she asked, smacking some gum around her mouth.
Before the two could answer, Anne gave her a sparkling grin and held out her hand.
"I'm Anne. These two galoots lugged me out of the mountains to see if I can make something of myself." Her grin widened, and she rolled her eyes.
Jubliee giggled, taking an instant liking to her. She took her hand, and dragged her into the house. "Come on, Anne. I need to introduce ya' to the others!" Anne threw a startled glance back at Gambit and Logan before Jubilee yanked her into the bowels of the Mansion.
"I don't know about you, mon ami, but Gambit not saving her dis time."
"You're cruel, Gumbo."
They left Anne's things in the main hall, and split up. Gambit went to see the Professor, while Logan took it upon himself to hunt down Anne. He caught her scent, the fresh mingling of rain and earth, and followed it. Smelling her was like being in the forest again, and he felt his heart tug as he heard her voice.
He found her in the kitchen, surrounded by Jean, Jubilee, and Rogue. Anne still wore her shroud of quiet dignity, and Logan could tell that it was having its effect on the other women. It might be awhile before they would see the more expressive side of Anne, though Jubilee had been privy to a glimpse of it. He noticed Jean staring at Anne with a look of confusion on her face, the red head's eyes slightly unfocused.
Anne seemed to sense his presence, and she glanced behind her. She smiled wryly, her eyes twinkling mischievously. Logan almost breathed a sigh of relief. That was the real Anne, not the stiff, dignified woman who she was emanating.
He was about to say something, when Emma Frost walked into the kitchen. She breezed by his body, not touching, but close enough for her perfume to linger in his sensitive nose. He hated that.
Anne had already turned her head back towards the others, and did not see Emma arrive. Yet she abruptly rose to her feet and turned around to stare at the blonde woman, who had stopped behind her chair. Emma's eyes narrowed, and Anne raised one dark brow, her expression clearly saying "Don't mess with me".
Jean worriedly watched the two women, Jubilee's eyes darting between her head mistress and Anne. At one point, Jean blanched as though she had heard something very distasteful. Emma's eyes widened in outrage, and Anne sweetly smiled, though her face was pale. Logan remembered her fears concerning the use of her telepathy, but it did not seem to be stopping her from taking up for herself.
Good girl, Logan thought smugly. Give her hell.
Anne frowned, her eyes flashing with a mixture of fear and outrage.
"Emma, no!" Jean gasped. Logan immediately began to move towards the White Queen, when the blonde flung a hand up to her head. Her knees buckled and if Anne had not reached out to catch her, she would have collapsed to the floor. Anne hurriedly gave Emma her seat, and stepped back as the woman held her head and groaned miserably.
"Sugah, what did you do to her?" Rogue asked, eyes big. None of them had ever seen Emma on the receiving end of a punch. And have it connect. Jubilee's looked at Anne with an expression of grudging respect.
"I—I gave her a taste of her own medicine." Anne stated simply, her face white. "She was going to try to—" she fumbled for the words. "—stab my mind?" she looked to Jean for confirmation and the red head nodded weakly.
Anne took a deep breath, and Logan could see the tumult of emotions in her eyes. "She wouldn't have been able to hurt me...but I can only take so much bullying in one day."
"Serves her right, if you ask me," Logan growled, laying a reassuring hand on Anne's shoulder. Anne looked at him gratefully. He could feel weak tremors running through her body, and the faint scent of anxiety drifted to his nose.
"Perhaps, though I do not usually condone fighting amongst my students and colleagues." The stern voice caused everyone to jump, including Emma, though the woman stayed seated, one hand pressed to her temple. The Professor, seated in his hover craft, floated in the doorway of the kitchen with his usual regal and imperious pose. Gambit leaned against the door frame beside him, idly shuffling his cards while his eyes flickered over the people before him. On his other side stood Scott, mouth set in a stern line.
Anne straightened, and Logan removed his hand. Any signs of weakness that he had been able to detect, disappeared as her face hardened. She carefully looked Xavier straight in the eye.
"If you don't condone fighting, then request better manners of your students and colleagues. This woman forcibly attempted to break past my shields, and she attacked me without any real provocation. If I had wanted to be bullied by people who thought they were better than me, I would have remained in my home and not come here."
"How dare you speak to the Professor in that way!" Scott burst out. "If you're going to stay—"
She interrupted him with a sharp wave of her hand. Amazingly enough, Scott shut his mouth.
"I am here because Gambit and Logan asked me to come. But I don't need you, and I certainly will not allow myself to be pushed around."
The silence in the room was deafening as eyes widened in shock and mouths dropped open in amazement. A grin twitched at the corner of Gambit's mouth, while Logan felt his face split.
"Score one for Anne." Jubilee muttered, finally breaking the silence. She ducked her head as several people, including the Professor, glared at her.
Emma's moan broke the remaining tension. She still clutched at her head, eyes squeezed shut.
"Oh, stop that." Anne muttered in irritation. "I didn't hit you half as hard as you were planning to hit me." Without hesitation, she lay her fingertips lightly on Emma's temples. Immediately, the blonde woman relaxed, and her whimpers ceased.
Two spots of color danced on Emma's cheeks as she struggled to recover the remaining shreds of her dignity.
"Your shields...they are quite impressive."
"Really? I wouldn't know, though they seemed to work against you."
Emma stiffened, and everyone held their breath. The White Queen turned in her chair to look at Xavier, her eyes frigid.
"You should probe her yourself, Charles. Her defenses are...unique."
He focused his gaze on Anne. "May I?" His voice was cold, a tone that would have had most of the X-Men worried. Instead, a wry grin tugged at Anne's lips, and she inclined her head. Logan and Gambit glanced at each other. This was not how they had planned on introducing her to the X-Men, but she was holding her own with the best of them.
The Professor's eyes unfocused for a long moment, and his face flushed.
"Incredible!" he gasped. "The layering you've managed...it would cause most telepaths to exhaust themselves within a few moments, but you maintain it seemingly without effort!"
"Momma always said I was special." Anne murmured humorously, just loud enough for Logan to hear.
Jean gasped as well. "I can see it now!" she exclaimed. "How do you do it?"
Anne frowned, staring at her. "I'm anchored well, that's all. I can't explain it. I just shield myself the way trees do."
That caused jaws to drop once again, but before any one else could launch more questions, Gambit interrupted. "Gambit t'ink Anne been questioned enough. She needs sleep."
"And some grub." Logan growled.
"Agreed," the Professor nodded, raising his hand to silence Scott, whose mouth had begun to open in protest. "We still have the matter of this altercation to discuss, but we can continue it in the morning. Good night, Anne." His tone was still cold, but everyone could hear the respect in his voice.
Scott and Xavier left the kitchen, Jean and Emma following them. Emma refused to look at Anne, her back as rigid as a board as she left.
Rogue whistled. "Sugah, do you know what you just did?"
A tired smile tugged at Anne's lips. "Just took up for myself, that's all."
"You all right, chere?" Gambit asked, eyes concerned. Logan studied her carefully. For eleven years she had been afraid to use her telepathy on other humans, and then in one night she was forced to converse, protect and fight, using only her mind.
Despite everything that's happened to her over the past two days, she hasn't complained once. She's as tough as nails. Logan observed silently, feeling admiration well up in his chest.
"I'm fine, Remy. Just wasn't expecting to face all my fears tonight."
Rogue and Jubilee looked at her in confusion. Jubilee opened her mouth to speak, but stopped when Logan threw her a warning glance.
Logan cleared his throat gruffly. "How 'bout we get some grub."
Over reheated lasagna and salad, the group sat at the table and chattered away. Slowly, Anne began to lose her protective shroud, though it was apparent to both Gambit and Logan that she was not entirely relaxed in her settings. Her first encounter with the X-Men had unsettled her.
"Wow, so you like, commune with Nature and stuff like that, right?" Jubilee's voice pierced through the idle talk, and all eyes focused on Anne.
Anne scratched her head. "I suppose you could say that."
Jubilee stared out the window, a dreamy look on her face. "I wish I could do that."
"I'm sure you could. You just have to listen properly."
"Will you teach me?"
Anne looked embarrassed and uncertain, but she nodded. "I can try."
"Cool! Wait until I tell the others!" With that last outburst, Jubilee sprang up from the table and scurried out of the kitchen.
"Did I just commit myself to something terrible and frustrating?" Anne asked in a weak voice, as the last echo of the teen's voice faded from the air.
Logan shrugged, gulping down some beer. "You dig your own grave, darlin'."
"Thanks a lot...wolf-meister, was it?" Anne looked at him innocently enough, but her lips twitched suspiciously.
"Darlin', if you know what's good for ya', ya' won't call me that."
"Oh, but it's sooo cute." Anne cooed.
Gambit choked on his beer.
Rogue's peal of laughter rebounded against the walls and she reached over the table to take Anne's hand in a firm grasp. "Anne, Ah never met a woman as gusty as you. Ah think we're gonna be great friends."
"I'd like that, Rogue." Anne grinned.
"Well, Ah bet you're near tuckered out. Why don't Ah show you your room, an' we'll unpack your things."
"Unpack?" Anne asked incredulously. "After what happened tonight? I'll probably be booted out first thing tomorrow morning."
"Not if I have anythin' ta say about it." Logan growled fiercely.
"Chere, you're not goin' anywhere."
Anne looked at them helplessly, finally throwing her hands up in the air.
"Fine! I put myself into your capable hands." She turned to Rogue, who was watching the interplay between the trio with a twinkle in her eye. "Well, let's go see that room. Maybe you can tell me some stories about these guys while I unpack. Preferably ones that are embarrassing."
"That'll take all night, sugah." She winked as the two women stood. "But Ah sure can try."
"See ya' later, boys." Anne said cheerfully, risking life and limb to ruffle Logan's hair. She lithely danced away from him as he growled, and the laughter of the two women carried back to the kitchen for a long time after they left.
Gambit groaned, and hid his head in his arms. "Gambit t'ink we created a monster."
"I'd have to agree with you, Gumbo." Still, Logan was glad that she was beginning to relax.
"Hey Cajun. Think we should go talk ta' the Professor?"
Gambit shrugged. "Gambit told him how you found Anne, but no'ting much else." The faint shadow of worry entered his eyes. "You t'ink de Professor might ask Anne t'leave?"
"If he does, Annie won't be leavin' alone." Logan growled.
"You'd leave de X-Men for her?" Gambit's eyes narrowed curiously.
Logan fingered the neck of his beer bottle, lost in thought.
"Yeah," he answered after a long moment of silence. "The X-Men have given me a lot...helped me control the beast, given me purpose ta' my life 'sides the killin. But I don't really belong here—never have. When I'm with Annie though, I feel different. Like I don't need ta' hide who I am, like...like...damn." He muttered darkly.
"I can't explain it, Cajun." He took a long swallow of his beer, and studied Gambit.
"What about ya', Cajun? Would ya' leave the X-Men for Annie?"
"Don't know, mon ami. Never had a woman like Anne for a best friend be'foe. She acts like one o' de guys, like she's known Gambit for years...Gambit don't need to put on a show t'impress her and dat's a nice feelin'.
"Yeah, Gambit feel de same as you, Logan. Near rip Gambit's heart out t'leave, but for Anne, Gambit just might."
"Don't let Rogue hear ya' say that, Gumbo." Logan chuckled over his beer.
Gambit sighed. "Gambit don't love Anne like Gambit loves Rogue. Anne more like a sister."
"But you'd still leave for her."
"Don' forget de old sayin', mon ami. Blood is thicker den water. Anne like de sister Gambit never had, and dat means somethin' important to dis Cajun."
Logan nodded, and pushed his chair back from the table.
"Don' know 'bout you, Gumbo, but I'm goin' ta' grab some shut-eye."
"Gambit and Logan not goin' to talk to de Professor?"
"Nah. Now that we've got our priorities straight concernin' Annie, I don' see much reason ta' talk ta' him. 'Sides, ya' think he'd get rid of the one person ta' ever square off with Emma Frost, and beat her in under two seconds flat without even tryin'?"
Gambit chuckled, and reached into his pocket for a cigarette.
"Gambit t'ink Anne here to stay."
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