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Chasing Sparrows

Remy LeBeau's arrival in New York and his discovery of Xavier's School for Gifted Children

 

It wasn't by accident that Remy was at that same corner the next night. Rachel was there and her tired face lit when she saw him.

"Bon Notte, cherie." Remy said and pretended he didn't notice the blue shadows under her eyes. Forty dollars, in this city, didn't buy a place to sleep. She and her brother were probably sleeping in the same alley she was working out of. He had more money today. Remy had made a point of it. "Dinner and den some more exploring eh?

"Alright." Rachel said, slowing down as she came close and tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. The pink halter top looked a little worse for wear and so did Rachel. Remy sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. Clearly she'd continued working after he'd left. Remy could do so little for her.

"Eh, Rachel - you're frere can come 'ave a meal too."

"Huh?"

Remy shrugged and smiled wryly. He was very far from the gutters he'd grown up in and the Big Island patois was nearly a foreign language here. "Your brother. Bring him along, we all go walking."

They didn't come back for a few moments and her brother was clearly dragging his feet when they did.

"Ra - Randi says you'll buy us some dinner." The boy watched him suspiciously from under the brim of his Red Sox cap. "I ain't giving you nothing for it."

"Ouai." Remy nodded casually. They turned to the KFC. "Remy don want dat sort of thing. Like he said yesterday - he's new here. Aint' got no one to talk too. 'Ow about you trade your name, homme?"

"Slice."

Rachel snorted. "Stefan. I told you he's alright -"

"Shut the fuck up, Rachel!" Stefan hissed.

"No problem, eh?" Remy said with a shrug. "Remy don care what names you use. He used a few himself."

Remy held the door to the KFC open and bowed the two in. "What tonight? Remy's treat."

He couldn't offer much more than this. Remy paid for their food and his own. He'd never been to New York City before - and he'd been cut off from all his resources. What could he do for Rachel? And her brother? And all the other children he hadn't met, whoring or starving, dealing drugs and dying in alleys. Remy couldn't change the world. He couldn't keep parents from throwing their own kids out like they were garbage. He could only offer a meal and a little time, a handful of bills that might buy a few more days of food and let one girl turn one less trick.

Stefan - Slice - was clearly suspicious but that didn't stop him from getting the family size meal and filling his pockets with the biscuits for later. Only when they'd mostly finished did anyone speak again - they were all hungry.

"Why?" Slice asked around a mouthful of pudding.

"Why w'at, homme?"

"Why'r you - helping us. Her. Especially."

"Mmm - " Remy studied the boy. He had the same stubborn chin and pale blonde hair and was perhaps a year older than his mutated sister. There was no sign of anything abnormal about him. But there was loyalty in him, and love, and Remy knew without them saying a word that he'd followed his sister onto the streets to protect her. He could see it in the bitterness in the boy's eyes and the guilt in the girl's. He lifted his glasses and gave them both a wink. "Remy got his reasons, eh?"

"You're a - you're one too." Stefan yelped then dropped his voice, glancing warily around as Remy winced and made shushing gestures

Tears welled in Rachel's odd eyes and she clutched at Remy's hand. "Like me." She whispered. "Like me."

"Ouai." Remy said softly, returning the grip. Very much like her.

"Are you - " Rachel's voice broke and her hand tightened, desperately hopeful. "Are you from the school?"

"W'at?"

Slice shoved at his sister. "I told you that was just bullshit."

"W'at school? W'at are you talking about, cherie?"

Rachel scowled at her brother and shoved him back, which made Remy smile at the sheer teenage normality of it, then turned back to Remy. "I heard on this pro-mutant chat - there's a school. Just for mutants - no humans allowed. You can do what you want and everyone there is a mutant, even the grown-ups. It's not really a school it's like - like a special neighborhood. It's big and there are a lot of mutants, all different kinds and no one cares."

"We couldn't find anything like that we - we looked." Rachel was still looking at him and the hope in her eyes wasn't yet dead and Remy wished, longed that he could tell her she was right. That he was from a place where everyone was a mutant and everyone was safe.

"Cherie -" Remy said, voice wrung with helplessness.

Rachel focused on her food and stabbed at her brownie dessert. "Yeah, I know. It's bullshit."

This time, Remy had a goal and they made his way, as if by chance, up a few blocks to where the streets were little better but a cyclone fence protected a small struggling garden and some brightly painted wooden benches. The roar of a highway could be heard nearby and there was a blue and purple sign painted on the wall said 'Heart's Hope - Making the Journey Together'.

"Dat's a shelter for kids." Remy said, nodding at it as he rolled then lit a cigarette. He'd seen the sign in his rambling through the city and there was no cross, he didn't think the place was religious. He could only pray to Mamma Erzulie that the kids weren't too proud. "Place to sleep. Place to get food and medicine."

But Slice scowled and Rachel hugged herself and bit her lip.

"W'at?" It wasn't outraged adolescent pride they felt but anger and misery.

"They won't -" Slice broke off.

"They won't take me." Rachel said sadly. "'Cause I'm a mutie."

"Fuck dem."

Smoke shuddered out of Remy's nose and his fingers trembled with rage but his voice was mild. His vision blurred briefly with Rachel's tears. He stared at the place - it had seemed nice - a little piece of hope in this terrible city. But not for everyone. Guess muties didn't even deserve hope.

"And Stefan won't go."

"It's Slice."

Remy rested a hand on Rachel's shoulder and on Slice's. "Dat's 'cause the frere loves you. And dat's a good, good t'ing to have. Der ain't many who get dat - mutie or monkey."

Slice shrugged his hand off, blushing. "You're fucking weird, you know that?"

Remy chuckled. "Ouai. You ain't de first to notice."

So later, Remy turned over his money and watched them go. So little. He could do so little.

The next day, Remy rolled out of bed at noon and staggered sleepily down the hallway to the shared washroom. Wrinkling his nose at a lingering odor, he brushed his teeth and washed up. Dressed in a pair of worn military cargo pants and a T-shirt advertising a drink he'd never heard of, Remy settled his glasses and his cap, swung his long coat on then went out to find a cup of coffee and start his rounds. At least it was cloudy out and the light wouldn't be a problem.

Lunchtime was the earliest Remy bothered to get up. In the morning, people were too rushed to be easy marks for a pickpocket and in New York everyone wore coats in the morning which made it harder. Remy was a lazy man and he'd much rather wait until lunch when everyone had slowed down a bit. By the time he reached the hole-in-the-wall Turkish specialty store he had enough money for his coffee and next week's rent as well.

"One, eh?" Remy held up a finger to the old man behind the counter. "And - dis - and dat. And dat too."

He had to point. Between his accent and the man's less than perfect grasp on English the two of them were reduced to sign language. Still, it wasn't long before Remy was sitting at one of the rickety tables on the sidewalk, watching the marks go by and having a breakfast of thick, dark Turkish coffee, a manakesh and bitter chocolate. Remy smiled at the cloudy fall day, feeling almost civilized.

When he was done, Remy slipped into a deserted alley and organized his take. He moved all the money into one wallet - choosing the best of the bunch - tossed the credit cards, cursing the new thumbnail photos that made them useless for a quick purchase and threw the billfolds, photos, and other junk into the gutter. Once upon a time - when he'd been a prince among thieves - he'd drop all that personal stuff in a mail box to be returned to their owners. Nowadays he couldn't risk being traced by his prints.

Since his arrival, Remy had been familiarizing himself with New York - the good and the bad. He'd been 'moved along' but the police in the new - sanitized for the tourists' protection - Times Square and propositioned more than once along several red light streets. Someone had tried to mug him; Remy had just laughed and suggested she find someone with a little money next time. He knew Grand Central now and Ground Zero. Today he returned to the homeless shelter with the little garden and the false promises it made.

"'Allo?" Remy sidled into the waiting area and smiled at the young woman behind the second hand desk. The little room was painted pale blue and covered in posters reminding people to use condoms, schedules of support groups with titles like the 'Getting Ready to Leave the Street Life' and similar things. It only made Remy angrier - if this place had been some fundamentalist facade their rejection of Rachel and her brother wouldn't have bothered him so much.

"Hello?" She smiled back. Remy thought she might even be pretty but she had that social worker's wariness in her eyes. He watched her take his measure - seeing the ragged clothes and the narrow build and neatly pegging him as a drifter. "What can I do for you?"

Remy tugged off his glasses and watched her eyes go wide. "Want some help, me."

The girl shuffled some papers nervously then, clearly uncomfortable, looked back up at him. Remy's pulse jumped with sudden anger as he sensed her rejection an instant before she opened her mouth. "I'm truly sorry but we aren't equipped to handle mutants at this facility."

She really was sorry but Remy was too angry to care as he heard her confirm what Rachel and Slice had told him last night. He leaned forward, looming over her, sick with rage. "Ah? Where den do I go? Starve on de street like a dog? T'ought dis place to help people! But - wait - dat's right. Muties ain't people are dey? Okay to die, okay to be killed."

The receptionist slipped quickly out of her seat and backed warily up. "That's not true! We can't - "

"Non? Den why you turn kids away eh? 'Cause they look different? Dat going to keep them warm at night? Sorry?" Remy shoved her desk over in a crash of breaking glass and scattered papers, breathing in furious snorts through his nose. All he could think about was Rachel getting pawed over by old men and boys starving to death on the streets and this spoiled, rich white girl telling him sorry. "Sorry don't feed no one! Sorry don't keep no one safe! Dis place - dis place a lie!"

"That's enough!" The bellow came out of one of the back doorways and Remy spun around. The receptionist took that moment to dart away and out a door behind the desk. "Out! Out of here - you need to leave!"

The man barreling through the door was built like a linebacker; big, black, determined and wearing a clinic coat with the rubber snake of a stethoscope spilled from one oversized pocket. Remy snarled and swung around.. He wanted to make them open their eyes, make them help. Remy wanted to make them see him, force them to help Rachel and all the desperate others.

"You take yourself out of here, we can't help you and you need to leave. Or be arrested for property destruction."

"W'at? You actually need dis crap? Ain't it all for show? Just to make all you rich folks feel good - "

The man's mouth clamped in anger but he didn't say anything, just yanked the door open. "Get out! If you're injured the Martin Luther King General Hospital still accepts mutant emergency admits. I'm sorry but there isn't anything else I can suggest and you need to leave. Now!"

Remy stalked past him, still shaking with rage and disappointment. He glared at the man who narrowed his eyes but didn't look away from Remy. "Someday - someday t'ings are going to be different and you monkeys are gonna pay de price for spitting on us."

The man jerked his chin at the sidewalk, refusing to rise to the bait. "I'm sorry but you need to leave."

"Sorry -!" Remy spat on the floor and turned his back on the man, the place and it's empty promises. Outside, he paused on the sidewalk, hugging himself and still shaking with anger. His eyes burned and he fumbled out his glasses. He should know better - he did know better. Remy knew there was nothing but closed doors for mutants in the world. Nothing but hate. But he kept hoping. He kept hoping and no matter how hard he tried - he couldn't stop.

"Fuck dem." Remy whispered, squeezing his stinging eyes shut for a long moment. "Fuck dem all."

He pulled out a paper and his tabbaco pouch, rolling a cigarette to calm his nerves but hurried footsteps behind him made Remy swing around, spilling the leaves. It was the receptionist and faint pink sparks danced over the paper in his fingers as all of Remy's anger came rushing back. "W'at de fuck you want? Dis sidewalk public property. Remy can stand here all he w'ants."

"Wait -"

"Fuck you, couchon."

"Dammit!" She snapped, voice heavy with guilt. "We tried! We tried to help. Do you think we want to turn you away? Anyone away?"

"Non? Don' look like dat to Remy."

The woman's full lips thinned. "We had a kid explode in our clinic. Explode! She killed one of our doctors and herself. Or the boy who was an obligate carnivore - we couldn't feed him enough, not without letting others go hungry. We can't help everyone. There isn't any money. We have to chose and - half the mutants we see are so different. So dangerous. We had to chose."

"Fine." Remy snapped, fingertips burning as he tried to control the charge he'd built in the paper. "Fine you chose and dey chose and every other place chose too and some people - some kids gon' die on de streets b'cause you afraid."

They glared at each other and Remy could feel something - something from the woman that made him step closer. As if she were measuring him. As if she wanted to say something more.

"W'at?" Remy moved closer to her, voice softening. "Jus need help, dat's all. What you wanna say, cherie?"

"There's a place, maybe." She whispered, glancing at the sidewalk, at the street. Anywhere but at him. "That helps mutants. A school. For mutants."

Remy's eyes widened. The same story as Rachel's. A school. A refuge. Bullshit, Stefan had said. But maybe, maybe not. Maybe something more than a fairy tale and Remy felt again that treacherous hope.

"Where is it, cherie?" Remy asked urgently. "W'at school?"

"Xavier's."

"Xavier's w'at?"

But she shook her head. "I don't know anything else. Just the name. I'm not sure it's real but - I've heard about it. That the school takes mutant kids in. Helps them. Takes care of them."

"Xavier's."

TBC