|Wed, 8 Sep 1999
K Nice firstname.lastname@example.org
And the Walls Came Tumblin' Down [Gambit&Rogue][PG-13]
And the Walls Came a Tumblin' Down Disclaimer: The X-Men characters, and all other recognizable characters are copyright to Marvel Entertainment Group. This work of FanFiction is not meant to infringe on that copyright or defame Marvel Comics or the X-Men and related characters in any way.
Copyright: This work of FanFiction and the original characters described within are the intellectual property of K-NICE and her IRL persona. No copying, distributing or editing of this material is permitted without the express permission of the creator, K-Nice, under United States copyright law. Relax, I won't sue you. I'll just ask my Cousin Tony to choke you with his dreds. Thanks: Fanatic, Whitewolf, Em-Spider, Sparks for beta reading.
) K-Nice 1999
And the Walls Came Tumblin' Down
Rogue stirred suddenly, twisting her sheets around her body so tightly that she cried out at the feeling of confinement. She was having irritating dreams. Dreams that seemed so real--not perfect or even ideal but so nearly accurate that she could believe it was all true--until she woke up.
She awoke panting and began to weep silently over her empty arms and empty bed. Rogue hadn't thought of herself by her real name in so long but for what seemed like hours or days--but was only really a few precious moments of REM--she was who she had been, and who that girl could have been. That added element had made the dream so real. So heartbreakingly real.
Rogue was sick of blaming her unhappiness on her powers, but nights like this made her consider losing those powers forever--as she had attempted with the Agee Institute. Rogue felt a sleepy pang of disappointment. It wasn't directed at any particular thing, it was a general, all encompassing dissatisfaction with life and everything her life entailed. It pulled a cry of despair from the young girl inside her who had all but disappeared the day Cody Robbins became the first person to bounce around in her head.
Gambit paused as he crossed the roof. He was using his favorite shortcut to the garage in anticipation of a very busy night in New York City. But, as the sound of Rogue's sobbing carried out her open window, he adroitly changed directions and climbed down onto Rogue's window sill. He was adept at crouching on her sill and watching her sleep--one of the only "cheap thrills" he was afforded in the relationship.
She continued to cry, albeit more quietly, and he struggled to find something to say to her. With Rogue, any number of things could have triggered this outpouring of grief. The girl had had a tough life and it didn't seem things were going to get any more pleasant for her in the near future.
"Hey, Chere, I'm going into de City. Wanna come?"
He wasn't sure why that came out of his mouth but he needed to say something. And now that he had said it, it did seem like the right something.
Rogue was suddenly silent as her mood flashed from depressed to startled to angry. She finally settled on curious. What did he do when he went out at night? This could be her one chance to find out. This could be her one chance to fix whatever it was they had broken along the way. "Thanks, I'd love tah."
Not the answer he was expecting. "Oookay, den I'll let you get dressed. Meet me at de garage."
Remy was stuck between a lie and pretense with very few options. He could actually go through with his original plans for the evening or he could pretty it up to impress her.
Undecided, Gambit moved silently out the window and stealthily made his way to the garage.
Rogue stood in her underwear in front of her closet and contemplated an evening on the town with Remy. An evening that began well after midnight. Rogue let the image of Remy's ripped jeans and motorcycle boots ripple across her mind. With the resultant sultry smile still creasing her face, she chose a deep green halter top, tight jeans with air-conditioned knees and a few slashes at the back of her upper thighs. She finished the outfit with a jean jacket, green leather gloves and the green suede Fila's Jubilee had given her way back when.
Rogue appraised herself in the mirror. She was somewhere between Biker Babe and College Chick. Satisfied, she flew out of her window to avoid disturbing her house mates.
She slowed up as she came upon the garage, which seemed to attract dark, mysterious shadows. She stepped onto solid ground and prepared to enter his presence.
He stood, smoking a cigarette, leaning his long, muscular frame against the black and chrome Harley he secretly called Belle. "Rea'y ta go, Chere?" Remy was almost surprised she had come, and even seemed ready for whatever it was he was going to throw at her. That in itself improved his outlook on the whole situation.
"Of course, Sugah." Rogue held back a biting comment--if she wasn't ready she wouldn't be there, now would she. Sarcasm of the worst kind seemed to come naturally as their relationship dissolved into loosely strung together feelings of hurt and distrust.
"Den let's get." Remy climbed onto the bike, turning the ignition key then adjusting the throttle. He turned toward her as the engine roared to life, the very essence dangerous and powerful. The bike was pretty impressive too.
Rogue got on the bike behind him. She felt awkward, unsure: Should she hold him around the waist? She didn't feel comfortable with such close contact, even through layers of leather and denim.
She gripped the bike between her powerful legs, trusting them to hold her steady. "Ready."
As the word came out of her mouth, Remy revved the bike and squealed loudly out of the driveway.
"Are you crazy!!! What are you doing?!?" Rogue couldn't believe he could possibly be that inconsiderate. "Folks are tryin' to sleep!" This was turning out to be a very bad idea. She was tried of finding out about the less desirable parts of Remy's nature.
"No dey not! Dey're staring at us t'rough the living room windows." He hoped some of his house mates had wet their jamies at the sudden noise. The nosy jerks deserved it. He wondered how the team even knew they what were up to, but between Logan's hearing and Scott's paranoia, he could think up a few scenarios. They had no business spying on Rogue and him. And, even more so, he was sick of Rogue always assuming the worst, never looking for anything good from him. Her screeching was as equally unwelcome as the prying eyes behind the curtains.
They were silent for the entire 45 minute ride into the City. As Remy began to drive through downtown Manhattan, Rogue's worries grew. She was definitely in over her head. They were in a somewhat ritzy area. The cars around them were expensive and the restaurants all had valets.
At a stop light Rogue leaned forward and said, "What are we doin' heah, sugah? This don't look like our kind of neighborhood."
Gambit's response was a hearty laugh and a wide peel out turn off of Broadway. Rogue held own to the bike desperately, her nerves strained. This was becoming more and more difficult to endure.
Rogue remained silent, but struggled with her composure. It was like he was going out of his way to antagonize her. Not that he hadn't made a habit of baiting her before this, but she had hoped this invitation was part of some change on his part. It was becoming increasing clear that it was not, that he was still the same old Gambit.
Wrapped up in her thoughts, Rogue was startled when the bike rolled to a stop. At some point they had entered an underground parking area. A stuffy looking valet was making a bee-line for them, and prompt service did not seem to be foremost in his mind. As she looked around at the Lexus', BMWs and even a few Porsches, she wasn't surprised that he took exception to their presence. Rogue herself knew they didn't belong.
Gambit stepped off the motorcycle as the uniformed man rushed up. Before he could speak, Remy removed his headband so his face was clearly visible. The man came up short and was suddenly all smiles. "Bon soir, Monsieur, Mademoiselle . . . Nous sommes tris heureaux pour vous servir ce soir. Permittez-moi ` prendre son vehicle." He was ingratiating in ways that only worked in French.
Remy snorted and tossed him the keys to the Harley. In tone that brooked no argument, and probably wouldn't tolerate sulking either, he ordered, "Gardes-la. Elle est plus de chere ` moi que vous." He turned, effectively ending the conversation and offered Rogue his arm.
Rogue's eyes threatened to bug out of her head, but years of Mystique's training suddenly saved her from making a fool of herself. She graciously accepted the unneeded help and matched Remy stride for arrogant stride as they walked through the garage toward an elegant entrance way.
Rogue wasn't sure what was on the other side of the red carpet, but the doorman looked impressive enough. He was huge, solid as a rock and just as unmoved by their arrival.
Remy read the guard's eye signals and passed him with a small nod that could have been missed as the bounce in his step.
The lobby was opulent to say the least. They passed rich dark wood paneling and the chandeliers dripped crystals. Again, they met with an anxious employee; this time it was a man in a formal tuxedo who exuded disdain from every sneer and arched eyebrow he directed at them.
Remy immediately engaged him in a low, quick-pace conversation. In French. Rogue used the moment to examine her surroundings. She took note of the layout and the decor and assumed it must be a restaurant. Her conclusion was confirmed as she wandered nearer to the double doors and saw the dining room. In one quick glimpse she saw crystal and silverware that glittered in the dim lighting.
Rogue had an urgent desire to leave. Remy had brought her here to embarrass her. Bitter anger welled up inside. She looked back at the elegance and style in the room and then at her own attire. There was no way she was going in there dressed as like an overgrown teenager.
She was turning to tell him so when the Maitre D', sneering with what had to indigestion because it couldn't have been respect, lead them into the dining room.
Remy took her arm in his and followed as if he were the one leading the way. Rogue's anger grew as people stared and whispered but she also felt a flash of that old thrill. That devil-may-care-but-I-don't attitude of his was the thing that got her every time. She could almost feel the echo of that uncomplicated desire they had shared for so short a time before they each built their walls up higher and thicker.
Remy fought a grin as they wove their way through the main dining room. He had eaten at those self-same tables many times before and knew what it was like when someone "arrived." His sensitive thief's ears picked up whispered words like "Gambit" "Prince" and, most painfully, "banished." But it was more than enough to inform him that he had not been forgotten.
When he had first "arrived" in New York as a somewhat permanent resident, he had quelled the rumors, speculations and death threats by firmly stating he would not seek work in the Metropolitan area. Gradually the offers died down as the criminal community realized he was serious. It was good to know that out of sight did not mean out of mind.
They came to the kitchen door and the bristling hellcat at his side relaxed by a fraction as they left their observers behind.
Rogue was not pleased. He supposed they could have come in the kitchen entrance, but that would have meant parking his bike on the street, wandering down dark alleys and begging at the door with his hat in his hand. He was tired of that sort of thing--he preferred waltzing in and stirring up the bees nest to slinking in the back door. But that was just his overactive flair for the dramatic. However, she did look rather attractive with the embarrassed flush still coloring her cheeks.
The Maitre D' led them to a dusty hallway. It looked like it might lead to storage areas, or be used as one itself. The man drifted away as they continued down the hall into the dim recesses beyond the light of the kitchen. Instead of going all the way down the hall, Remy cut into a side doorway, gently indicating Rogue should follow him. He wouldn't pull on her since he had learned early on that her natural response was to pull back, which, with her strength, could leave him with a dislocated shoulder and her with another reason to hate her life.
He could sense her growing discomfort yet Rogue still had the sense to pull the door closed behind her. They carefully made their way down the stone stairs. This was a very old part of the building, likely pre-dating the subways and the sewers. It smell old, musty. The hair on his hands and neck stood up at the familiar setting. So much like the Guild tunnels at home . . .
Remy took the stairs slowly, one by one, making special effort to be noisy as he went. He realized he didn't really need to do that since Rogue was being loud enough for the both of them. Loud by thief standards anyway. Her step was light and wary, firm and feminine but she did not have the knack for "ghosting" that Remy possessed. He often wondered if Mystique had never taught her such things or if she let them fall by the wayside as she grew more and more dependant on her powers. He hoped she remember enough of her early training to handle what came next.
He could tell she was just this side of bolting for the door and hoped she would stay just a few moments more. He didn't remember when this had become so important to him. But now, the idea that she would leave and never know filled him with pain and grief, which meant a lot because he had a very high pain and grief tolerance. They, along with his busom buddy, guilt, were his constant companions.
At the foot of the stair, Remy halted and Rogue fell in beside him. Two men materialized out of the dark. They wore body armor and carried rather effective looking weapons. Remy stood still as Rogue stared.
Rogue swore to herself. She was feeling about as stupid as it is possible to feel. Her green eyes narrowed to slits as she watched the Thief and Assassin who faded out of the gloom in what appeared to be a celler.
As they descended the stairs, all those drills with Mystique came to fruitation as she decoded her surroundings. The whole hidden side door trick had thrown her off. However, she coupled that with the stone stairwell that was too old for the building's concrete foundation. She took what she thought she knew about Gambit and concluded that it was some underground club. He did have to hang out in the dingiest places. She remembered going into dive after beer-soaked dive in Miami and always feeling his memories of them rush to the surface.
Now Rogue had to reassess the situation. Her head was spinning. This was not New Orleans, there was no Guild presence here. That's what the Kingpin was for, or so her Momma said.
The men wore what she had come to know as traditional Guild costumes. They accessorized similarly with both swords and guns and who knew what else tucked away somewhere.
Rogue was taken aback as they stared at her with recognition. She was about to see what they wanted to make of the fact that she had probably beaten the tar out of them on one of her "visits" to New Orleans, when Gambit reached behind his back and flipped out his Bo-Staff.
And then threw it on the floor. He pulled several knives, a gun, throwing blades, and three decks of cards out of some rather interesting places and tossed them at his feet.
They turned their attention to Rogue expectantly. But she never carried any weapons. She was super-fast, super-strong and could suck the life out of anyone. What would be the point? They were still staring at her when she dropped her X-Men sigil which tripled as a com-badge and homing device. They seemed to accept this and moved their hands from their weapons.
Then Remy did the strangest thing. His lips pulled back, exposing his teeth and his eyes appeared to be narrowed. It took her a moment to realize it, but he was grinning.
Remy couldn't help it. For her to throw her com-badge down like that was hilarious, at least as far as he was concerned. He stifled his laughter and transformed it into his infamous smile.
Those hardened, callused, mean faces that had seemed seconds from violence not a minute before, were split by huge grins. They looked at Rogue appraisingly and grinned some more.
While the Assassin, Paul Something-or-Other, slipped back into the shadows, the Thief, a distant relation by the name of Christophe, stepped forward with a little bow of his head.
"Dey waitin' fo' you, Master LeBeau."
Gambit nodded and shook the thief's hand firmly. "Den I better not be late, hehn?" He smiled briefly and took Rogue's hand.
He could almost feel the wheels turning in her head. That whole "Master" thing must have thrown her for a loop. It's not like she had ever seen anyone show him any kind of respect before, especially not around the X-Mansion.
Rather than dwell on his unfortunate lot in life, which he could do rather skillful at this stage in the game, Remy opened the scruffiest looking oak door to ever be steel reinforced.
Rogue found her tongue long enough to sneer incredulously "Master LeBeau?" then promptly when speechless again when she saw what was behind Door #2.
It appeared to be a very large living room--the kind that interior decorator's dreamed up and put in presidential palaces. Of course, though not a avid reader of Home, Remy doubted 12 square feet of TV consoles, full-sized bars or more psi-shielding than the X-Mansion where part of the standard package. But some of the room's accouterments were. Plush beige carpet covered the floor except in the center, which was tiled in beige and white diamonds. Beige leather couches and chairs were sprinkled liberally around the cavernous space. The walls were covered in an ever changing array of high-quality art.
He just stood there for a second a took it all in. He hadn't actually been inside Safezone in a very long while. While banished, he had snuck in occasionally to get news from home or even to speak to his father but he had always remained in the stairwell and never tried to come any further. At the time, he was the sort of person this place was supposed to be safe from, (i.e. disgruntled former members).
Even though he was late, he couldn't help making an entrance. He released Rogue's hand, which had gone stiff as they entered, and literally took a flying leap over the back of a couch, only to roll to his feet in front of its occupants. They sat in stunned silence for a second and suddenly roared up from their places. He held Rogue's fighting instinct back with a quick grin and fell into the middle of the mob.
They hugged him, kissed him, shook his hand, or stared, all with a hidden wariness, all with secret guile. But he was used to that. Even in the best of times, he had been a rebel that most of the Guild was unwilling to be overtly aligned with. These few seemed to hedge their bets and Remy didn't blame them. It was also telling that there were several Assassins among the group. He could pick them out by face, as no one would dare conceal themselves by wearing a costume in Safezone. They seemed no more reserved than their thief companions and Remy had to admit that things must have really changed between the Guilds.
Rogue listened to the raucous cheering in mixed English and French and tried to decipher some of it. She was startled by a high-pitched noise that part of her that was not her recognized as a swamp call. She turned to the bar, unconsciously mimicking Remy's actions. She looked over at him and saw one of those rare, genuine smiles that he seemed to hoard like war rations. She watched as the walked around the couch and moved to the bar.
Since she had nothing else to do, she followed.
"Big Sherl!" Remy sounded purely excited to see this man.
"Remy, you dog! Where y' been? Dey got 'ere 'alf an 'our ago. You're gonna catch it dis time, mark my word!" The man's boisterous voice boomed out the admonition as he and Remy hugged. "Yeah, well is dere ev'r a time when I don't?" Remy's glee at seeing his friend seemed to disappear with those bitter words. Rogue felt like and eavesdropper until he turned to her and said "Oh, dis is Rogue."
"Hello." Rogue wasn't sure if that was a proper introduction but she took it for what it was worth.
As she turned to Remy to chide him on his poor etiquette, she realized he was walking away. Before she could protest, he said, "Hey, Sherl!"
"Yeah" came the loud reply.
"Be nice." Remy was gone on the next breath, slipping through a steel door at the other end of the bar.
The massive man beside her began to chuckle softly. Rogue took a moment to examine him. Remy obviously cared about him and the feeling was mutual. He was very tall and very thick and very, very dark. His face was the color of dark chocolate but, from a quick look at the inside of his arm, Rogue could tell he had recently gotten a lot of sun. All in all, he reminded her of a cheerful Bishop. He had that same solid air about him, but he was much too jovial to have anything but a surface resemblance to the serious XSE officer from the future.
She sat at the bar, watching him laugh to himself quietly. She was curious. "'Big Shirl?' Is that your real name?" As soon as if came out of her mouth she wished she could take it back. It was a foolish question for a woman who went by a codename only to ask, since she could not reciprocate a response. Yet, the man seemed untroubled by this paradox. "You're a bold one, Rogue," but he said it with a conspiratorial smile to soften the blow, "My birth name is Sherman Dupris. Folks used to call me Sher or Sherm but I had this one little cousin," and his eyes darted to the mysterious steel door, "who said Sherl and it just stuck."
"Ah guess I don't have to ask why they call you 'Big'?" She gestured with her hand to indicate his large frame.
"No, but I wouldn't mind going into detail." His grin was reminiscent of Remy's and that, along with his naughty innuendo, made Rogue blush.
"Lemme buy y' a drink, chere?" He recovered from his own little joke and looked at Rogue mischievously. There was real interest in his eyes and a hint of further humor.
Rogue relaxed all at once and laughed out loud. It was so ridiculous: that all the strange things that had happened that night would end up with her at a bar flirting like a normal girl. She felt the pain of her dream slide away as she leaned closer to him. "Sure, Big Sherl Sugah."
She batted her green eyes and settled on to her stool with her legs crossed and her full attention on her very pleasant company.
Remy sat on a stool in the dark. The room was a chapel, paneled in dark wood. The stool was in the nave, where Remy sat with his back to two men. He stared into the blackness around him. He adjusted his eyes to the light that glowed from the candles that circled the alter.
He was assigned the left part of the alter and part of the darkness. His father, Jean-Luc, and his brother, Henri, sat on similar stools, searching as he did for any fluctuation, any slight shift that could indicate they had a visitor. Henri and Jean-Luc had sat for half-an-hour with no detected motion. They had insisted he be there so that his spatial awareness and special eyes could give them some edge in this exercise.
Remy felt barely restrained excitement and it wasn't merely the result of this 'bait and wait' game. There was something so right about him being here. He had never really doubted that Henri would recover from his "death." It was very hard to kill any thief worth the Elixir of Life and Henri had tasted it more than once. But, to see him again, and on good terms, was a blessing. Remy often tried to ignore the loss that had settled into his heart the night he was banished but lately, with his relationship with Rogue eating him alive from the inside out, he found that old pain stirring. And then the call had come, demanding his presence at an initiation ceremony and suddenly it was lessening, until at this moment, he felt as if he would one day be able to come home.
If he was participating in an official Guild ceremony, by request of the Council no less, attitudes about him had to be changing. Maybe to the point where he could reclaim his former status. As much as he told himself that he wanted nothing to do with the Guild, he knew it wasn't so. He needed the Guild because the Guild needed him, unlike the X-Men who acted like they were doing him a favor in letting him stay. Of course, like the X-Men, the Guild knew little about his greatest crime.
Shaking his head mentally, Gambit scanned the darkness. Remy realized that the initiation was being held in New York because customs was a real hassle in the City which meant the thief in question would have to find a creative way to get the loot back into the United States. For a second he thought he sensed movement among the candles. He quickly snapped his eyes back to the alter. He was rewarded with the glint of warm flame-light against gold.
He shifted in his seat. Henri and Jean-Luc took his signal and turned to look at the alter. They looked at each other silently, three thieves, all in the world's top ten, all completely baffled. Remy bit his lip to hide his surprise as a figure emerged from the three foot triangle of darkness between them. The figure was of medium height and slim but muscular and absolutely silent as it gracefully raised its hands above its head and performed a prefect pirouette without even brushing their stools.
"I cain't believe it." Henri was the first to find his voice. He shook his head and smiled ruefully.
"Why not, you trained 'er." Jean-Luc could not suppress the proud smile that over took his features. The figure was still more shadow than substance even in the candlelight.
"You really done it dis time, Andy!" Remy grinned as he scooped the jewel-encrusted, one-of-a-kind necklace from the alter. It was Chinese in design--his off-hand guess was Chang Dynasty--and likely priceless.
"Oui, mon frere, isn't it wonderful! And don't call me Andy. Y'd t'ink I was still seven years old de way you go on so." The masked figure began to strip off the simple, black thief's clothing. As quiet as her movements were, her voice was another matter. "I can't wait to get out of dis stuff--it reeks, man, it totally reeks. I'll never fly as luggage again. I wish I could have worn my colors."
Her tone of voice told Remy that he had missed a ongoing battle, as did his father's long-suffering reply: "Now, Alex. . ."
Remy laughed as her eyes rolled, "I know, I know, dere not really my colors until the Guild accepts my offering but still . . ." Remy remembered that she could whine with the best of them.
"Yes, child, but I am sure dis will be sufficient. Raiding tombs in de middle of de PRC is still pretty good by Guild standards." Henri neutralized the argument before it even had a chance to pick up steam. He was impressed and Remy could tell. Henri had acted as her registrar and if the note of respect in his voice was a gauge, she had far exceeded his expectations.
"Yah, petite, you can tell us all 'bout it later." Remy could feel the rush come off her in waves and he missed that heady feeling of conquering the world with your mind and your body. He grabbed her up in a hug, her undressed body an after-thought. She grinned and put her head in his shoulder. This was the first time they had touched each other since he had left New Orleans for good. He had seen her on his rare visits to his hometown, but from a far. It was good to hold her again and it made him feel forgiven.
Jean-Luc watched his children get reacquainted with moist eyes. Remy's transition back into the family was going smoothly so far. With Julien Boudreaux showing up not-dead during that fiasco with Chandra, Jean-Luc had begun working to get his son's banishment rescinded. At the time, sentiment was against him, but slowly, as war between the Guilds was called to yet another truce, things began to look up. Apparently BelleDonna finally decided to honor her father, rather than sullying his name, and called off her foolish quest for revenge. That, and the fact that without the Elixirs, the Guilds had little to fight over. Cooperation was much better for business than squabbling among themselves.
Things were in motion to return Remy to the fold. It was only a matter of time before he would have his family whole again. But tonight was not his night, nor was it Remy's. It belonged to the young girl who had just become the youngest person to become a full member of the New Orleans Thieves' Guild, Alexandre LeBeau. Jean-Luc took one last look and felt Henri return from wherever he had disappeared to. "Aren't you goin' ta get dressed, petite? De people are waitin'."
Henri passed her a little black dress and she slipped into it gratefully. "I love it, 'Ri, I love it, but--" she objected when he offered her a pair of heels, "I'm gonna wear my boots." Despite the upturned noses and deep-throated groans of her father and oldest brother, she seemed perfectly comfortable in Donna Karen and knee-high high-heeled boots. She bent over to lace them up as Remy placed his heavy leather jacket on a stool.
Remy wisely did not comment on the ensemble, which was not that bad as far as he was concerned--although he felt a stirring of the Big-Brother part of his brain at the amount of leg she was showing. It was nearly indecent for a girl of 17, well, for his sister at 17 but he got over it. He was relishing in the feeling of peace he felt, basking in the off-hand acceptance that had been apparent from the moment he enter the 'zone. He almost felt as if he had never left and being received this way softened the rough exterior of his heart so some of the hurt could seep out and fall away.
Rogue looked at the steal door as Big Sherl stopped in the middle of his punch line to stare at the people coming out of it. She was shocked to see Remy's brother, Henri. Rogue was sure she seen the man dead on the balcony at the X-Mansion not very long ago. Her eyes passed over him and Jean-Luc LeBeau, noting that he never seemed to wear anything but that hideously-green traditional costume, and settled on the object of her wrath.
It was all still there: those long legs taking long strides in her direction, those unbelievable eyes that seemed to pull her across the room, that smile that made her want to melt in a puddle at his feet. Yep, Remy was still gorgeous, if infuriating. Her eyes narrowed at the sight of a young woman standing very close to what she unconsciously considered her territory.
She was distracted from her murderous fantasy by the low rumble she had come to associate with Sherl's laughter. He swiveled in his seat as the young woman trotted over to him. She was exotically beautiful and her unconventional looks matched her unique fashion choices.
"Come on, Lexie, what's wit' de knee-high combat boots."
"Oh, hush Unca Sherl, dey ain't combat boots and you know it. Just congratulate me on being wonderful." She draped herself on his shoulder, which was quite a feat considering their comparative sizes. Rogue put another strike against her for distracting her new friend.
"Well, are you wonderful now? I was t'inkin' you were spectacular or some such t'ing. No? Well den, "Congratulations!" and all that. Have you met Rogue?"
There was something wrong with the fact that it was Sherl who introduced them not Remy, but then, this whole night was wrong from beginning to end. Rogue felt sweat building up in the gloves and peeled them off. She held them in one hand and took another swig of alcohol with the other.
"Hey, Lex, lemme buy y' a beer." A young man dashed up and hugged the young woman and then she was gone into the crowd.
Rogue took it as an opportunity to get back to the one person who was paying attention to her this evening. "Big Sherl, finish your story," she prompted. Big Sherl was funny and genuinely interesting and interested in her. She felt so normal, like she was a regular girl not a complete freak.
He turned back to her and settled right back into his story-telling groove. "So, I figure, I got nut'in to lose and I take de gun, right . . ." Rogue gave him her most rapt attention, ignoring Remy as he slipped away from the bar. On the other hand, Big Sherl wouldn't let him slide away this time.
"--Remy, old dog, where you runnin' off to." Sherl grabbed the lanky X-Man by his jacket collar as he moved past him. Rogue fought a delighted smile as Remy stopped short to avoid being yanked backwards. Sherl looked at him indignantly as he tried to straighten himself out. "I'm not steallin you mojo, boy chile. Unca Sherl ain't after ya woman so don't get all huffy."
Remy's face went several shades of red, then he seemed to collect himself and force the flush from his cheeks. Rogue could barely contain herself. In the two years she had known him, she had never even seen Remy blush and in a matter of seconds she was seeing him tongue-tied and flummoxed. He was always so calm, cool and collected and he had taken great pleasure in running her emotions ragged with his quick wit and stinging innuendo. Now he was the one on the ropes, in public with a full audience. Rogue bit her lip with a grin and watched the scene continue.
"However, I will talk to any pretty chere that will listen to me, hear?" It was the wagging finger, that ruined Rogue's composure. Apparently it was also to much for Sherl and Remy because they joined with their own rich laughter.
Remy's smile was light and playful, and for once it did not put her on edge. " Rogue, you wanna listen to this blowhard tell his hundred year old stories or do you want to dance?" His voice was smug and arrogant and oh, so sexy.
Rogue looked at Sherl and Remy and then at her third whiskey sour. "Sherl, sugah . . ." She raised her eyebrows at him questioningly and grabbed his hand. "Let's boogie." She stuck her tongue out at Remy and moved to the center of the floor where a mob of people were throwing themselves together to the heavy bass of the music.
She felt good, better than three drinks should make her feel. She was accustomed to her stolen Kree metabolism protecting her from the effects of alcohol so she credited her carefree attitude to this mysterious Safezone. Rogue definitely didn't want to like this place but it was infectious, like a fungus or something. She half-remembered something about secret hideouts, but she couldn't attribute the source--either her mother, or Remy's memories or something else entirely. From what she remembered, this Safezone was just that. So she let the worry of "a world that fears and hates me" roll off her back as Sherl placed his large hand on the base her spine.
As they moved into the crush of bodies that writhed on the hard wood dance floor, Rogue became terrified. Her hands had grown hotter still from holding her gloves and she had forgotten them on the bar. Without their security, Rogue's mind spun at the possible opportunities for contact. There were too many bodies, too much skin. There was no way to avoid them all as Sherl spun and twisted her body around his massive frame. She had only meant to punish Remy for dragging her to who knows where in the middle of the night, leaving her with a complete stranger (a handsome, pleasant stranger but a stranger) and offering no apology or explanation when he returned. Now she had committed herself to this press of human flesh and she didn't think she could handle it.Yet, as Sherl dipped her, she felt the blood rush to her head and the reason oozing out her ears. Maybe she could be normal, just for one dance.
Once she got started, she forgot about not touching and found all of the ways she could touch, the subtle things like touching Sherl's gloved hands, gripping the shoulder of the shorter blond man that cut in on a slow song. After a while she just let the worry go. She didn't have her gloves but she was still safe and she couldn't remember why she had worried about her powers in the first place.
Rogue swirled from partner to partner reveling in the revelry. Fast songs were the best because you didn't have to hold hands, although several of her partners couldn't keep their hands from drifting to her waist or back. Rogue leaned into their touch, loving the feel of it. Part of her knew she was playing with fire but most of her was just having a really good time.
After almost an hour of dancing the sweat on her skin, the smile she couldn't get rid of, the beating of her heart that rocked her like drum, all told her she should do this more often. The music changed to something fast and Latin and she found herself grinding her hips against some guy.
"Oh my God."
"What, you didn't know it was me?" It was Remy.
Rogue looked out over his shoulder and bit her lip. Why was she more comfortable with a stranger than with him? If she were at home, she would ponder that question for hours, soak her pillow with pointless tears seeking understanding of the twisted mess their relationship had become. But since she was far from home, and far from ready to sink back into her own private pit of despair, she turned around and fell into his arms as a slow song started.
She let her whole body relax and enjoyed the feel of their close dance and the peacefulness of his silence. The pounding bass pushed her nerves away (or maybe it was the six whiskey sours she had downed in the last 2 hours).
It felt good--very good--to toss back her head and just move her body, knowing for once that she couldn't hurt him--not even when they danced so close Rogue could smell three different liquors on his breath. She wondered why they had never danced this way before but an aching in her calves kept her from finishing the thought.
As they slow jammed, Rogue didn't notice that Remy was steadily moving them towards the couches. She sat down gratefully when they got there. The wall of Tv screens flickered madly--sports events, movies, music videos. Rogue was staring at something decidedly adult that ran on the bottom row. She was leaning over slightly, poised on toes, to get a better view, giving Remy a much better view of the soft skin at small of her back and more.
"Hey Rogue." She looked like she was going to fall off the chair if he didn't get her attention. Her head snapped up to face him. At first she looked awkward, as if she had been caught doing something she wasn't sure she should be doing. Then her expression changed. "Yeah, Remy." The eyebrows arched, the lip curled and Remy leaned back unconsciously. Anger flamed her face, instead of embarrassment. Anger over what? Remy ran his mind back of his recent crimes and misdemeanors.
"Sorry ta drag ya 'ere, chere. My sister, Alex, she did 'er first professional job tonight and I really wanted to be 'ere to support 'er. I shun'ta left ya out 'ere by yaself but I knew ya'd be alright."
"How'd ya know Ah'd be alright? What if Sentinels would've attacked or sumth'n? What then huh?" She wasn't going to give an inch until he earned it.
"This place . . . it's de only place in de City dat's completely blind to surveillance, scanners and such. Dat's why its a Safezone. No Sentinels, no police, not even S.H.E.I.L.D. know dis place is 'ere." He wasn't sure about that last part but it sounding good and it was true in principle. "So, wouldn't nuth'n happened ta ya, non? "
"Yeah, Ah suppose that makes sense." Her head dropped and they sat in silence for a second. Remy let out a slow sigh of relief.
"I guess dat's why dis place is so popular." He tried to redirect the conversation toward something light and positive. He didn't want to fight with her tonight. He couldn't remember when he had felt so. . .okay. Between his banishment and joining the X-Men, he had spent a lot of time convincing himself that he didn't need anybody, especially not a family. But, when he followed Stormy home, he realized that he both needed and wanted the feelings he lost when Jean-Luc told him to leave and never come back. Tonight, he felt like he belonged in his family again. He wasn't going home--he was still an X-Man--but at least he had the option now.
"Ah don't know, Remy, Ah think its your sister who's popular." Remy looked at Rogue, a serious expression warring with his sparkling eyes. She was going to accept the situation, and his place in it, and move on from it. He never wanted to kiss her more than he did right then. He indulged the desire for a moment more before resigning himself to his too brief memories of their fleeting intimacy in the past.
"Huh?" Her words began to register through the fog of want that was tearing though the walls inside him.
"See?" She pointed toward the ever thickening crowd at the center of the dance floor. Remy looked and saw Alex at the center, dancing sensuously to a throbbing R&B song.
That was the last straw for Gambit. It was one thing to join the Guild at a younger age than he had, but Alex was going to get the fight of her life if she thought she would unseat him as the sexy thing in New Orleans.
"Oh no, she's not betta den us!" He grabbed Rogue's hand and pulled her onto the floor. Before she could protest they were back to bumping and grinding.
Alex and Big Sherl where moving smoothly through several suggestive moves. They wisely kept 18 inches between them, both in deference to Jean-Luc (and the bodily harm he would have done to anyone who was that forward with his daughter) and because the half-foot difference in height and 100 pound difference in weight would make them look ridiculous. Joining them in at the center of attention, Remy guided Rogue as they moved together. Rogue felt a flame run through her veins, sending heat straight to her body. They fit each other. Perfectly.
She felt herself being aroused--by the words, the song, the volume, this apparent competition with Remy's sister and friend. It reminded her of all the times she and Remy had competed against each other, only this time the excitement wasn't tinged with a desire to grind his face into the pavement. Rogue filled her mind with that beautiful, wonderful, horrible dream that had lead her here and ground her hips against Remy's, raising her arms to his shoulders, linking her hands behind his neck.
He pulled her so close that she was straddling his leg as they pressed on into the rhythm. Big Sherl and Alex were literally bent over backwards as they executed a complex Reggae move. As the song ended, the crowd cheered their respective performances. Rogue found that she liked hearing her name chanted almost as much as the feel of Remy's firm body moving against her. Though that had her skin pulsing with every heartbeat. She had never been this close to him, always keeping him at arms length or further, and suddenly she never wanted to pull way.
Sherl and Alex flanked them as they moved toward the sitting area again. They collapsed together on the couch and Rogue did not pull away from the confused tangle. She instead stared at her bare hand on Alex's exposed knee. When it finally reached her that she was touching someone, skin to skin, and nothing was happening, she snatched her hand away and stared at it, a tad drunkenly.
"Hey, wassa matta." She shifted her stare to Sherl's expressive face.
"Mah . . .mah powers?" Rogue stammered. She ran her mind over the evening and realized she had touched several people over the course of the evening, but since nothing had happened, she had ignored the contact.
"Oh, de whole club's got dis psi-field--Thank you--dat kinda 'softens' ya powers. It don' shut 'em off or nuth'n, just . . .lessens dem. Keeps de place off all dat mutant huntin' radar, ya know." Alex' answer was swift, puncuated by her acceptance of a mixed drink from a tray that was circulating. Rogue also took a glass and downed it quickly.
"Remy, why didn't ya tell me?" Rogue tried not to look hurt. She felt slivers of violation, betrayal and confusion leave a bitter taste at the back of her throat.
"'Cause I didn't want you to t'ink I brought ya here 'cause a dat."
Rogue turned away. She could trust that he had kept it secret out of deference for her feelings or she could go the suspicious route and worry that he was setting her up for attack. She knew him too well to really believe he was a traitor yet she had not come to expect kindness and courtesy from him. Perhaps it was time she did.
"Tha . . .Thanks, sugah. Ah guess Ah can understand that." She kept her head averted as she started to cry. With her invulnerability dampened, she was feeling the full effects of the alcohol she had consumed and it was beginning to take its toll.
Remy hugged her, puzzled but comforting her by instinct. Sherl and Alex slipped away to other parts of the party, leaving them in relative solitude. The way things were going for him tonight, he felt better, freer than he had in a long time. His good mood was sobered by her melancholy. They sat close soaking up each others' warmth, Rogue's face against Gambit's t-shirt. After several moments, when her tears did not abate, Remy spoke.
"Wha's wrong, chere?"
"Ah want to . . .be so badly."
"Be normal?" Remy sighed. That was her usual lament, to matter how pointless it seemed.
"No, just be. Be more than a villainess or a hero. Be a person, a woman." Rogue choked out that last word with a sob.
Remy said nothing, hugging her closer as she wept drunkenly. He smiled as she mumbled to herself and sipped on whatever drink he could get his hands on. She quieted eventually and he wondered if she had gone to sleep. he tried to pull away from her to let her sleep it off but as he moved, she clutched him to her tightly. It wasn't her full strength, but it was enough.
"Don't leave me alone, Remy," she pleaded with him. Remy was more than willing but not able. And that was the key, wasn't it. Neither of them wanted to be alone but neither could trust enough to be together.
"I have to 'go' chere."
"Oh." Rogue blushed and reluctantly sat up.
"'S'okay." He got up and disappeared. She lost sight of him as he passed a dart game that had drawn a group of staggering drunks all prime to be hustled.
Rogue wiped her face and straighten her clothes. According to her watch she was going to be late for her morning Danger Room session. She lay her head back and tried to push away to despair that had gripped her. It was all the fault of that dumb dream, the kind of dream she thought she had escaped as she accepted her place in the X-Men. Rogue tended to prefer her fantasies to her real life and felt guilty because of what she had instead. A home to feel safe in, a goal to fight for and people who loved her. That should be enough, shouldn't it. When she laid it out like that, she felt childish and selfish.
But things weren't really that way in real life and all along Rogue had known she wanted more from life. She wanted someone who understood her, who could share the bad memories and the good and still care about her. Little by little she had come to believe that someone was Remy, but after the Trial, she questioned her own ability to "love unconditionally."
It all came down to one thing. She wasn't normal. But then again, neither was anyone else she knew. She looked around the room at the people whose party she crashed. They weren't normal but they weren't angsting over it. Yet Rogue couldn't separate her view of herself from her powers and her past, both of which she hated.
Mystique had always pressured her to accept herself, but Rogue had kept that vision of normality so fixed in her mind that she never could see herself past it, which lead her to play the saintly martyr in her own tragic romance. After the sensations she had experienced tonight, however, Rogue was growing less attached to her martyrdom. Just as she began to feel pathetic again, Remy appeared at her elbow.
"Hey." He smiled down at her as she dragged herself to her feet.
"You ready ta go."
"Ah don't know if Ah can balance on that bike of yours."
"I don' t'ink I should try t'drive anyway. I'll get us a ride."
Ten minutes later, Remy and Rogue were sitting on the middle seat of a black Minivan with the license plate BGSHERL. Big Sherl and an unidentified woman were making out in the back seat. Henri's wife, a prim looking woman by the name of Penelope, sat next to Rogue. Three across was pretty tight but Rogue found herself enjoying the contact. Rogue realized that no one had been squeamish about her powers tonight, though that made sense with the power dampening equipment. Still, it was a welcome rare occurrence not to be treated like a pariah.
Remy put his arm around her and pulled her close. He had managed one night without lying to her, one night without hiding behind carefully created facades. But more importantly, he was one night closer to his family, to the people who made him remember his was a man, not a monster. He was one night closer to forgiving himself.
"So, who's drivin'?" Rogue had assumed Big Sherl would, but he looked more than a little occupied.
"I am." Alex sat in the driver's seat and Henri took shotgun.
"Um, don't you think ya've a little to much to drink?" Rogue knew she was too drunk to drive and Alex didn't have the benefit of Carol Danver's Kree metabolism.
"I'll be fine. I got betta reflexes drunk den ya'll have sober." The arrogence in the girl's voice set Rogue's teeth on edge but Henri interjected, "Her powers give her some super fast reflexes. Never seen her hit anyt'ing so I figger it's safe, huh Catalyste?" He nudged Alex, who promptly opened the door and emptied her stomach. As unsettling as that was, Rogue had to respect the way the girl handled herself in 5:00 am downtown traffic.
Once she was convinced she would not wake up with her head stuck through a tree, Rogue leaned her head into Remy's shoulder and dozed on the ride home. She woke with a start as they stopped by the Mansion gates.
Remy hugged his sister and brother goodbye. He was reluctant to let them go but still had no desire to leave with them. Yet.
It was Rogue that pulled him into the gate after the van disappeared into the early morning fog on Graymalkin Lane. They walked down the driveway, each deep in their own thoughts.
"Chere." Remy stopped and turned to Rogue as they approached the door.
"Hmm?" Rogue was more focused on the trouble they'd be in for coming in so late than the pensive look in Remy's eyes.
"Ya t'ink maybe we could get some coffee later and, ya know, talk."
"Yeah, that . . . that sounds like a vera good idea."
Someone opened the door and they found the courage to walk through.