[Rogue, Gambit] Crown of Roses, Crown of Thorns [PG]
Disclaimer: The X-Men characters, the New Orleans~ Thieves and Assassin's Guilds, and all other recognizable characters are copyright to Marvel Entertainment Group. This work of FanFiction is not meant to impinge on that copyright or defame Marvel Comics or the X-Men and related characters in any way. As far as I know, Mulligan's doesn't exist and neither do the drinks they order.
Copyright: This work of FanFiction is 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. Thanks to Smoot, Shai and 'Rith and everyone in #plottingchat and #KJcorner.
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Crown of Roses, Crown of Thorns
Deep in the heart of New York City, there is a bar seemingly transported from the middle of nowhere. Mulligan's is dusty, as if outside its leather covered doors there lies prairie land or farm country instead of a concrete proving ground for 8 million broncobusters. The clientele has changed from bikers to bonders and back -- the black leather decor seems to attract only certain types of people.
However, deep in the heart of Mulligan's, there sits a young woman, red-brown hair held off her face with a white kerchief and her body clothed in broken-in denim. She doesn't own a motorcycle and can't stand chains of any sort. Still, she sits in an even dimmer corner of the already poorly lit bar, a lit Virginia Slim in her hands. Her bare hands.
Rogue absently rubs her free palm on the soft fabric on her thighs. The jeans are not as old as they look. Having lost all of her clothes to Bastion and his metallic hordes, Rogue spent weeks, and several boxes of detergent, distressing her new things. After thirty washes, her favorite jeans are more comfortable than the pair they replaced and she revels in their feel against her newly sensitive skin. Taking the last drag from her cigarette, Rogue reaches for the pack, sitting desolate on the black table. Lighting the new from the old, Rogue decides to order a beer, just to put something substantial on the stark table.
She feels surrounded by a cone of silence, even with the bar full to bursting with rather eclectic individuals. Watching a couple play games in the corner, Rogue at once lights another cigarette with the glowing embers of the previous butt. Her wrists ache with a phantom pain as a young woman handcuffs herself to a convenient ring above the bench seat. She is strangely fascinated by the sight. Rogue can not find pleasure in being confined and the loss of control it implies. She has long suppressed memories of collars and chains and whips and pain.
The girl's partner leans over and begins to kiss her. Rogue looks away. There is no reason she can't do the things they do, feel the things they feel. With her powers gone, the only things holding her back are phantom hurts and long-silent cries. Her palms sweat as she lights another cigarette, chain-smoking -- smoking, period -- for the first time since she was fourteen. She quit for good the day Raven asked her what brand she smoked so it could be added to the family shopping list. What was the point of poisoning one's self, if it wasn't even considered a rebellion? Raven was a difficult parent to rebel against, but then, she was the quintessential rebel herself, and it was obviously hard to shock a mutant terrorist.
Raven had always been a rebel by nature, her mutant abilities freeing her from restraints of gender or race or size or strength. Now, her mother is chained, handcuffed, locked away in a prison of both brick and bars and flesh and bones. Rogue still has goose-bumps from her prison visit the day before. For the first time, she touched her mother skin to skin, and, for that instant, both their jails seemed to melt away.
She reaches a hand up to pat the kerchief covering her fading stripe. The white hair looks odd to her now, with its red-brown regrowth darkening the roots. The skunk that has plagued her all her life suddenly looks like a poorly maintained dye job and Rogue mimics it as she conceals it, still wondering which color dye she should buy.
Rogue holds her cigarette, the tip burning slowly but surely toward her fingertips. Serious contemplation is difficult for her within the pastoral setting of the mansion, so a quiet night in the Big City is just right for a woman with so much to ponder. With the High Evolutionary high above the earth, there are so many things for her to decide. What is she, if she is not a mutant? Who is she, if she is not Rogue?
Rogue winces and stifles a cry as, for the first time in many years, she feels an ordinary pain. The cigarette butt has burned down until it reaches her fingers, leaving a dusty black mark on her creamy skin. For an instant she feels cigarette burns on the backs of her hands, on the soft parts of her arms and legs and she begs herself not to cry out. With no more voices in her head to distract her, Rogue is forced to listen to her own voice. In the deafening silence she surrounds herself with, in the heart of a bustling bar, in the heart of a hustling city, Rogue finally listens to the weary, petulant voice of the little girl who never really left the agony of Caldecott.
She reaches for another cigarette, slipping her fingers around a second beer that has mysteriously appeared. She entertains a momentary thrill and looks around for her benefactor. She has hopes that someone ordered it for her, someone attracted to her melancholy repose. Perhaps this is the night, the opportunity she's been waiting for, to finally test it out, see what it feels like to use her skin the way everyone else does. Taking a drag and a swig, Rogue decides against explorations of her skin and returns to the excavation on her soul.
A biker pulls up to the bar, sliding into the only remain parking space, brown hair billowing out behind him. The monstrous Hog comes to a precise stop at the curb, settling in between two smaller bikes. Cautious about his Harley to the point fastidiousness, it's doting owner contemplates a garage for as long as it takes his tracking device to start beeping again. All signs point to Mulligan's, so he turns off the Shi'ar device and sticks it in one of the more concealed pockets of his leather jacket.
Crossing the threshold onto the top steps, Gambit blends right in with current populous. Even without his mutant agility, he still moves with a certain understated grace. His leather jacket is scared and scuffed from long, hard rides and short, violent fights. His jeans are stiff with road dirt and the chain accents on his jacket and boots are dull and worn. His eyes rove the bar, its dark, smoky interior both familiar and alien at the same time. For the first time in his life, Remy takes his shades off to complete indifference. No stares or sharply intaken breathes, no uncomfortable shuffling not even the odd heaving chest. But then, 90% of world has brown eyes just like his, so why should anyone take notice.*
He stares at himself in the bar mirror and sees everything he used to be washed away. He is "Diablo Blanc" no longer, and looking at his current face, he can believe that he never was. Stepping down in to the bar, dodging his muscle aches though sheer force of will, he scans for his target. In an unlit corner of gloom, surrounded by a corona of gray smoke, sits his prize. As she reaches forward to tap her ashes into the tray, he notes her bare hands and covered head. He is glad for the white contrast, making her seem more familiar even as their entire world is changing from what it was once.
He weaves his way through the crowd, pressing through the bodies toward her solitary table. Dragging a chair from another place setting, he straddles it silently and waits for her to acknowledge his presence. She seems wrapped up in a world all her own, ignoring all outside stimuli, even handsome Cajuns close enough for her to touch. But then, she's been ignoring him for weeks, so he is quite accustomed to the ill treatment.
A waitress appears out of no where, her swallow face ridden by a general annoyance. "What'll ya have?"
Gambit hesitates momentarily, but decides he has every right to be there, whether Rogue would agree or not. "A Screamin' Virgin, heavy on the bourbon." Rogue sucks her teeth and shoots him an irritated look. Gambit stares right back. "It's just a drink."
"Right." Rogue's head falls to her glass, watching the suds swirl in random patterns.
As the girl fades into the background, Rogue pulls another cigarette from her pack. Without thinking, Gambit moves to light it, at least having the presence of mind to use a lighter. That was a hard adjustment, and as he lights his own, he smirks at the mundaneness of it. He's never really had to use a cigarette lighter -- his powers were easier use and more accessible. Remy with a lighter is like Bobby with a melting ice cream cone or Ororo with an umbrella -- strange.
Rogue leans back, watching the smoke from their cigarettes swirl and meet in the air between them. Gambit watches her, waiting for the words to come to him, for conversation he's planned out over the ride down to materialize. "So, how's Raven?"
Gambit smirks at the startled expression that crosses her face, but his lips fall into a hard line. She always underestimates his skill as a thief, as if denying the fact that he is what he is will make him stop being it.
Rogue recovers her composure and responds wryly. "She's angry, bitter and violent -- nothing too unusual." She glances up at him, a half-smile shoving away some of her gloomy expression. "She asked about you." Her semi-smile grows coy inch by minute inch as she waits for his reaction.
Remy cuts his eyes, wondering if he should rise to her bait. "Um . . . what exactly did she say?" He sticks a pinkie in his drink to stirs the ice, a rather disgusting habit he picked up in Las Vegas and has yet to wean himself off.
"Ah think her exact words were, 'So did you do him yet?'" Rogue struggles to keep the smile, to fight the bitterness that is encroaching on her evening out on the town.
Smothering a smirk, Remy slowly sucks a piece of ice into his mouth. Rogue watches, subtly bending toward him. She waits for the innuendo, for the flirting that has been so dreadfully absent in the last few weeks.
"You almost did, back in Antarctica." Remy finally lets loose his bad-mutha grin.
Rogue puts her elbows on the table, pushing herself forward until he fills her field of vision. "Ah didn't mean to do it--"
"Yeah, I know." Remy stops, his eyes hard as he stubs out his cigarette inches from her hand. He ignores her flinch and then goes for blood. "It was really my own fault, right, my guilt drove you to it? Dat's what you said, right?" His eyes are more dangerous now than they ever were with their crimson glow.
Rogue defeats the urge to move away, fascinated by the ice-cold rage he is showing her for the first time. "Ah was confused."
Remy moves in closer, grasping one of her hands in his. It is not a gentle touch and the electricity the leaps between them is pain not pleasure. Pulling her across the table and leaning in to meet her half-way, Remy lowers his voice to an Arctic whisper. "No. You were a killer."
To the couple at the booth, they appear to leaning in for bit of necking. To three guys at the bar, they seem to be arm wrestling. Neither view is right. Neither view is wrong.
Rogue could break his gaze, she knows this. She could look away and stay twisted and alone. Remy is shoving it in her face -- they are the same side of a single, warped coin. Brutally painful childhoods, rescued by dubious criminals and turned loose on the world to work out their bitter frustrations. They are spending their young adulthood as pennies on a train track, waiting for the big one to finally come along. With differing levels of mass destruction but the same shattered souls, they have spent their lives in a downward spiral culminating in this knock-down, drag-out epiphany.
"And that was the most confusing thing of all." She doesn't cry, doesn't look away in defeat or self-loathing. Eye to eye, broken life to broken life, Rogue knows why he loves her, why he stays around no matter what she does to deter him. He knows she's the one person with no reason to look down on him, no right to judge him. Without judgments and guilt and shame, there could have been hope and trust and endeavor.
Her heart cracks around that chilled ache, opening it back up for the first time, letting a tear trickle down, not for him, not for herself, but for the real victim. Their love. That nebulous bond crushed by repeated betrayals -- his mistrust, her abandonments. If they had known themselves a little better, maybe they wouldn't be here, tearing each other's hearts out.
Remy's fingers ache, and not just from the grip he has on her wrist. The first chance he gets to touch her, and he is barely restraining himself from violence. He could lash out: it is his ingrained response and he is deeply wounded enough to justify it. But in truth, those wounds where cauterized in the blazing cold sun and he's never hit a woman that hadn't hit him first. Just the Southern Gentleman in him. Though he has justification for his anger, he also knows he once justified working for Satan himself. He relaxes by degrees, slowly letting it seep off him, like melting snow.
Their eyes burning, they finally break the gaze, yet neither lets go. They remain tethered to each other, eyes turned inward, afraid to face the demons at all, but certainly not alone.
As the silence lengthens and the threads between them knot tighter, they form a new gaze, this one warmer, imbued with a shared desire for renewal. They have each achieved a measure of rebirth, shucking off the vestiges of depression and letting them disappear into the ether.
Even among the revelry, Gambit and Rogue seem to reach a level of calm. It suits them, like a crown of roses in a fairy-tale wedding, all their dreams intertwined and blessed by powers from above. The old school-yard rush fills them again, along with that fateful sense of forever that haunts them. They share one of those deep, soul-seeking looks, as intimate as love making. The connection seems to stretch off into eternity.
Raucous laughter from the bar breaks the moment, and, like kissers caught in the act, they pull away from each other. Remy snatches his hand away but leaves it on the table. Rogue sits stock still, straight up and down, as if she is caught between leaning forward and leaning back. This is how is always goes with them: fleeting moments of pleasantness, of nearly explored passion and then the vines creep in again. Just as they imagine themselves to be Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming, the mental kiss is broken. Before she can be awakened, before he can learn to love, before the dark spell can be broken and their lives set right, it is plucked away by the encroaching blackness of guilt and fear, of sins both real and imagined, of forgiveness not yet won.
They stare at nothing as their crowns of thorns settle back into place. Like martyrs impaled on their own past deeds, they both are struggling to resurrect themselves. With their powers gone, and with residual naivete born of youth and hunger, they expected some substantial change in their souls. As if there could be some transformation or metamorphosis from the dark under-belly to the light of decency with the simple flick of a cosmic switch. The sad thing was, they don't even need to be good or heroic, just decent, yet even that is beyond them.
Rogue finally leans in, grabbing a cigarette from the table and lighting it with the dying ember in her hand. Contrary to her own belief, Rogue is still Rogue. For now.
"So, what are you gonna do about your mother?" Remy signals for another drink, unabashedly winking at the waitress. Eyes or not, he can still be a devil.
Sighing and settling back into her chair, Rogue gives it a moments thought. "Ah suppose I should start meeting with her lawyers before her arraignment. Ah'm sure we'll turn something up, find a way to get her out." She doesn't sound sure. Determined to try, but not sure.
Remy puts one ankle on the opposite knee, resting his elbows on his thighs. "Not'in' you need X-help for, uh?" Remy smirks. Even after accepting what she was, Rogue is still not one for a prison break. "Well, if you need somet'in' to turn up or disappear or some Southern Senator to get all riled up on her behalf, just let me know."
Emerald-green eyes crinkling with good humor, Rogue taps her stein as the waitress saunters by. "Thanks. I appreciate that."
They drink without thinking, all their heavy contemplation done for the evening. Rogue watches the goings-on around them, pushing away her own doubts. Polishing off the last of his drink, Remy sets it down, watching her watch them. "You need a ride back?"
"Nah, Ah'll stay at Momma's place for a few days while Ah get things together." Whether for the coming court case or for a new outlook on life, Rogue is hesitant to decide. "Do you need to get going?"
"Non. Stayin' in de City tonight. I have a place in Gren'ich." They let their wandering eyes meet again.
Remy orders another drink. Rogue lights another cigarette. Every thorn has a rose.
* I couldn't find statistics on this, although I spent an entire morning trying, but given that blue/green/gray eyes are principally found in European ancestry and the great majority of the world does not have European ancestry, and that the great majority of the world is brown eyed, I extrapolated this figure (ie there are 2 billion people in China and India alone with brown eyes :)