Note on Threads:  Threads is my little baby that's been developing for quite some time now.   Each 'Thread' is based on an alternate universe and can be read as a separate story, or as a continuation from the 'Thread' that preceded it.  Each 'Thread' is linked to the one after and before it by a single motif, image, theme, or event.  At least, that's how I'm planning it to be.  So this is kind of a collection of stories that bear some relation to one another, but that are also stories in their own right.  Just a warning that some of the chapters/stories are going to be quite long.  Because even when I write shorts, I tend to be long-winded.  But I guess you know that already...

Note on 'Heirloom': The first part of this fic takes place between X-Treme X-men Xpose #2 and X-Treme X-Men #31.  The second part is based on the events of the Muir Island Saga, from waaaay back in X-Men #278-280 and X-Factor #69-70.  I've kind of taken liberties with the story, but hey, that's artistic licence for yah!  Enjoy!

 


::THREADS::

 

‘Time present and time past,

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past.’

 


 

:: I :: Heirloom

 

            Languid mornings, Sundays: for a change – just for a change – it is he who brings her a cup of coffee, instead of she.  He puts up with it all – bad cooking, bad tempers and sass, because he can’t quite brew coffee the way she can, because he can’t quite replicate the taste of the coffee in the mug she places on his bedside table every weekday morning before running off to work, the mug which he reaches out for from under the covers after she is gone, the thing that somehow makes up for her absence.  Saturdays, of course, are different; hopefully, they’ll wake up together, fumble around a bit in bed, before lazily assembling for out-of-hours school, lessons only taught in the kitchen.  He’ll try to teach her to cook, and she’ll try to teach him to make real coffee; but then, by Sunday morning, he’ll have forgotten all over again, and she’ll joke mercilessly about it; and next week, inevitably, it’d be back to the drawing board, and he’d have to start all over again.

            This is a ritual of the house; the mug of coffee is some quaint sacrifice for every unsettled quarrel, substitute for every ‘sorry’ left unsaid.

           

            Gathered under covers that she wears with all the elegance of a Grecian goddess, Rogue pretends to sleep under the balmy light of the California sun, knowing full well that it is a pretence he is never taken in by.  It is only when he presses his lips lightly against her shoulder blade that she stirs, softly, as if awoken by love’s first kiss (it’s an act she loves to play – first kisses have always been a sore subject with her, you see), and asks:

            “Didcha bring me mah oh-so-wonderful cup o’ coffee, sugah?”

            He ignores her sarcastic tone, leans over and places the mug proudly on the bedside table.  Just as always that odd sense of anticipation floods him, that ridiculous feeling that he always gets every Sunday morning, ten O’clock on the dot without fail.  It’s that familiar nail-biting trepidation, the one that always says: is this offering going to be rejected, or is it going to be accepted?  In reality, it doesn’t matter a bit.  She’ll drink it all up anyway, after making a couple of sly jibes.  It’s the only way she can get back at him for the endless hell he gave her after she almost poisoned him when they’d first got here.  That event had earned her a ban from entering the kitchen under pain of death for all of four days.  And even if she will drink his coffee, he can always be certain she’ll have something scathing to say about it as payback.

            She makes a small sound of satisfaction, reaches out one small hand (it never ceases to intrigue him how a hand as small as that could pack such a wallop) and runs an index finger over the side of the mug, as if to make sure that it’s really there.  Then she surprises him by controverting all said rules of the house, withdrawing her arm and snuggling back down under the covers.

            “Ain’t y’ gonna drink dat, chere?” he asks her in consternation.

            “In a minute, Remy,” she murmurs back huskily in that just-woken-up drawl he finds so sexy. “Ah’m still tired.”

            “Dat’s what de coffee’s for, sweet,” he replies patiently, still feeling oddly flustered at this mysterious turn of events.  Usually she’d be up already, awaiting his arrival plus libations, a sarcastic little smile on her lips, all ready for the usual little exchange of banter.  That the routine has been disrupted leaves him faintly apprehensive.  Slowly he lies down on the bed, spoons gently against her over the covers.

            “You been oversleepin’ today, chere,” he notes, prodding gently for an explanation.

            “Not really,” she says. “Ah’ve just been thinkin’.”

            “‘Bout what?” he asks, curious as to what revelation could possibly upset their Sunday morning.

            She stirs, reaches out, finds his arm, drapes it over and across her waist.

            “Whether, if Ah didn’t drink that cup o’ coffee just for one day, the world would turn over and onto it’s head, an’ things would turn out differently for us,” she slurs.

            “I…see,” he returns after a moment.  He isn’t used to anything philosophical coming from between her lips.  That, too, is mildly disturbing.

            “No y’ don’t.” She swivels under the covers, turns to face him, her expression showing that, once again, she knows him far too well for comfort. “Y’ ever watch that film, ‘Slidin’ Doors’?”

            “Y’know I have.  I watched it wit’ you, p’tit.” He pauses, scrutinising her green eyes.  She likes to poach him with her eyes.  It’s something he can’t often resist; though he can pretend to, if he tries. “Several times,” he adds as an afterthought, just by way of letting her know that if she forced him to watch it again… …

            “Then y’ know what Ah mean,” she smiles, not taking the bait. “What if not drinkin’ that cup o’ coffee right now meant the difference b’tween life or death?”

            He stifles a laugh, not quite succeeding, letting the sound come out as something of a bark.  He is too used to stifling his laughter; smiles he has no difficulty with, but laughter is something different.  It annoys her.  She always tells him he doesn’t laugh half as much as he ought to.  One of her other ritualistic little pastimes is to tickle him just to force a bit of laughter out of him.  He senses he’ll get no such foreplay today.

            “Y’all can laugh all y’ like, sugah,” she frowns. “But Ah’m bein’ serious.” She rolls over again, silently fuming.  Here we go, he thinks, sighing inwardly.

            “You talkin’ ‘bout parallel universes, chere?” he asks, wondering where this line of conversation is leading, while trying to signal to her that the white flag’s been raised.

            “Uh-huh.” She finds his hand again, links it with her own, reassuring him that the apology’s been accepted. “Do y’ reckon there’s a different ‘us’ for every choice we’ve ever made in our lives?”

            “Mebbe,” he replies, not quite knowing what to make of all this talk.

            “An’ that maybe, here an’ now, in this world… this is the only reality in which we’re t’gether?” she continues wistfully. “That we’re jus’ some kinda crazy anomaly?”

            “You really t’ink so?” he queries, resting his chin pensively against her shoulder.  The suggestion, and that it had come from her, had hurt him. “Funny dat: I always thought it was all dem other realities dat were de anomalies, not dis one.”

            “How can you be so sure?”

            He can’t be so sure.  So he doesn’t answer.  Instead he finds his gaze wandering to the cup of coffee on the bedside table, the steam rising from the contents within, only to dissipate into the air.  So many molecules…disappearing?  Turning invisible?  A long silence follows.

            “D’you remember when we first met?” she questions, her voice sounding sleepy again.

            “Of course,” he replies shortly.

            She pauses a long while, her index finger rubbing gently against the joint of his own.

            “It’s like a train,” she murmurs, as if to herself – he isn’t quite sure what she’s referring to. “Leadin’ from one stop t’ the next…  Ah often wonder how things woulda turned out, if Ah had let y’ touch me, if Ah had run up that hill after yah and… …”

            She trails off, as if to say: but it doesn’t matter now.

            Still, he remembers.

           

            Together they watch the steam rise from the cup, steady, slow, before it disappears, disappears into thin air.


            Have you ever walked down a certain road in life, and got the feeling you were being led?

            Is reality born from fate, or from nothing more than pure chance?

           

            That morning on Muir Island, six or seven years before, Remy LeBeau had come to a conclusion.  He was going to kiss the woman of his dreams.

            And he wasn’t particularly thinking about fate or chance at that all incisive moment either.  (Though admittedly, dealing in chance was one of his favourite pastimes.)  This little dilemma had been playing on his mind for the past couple of weeks, and now that he finally had a chance to settle it, he wasn’t going to back off now.  Nope – events recently hadn’t been conducive to romancing of any kind.  First meeting this eccentric Professor homme and a whole bunch of old-school X-Men, half of whom he’d never even known had existed (and most of whom, he might add, he didn’t entirely feel he fit in with.  But that was par for the course, as usual).  Then getting possessed by the Shadow King, seeing Muir Island almost being destroyed into little bits, and then meeting another whole bunch of these crazy X-people…  Yup – this was the first morning an iota of peace had finally descended over the shattered island and he could finally do what he’d been meaning to do these past few weeks.  He was anticipating that by this evening he’d be taking a trip to the mainland, taking a stroll through town with a femme on his arm, wining and dining her, and perhaps afterwards even something more…

            He found that he was grinning as he turned the corridor and came close to his destination.  This was the most excitement he’d had in ages.  He couldn’t afford to slip up.  He got the impression that he only had one shot with this woman, and if he messed up, he’d be messing up big time.

            With that thought in mind he came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the white-walled corridor, wavered hesitantly outside the door to the medical room, smoothed his fingers through his hair absently.  Come off it, LeBeau, y’ know de hair looks fine whichever way y’ wear it.  An’ you’d be lookin’ suave even if you was wearin’ de proverbial bin liner.  You just worried dat she’s gonna turn you down, face it.  Merde!  You ain’t never been so nervous ‘bout a femme before!  What de hell is up wit’ you?  Jus’ get in dat room and work y’ mojo like y’ always do!  Y’ know it’s never failed…

            Sometimes he was too clever at cajoling for his own good.  He could end up talking himself in and out of things even when he knew it was a bad idea.  This, however, was a good idea.  A very good idea.  He pushed gently on the door handle, threw the door open theatrically.

            “Stormy!” he cried in dramatic greeting.

            Ororo Munroe was sifting through the trash that one end of the medical room had become.  She looked up only passingly as Remy sidled into the room and closed the door softly behind him.

            “Would you stop calling me that?” she asked him for the umpteenth time since she had met him.

            “Sorry.” He held up his hands to thin air, silently casting an appreciative stare at her shapely butt as she leaned forward to pry a certain something out from beneath the rubble.  For once he actually thought the hideous blue and yellow spandex looked good.  Grinning, he took a step forward.

            “Stormy,” he began.

            “Gambit,” she interrupted warningly.

            “Ororo,” he corrected himself quickly. “I was wonderin’.”

            “What?” She pulled out a twisted piece of metal, tossed it aside impatiently.

            “Maybe you an’ I could take a trip down to de mainland t’day, neh?”

            She paused, straightened, wiped the sweat from her forehead.

            “As you can see, I’m a little preoccupied right now,” she rejoined pointedly.

            “Can’t it wait?”

            She turned, glared at him.

            “Gambit, the home of my friends has nearly been destroyed.  The Professor has, once again, lost the use of his legs.  Moira needs a vital piece of equipment in order to help him, a piece of equipment that is currently located underneath this pile of rubble.” She shot him a marked look, eyebrow raised. “In short: no, it cannot wait.”

            She turned, began poking in amongst the debris once more.  Remy winced, feeling thoroughly chastised by her barbed words.

            “Den howzabout I lend you a hand?” he asked in a somewhat more conciliatory manner.

            “I would appreciate that,” she nodded, not looking at him.

            He walked over to stand beside her, mentally calculating the distance between them, before reaching out a hand and making the tactical manoeuvre of placing it tentatively on her waist.  Tentative?!  Geez, what the hell was up with him?  It wasn’t like she was going to bite him or anything.  At the uncertain touch she froze, but said nothing.  That emboldened him.  Taking advantage of her silence he slid his arm all the way round her waist, pulled her up into his arms.  She played along, all trace of her previous irritation gone, and looked up into his face with an impishly remonstrative glance.

            “What do you think you’re doing?” she asked, very low, very soft, a tone he recognised all too well.

            “Lendin’ you a hand,” he replied audaciously and just as softly.

            “Gambit, you’re incorrigible,” she shot at him.

            “So?”

            “You know how wrong this seems, don’t you?  Until recently, I was still just a child to you. [1]”

            “Only in body, chere.  Never in mind.”

            He leaned in to kiss her, and their lips were just about to touch when they were interrupted by the sound of the door opening noisily.  They broke apart quickly, but not quite quick enough for whoever had just entered the room to know the nature of what had been about to happen between them.

            Remy threw a flustered glance over towards the doorway, inwardly cursing.  Framed inside the entrance was one of those X-Men he already knew he held nothing in common with.

            Forge.

            Damn!

            “Ororo,” the Cheyenne warrior began after a long silence during which he looked back and forth between the two with suddenly wary eyes. “We need to talk.”

            Remy looked over at Storm cautiously.  It was not hard for him to catch the faintest of blushes underneath her dignified composure, nor to see a thinly veiled embarrassment at what they had almost been caught doing.  Again he felt himself cursing.  There was tension in the air so thick you could’ve sliced it.  And the way those two were looking at each other – Remy had seen it before, whenever they happened to occupy the same room.  So there was unfinished business between them, that much was obvious.  And if they were going to clear the air now, so much the better, as far as he was concerned.

            “Of course, Forge,” she returned at last, her voice calm.  It was not lost on Remy that she had invited the older man in where she had so brusquely turned himself aside before.  His optimism took a sudden and drastic turn downhill.

            Dammit!

            Storm was giving him a look, a look that told him to leave the two of them alone and not to even think about trying anything on.  He sighed, raised his hands, and walked out the door, closing it softly behind him.  For a minute he stood outside the room, hesitant.  A lifetime of reading women gave him the impression that anything further happening between him and Storm was fairly much doomed.  He muttered a few choice oaths under his breath, only narrowly refraining from sending his boot into the wall.  What to do now?

            “Gumbo!”

            Remy turned to see Wolverine advancing from the other end of the corridor, stalking along with that now familiar predatory gait he possessed, like some great big burly old hunter.  Remy scowled.  It hadn’t been long since he’d made the Canadian’s acquaintance, and already there was no love lost between them.

            “Logan,” he returned gruffly, glowering.

            “I got a job for you,” the feral man replied, stopping in from of him and ignoring the less than cordial tone of his greeting.

            “Why do I get de feelin’ I shouldn’t be jumpin’ for joy?”

            “Save it, Cajun.  I ain’t in the mood to tussle with you.” The older man lit up a cigar, deliberately ignoring a no-smoking sign that had been plastered on the door, and took in a drag with relish. “Things in this place are gettin’ crazier than usual and I don’t like it.  There’s more of us X-Men than anyone in their right mind would want to keep track of.  The Professor’s callin’ a meetin’.  Somethin’ about splittin’ us up into different teams.”

            “Den let’s hope we ain’t on de same team, homme,” Remy threw in acidly.

            Wolverine grunted, but otherwise ignored the comment.

            “We’re missin’ a man,” he continued. “Rogue’s gone AWOL.  She ain’t in the building.  Hank said he saw her headin’ down for the beach earlier on.  She could’ve been takin’ a trip up to the mainland.”

            “An’ what you wan’ me to do ‘bout it?” Remy asked petulantly.

            “Go out an’ find her.  I got things to settle up round here.”

            “Why can’t dat Hank do it?”

            “He’s seein’ t’ Charlie.  Look, I’d ask ‘Ro, but she’s –uh– otherwise occupied.  And much as I hate it, I’m askin’ you t’ help me out here.  You’re the only one who seems to be bummin’ around this place doin’ nothin’.  Time you got off your lazy ass and did somethin’ t’ help us fer a change, seein’ as you’re an ‘X-Man’ an’ all.”

            “I’m beginnin’ to wonder why I signed up for dis crazy ride in de first place,” Remy grumbled, crossing his arms peevishly.

            “You’re only jus’ beginnin’?  Kid, I’ve been wonderin’ the same ‘bout you from the start.” Logan gave a grimace of a smile, chewed pensively on his cigar. “Look, I ain’t gonna ask you again.  An’ if you make me, I ain’t gonna ask nice.”

            “So?  You wan’ another beatin’ like I gave you in de Danger Room de other week? [2]” Remy replied hotly. “You wan’ me to call y’ out, here an’ now?”

            Logan glowered, jabbing his finger into the Cajun thief’s chest. “Listen here, punk,” he growled. “The day I answer t’ you is the day I’m in my final death throes.  An’ lemme tell you, this mutant’s real hard to kill.  Y’ hear me?”

            Remy looked down at the twitching hand poised just above his heart, gave a slow grimace.

            “I hear y’,” he said at last, pushing Wolverine’s hand away.  The last thing he wanted was one of those claws sticking in his chest. “So how do I find dis Rogue?”

            “Ain’t hard,” Logan replied, blowing out smoke. “She’s got this skunk stripe in her hair.” He made a vague gesture with his hand. “An’ a tongue like whiplash.  You watch yerself, Gumbo.”

            “I know de femme,” Remy replied.  He’d caught sight of her around the island several times since he’d got here.  As far as he could tell, she liked to keep herself to herself.

            “Then get yer ass into gear and find her,” Logan retorted gruffly, looking down at his watch. “The meetin’ starts at twelve hundred hours.  Y’ got yerself thirty minutes t’ find the girl.  An’ mind you don’t try anythin’ funny with her.  Her an’ me, we go a long way back.  Understand?”

            “Yeah.  I touch her, I got you to answer to.”

            The corner of Logan’s mouth twitched.  He seemed to find something funny in the statement, but he made no further reply, and, seeing the matter as having been concluded, walked off in the general direction of the bar.  Things to settle up, eh? Remy thought caustically.  Probably a pint o’ beer, knowin’ dat big ol’ lug.

            He stood a while, trying to make out what was being said on the other end of the door, but was unable to hear a sound.  The building had been made to withstand a full-scale attack (not that that had really made a difference when the Shadow King had paid himself a visit).  The walls and doors were made so as to be virtually impossible to blast through, let alone hear through.

            He passed a sigh, ran a hand through his hair again, shook his head.  Thirty minutes. 

            Okay Logan, we play dis stupid game o’ yours.  I’ll find your precious femme for you.

                       

            He hated Muir Island.  He’d never seen seas that were so perpetually rough and tempestuous, nor skies that were so perpetually dull.  And this accursed, acrid, salty wind was enough to make him seasick.  He couldn’t even keep a cigarette lit in this weather.

            Ororo loved the island, and she loved this weather.  She found the greatest pleasure in riding the turbulent gales, in watching the white-flecked tides dash upon the rocks, in matching the skill of her flight to that of the seagulls that perched high upon the cliffs.  It was something he both admired and loathed, because he couldn’t understand it.  Now, walking down towards the beach that Hank had last seen his quarry heading for, he pulled his trenchcoat tight against him, fighting to keep the wind at bay, teeth clenched desperately to an already bent and battered cigarette.  Could the day get any worse?  He thought it considerably unlikely.  He prayed this ‘Rogue’ wasn’t going to give him as hard a time as Logan had implied she would.

            He stamped down to the other end of the island, treading coarse, rough grass, the kind that would grow out here.  The ground, which had been fairly level, suddenly made a sharp dip, and he found himself half-stumbling down the relatively steep incline towards the beach.  And surprise-surprise, it wasn’t even a nice beach.  All rocks and pebbles and gritty sand.  He couldn’t wait to get back to the US.  Somehow he sensed that they wouldn’t be making a visit to the picturesque Edinburgh anytime soon, not with all this talk of meetings and teams and such.  So get him back to New York already!  Or better still, to his beloved New Orleans!

            He sighed wistfully at the thought.  Why not go back to New Orleans after all?  Why not turn his back on all this X-Men foolishness and do what he did best – thieve and steal and womanise?  He wasn’t making a difference here anyway.  Nobody liked him.  Only Storm had time for him, and he wasn’t so sure he wanted to face her anymore, not after what had just happened between them.  Why not just leave, right here, right now?

            He knew why.  He had lied when he had told Wolverine that he wondered why he had joined this outfit in the first place.  He knew why.  The reason was crazy; it was something he knew he shouldn’t, wouldn’t have cared about if he were standing where he had been just one or two short years ago.  One fateful decision, one fateful bargain made, and in the blink of an eye, all previous sensibilities he had held had been stripped from him.  Joining the X-Men was something he thought he’d never have to make.

            Reparation.  Amends.  Atonement.

            He stepped onto the pebbly dune, halted, considering his options.  The familiar sense of regret surged within him.  Could he turn back?  Could he simply just walk away?  God knew he’d tried to do it before, and in the end he’d found himself just running circles…

            The gulls were cawing overhead, that infernal, rapacious racket.  It grated on his nerves like sandpaper.  He grit his teeth violently.

            “Shuddup!” he suddenly cried out in utter frustration.  Stooping, he picked up a small rock, charged it, and sent it flying up into the air amidst the circling birds.  The stone exploded with a loud bang, spraying out shrapnel everywhere, sending the frightened gulls cawing even more boisterously than before as they scattered.  Remy followed them with his eyes as they fled back towards the safety of their nests down the other end of the beach.

            Dat sure told dem, he thought with grim satisfaction as he watched them disappear behind the rocks.  It was only then that he saw the small figure out on the sand, not more than a couple of hundred yards away, partly hidden by an alcove formed of the heavily layered bulwark that was the cliffs.  The figure appeared to be exercising, punching and kicking thin air.  From afar, he could just about make out the streak of white in her hair.

            Bingo.  Looked like he’d finally found the Rogue.  And in record time as well, he thought with a smug grin.   He could probably even get back in time to catch Wolvie at the bar.

            Feeling pleased with himself, he swaggered down the beach towards her, noting the violence of her movements as she battled some unseen foe, her back towards him.  No doubt about it, the femme was working off something.  And the way she was going at it, he was glad he wasn’t on the receiving end of those punches.

            “Hey!” he called out, once he was standing only a few metres away from her. “You de Rogue?  Logan wants y’ back at Dr. McTaggert’s place!  Dere’s gonna be some kinda meetin’ or other!”

            She stopped fighting the invisible enemy but did not turn to face him, her fists still clenched.

            “Ah’m busy,” she returned coldly. “Leave me alone.”

            He wasn’t sure what surprised him more – the acid tone of her voice, or the Southern accent.  It reminded him even more acutely of home.

            “Didn’ you hear my explosion?” he asked, wondering why she was taking this all so calmly.  The bang he’d created would’ve certainly been close enough for her to hear; not to mention his shouting at the seagulls.

            “Ah hear a lot of explosions,” she replied shortly. “Y’all want me t’ give yah a round of applause or somethin’?”

            Ouch.  Logan hadn’t been joking about the whiplash thing.

            “Dey all be waitin’ for you, chere,” he replied, thinking it best if he changed the subject rapidly. “An’ if I keep Logan waitin’ for y’ den…”

            Chere?” she interrupted with cold humour, ignoring pretty much everything he’d said. “What bayou did Storm fish you out from, swamp rat?”

            She turned, maybe out of curiosity, maybe out of the same yearning for home that he felt.  And when she turned, the first thing he noticed were those eyes.  Big and beautiful and a brilliant green.  He’d seen her around, sure, but he’d never noticed her eyes before…  Why hadn’t he noticed her eyes before?  Looking into them, it was like the first time he’d met her.  And the way she was staring back at him, like it was her first time too…  She’d seen him before, hadn’t she?  He could’ve sworn only yesterday they’d cast one another a fleeting, uninterested glance in the corridor.  Or had they…?

            He found himself staring at her in a way he didn’t often stare at women.  Stupidly.

            “So you’re the good-for-nuthin’ Cajun everyone’s been talkin’ ‘bout,” she said at last, breaking the confused silence that had so suddenly sprung and lingered between them.  That’s what it was – confusion.  A corner of her mouth was upturned, showing some conciliatory attempt at humour.  He shook himself.

            Whoa!  What de hell happened jus’ den…?

            “I guess my reputation precedes me,” he half-joked, feeling the words come out awkwardly, as if he hadn’t poured enough of the intended charm into the sentence, as if he’d neglected to do so at the last minute out of an inexplicable uncertainty as to whether it was appropriate.  Nevertheless she smiled, the wind whipping cinnamon curls about her face.  She smiled!  Dieu!  Look at dat smile!

            “Maybe,” she conceded, pursing up her lips in order to stifle the smile, but not quite succeeding. “You’re the one who blows things up.”

            “I couldn’t have described it better myself,” he grinned, giving a little bow, easing into the conversation.  The gut-wrenching sense of strangeness was beginning to leave him, but not quite. “So, what’s your power den, ‘Rogue’?”

            “Well,” she began, crossing her arms, again attempting to cover her amusement with severity but failing abysmally once more.  He wished she’d stop doing that.  She was so much more attractive when she smiled. “Ah can fly…”

            “Like ‘Ro?” he asked, a little too quickly.  He felt a bit odd now, saying her name, but he couldn’t rightly say why.

            “No, not like ‘Ro.  She flies by creatin’ a vortex of wind that carries her.  Ah fly… under mah own power.”

            He sensed a hesitation in her words.

            “You fly naturally?”

            “Not…exactly…”

            She made no further attempt at an elaboration.  He didn’t understand it, but from the tone of her voice he thought it wise not to push the matter.

            “So,” he began after an awkward silence. “What’s your name?  Your real name?” He paused, finally finding it in him to smile charmingly. “Gambit finds it hard t’ believe dat people round here call a sweet t’ing like you de ‘Rogue’.”

            “Mah name…” She was hesitant, almost confused, her eyes wandering from his – he knew it wasn’t from embarrassment but something more.  Then she smiled wryly and met his gaze again without flinching. “Ah’ll tell you mah name if you tell me yours.”

            Touché.  She’d already heard that his name was his secret, the tip of an iceberg she would only discover years later and under less fortuitous circumstances.  What his new family knew of him was only ten percent of the truth, the part of him that he held above water.  Like an island.  Like this godforsaken, barren little backwater.  He shuddered involuntarily.

            “I guess we’ve met a stalemate,” he remarked ironically.

            “It’d seem so,” she replied, smiling so that those green eyes lit up her face again.  He found himself staring again, grinning inanely as if her smile had infected him.  He’d finally decided it.  She was the most goddamn beautiful woman he’d ever met.  He was already beginning to formulate a plan with which to get her to ditch this whole meeting business and go with him for a trip to the mainland.  He was desperate to get off this island, but not as much as he was eager to find out what it was like to kiss those gorgeous red lips...

            “Looks like you were havin’ some work-out,” he commented, taking a step closer and nodding towards the scuff marks in the sand where she had kicked up dirt.

            “Jus’ practicin’,” she said, throwing a playful punch in his direction. “Why?  You wanna join meh?”

            That wasn’t the proposition he’d been anticipating.  At least, not in the way she’d meant it.

            “Uh… Mebbe some other time.  We should be gettin’ back.” He eyed her gloved hands, thinking that she didn’t like to show much flesh and what a shame that was. “An’ besides, I don’t t’ink I’d like t’ be on de other side of dose fists.”

            “Damn straight, sugah,” she answered, throwing another few punches into mid-air, the term of endearment coming out naturally – so much so that she didn’t even realise she’d used it. “Ah’m invulnerable.  Not nothin’ can cut meh.” She paused, turned a wide smile towards him. “Betcha y’ didn’ know that Ah can deflect bullets!”

            “Really?” he asked. “Den what’s dis?”

            He reached out to touch her neck, seeing that there was a cut there – probably a piece of the shrapnel from his blast had grazed her, and she hadn’t even noticed.  But when she saw what he was doing she suddenly whisked away from him – he was surprised to see both shock and fear on her face as she backed off quickly.

            “What’s de matter?” he asked, confused, and not a little startled by her abrupt withdrawal.

            “You can’t touch meh!” she cried, levelling a hard glare at him.

            Why the hell not?  What was with the sudden display of shyness?  She’d felt it too after all, hadn’t she?  That weird…something?  He’d seen it on her face when she’d looked at him, he was certain of it.

            Chere, I wasn’t tryin’ nothin’ funny…” he began again, bemused by the expression on her face, so suddenly hard and cold, closing off that little chink of tenderness she’d somehow allowed him to see.  Nevertheless, his words seemed to pacify her; the harshness had gone out of her eyes, and her countenance was different… … Resigned?  Such a strange look.

            “No, it’s not that,” she explained quickly, quietly. “It’s mah power… Ah leech people of their powers, an’ their memories.  An’ if Ah hold on long enough, they could pass out or even die.  Ah jus’ didn’t wantcha to get hurt, is all.”

            The revelation hit him harder than he could have expected.  He was almost as stunned at his own reaction as he was by the admission that had caused it.  He understood now why she preferred to keep herself to herself, why she was so brash, so bad-tempered, so stand-offish.  He had never been a man to give and receive anything easily; the only thing he was able to treat with such flippancy was touch.  What she experienced as an everyday reality he could only comprehend of as some vague and all-encompassing nightmare.  He felt pity for her, and something more that he couldn’t explain.  He knew she would accept neither.

            “Oh,” he said, finally.  There was nothing more he could say without sounding crass.  So much for dat trip t’ de mainland.  So much for de winin’ and dinin’.  So much for…

            His silent attempts to make light of the situation made him feel somehow worse.  He shifted his feet, looked away nervously, back towards the building.  She watched him shuffle, her expression suddenly questing.  If he had known what she had been through; that she was angry with her foster-mother, Raven Darkholme, for having seemingly abandoned her; that she was pining for Erik Magnus Lensherr because he was the first grown man she had ever touched with her bare hands and with some semblance of passion inside of her; that he had broken her heart so utterly when he had refused to lay down his law of violence for her…[3]  If Remy had known that all she wanted at that very moment was for him, a stranger, to put his arms round her and tell her that everything was going to be okay, would things have turned out differently?

            Maybe.

            As it was he cleared his throat; he looked back at her with a sudden distance in his eyes and said:

            “I should be gettin’ back.”

            “Yeah,” she agreed.

            He half-turned, looked back at her again; now he was grinning widely as if nothing had happened.

            “Make sure y’ come back, ‘kay, chere?  Wolvie, he be worried ‘bout you, an’ if y’ don’t turn up t’ dis meetin’, y’ won’t be seein’ dis Cajun round for much longer.”

            “Okay,” she nodded, returning his smile, but only half-heartedly.

            He nodded, and began to make his way up the hill again, trenchcoat flapping in the wind.  She stared after him a long while, considering.  That morning she’d come down to the beach in a tumult, unable to work off the frustration and rage that had been building up in her ever since she had got here.  But now she felt uncertain, her emotions now in some strange state of flux.  This man – Gambit, is that what he’d called himself? – why hadn’t she told him to push off and mind his own business?  Why had she opened up to him so much?  Why had she felt so upset when he’d reached out to touch her?

            He’d reached out to touch her.

            Remembering, she raised her fingers to her neck and felt her throat tentatively.  Lowering her hand she saw that there was blood on her fingertips.  Blood!

            He’d cut her.  How had he managed to cut her?  She couldn’t remember the last time anything had made her bleed.  Was it because she’d let her guard down?  Was it because she’d been so engrossed in her venting session?  Was it because she hadn’t been paying attention, and had somehow subconsciously switched off her powers?  Was it because of him?

            Could she do the same with touch?

            She looked up at his receding figure, a wild torrent of hope inexplicably spilling into her heart.

            “Wait!” she called; but an unexpected gust of wind rose up, tearing her voice from her mouth and dragging it away, towards the cliffs.  He disappeared over the crest of the hill, never once hearing her.

            She stopped, brow furrowed, all of a sudden feeling bewildered and deflated.  It had to have been a fluke.  Just a fluke.  A crazy coincidence.  A one-off.  She’d never be able to control her power.  It was too difficult.  Too traumatic even to begin to try.  And if she ran up there and faced him, what would she do?  What would she say?  The recollection that she’d even thought that he might put his arms around her and comfort her made her sick with embarrassment.  And loneliness.  Loneliness.  Dammit!  Did she need someone, anyone, that much?  Could she believe in something more than loneliness just because of one stupid, coincidental cut?

            She opened her hand, looked down into her gloved palm once more.

            Blood.

           

            She should have known then, that a legacy of bleeding had begun.


[1] When Gambit and Storm first met, Storm had been regressed to the body of a child by a very weird character called Nanny.

[2] Uncanny X-Men #273.

[3] Uncanny X-Men #274-275

Next: “The Ties That Bind”; a Gothic romance from the Mutant X universe (kind of)....

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