Note: The Acadian in this story is the supposed son of Rogue and Gambit, and he appears in X-Men: 2099 A.D. #26-28, from which I purloined him. So basically, this is from that alternate universe. You may like to know that this is the most rewritten story I’ve ever done, and I’m still not entirely pleased with it. There was so much more I’d liked to have written, exploring Gambit bringing up his son and so on, but that would’ve amounted to a novel in itself so I just had to leave it at this. I’m still paranoid about it, but what the hell. I bit off more than I can chew, what can I say?
:: III :: Sins of the Father
“Well, that was your mother, and that was your father, before you was born, dude, when life was great.” (That Was Your Mother, Paul Simon)
* * * * *
It’s a rare sight – a mutie in post-apocalyptic days, when mutants have been all but purged, or driven into the wilderness like cattle.
He walks in with a seasonal sandstorm, trenchcoat flapping in the breeze, washed up in this dusty, flyblown little mid-western town like the rest of the scum that inevitably finds its way here. Bandit, thief, mutant; undead. He stalks into the bar-cum-brothel, watching the world through eyes of uncomprehending crimson – dreadful purpose in his gaze; he understands nothing else but the unknown goal he has set his heart upon, a mission bequeathed to him, a legacy of madness. There is not a soul that wishes to know what that goal is. He is bound to a ritual not even he can fathom. He sits at the bar, he orders a drink, he asks the same old question he’s always asked before:
“Know a man named Essex?”
Anyone who is wise will reply that he does not.
It is with a certain amount of pride that the young mutant named the Acadian – or La Mort, depending on how well you get to know him – tells you that it was his father, the legendary traitor of the X-Men, that had been responsible for that now ancient apocalypse, the one that had wiped out the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and any other superhero outfit you cared to mention. He doesn’t care much if you believe him or not; he’s long past caring about the living; in telling his stories he merely muses upon his past.
Oh, the Acadian can tell a tale or two. He is, after all, a dead man trapped permanently in the decaying body of a twenty-three-year-old, and he has been for the past sixty odd years. Of all the tales he could tell you, most of them he prefers to keep to himself – the only thing he likes to talk about is his father, the only thing in the world he ever had. His father had never loved him, or held him close; he’d never spoken to the Acadian with tenderness in his voice, nor had he ever called him son. The only real memory the Acadian has of him is of a cold, bitter, broken shell of man, one side of his face scarred by a fire he would never speak of. The Acadian had learnt never to ask what had marred his father’s face, not unless he’d wanted a beating. And the Acadian, as most people knew, learnt fast, almost inhumanly so. By the time he was five, he could have stolen up behind you and knifed you in the back without you ever seeing his face. By the age of six he’d harnessed his mutant powers to perfection, his preferred weapons being tarot cards. He’s a bit fatalistic in that way; and besides, he has something about the pictures on those cards, you can see it in his eyes when he spreads them out on the table, as if they alone could narrate his life’s story in a way words cannot. Anyone would tell you it was from the Death card that he’d earned his name – La Mort – although he himself knows better.
The Acadian had never really been a child. He’d never done the normal things children do; he’d certainly never felt as if he’d been a child. In fact, it was as if he had been born an adult – he had that coldness in him, that calmness, that way of assessing things. Even his father had feared him. But then, as the years had progressed, that fear had turned to a brooding paranoia. As if, in bringing up the son, the father had compounded his crimes. Even at the age of ten, the Acadian had realised the contempt, disgust and even horror that his father felt for him. He had felt nothing the day his father had died; he had known his father would end sooner or later. There were many things the Acadian knew about his father yet never spoke of – death had been implicit on his father’s face ever since the day the Acadian had learned to read it. From the very moment he had been born, his father had been engineering his own death – it had been meticulously planned and preconceived down to the very last detail. His last great master plan. He’d walked to his fate with the stoic aplomb of the gladiator stepping into the arena.
The night before he had left, his father had taken him aside and said to him: “If you ever meet a man named Essex, tell him your father fulfilled his potential.”
Essex. The name was the only heirloom his father had ever given him.
Later, he would find out that his father had blown a hole in the desert ten times the size of the Grand Canyon and taken a countless number of superheroes down with him. It was the only time he would ever know fear. After that, he had fended for himself. He didn’t miss his father, and he hadn’t a single memory of his mother. The only legacy left of her would spill infrequently and with an unassuming reverence from the Acadian’s mouth.
Sometimes, if you behaved nice – or if he was about to kill you – he would call you ‘sugah’.
“You okay, sugah? You look like you’re a million miles away…”
Remy LeBeau blinked, his train of thought disrupted as Rogue sat up in bed beside him, stroking his back with the tentative touch of a child with a strange new plaything. In the full-size mirror across the room, her action replayed itself, mimicking the tightly organized chain of inner reflection that had been repeating itself in his mind ever since they’d both got here.
A million miles away? More like six.
And approximately two and a half hours ago.
The moment he’d flipped the switches on the Xavier Institute’s defense systems, while Rogue had been busy putting her shoes on. It’d been one of the simplest betrayals he’d ever had to pull off in his entire life.
So why was he replaying that moment over and over in his head, this single action of flipping a switch, the one action he’d sworn he’d never regret?
“Nothin’, chere,” he murmured in reply. It was probably the thousandth lie he told that evening. “Everythin’s okay.”
She gave him a half smile in reply, a smile of reassurance, love, understanding, encouragement – God, all of the things he knew he didn’t deserve. It was the kind of expression she’d been giving him all evening, killing him with her honesty. It was as if she hadn’t known where the night and his sweet-nothings would be leading. One a.m. had found them in this cheap little hotel room, the kind that clandestine couples came to conduct their illicit love affairs, the kind of place that he was accustomed to and that she knew he was accustomed to – yet she said nothing. There, on the creaky old bed with the garish 1960s floral printed duvet, they’d done the thing they’d been wanting to do for over a year now but had never been able to. It had been completely spontaneous and irrational – the fevered intensity of lovers who knew their time would soon be cut short. She’d given herself to him without words, without excuses or reasonings, without even putting up so much as a struggle. Even when he had come into her room that evening, with that phial of serum in his hand, telling her to drink it, that it would allow her to touch him the way she’d always wanted to for only a brief window of time – even then he’d known that the whole thing would be more temporary than he pretended. He’d reasoned with her, begged her not to waste this one chance they had; he’d cajoled her into sleeping with him with declarations of love, with the simple touches she’d been so hungry for, all the while knowing it was nothing more than deception. The entire time she’d stood and listened and hadn’t said a word. Not one word. Not even when she’d shown her acceptance with a kiss.
He’d never been one for guilt and yet now he’d never known anything that felt so right or so terribly wrong as this.
He swallowed, looking away. The sight in the mirror was too much for him, their reflection the thing that reminded him that this was something they could never become. Tomorrow morning he would be gone – it was something he had resolved to do the moment he had flipped that switch back in the Xavier Mansion. In that single action he had decided that what they would begin tonight would last no longer than the night remained.
“You sure you’re okay?” she asked again, seeing his troubled countenance.
“I’m fine,” he replied. More lies. By now, he shouldn’t be tensing up every time he made one.
“Fine,” she said. Note of finality. Wordlessly she lay back down against the pillows, her hand slipping from his back. He turned to face her.
“You mad at me?” he questioned.
She gazed back up at him a moment, assessing. “No,” she replied at last. “Should Ah be?”
He shrugged. “Tomorrow mornin’ dat serum will prob’ly have worn off.” And that would be the least of her worries, he added to himself, feeling another spike of guilt.
“Ah know,” she answered with a small shrug of her own.
“We won’t be able t’ be like dis t’gether again,” he warned her.
“Den why…?” He paused, unable to finish the sentence. Why did you sleep with me? Her lack of resistance, her wordlessness, her trust had intrigued and disconcerted him. It was supposed to have been more difficult than this. She was supposed to have inflicted more pain on him so that he wouldn’t feel so bad for the pain he would inevitably inflict upon her come tomorrow.
“Why?” She rolled onto her side, her gaze suddenly pensive. “Knowing what it’s like to have your arms round someone you love,” she explained reflectively, one arm dangling over the edge of the bed, green eyes perusing the pattern of her palm. “The difference between touchin’…an’ holdin’.”
She did not look at him, as if the admission embarrassed her, as if he could never hope to understand what that difference was. Yet he leaned over towards her, asked her very softly: “D’you love me, Rogue?” She rolled over onto her back then, stared up into his eyes as he brushed a lock of hair away from her face. Funny – selling the X-Men to their deaths was no conflict to him, yet the conflict between wanting her love and hoping against it was the most disturbing and unsettling thing he’d ever known.
“Love yah?” she smirked after a moment, reaching out and running a forefinger over his cheek. “Ah don’t even know your name, Cajun.”
“An’ I don’t even know yours,” he murmured in reply. “So what?”
When he kissed her she responded with the shyness and unfamiliarity of a schoolgirl, with the hesitant keenness of exploration, for she was a newborn with touch. And when he held her he knew he embraced her too tightly, as if his life depended upon it, as if the world would wither and die should he let go. She closed her eyes, no protestations, as he buried his face in her shoulder, committing the texture, the taste, the scent of her skin to memory. Last chance. Come the morning, he would be gone.
Only when she slept, soft and wistful in his arms, did he cradle him to her and weep silently, weep until he was empty and knew he would never be able to weep again.
At six Remy got up, pulled on his clothes, reached out for the packet of cigarettes lying on the bedside table. It was only then that he saw her looking at him in the mirror, green eyes watchful, veiled with a feigned, almost studied impassiveness. He found himself returning the stare – why was it so much easier to face her mirror image? Again the guilt surged within him. He knew it was useless. He knew they were useless. He straightened, broke the shared gaze, slipped the cigarettes into his trenchcoat pocket.
“You’re leavin’?” she asked at last. He did not look back.
“Yah.” It was stating the obvious, but he felt he owed her the simple confirmation. Rogue sensed the half-regret in his voice. So this is it, she thought, the unspoken rule of playing his game of chance. One night, that was all. No questions asked. Better if you’d just feigned sleep, gal. Better to just open your palm and let him go…
“You don’t have t’ go,” she said instead, despite her better judgement. She’d never known a man so introverted or so cold, but last night… Last night had been some kind of doorway opened, a window into whatever lay within and she had felt it, briefly, somewhere inside the illogical maelstrom of their fervid lovemaking. He, however, passed her a sidelong glance, as though to consider her offer. He knew he’d opened the door to her – maybe that in itself was enough to scare him away. He grimaced, turned away.
“Trust me, chere,” he said at last, “By dis time tomorrow, you won’t wanna know me.”
Perhaps that would be the only honest thing he would ever tell her.
Her questing glance replicated itself in the mirror once as he walked out the door.
Six miles away, at 1407 Graymalkin Lane, an explosion ripped through a mansion on a hill, and anyone that didn’t survive would be scavenged like so much fodder by the mutant hunters known as the Marauders.
The Acadian pauses. He flips a tarot card deftly between two, three, four fingers and then back again – it’s his own personal nervous tic. Then he places the card back on the table, appraises it – Les Amants. His face contorts into the memory of a grin. He lights a cigarette with the patience of a dead man; time to wait, time to kill, time you don’t have. He knows what you’re thinking – this is all some embellishment of that famous incident that happened nearly a hundred years ago, the massacre of the X-Men. A massacre instigated by mutantdom’s most famous traitor. No one says his name nowadays – it’s considered bad luck. ‘That Traitor’ will do. It makes the Acadian smile with twisted pride. And as for Rouge, well, you reason, didn’t she die in the blast?
No. For Rogue was the Acadian’s beginning, and sometimes he fancied that he remembered being in the womb, even during those first few months when life is barely a spark of consciousness and nothing more. He was closest to his mother then, a mother that, for two whole months, refused to believe in his existence, who took to waitressing in seedy restaurants and staying in cheap motels and crying herself to sleep every night before giving into the recurring nightmare of the day she had been so cruelly used and betrayed. The closest thing to affection the Acadian has for his mother is the strange affinity he has for the tenacity she must have had in carrying and bearing him.
But apart from that displaced and rather nebulous sense of reverence he has for her, he can say nothing of her, for the moment. The only dead person he can speak for is himself. And his father, who told him all he knew.
With an eerie sigh he slips the Lovers back into his pack and then resumes his story.
Remy LeBeau had been an early starter in most things. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt like a child, and he remembered most things. He’d first killed a man when he was thirteen. Pulling the blade out of bloody guts, he’d vomited; for weeks afterwards he’d been unable to sleep. The second time had killed the nightmares just as the first had started them. Killing never becomes easy. It just becomes bearable. It becomes a re-playable nightmare, a sickening sense of deja-vu that lingers like a faint bitterness on the tongue. Remorse no longer becomes a part of the equation – in Remy’s line of business, remorse was the last sentiment of a dead man.
Remy didn’t give a shit about the X-Men and he never had. The feeling, as far as he had been able to tell, had been mutual. The X-Men had neither liked nor trusted him. He had positioned himself in their midst simply because it had been his job to do so; from the very beginning Sinister had given him a very specific mission – to infiltrate the X-Men, gain their trust, glean whatever he could from them, and then destroy them from the inside, leaving the bodies to Sinister in order to harvest their genetic material. He’d gone into it willingly. He’d never had a second thought. This was not to say that he liked or trusted Sinister – he never had. If Sinister had not held something over him, he would never have carried out the mission. It was that something, the something that Sinister had withheld from him even after Remy had completed the mission in the Morlock tunnels, that had caused Remy to agree to all Essex’s terms, despite better judgement. And he had risked more than he knew in saving Rogue’s life; it was not simply a question of adding unnecessary complications to a job that under ideal circumstances, should have been ruthless, calculated and straightforward. In sparing her, he’d also gambled with something else – his heart.
It’d been over eight months already, and he knew he should have forgotten her by now.
After all, he’d made it very clear to himself that there would be nothing more than that one night they’d shared, that there couldn’t possibly be more than that, and that even if he had wanted it, once she’d found out about his role in the massacre of the X-Men, there was no way in hell she was ever going to want him in her life.
It was an old adage amongst him and his associates, passed round like some unholy creed: if you can get away with it, by all means mix pleasure with business; but never, under any circumstances, get emotionally involved.
Approximately two hundred and fifty nights later, and he’d finally come to the conclusion that he’d got himself emotionally involved.
Sometimes he’d wake up sweating, shuddering as if from the deliberate and sinuous trail of her fingertips along his side, her nails in his back, her legs wrapped round him, her image in the mirror, the soft and wicked trap that was her body. Those memories alone unsettled him more than killing a man.
For the first time in his life he found himself understanding the meaning of remorse.
Friday evening, with Friday’s girl on his arm.
That afternoon he’d closed a major deal, offed some art dealer visiting from Sweden, big pay-off with few words exchanged; except this time, it’d left a bad taste in his mouth. Like that fucking Lady Macbeth, he thought. Couldn’t get the stain out of his mind. But, he reckoned, it was nothing that a few drinks and Claire couldn’t cure. Come the morning, he’d have a bastard of a hangover, but it’d be better than thinking. As they’d walked back to his apartment, he noticed that Claire was becoming overly clingy. He’d been screwing her too long, he decided. Christ, what was he thinking? He’d already been with her for three weeks, trying to kid himself into some sort of normal, loving relationship. That was a sure-fire way for a man to screw up his life all right. Not that he hadn’t already, he thought wryly. He made a mental note to end it with her the following morning. He had enough of a problem keeping the Assassin’s Guild off his back, let alone women who wanted more than just casual sex.
He should have sensed someone was in the apartment right from the moment he’d stepped into it, but the lust and alcohol had already gone to his head and it was funny what that kind of thing could do to you. He’d already lost his jacket and tie before he realised that they both had themselves a peeping tom.
“Merde!” he exclaimed, pushing Claire away roughly and turning towards the lone silhouette of a figure standing in the centre of the darkened room. “What de fuck you doin’ in my apartment?!”
Two red pinpoints flamed into malevolent existence, the traces of a bad memory one would rather forget.
“Now, now, Monsieur LeBeau. Is that any way to welcome an old friend?”
The voice, silky, smooth and cultured, was unmistakable. Claire picked herself up from the floor where Remy had shoved her, hair dishevelled, one strap of her red dress trailing down her arm. The voice was one that would haunt her nightmares for many nights to come, until it would be lost in the monotony of everyday life, like a shiver up the spine, like a sudden chill over goosepimpled flesh. What fear instinctively flared in her, that made her back up against the door with trembling knees and quivering breath? It was the kind of fear that Remy knew and had locked away into the core of his being. It was the kind of fear that made fear itself pale.
“Remy,” she stammered, “Who is this man?”
Remy gritted his teeth, hardly hearing her. No, no, no, it was all supposed to have ended, no more deals, no more games with this one…
“Get out,” he hissed to the girl.
“But Remy, we…”
“GET OUT!” he roared.
The girl scuttled away, scurried like a frightened mouse, banging the door shut behind her.
“Well,” Sinister remarked somewhat humorously once she had gone, with the kind of humour that left you cold. “Still working the fly-by-night, I see.”
Remy suppressed a growl, hardly trusting himself to speak.
“Why’re you here?” he managed to finally level out of clenched teeth. Best to keep this short. The less he spoke to the man, the better.
Sinister gazed at him through veiled eyes, viper-like, considering. “I have a job for you,” he said at last. Remy avoided the burning glare, turned, and pushed aside the slats of the Venetian blinds, peering out onto the lamplit street, lips pursed tight. Below, Claire ran out onto the pavement and called for a cab.
“I thought our ‘business’ was finished,” he spoke, after a short moment.
“Oh no, Remy,” Sinister retorted softly, “Not quite. Our ‘business’ is still far from finished.”
Remy glowered, looking back over his shoulder. Sinister stood, his eyes blazing crimson in the shadows cast by the blinds.
“I gave you what you wanted,” Remy retorted, trying to contain the anger and trepidation that was now growing steadily within him. “Access to the DNA of all the X-Men. Even Scott Summers and Jean Grey. What more do you want?”
Sinister chuckled quietly, soft as midnight velvet. “On the contrary, Gambit,” he remarked, “You did not provide me with the DNA of all of the X-Men. In fact, you’ve neglected one very important person. Rogue.”
Remy snapped the blinds shut.
“You told me she’d be left out of dis,” he murmured.
“I merely told you she would come to no harm,” Sinister corrected him softly. “And I hold to that part of our bargain. Nevertheless, she remains the last missing part of the equation. And I need her.”
Remy turned. The light from between the blinds cut through the suited form of Sinister, transforming him into alternating strips of black, white, black, white. From within the darkness, only those two red gimlets were any source of colour. He tensed his jaw, said: “What do you want me to do?”
“Find her,” Sinister replied. It was as though his voice was curiously disembodied.
“Find her?” Remy repeated scornfully. “The last thing dat girl wants is to see me. What makes you think she’d ever trust me enough to let me near her?”
“I don’t ask for much, LeBeau,” Sinister smiled, the expansive grin glittering in the dim and velvety night. “All I need is a small token. A strand of hair, a flake of skin. She need not even have to see you. I trust in your stealth, boy. It’s what I hired you for, after all.”
Remy hesitated. Dangerous, appealing; and not just in the usual way. Tracking down Rogue. Watching for her. Waiting. Playing the voyeur. Just to lay his eyes upon her again. To remember…
“What’s in it for me?” he asked, after a moment.
That inane chuckle again. “I’m sure you’ll have fun spying on your paramour,” he said, almost indulgently. “And if your mission should be successful, there is a certain part of your anatomy that could be restored to you… Ensuring that you return to the full levels of power that were yours before I took them away from you. Understand?”
Yes – Remy understood. What he understood less was whether he really wanted those powers back, or whether he simply wanted to have her warm that cold place in his heart once again.
Either way, it was easy then to say ‘yes’.
Two weeks and half a hundred leads later, he had found her. He had tried all the usual places – New York, Caldecott County, anywhere that was anywhere to her. Only to his surprise, he had found her a lot closer to home. New Orleans. She’d been in his hometown the whole damn time. Remy had little time to ponder on the peculiarity of this revelation and what it entailed. His purpose was to stalk his quarry and not to ruminate on the whys and the wherefores. Finding out where Rogue lived wasn’t difficult. It was no easy task for a skunk-striped woman to pass unnoticed through a community. Plenty of people had seen her around and some old tramp on the street knew exactly where she lived. Block of apartments in the Tremé district. He liked to watch her and had no compunction about it. She’d come and go regular as clockwork, had a waitressing job in some seedy café two blocks away. And a cat. The tramp would see the cat sometimes, perched on the windowsill. Which windowsill? Remy asked. That one, two storeys up, east side of the building. And where was she going the last time you saw her? Going in or coming out? Remy persisted. Coming out.
Remy thanked the tramp, dropped him a couple of cigarettes since he’d been eyeing up the one in Remy’s mouth. Then he positioned himself on the roof of the drugstore facing her window, and waited. And waited. Until nightfall. There wasn’t a sign or trace of her. At eight o’clock the cat came out, a ginger tabby, sat on the windowsill and looked straight at him. He got the odd impression it was taunting him, as if it knew exactly where she was and what she was doing and wasn’t about to tell him. He shifted uncomfortably. How was it that the whole town knew about her and he hadn’t even laid eyes upon her yet? And just where the hell was she? He frowned. Probably out for a good time with some random guy she had met at the café. Probably she wouldn’t be coming home at all that night. Probably she’d be spending it somewhere else…
The cat passed him once last glance before jumping off the sill and padding quietly back inside the apartment. Remy found his gut churning ominously, the kind of feeling he hadn’t got since…well, since that one night he’d walked out on her actually. He half considered turning back and telling Sinister the deal was off. He didn’t particularly care about retrieving his ‘reward’ anymore. He could live without it.
But her… Could he live without her?
He shook his head in frustration. Of course he could. But just one peek, just one little look into her inner sanctum and he’d feel better. He’d feel better about the way he’d walked out on her, the way he’d betrayed her. He didn’t give a fuck about the X-Men. Just her. And he knew what he was going to do. He was going to walk right into that apartment and he wasn’t just going to go and grab any old hair he could find. Even as the thought passed through his head he rebelled against it. He couldn’t do this. The closer he got to her the less he’d be able to pull away. It wouldn’t take a lot to turn around right now, to walk away from it all and call the whole thing off. Do that, and he’d be free from all ties to her and his past forever.
Instead he found himself sprinting across the roof and towards the apartment window. Before he knew it he’d launched himself off the edge of the building, across the street, and in through the open window, landing in what seemed to the middle of the lounge. The cat hissed and bolted at his entrance. So much for backing out, Remy thought wryly to himself. I’m in for the duration now.
He stood slowly in the darkness, looking about with practiced wariness. He could sense no other presence in the room. Only her fragrance, that old, familiar scent of her… Dieu, the scent of her. He almost reeled with it. Just standing in here was driving him crazy for her. Bad idea. Bad idea coming in here, Cajun. Best to just walk away right now…
He took a card from his coat pocket, charged it slightly and held it aloft. The room flickered into pinkish-hued life. Any normal old room. TV, sofa, coffee table, magazine rack, CDs, state of the art DVD player, paintings on the wall – no, not paintings, prints… Her coat draped across the back of an armchair. No. Not her coat. Several sizes too big. Had to be a man’s…
Remy grimaced, his stomach lurching. So, he thought. This is how it is. Better not stay. Just find what he was after and move out. His heart was racing as he moved quickly towards the bedroom. Racing! He was thawing out; he could feel it. It made him sick to the stomach. Sicker than killing a man, sicker than having that stain in his mind that he couldn’t wipe out… He paused, chest heaving as he stood in her bedroom, his senses drowning in her perfume. Old-fashioned stuff, lavender. The very smell of it filled him with an odd nostalgia. It’d always amused and intrigued him. The kind of women he was used to wore ornate, expensive fragrances, but her…She’d never worn anything more or less than what she was. Godammit, he’d still dream about it, that simple, soapy scent of her…
He caught himself mid-fantasy, aware that he was hopelessly addicted to the irrationality of it. Every fibre of his being was alive with it, with her. He suddenly ached, ached with an old longing he had put away months ago and locked up tight. He’d already been standing here too long, he knew it. But to simply walk in her space again…
Caught off guard, it was half a second too late before he became aware of the small, blunt barrel of a gun pressing into the small of his back, heard the all too familiar click of the hammer cocking back.
“Ah knew it would only be a matter of time before your sorry ass showed up,” her voice hissed into his ear, so close he felt her breath on his neck. “Only trouble is, Cajun, Ah’ve been watchin’ you a whole lot longer than you’ve been watchin’ me.” She paused before she jabbed the gun into his back again, her voice suddenly taking on a more business-like tone. “Now raise both your hands in the air an’ release the charge on that card, nice an’ slow, so’s Ah can see every movement you’re makin’. Any false moves an’ Ah shoot, y’ hear me?”
He let the card fizzle out slowly, dropped the burnt remnants onto the floor. The room plunged into a darkness permeated by the ghostly luminescence of street lamps and headlights.
“You don’t have t’ do dis, chere,” he spoke evenly. “I didn’t come here t’ hurt you.”
“Too bad,” she replied coldly. “‘Cos Ah sure as hell want t’ hurt you, sugah.”
“We can work dis out,” he answered calmly, paused. Her breath was still on his neck, stoking up memories, memories he’d tried in vain to keep away… His body ached and he knew that if that gun hadn’t been pressed into his back he would have turned and pressed her to him and kissed her with all the hunger those long months had inflicted on him. “I still love you, Rogue,” he confessed on a breath.
She gave a sharp bark of laughter.
“Please. You’re makin’ me wanna weep already. If it’s any comfort to you, Ah loved you too, once. But your lies ain’t gonna work on me no more. Ah know you’ve been meetin’ with Sinister. How much is he payin’ you t’ do me over this time?”
“It isn’t like that,” he returned, jaw tensed.
“Oh. So now you’re gonna tell me you just came round t’ jack off by mah bedside? Spare me the grief.”
“Listen t’ me, Rogue,” he began, trying to force a calmness he didn’t feel into his voice. “I still love you, I swear it. Always have done. Dat ain’t changed.”
“You ain’t capable of love,” she snapped. The gun bit viciously into his spine and he froze. If only that were true, chere, he thought bitterly.
“If I didn’t love you,” he continued, heart in mouth, “I wouldn’t have kept you away from de mansion and saved your life dat night.”
“If you had loved me, you would’ve left me there to die!” she shot back, the words full of venom. There was a silence. He held his breath, his head swimming. He had thought that in preserving her life, he had done the only truly good thing ever to come out of him. But he had miscalculated. What he had left her with was a life with no meaning. And she despised him for it. Hated him, even. Shit, she was even holding a gun to him. Wasn’t that evidence enough of the hatred she felt for him?
“You don’t know, do you,” she finally stated in a low voice. “You don’t know the extent of what you’ve done t’ me, do you, Gambit.”
He felt the pressure of the gun release against his spine, heard her step back a few paces. He dared not move. He knew the barrel of the gun was still trained against him. Somewhere over his shoulder she stopped.
“Turn around Gambit,” she ordered. “Take a look at your handiwork.”
Her voice was low, thick with bitterness and…something else. Sorrow? Scorn? Self-mockery? He was perplexed. Still, he turned, slowly, not daring to push his luck.
Rogue stood in a sliver of silvery moonlight, face shining like a beacon, beautiful and cold as snowdrift, a small pistol held in his direction. He wasn’t sure what shocked him more. The malice in her green eyes, or the fact that she was evidently in the final stages of pregnancy. He opened his mouth, unable to say anything. But she’d said…she’d sworn…
“Yeah, that’s right,” she gave him a cold smile, so akin to Sinister’s that it made his hackles stand on end. “Ah guess y’ don’t jus’ like t’ do things by halves, do you. Not only do you betray the X-Men, not only do you destroy mah home, not only do you kill all mah friends an’ all the people Ah ever cared for, but y’ jus’ had t’ go an’ screw me over too. Some love you must’ve had for me, Gambit.”
“I thought you were on protection,” was all he could manage to say.
“Yeah, well, so did Ah,” she replied, sniffing, cold humour in her voice. The gun was shaking in her hand. He stared at it, mesmerised by the quivering forefinger that was pressing lightly against the trigger. One movement was all it would take.
“Y’ coulda jus’ touched me, chere,” he spoke after a moment. “Woulda saved you de trouble of shootin’ me.”
She laughed derisively. “Y’all are kiddin’ me, right? That serum yah gave me was the real stuff all right. Ah bet you made certain o’ that.” She paused, seeing his bewildered look. “Ah ain’t got no powers,” she explained harshly, all the sarcasm gone out of her. “Don’tcha remember givin’ me that potion o’ yours t’ drink? Weren’t enough t’ screw me, was it? Y’ just had t’ go that little extra step further, didn’tcha?”
“But Sinister said dat…” he began, confused. “Sinister said dat de effects were only…”
At the mentioning of Sinister’s name the colour drained from Rogue’s face. The gun went off, and Remy twisted only just in time: the bullet embedded itself in the wall right where he had been standing not a split second before. He looked up at her, saw her trembling violently, the gun still smoking in her right hand. She returned the gaze, her green eyes suddenly burning, lighting up her pallid face so that some of the old Rogue returned.
“Sinister!” she screeched. “Y’all made me drink somethin’ that Sinister gave yah?! An’ you trusted him?!”
He said nothing, unable to give any excuse. Her mouth crumpled.
“Y’all don’t know what you left meh to, Gambit,” she almost whimpered. “Goin’ back t’ the mansion and seein’ all that carnage, your handiwork, mah dead friends, the only people Ah’d evah called ‘family’… You shoulda let me die, with the people Ah was meant t’ die with. That was the way it supposed to end, not like this, not with me standin’ here pointin’ this gun at you, not with this thing inside meh that never should’ve been mine! An’ t’ think Ah loved yah! Ah loved yah and Ah didn’t even know a thing about yah, not even your name!” She finished, her voice almost cracking with emotion, the gun wavering wildly in her hand, tears glistening in her eyes. “Why’d you do it, Gambit?” she questioned, swallowing the lump in her throat, refusing to cry. “Why’d you sacrifice everythin’ you could’ve had with us, with me? Why?”
He lowered his head. That same question, the one he’d asked himself ever since that night in the Morlock tunnels, the night when he had had a choice and he’d made the one he knew he would always regret.
“You don’t understand, chere,” he said at last. “People like me, people who’ve done all de kind of things I’ve done… We don’t get a second chance. We don’t get another shot at redemption. We’re bad, bad to de bone. An’ I’m cold, p’tit. Colder den a winter’s day. I ain’t got no choice, not anymore. I go warm, I go under.”
“In that case,” she replied, giving him a tight-lipped smile. “What makes you think the two of us would ever have a chance?” She halted, her voice suddenly going quiet. “Or is that what you want t’ believe? That Ah’m your one last shot at redemption?”
They gazed at one another a long moment. For a second there was something in her eyes, the kind of look she’d given him before he’d left, that questing glance. But then, calmness. Her hand was suddenly steady.
“The sad fact is that you’ve turned me cold, Gambit,” she replied softly. “And now there’s about as much warmth left in mah heart for you as you have for me. You gave me a little, once. And it wasn’t enough.” She paused, a marker of some sort of regret. “Do you think there’d be enough warmth in you t’ want me now? Even with a babby in mah arms?”
An offer, a concession. Almost. Both knew it was too much of a long shot. He said nothing. And she smiled.
“Ah didn’t think so.”
The gun went off again; a bullet whizzed past his left temple and embedded itself in the plaster. He felt a thin trickle of blood slip down onto his cheek where it had grazed him. For several seconds, he was left grasping wildly at the fact that he was still alive. Rogue lowered the gun.
“Ah wanna shoot that pretty face of yours right off, Gambit,” she added; oddly her voice seemed to be a progression of the gunshot, the bullet, the trickle of blood dripping down his face; it was all an onward motion, a sense of things continuing when he knew, rightfully, they should have been cut cruelly short. And she knew that the mercy she had given him was only an empty one. She knew that she was as weak as he. “But for some reason,” she continued quietly, as if in begrudging awe, “Ah still have feelin’s for you.”
One small sliver of hope, and he would’ve seized it with all the courage and strength he had, when he noticed a sudden shifting of movement in the shadows behind her, the swift motion of an arm upraised in attack. Before he’d even got his warning call out, Sabretooth had emerged and struck across the back of her neck with a huge, clawed fist. Rogue collapsed to the floor without even making a sound. Remy didn’t have to think before the card was already charged in his hand and he was about to send it careening Creed’s way. But a cold hand touched his shoulder, chilling his very limbs into inaction. The scent on the air decayed, withered as a flower touched by frost. Shadows engulfed him as soft and cold as the night. And all of a sudden Remy understood.
The betrayer had been betrayed.
“Damn you, Essex,” he seethed. “Rogue wasn’t a part of our deal.”
“On the contrary, my boy,” the mad scientist’s voice played into the darkness. “She was a part of our deal from the moment you came to me asking for that serum.”
Remy only had a second to evaluate the depth of that betrayal before the telepathic bolt ripped into his brain and dragged him down into darkness.
He awoke later to find himself staring into his own image. His face, dried blood caked on his left cheek. His head ached dully, the hangover of the betrayal he now felt throbbing through his entire body, the only thing he was aware of. Sinister had double-crossed him. It had only been a matter of time, and he had allowed himself to be deceived.
He blinked, confused, only to see himself blink back. It was only after a moment that he realised that what he was looking at was his own reflection. Just his face, gazing back into his own with a dazed expression. Not the first thing he wanted to see considering the circumstances. Groaning, he lifted his head.
The room spun before he could get a grip on it, before he could see Rogue lying prone and bound to some sort of medical slab not more than eight feet away from him. Her eyes were closed, her chest rising and falling calmly, enough to satisfy him that she was quite alive. Behind her, he saw himself, tied to a steel chair, facing her. And behind that were a countless number of duplicates of the same scene, a thousand doppelgangers of himself, stretching on and on into infinity. A hall of mirrors. Sinister had trapped them in a hall of mirrors. The sick, twisted bastard…
Remy groaned again, fighting back the bile in his throat as an abrupt and violent wave of nausea attacked his senses. He squeezed his eyes tight shut, tried to focus on testing his bonds. The knots were tight, but he had been trained to find the weakness in any binding. Still, his limbs and muscles rebelled with a pulsating ache that racked his entire body. His mind was chaotic and confused. He tried in vain to reassemble his thoughts. If he couldn’t work the ropes the next best thing was to charge and burn them. But he couldn’t. He found himself stifling hysterical laughter. The betrayal was running deeper and deeper. Sinister had incapacitated him with a power inhibitor.
“Ah suppose it is kinda funny,” Rogue’s voice sounded unexpectedly from the centre of the room. “Things do have a funny way of coming full-circle, don’t you think?”
He summoned up the courage to face the room again. A hundred Gambits stirred in response, blossoming into kaleidoscopic existence, making him dizzy. He wasn’t quite able to steady himself for the dizzying experience of seeing the room unfold itself an exponential amount of times over. Where was the door to this infernal place? Where did the room begin? And where on earth did it end? It took him about a minute to focus on her. She was still lying on the slab as she had been before, eyes closed, breathing evenly.
“How long’ve you been awake?” he asked, voice thick, the taste in his mouth metallic.
“Long enough to think things through,” she replied. Despite the calmness to her voice he sensed it was forced. Her body was tight, taut against her bonds as if she were holding it together by sheer force of will. Very slowly, almost methodically, she released a long breath, then turned her head to face him, opening her eyes, finding him. There was a small, enigmatic smile on her lips. “Baby’s comin’,” she informed him matter-of-factly. “And he ain’t gonna make it without a fight.”
He assessed her expression, the grimness in her eyes, as if she were preparing for the greatest battle her life would ever see. Dieu, she was beautiful. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her looking so beautiful and fierce. The look she gave him sent a series of chills up his spine that all at once frightened and enthralled him. Her words struck him with an ominous clarity.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
She turned her head back to the mirrored ceiling, sighed. What she saw in her reflection, he could not guess at. He had never known. It was the only thing he had ever wanted to know, ever since he’d watched her in the mirror that night, the mystery of her face, of her flesh. And now, it was too late. Never had a situation been so ironic – here, in this room, there were so many of them, and yet he had never felt so alone and far away from a human being as he did at that moment.
“It’s nothin’ more than simple deduction, Gambit,” she replied, after a moment, this time a hairline crack of stress showing in her voice. “The two of us, we’ve both been screwed over. That serum you gave me wasn’t just a power inhibitor. It was somethin’ else. Somethin’ that created all of…this.” She paused, allowing it to sink into him. He grimaced, casting his mind back. Of course. The serum. How could he have been so blind? “Sinister’s been playin’ us from the start,” she continued. “He wanted this kid… Whatever was in that serum, he fixed it so that Ah’d get pregnant… So that Ah’d be the surrogate for his experiment.” She halted, audibly gasping for air, feeling the baby within her moving, purposeful, focused. It was almost time. The baby was making it time. It was aware. More aware of this than she was. “Gambit,” she started again, and this time her voice trembled. “Whatever this kid is, even if it’s our own flesh an’ blood, it ain’t ours. It weren’t made for us. We can’t let it live, Gambit. That’s why Ah’ve got t’ fight it. Because it belongs to Sinister.”
“Bravo, my dear,” applauded the unmistakable velvet voice of Sinister. “How very astute of you to uncover my little scheme.”
For a moment, neither could pinpoint from where the voice had emanated. They had not seen him enter, for wherever the door was, it was impossible to discern. But he stood now, in one corner of the room, his mouth upturned into a vampiric grimace, the sharply pointed fangs glistening with an almost artificial whiteness. It was that Cheshire cat grimace that marked out his presence to them; that one overwhelming and malevolent smile replayed itself within the hall of mirrors, the cage with no escape.
“How unfortunate that your epiphany has come a little too late,” he smirked moving forward to stand at the end of the slab that Rogue lay upon and looking down into her eyes. “Soon the child will be born and there won’t be much you can do about getting rid of it. Isn’t it ironic that, after years of study and painstaking research, one of my most remarkable experiments should find itself carried out with such crude simplicity? That my subjects should give themselves over to my whims so willingly yet so unwittingly?”
“Sinister, you bastard,” Remy seethed, struggling against his restraints. “I always thought you were insane, but dis…”
“What?” Sinister turned his searing gaze onto Remy. “You don’t like my hall of mirrors? You disappoint me, Gambit. But then, you’ve always disappointed me. And I had such high hopes for you, once.”
“What de hell are you talkin’ about?” Remy spat.
“Hmph,” Sinister wheeled round, began to circle the table that Rogue now lay upon, fighting against the child within her. “See: even you yourself do not realise the potential that you possess. Isn’t it ironic that that potential is the whole reason you came to me in the first place?” He looked down into Rogue’s straining face, smiled insidiously down at her. “Did you know that when he first came to me he couldn’t control his powers? I had to perform a little brain surgery on him to dampen the dangerous effect those powers had on others. But, paradoxically, it was that power that I was interested in. Like you, dear Rogue, Gambit is an Omega class mutant. Left unchecked, his power is potentially limitless. Even Sinister dreads to think what that power should entail if it were honed to its full potential.” He lifted his eyes to Remy again, lids narrowed. “But you – foolish, headstrong, reckless, unstable – I finally came to realise that you would never attain the levels of power I expected of you.” He sneered. “You never did know the true value of the price I was willing to pay you for your part in the attack on the Morlocks, did you?”
“The Morlocks?” Rogue repeated weakly. She turned to Remy, her face ashen. “You helped Sinister t’ kill the Morlocks?”
Remy hung his head, unable to admit his greatest shame. But the action spoke for itself. The despair that contorted her face was greater than the pain of the child within her. Cold tears streaked down her face – another betrayal.
“Yes,” Sinister hissed, the sound one of utter glee. “Your darling Gambit, traitor and murderer twice over. And he never even knew the real stakes he was gambling on! Only now, at this very moment, does he realise that the price I paid him was something so vital to my operations – that part of his brain which at any time I could have restored to him and thus created a being of almost incomparable destructive power!” He paused, looked back down at her. “The sad fact, my poor, dear Rogue, is that Gambit never would or could have realised that potential even if I restored that missing part, even if I taught him how to use it. To him, power is something to gamble and throw away. Such a trait is defective and of no use to me. So I was forced to devise another course of action – one that unfolded itself in you. And he, the poor fool, was an unwitting participant in the entire charade.”
He laughed derisively, the sound echoing outward as the act of mouth laughing repeated itself in the mirrors. In that one action, sound and movement merged and became inseparable.
“What you see,” he began conversationally, turning round and facing the mirrors, “at this moment, in this very room around you, happens to be a little fantasy of mine. Nothing but the simple and unassuming mirror can so eloquently illustrate my ultimate dream to the world. Such a simple thing, is it not? Yet in the reflected image there is much power – and fear. A window into the soul, the ancients called it. But add a few more of these ‘windows’ and the body becomes, well…soulless.” He chuckled softly, inanely, turned back to face them. “In many ways, it is the simple reflection that I aspire to – the flawless projection of a single entity, an immutable and immaculate copy of the corporeal form; even a single movement cannot escape the perfection contained within the original, yet it is bound to it, and that, my friends, is the subtle masterpiece of genetic manipulation.”
He paused, his words curtailed by the embittered, strangled cry of Rogue. His eyes shifted to her, the beautiful face now glistening with sweat. Bloodied water dripped slowly, deliberately, from the cold metal slab and down onto the mirrored floor, the liquid drops glistening like icicles all about them.
“See – even Rogue begins to understand,” Sinister remarked softly, passing a cool, lecherous hand over her forehead. “In this one act she will achieve the thing that I have desired for so long – the creation of a being of perfection, a thing which is born irrevocably from one’s very self, a creature that the mother would give her entire life and soul for. But this time, this creation will remain perfect and untainted. Not like my darling Madelyne. Not like my faithful Marauders. Not like you, Gambit. The child will be everything it was meant to be. It will be mine.”
“Noooooooo,” Rogue moaned, knowing the moment was upon her but still wrestling against it with every ounce of strength she could muster.
“Yes,” Sinister hissed.
And Rogue threw back her head and screamed.
Remy’s head reverberated with the scream, the caterwaul penetrating itself into the place he thought had gone cold for so long. And he knew, he knew with a dread certainty that it was not just the cry of a mother giving birth; that it was the cry he’d so often heard uttered on the battlefield; the scream of pain, of agony, of encroaching death… The dire knowledge imported in that one scream shifted his mind into sharp focus. Strength was coming back to him. He strove silently with his bonds, the practised fingers of the thief searching and manipulating each loose fray, each weakened knot in the rope that he could find. Rogue was screeching, body contorted, calling for him and cursing him, needing him and defying him. In this moment where they should have been one, they had never before been wrenched so far apart. Any betrayal he had perpetrated previously paled in comparison to this.
“Rogue!” he broke desperately into the wailing and the howling of her voice. “Rogue! You’ve got to listen to me! I told you de truth dat night…! You need t’ know dat! I love you!”
Rogue did not answer. Rogue was struggling, straining, not with any outer force, not with anything but herself, her own body, her own flesh. And it was her flesh he saw, spilling into the world, blooming all wet and bloody in perfect unison with all the other Rogues who fought the same age-worn battle all about him. And Sinister stood, and revelled in it, the screams and the contortions of hands and face and limbs, this manifold perfection of pain.
Remy doubled over as far as he could and vomited onto the floor.
But as for Rogue… As for Rogue there was nothing more magical or horrific than this instant in which she completed the sacred mission which had been created to define her since the moment of her conception. This moment, of giving birth to this creature born in both love and hate, this thing that tore to free itself from her and from which she, in turn, scrabbled to be free, enveloped her. And she saw herself achieving that utter freedom, that thing in which she should rejoice but knew she would never live to. She saw each motion of hers give birth to itself in the mirrors just as she gave birth; and in that singular moment the world seemed to give birth to itself an impossible number of times; she saw herself, lying in front of a mirror, cradled tenderly in his arms as he had cradled her that night; but the image seemed warped somehow – different… Everything seemed different and yet the same.
And she stopped screaming. The idea came to her that this was a mistake, an error in the lucid and glittering landscape she saw before her, the landscape of mirrors that was somehow really a landscape of the entire universe, that was somehow really… all of time? All of everything? And she, she was the pinpoint of this error, and in every other image there was contained an error of its own, and only one was right, only one was true… An image of him holding her tenderly in his arms… …
“It’s all right,” she gasped as the child tore at her, as it fought to escape the awful error that was herself. “We’ve been here before… In front of a mirror… We’ll be here again…”
She turned, watched Remy staring at her, aghast, as she strained one last, terrible time and the world went dim around her.
“Don’t be afraid,” she told him, calm, contained, suddenly gazing through eyes that saw the soul-splitting clarity of death. “We’ve been here before. A thousand times over. But never like this. We got it wrong. But there are others… We’ll get it right… We…”
In that instant both mother and child tore free.
Rogue went limp.
The baby’s wail cut into the room as if to shatter it into so many myriad shards of glass.
Remy slumped, moaning, in part unravelled, in part redone; another part dead, another part reborn. Rogue stared back at him with pellucid green eyes, stared at him ad infinitum.
“Nonononononononononononono…” The word seemed to drone on inside him, negation to the very core; but even as he said it, he felt something switch on inside him, flare into being, ever so subtle, ever so slight. Whatever power inhibitor had been given to him, it was slowly beginning to wear off; he could feel it.
Sinister, however, noticed nothing. He held up the baby, and it squalled, kicking, fighting, fighting the way it had fought its mother, the way she had fought it. It was a boy – a son. And when Remy looked up again he saw the child’s eyes, eyes like his own, except there was no black in them, only red, bright, burning red, just like Sinister’s…
No: Rogue had been right. Remy would not, could not be this child’s father. It had never been created for that purpose. It was Sinister that held him up, that looked upon him with that proud gaze; Sinister whose lips twisted into a vampiric smile, so that Remy got the brief and repulsive image of the mad scientist sinking his teeth into the flesh of the child, biting into its neck and draining it dry, stealing its innocence…
He looked at Rogue, eyes still staring at him, imploring; there was dreadful communication in that gaze, of something he didn’t understand. What was it she had said? Don’t be afraid…There are others… He gagged again, averting his eyes from the limp body on the table. Another part of him had been brutally excised and thrown away. No more remedy for this. No more redemption.
Sinister had wrapped the boy in a white cloth and was now holding it in his arms. The baby had gone quiet – deathly quiet. An unnatural quiet, the quiet of adults. Remy looked at the boy, and it looked back at him, red eyes dull, curious. No – the child had already lost its innocence; Remy already loathed it. But it was also something more, something so small and motionless that it remained hidden even from the mirrors, as if to cast no reflection. An idea, a desperate form of escape began to form itself in Remy’s head. The rope about his wrists was already coming loose. And his powers… He still had so little control of them in the wake of the inhibitor, but if he could just channel enough energy… If Sinister would just give him the right opportunity…
“This is what you should have been,” Sinister was saying softly. He placed the baby next to its dead mother, pulled out something from his pocket. A pistol. “Mine,” he continued, pointing the gun with composed precision towards Remy. “You should have been mine from the beginning. What a son you would’ve been to me.”
He advanced slowly until he stood beside Remy, pressing the gun to his right temple. The opportunity unfolded and replayed itself in the mirrors. Remy saw it unfold itself as clearly as daylight. He was going to break free; he was going to take the child and raise it the way Sinister would hate the most. He would raise it to be like himself. His son, La Mort. It would be the greatest gamble he’d ever chanced. But if he could do it right… …
“If you’re goin’ t’ kill me now,” Remy replied calmly, his voice disembodied from the train of thoughts now shuttling through his brain, cabin by each tight, concentrated cabin. “Den why’d you bring me here in de first place?”
“You think I would deny you the chance to witness your own redemption?” he mused. “You are a failure, Remy LeBeau. Look upon this…as your first success. As your one last meaningful legacy to the world.”
The words struck a chord; the death knoll for a life Remy would now leave far behind. He could even feel it dying.
“I will,” he murmured, resolve finally in his voice. The cold barrel pressed against his skin, the frosty touch of the metal drawing him into a deep, calm madness from which he knew he would never wake up. Tight, focused, he willed the power into existence and it did so, flaming, spurting. He looked at Rogue; he looked at his son. “I will.”
Closing his eyes, Remy LeBeau began to charge the gun.
* * * * *
 For those who don’t know….When Remy was in his teens, his power was uncontrollable, so he went to Sinister for a lobotomy. The excised part of his brain was Sinister’s payment for Remy’s role in the Morlock Massacre (Uncanny X-Men #350). This was later grafted back into Remy during his timetravelling stint back to 1890s New York. (Gambit #14).
Next: “Real Love” – Crossover with a famous movie! Yes, it just gets weirder and weirder, hah!…