Note: This story is based (rather self-indulgently, I admit) on my own AU (Insurrection; the stories can be read on my homepage, even though they're rather incomplete at the mo.) It's kind of the centrepoint of all the other Threads stories, which will be tied together (hopefully) in the tenth and final tale. And for all those who've read some of my Insurrection fics, this takes place about 10 years after "24 Hours", and is a kind of epilogue to that series - the epic end purpose I'd always intended for our Southern couple. All you need to know is a) Rogue learned to control her powers and b) Rogue permanently imprinted Destiny. Yay!


:: VI :: Degrees of Separation

 

“I never wanted another; come over to me and discover I want to be near you, and you need to be far away.” (Forever Live and Die, OMD)

*     *     *     *     *


       It was a lonely room, a room of oddities: a scattering of blood red roses; a pack of tarot cards left half-spread; mirrors in wry, contorted frames; the crumbling husks of butterflies in dusty glass cases; a silver wind-chime that would be touched by no breeze.

      These were the symbols of her world, her museum, the confined chaos she kept herself in – all else had been jettisoned, cast away, left behind.

       Along with him.

       In the centre of it all, Rogue slept entwined in snow-white sheets, dreaming.  Sleeping or waking – over time both had come to make little difference.  Everything seemed different and yet the same; most days she barely knew who she was.  Was she dead, or living?  Was she a mother, or lover?  Friend, or foe?  Her dreams were not simply dreams – they were real, bleeding involuntarily into all her waking hours, driving her almost to the precipice of madness.  The dreams, the room, refracted images of what might or might not ever have been – these were all she owned.

       In the half-darkness, Rogue stirred, once, twice, then jerked herself into wakefulness.  Green eyes flashed in the darkness, roaming, searching the dim recesses of the room with momentary confusion.

       The sea.  She’d been dreaming of the sea.  And him.

       “You like to watch him, don’t you?”

       The voice was soft, haunting, yearning as a siren’s song.  Rogue was not startled by it.  She swivelled slightly, eyes straining.  In the corner of the room a woman was sitting, elegant and feline, cerulean blue eyes glimmering like finely cut sapphires in the dusky light.

       “Yes,” Rogue replied without even the flicker of an eyelid. “Ah like to watch him.”

       The woman rose, cat-like, patterns of iridescent light sliding up across shapely curves caught under the folds of translucent mauve, caressing the contours of a face whose beauty none could match.  Porcelain skin, regal, elfin features, locks dark as the raven’s wing.  Her face was flawless, exquisite; yet the eyes were old, almost too old.

       “You only do harm to yourself in this, friend Rogue,” the woman warned in that same rich, musical tone – the secrets of ages were hidden in that voice. “It is not right that you see what you see, that you torture yourself with such knowledge.  Let it be.”

       Rogue sat up, the pale sheets slipping from bare white shoulders as she looked away, eyelids lowered.  A curl of hair fell across her cheek, tickled her breast.

       “Ah can’t,” she replied softly. “Not until he comes back.” She stood, gathering the sheets about her as she walked to the window and gazed down onto the crystal waters of the Timestream, pressing a hand against cool glass.  Below her the Timestream shifted, balked; then, as if entirely indifferent to her plight, continued on its way. “Ah miss him so, Roma,” she murmured. “Out there… in all those other worlds…he seems so much the same… it’s as if there’s no difference at all…” Her eyelids fluttered shut. “Please don’t ask me to stop,” she begged.

       Roma, Supreme Guardian of the Omniverse, Keeper of Time and Goddess of the Northern Skies, said nothing for a moment.  Very many years ago, when Rogue had still been young, she had permanently imprinted the powers of her foster-mother, Destiny, thus inheriting powers of foresight even Roma herself did not fully possess.  It was an ability that allowed Rogue to tap into every facet of Time itself, and that manifested itself in clairvoyant dreams.  Thus she was of vital importance to Roma’s operations, since Roma – as Guardian of the Omniverse – was the one deity who held all the threads of Fate in her hands.  She was the eternal puppet-master, the all-encompassing Wheel of Fortune.  The destinies of a thousand worlds were subject to all her whims.

       And yet Rogue preferred to spend all her hours spying on the many shadows of the man she loved, the man who had so cruelly left her.  Many times Roma had warned Rogue against using her powers to fuel such a dangerous obsession, but to no avail.  Roma was, after all, an immortal, and immortals little understood the human need for attachment, for bonding or intimacy.  Companionship, commitment and love were all immaterial to her.

       “Rogue,” she began softly, knowing all advice was a hopeless endeavour. “While you may believe otherwise, I did not come here to lecture you on your choice of pastime.  I have news to bring, and of the utmost importance.” She paused, blue eyes unblinking, watchful. “I’ve found it, Rogue.  The timeline without errors.”

       Rogue shifted her head in a slight, almost casual movement.  A lock of hair slipped across her profile, hiding an expression that was suddenly alert.

       “The one Destiny mentioned in her Diaries?” she questioned, her voice flat, betraying nothing.

       “So far, it has preserved itself.” She walked to stand beside Rogue, whose face was now expressionless. “You know what the Diaries say.  You carry them inside you, after all.” She placed a soothing hand on the Southerner’s shoulder. “There is to be a meeting in my Nexus concerning the Diaries.  It would please me greatly, if you would attend.” She paused, passed her a wan smile. “It is time, Rogue.”

       The pressure in her fingers increased, just once, before she left, leaving Rogue under the flickering light of the Timestream to ponder upon the secret that had just been divulged to her.  If it was time, it could only mean one thing.

       He had returned.

*


       Rogue hurried down the corridor towards Roma’s Nexus, her footsteps slapping on cold rose marble, clap, clap, clap, clap, racing against the beat of her heart, against every wild hope and dream she’d ever entertained.  A part of her wanted to be wrong, for him not to be there, so that every prescient vision she’d ever had of this moment would be proved false, and the dreadful end diverted.

       But as she swung open the doors that led into the great hall, she was assailed by a flurry of fragrance; that old, familiar scent, of tobacco and spices, of coffee and leather, of all the shared memories she’d held onto so tenuously, so helplessly for so long.  She gripped the doorframe, her mind reeling, her heart catching in her throat.  Trapped.

       Fate had trapped her in this moment and she was doomed to play it out…

      

       He was facing the window, his eyes on the Timestream, colour and shadow playing across a face as sharp and chiselled as a Greek statue’s.  He didn’t turn; but they’d long past the time where they needed looks in order to seduce one another.  Rogue swallowed a shallow breath.  He hadn’t changed.  All that time and he was still as intoxicating to her as he always had been.

       “Nice t’ see you too, Rogue,” he spoke to the window.

       She opened her mouth.  Nothing came out.

       Behind the suave exterior of Remy LeBeau lay a man of shrewd intelligence and a keen wit.  The walk, the talk, the faces he wore – they were all a fabrication, a role he played to perfection.  He was a manipulator of masks so skilful that none might know they were there at all.  He was as capable of being cold, ruthless and analytical as he was of being glib, charming and passionate, as capable of being a killer as a lover.  He was the most dangerous man she’d ever known, sly as a predator, protean as the chameleon.

       He had been known by many names in his time, but in all Destiny’s prophetic visions, he had had only one name – the Witness.

       He was a traveller, one whose latent ability was to tap into the kinetic flow of the universe, one whose Omega class potential was to transcend the boundaries of time itself. [1]  It was the reason why he had left her, and why she had let him go.  He had gone to search his destiny, little knowing that the person who held the key to it was the woman he’d been running from, the only woman he’d ever allowed to see the ugliness behind the mask, to hear the secrets divulged over careless pillow talk, or coffee in the mornings.  Oh yes.  She knew enough to torture him in ways he could only dream of.

      Now he took her silence as reproach.  His mouth frowned, then flickered into a smile, as he lit a cigarette with casual indifference.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Smoke poured from his mouth, weaving, curling, fading, insubstantial as all the sweet words he’d ever spoken to her.

       “Been wonderin’ where you were,” he said. His voice was rich as aged cognac, drawing her in, drowning her… “Was beginnin’ t’ think maybe you din’ want t’ be found no more.”

       “Maybe you’d be right,” she answered, her tone less cold than it was uncertain.  She had been so sure of this moment, of the contempt she would show him; but seeing him there again, so beautiful, so dangerous, so tangible after all that time… He amplified the emptiness inside her; he made her want.

       “You should know by now, Rogue,” he began softly, “dat Fate always has a funny way of bringin’ us back t’gether again.”

       Fate – it was the one thing that truly belonged to her, and that she spent every moment running from.

       “Ah wouldn’t know,” she replied at last.

       Exhale.  The corner of his mouth twisted into a bitter grimace.  His eyes narrowed, glittered.

       “Funny.  I woulda thought all dat time apart, de only t’ing you’d be dreamin’ about would be me.”

       Her cheeks almost flushed at the truth of his statement.

       “Ah try not t’ dream about our future,” she replied quietly. “Ah didn’t think we had one no more.  Not together.  Not anymore.”

       He turned, slowly, his dark eyes running over her face with that greedy intensity, breaking through the veil of time that had lain so impenetrable between them, making a sudden breath tremble in her throat.  It was a long time since they’d last laid eyes on one another.  Back then she’d been all soft and yielding, lying naked in his bed, one smooth, white arm extended towards him.  There was no such tenderness in her now, except for a memory, a trace of what once might have been – a stirring of her body, curling upward like a warm tongue of flame from the emptiness deep inside the pit of her stomach.

       And suddenly she was alive again; she was burning.

       Their gazes met with mutual longing, and Rogue grimaced inwardly at the self-betrayal.  She was angry with herself, as well as him.  Angry for hating him and then touching herself in the darkness when it was his hands she couldn’t stop longing for.  She knew that if he touched her, she’d be his all over again, without question, without another second wasted.

       And he knew it.

       Ah hate yah, Remy LeBeau, she wanted to say.  She said nothing.

 

       It had been four years.  Before he had left her, he had whispered “one year”.  It hadn’t been enough.  Not enough for him to purge himself of her.  Not enough to remember why it felt so good to hold her close.  Not enough for him to lie there in the middle of the night and conjure up that weightless, formless, wistful thing – her name.  The longer he spent away from her the more he learned to want her.  He liked to torture himself with thoughts of her – he could be rather masochistic in that way.  When he spent his nights sleepless and in unfamiliar arms, he would lie there empty and hollow inside, the way he thought he ought to be.  She made him feel; she made him a stranger unto himself.  She unmasked every act he had ever performed, every lie he had ever told.

       Yet he couldn’t stop wanting her.

       The countless women whose arms he’d run into, and yet every step he took in the opposite direction seemed to lead back to her.

       When he’d left her it had been under the cover of night.  She’d reached out for him, catching his hand in her own, twisting the gold band on his finger, reminding him who he was, that he’d find nothing in all those other women just as he’d found nothing in her.  He’d frowned in the darkness – he already knew it was hopeless; he knew he had to go, he knew he had to leave her.

       Her fingers, slipping from his own, disappearing into the night, the last impression he’d ever had of her.

 

       His eyes narrowed, flickered; he pulled on his cigarette, studied her with a look that would’ve neutralised any woman in sight.  Exhale.  He ran his tongue over dry lips.

       “You haven’t changed,” he noted.

       “Neither have you,” she murmured in return.

       “Still stubborn as a mule.”

       “Still all talk.”

       “Still goddamn beautiful.”

       She paused, annoyed that she’d allowed him to take her off guard.

       “That ain’t no compliment,” she finally muttered. “A pretty face was always all it ever took with you.  An’ when it came down to it, Ah was never more than just a pretty face, was Ah.”

       He blinked, grinned. “Still Rogue,” he concluded.  He dropped the cigarette and stumped it out with the heel of his boot before finally closing the space that lay between them.  She remained stock still as he stepped in close to her, as cold and unresponsive as she could muster as the heat and scent of him flooded her senses; her body tingled with things remembered and she fought the urge to press against him, to feel what he could do to and for her once more.

       “D’you remember dat night at de Soniat?” he murmured seductively, his fingers idly tickling a stray lock of her hair. “Champagne… Red silk an’ chocolate… Miles an’ miles of soft, smooth skin, an’ hair the flavour of violets.  Been dreamin’ about it, chere.  Been dreamin’ about every inch of you.”

       He leaned forward slightly, his lips just a breath away from her ear.  She froze, both longing for him and rejecting him with ever fibre of her being.

       “Ah was only ever forbidden sex t’ yah, Cajun,” she murmured back.

       His smile was slow, sensuous. “At first, yes.  But den I just couldn’t stop wantin’ more.  Y’ got me hooked, chere.”

       He leaned in a little closer and she let him.  She let him because she knew how to play his game now – she was going to draw him in the way he had her, and then she was going to leave him hanging.

       “Not enough for me t’ keep y’ hangin’ round,” she replied softly, twisting her head a little so that the words fell against his neck.  A vein pulsed there.  He shifted, his face lowering, those dark, dark eyes catching hers, liquid temptation…

       “I’m here now,” he whispered. “T’ink it’s too late t’ make up for de past four years, chere?”

       He would’ve kissed her and she would’ve welcomed him, but just as his lips were about to touch hers she pressed a hand against his chest, held him back lightly, saying, warning: “Roma knows about the Witness.” Carefully calculated words, a sentence she had rehearsed over and over in advance.  They worked.  He paused, an almost imperceptible trace of doubt twitching through him.

       “What’s dat s’pposed t’ mean t’ me,” he asked, feigning indifference.

       “Why d’you think she asked you here?  You’re the Witness, Remy.  The one that ties all these threads t’gether.  She knows, Remy.  She knows…”

       He jerked his head back, uncertainty in his expression as he regarded her.  You’re bluffing, he said with his eyes.  She shook her head, smiled, and closed the gap between them again, nestling her head into his shoulder.  She could feel the doubt, the suspicion emanating from him in waves.  An odd sense of triumph coursed through her, triumph mixed with bitterness.  She hadn’t wanted to do this.  But it was the only way to make him suffer the way she had.  She tilted her head slightly, gazed up at him through smoky green eyes, said in that honey accent: “Y’still wanna make up for the past four years, Cajun?”

       His eyes narrowed as he wavered between distrust and desire.  He knew she was playing him and she knew she’d taken him off guard.  It gave her a strange kind of satisfaction to know she’d pre-empted him, that her seduction had been replaced with his own.

       “Ahem.”

       Roma was standing behind them, her blue eyes calm, apologetic.  Neither were certain when she had entered, nor how much she had heard.  Rogue pushed herself away from him, a trace of a smile on her lips as she stepped away, feeling the tension radiating from him, knowing he was impatient to hold her close, to retrace the marks he’d so lovingly placed upon her body all those years ago.  Now she had him right where she wanted him.  Her revenge was almost complete.

       “Forgive me,” Roma spoke apologetically, “I had not wanted to intrude.” She turned to Remy, smiled in a rather matronly manner. “It has been too long, my friend,” she welcomed him warmly.

       “Not long at all, by your standards,” he remarked wryly, his guileful charm returned.

       “True,” she replied with the cryptic smile only an immortal could possess, “but one does like to play the games you mortals so often indulge in, at least once in a while.”

       “Y’wanted t’ speak t’ us about somet’ing important,” Remy began casually, too casually.

       “I would not have summoned you, if it was not important,” Roma replied dryly. “As it is, I would have had others attend, if not for the urgency of the matter.  But it is of no moment – you are the only person whose presence is required under the circumstances.” She paused, glanced at Rogue. “And Rogue, who has a peculiar insight into these affairs.”

       “Destiny’s prophecies,” Remy said softly, knowingly.

       “Yes,” Roma replied. “The moment Rogue imprinted her foster-mother she alone inherited visions of a future not even I can glimpse.  As Omniversal Guardian, it is my duty to bring together the threads that lead to the most beneficial outcome, and thus to weave them into the tapestry I have created.  That of Fate, and of the ultimate purpose.”

       “Ultimate purpose, huh?” he retorted sardonically. “And who exactly would dis future be most beneficial to, Y’Majesty?  Baseline humans?  Mutants?  Yourself?”

       Roma regarded him placidly, eyes unblinking, owl-like.

       “The end purpose I strive for is only that which is most advantageous to the Omniverse as a whole.”

       “Right,” Remy nodded sarcastically, popping a cigarette into his mouth and flicking at an antique gold lighter. “Dat’s one I’ve heard a million times b’fore from de likes of you.  Sorry, but helpin’ out immortal puppet-masters t’ pull people’s strings ain’t really my scene.”

       “Maybe Fate leaves you little choice in the matter,” Roma suggested archly.

       “Heh.  Dat’s a crock.” The cigarette finally lit. “Fate ain’t a one-way track, Roma, we all know dat.  I make my decision, Fate rewrites itself around it.”

       “Unless, of course, your decision creates a fatal paradox.”

       Remy’s eyes flashed dangerously. “Look, Y’Majesty, I don’t know what I’ve got t’ do wit’ any of dis, but you can’t force me t’ do nothin’ I don’t want t’ do.  Besides, I can see why you’d be needin’ Rogue’s help in all dis, but mine –”

       “You, by reason of your powers, are able to breach the Timestream,” she interrupted him calmly. “And thus you are able to navigate all timelines of the Omniverse without obstacle or censure.” She halted, cast a glance toward the crystal chandelier in the centre of the hall, within which the life force of each world was contained. “Each timeline, Remy, is a thread in the tapestry called Fate.  What if I told you that you were able to hold all those threads in your hands?”

       He said nothing, his mouth suddenly hard.  Ash dropped from the cigarette between his fingers, fell unheeded to the floor.

       “The Diaries, as you all know, predict the existence of a timeline that is essential and intrinsic to the survival of all the others,” Roma continued softly, turning back towards them. “It is one that is purported to contain the end purpose to the entire Omniverse as a whole.  Such a matter, my friends, is not to be taken lightly.  As Guardian of the Omniverse, it is my duty to protect the interests of the Omniverse – and thus, it is my duty to preserve and protect this one timeline that has been singled out so specifically by Destiny herself.”

       “And exactly which timeline would dat be?” Remy spoke up, his eyes still carefully avoiding contact with Rogue’s.

       “Ah.” Roma stood, walked the few paces to her crystal chandelier, and pointed out one of the translucent jewels amongst the great cluster of many. “It is, I believe, this one.”

       “All look de same t’ me,” Gambit muttered sarcastically, one corner of his mouth cocked upward.  Roma turned to him with a pale smile.

       “It is the timeline you call 616,” she informed him dryly.

       “616?” His eyebrows twitched but he did not seem surprised. “Out of all dese threads o’ yours, de all-important strand is one so backward an’ insignificant?”

       Roma raised an elegantly shaped ebony eyebrow.

       “Does it surprise you so?”

       Remy sniffed, half smiled. “I meant no disrespect, Y’ Majesty.  S’jus’ dat 616 bein’ de golden thread s’like a donkey all dressed up like a horse.  Here we’ve all reached de full extent of our powers, but our counterparts in 616… they’ve barely reached even a fraction of their potential.”

       “And does that make them unworthy of our attention?” she asked him directly.  He pouted, shrugged.  Roma gave a small smile, continued: “Consider this, my friend.  A few years ago this timeline was almost destroyed by the actions of one David Haller, the son of that world’s Charles Xavier.  Xavier’s death caused a massive rupture in the fabric of Time and Space, shunting the 616 timeline off course and creating a new timeline, a so-called Age of Apocalypse.  By rights, 616 should have ended there and then.  Yet the Bishop of that universe was able to save it, and – through the aid of the M’Krann crystal – restore it to its former existence.” She paused, letting the words linger in the air between them a moment. “This is but one example of the instinct for self-preservation this timeline and its inhabitants display,” she concluded. “I have come to believe very strongly that this is the timeline Irene Adler spoke of.”

       There was a deep quiet.  Remy dropped the cigarette, stamped it out.

       “So what d’you want me t’ do ‘bout it?” he asked bluntly. “Recon?  Y’ want me t’ spy on dis 616, bring back information?”

       Roma glanced momentarily at Rogue, who so far had remained silent.  There was a watchful look on her face, a tremulous expectancy.  Roma frowned, looked back to Remy.

       “There is one passage that refers to the 616 timeline – one that has interested and perplexed me greatly.” She turned aside and began to recite the words gently, almost reverently:

       ‘…And in Time,

       The key in lock is turned;

       The Witness shall beget,

       An error to end all errors.’

       She swivelled, casting him an imperious glance from clear blue eyes. “There is one word that intrigues me here – ‘witness’.”

       Rogue stirred, almost involuntarily.  For the first time since Roma had entered, Remy cast her a quick glance as though waiting for her to say something – but she remained silent.

       “Witness,” he finally echoed, his tone mirthless. “Y’mean me.” It was a statement, not a question.  Roma nodded.

       “Let us be frank,” she began gravely. “I have already told you, Remy LeBeau, that should you so wish, you alone have the power to infiltrate all the timelines that comprise the Omniverse.  As you rightly surmise, 616 is the golden thread.  But there are also a countless number of different threads, alternate timelines that are connected to 616 and that are critical to its survival.  And I need somebody to be in all these worlds at the same time.”

       For a moment Remy looked rattled; then he laughed.

       “Sorry, y’Majesty, but I t’ink you have de wrong Witness.” He sobered quickly, his voice dropping a notch. “Sure, I can manipulate time enough to slip me through into one timeline at a time, but more den one at once –”

       “Remy,” Roma cut in gently, “there is no need for this.  I know the truth.”

       All at once the mask slipped from his face; he exhaled a sharp breath through his teeth, sending a searing glance in Rogue’s direction.  She said nothing, did not even meet his gaze, but her cheeks were flushed, her eyes bright.

       “What truth?” he finally asked quietly, his face haggard as his eyes shifted back to Roma.

       “That you alone have the power to break the bonds of the Timestream, to be everywhere all at once.” She paused, seeing the tautness of his jaw, the fire in his eyes.  He knew the truth all along, she thought, and yet he kept it from me… “In the Diaries, Destiny spoke of an error in Time,” she continued softly, “one to end all errors – that is, one to end all the errors within other timelines.  Already you possess the ability to breach the Timestream by tapping into the kinetic flow of time and space, allowing access into any universe you so choose.  But you’ve always had the potential to further break that limit, a limit even Destiny herself couldn’t break – not physically anyhow.  It’s the ability to remake Time, to remake yourself inside it…by controlling the kinetic energy from the centrepoint of both Time and Space.” She paused, lowered her voice. “There have been many versions of you that have sought to break that boundary – some have succeeded, but not without terrible cost.  Only you are destined to succeed where others have not, to extricate yourself from Fate itself.” She half smiled at him. “The Witness – an error inside Time – an error because he can exist at all points within Time itself.  A temporal anomaly.  A true time traveller.”

       At the words Remy clenched his mouth shut and looked over at Rogue, his glance piercing, haunted.  Still she refused to meet his gaze.  Her expression was placid, almost vacant, but her breast was heaving, the pulse of her heart thudding against the wall of her chest.

       “Gambit,” Roma began gently, sensing both his hurt and confusion. “If you knew the truth for all this time, why did you keep a thing of such importance from me?”

       “Why?” There was a faintly sardonic smile of self-mockery on his lips. “Y’ ever t’ink, Roma, dat dis Cajun don’t want t’ be a part of de Diaries’ crazy games no more?” He looked over at her, the flames in his crimson eyes burning. “What you an’ Destiny are proposin’ is dat I become Time.  Well, jus’ maybe a mere mortal like me wants t’ keep his sorry excuse for a life, b’cause he likes it just de way it is.”

       Roma pursed her lips.  His reply surprised her little.  Often she had found it extraordinary that humans should want to keep holding onto a life comprised of so many tawdry, fleeting pleasures, and such fragile, trivial memories.  But that was the way of mortals, and Roma could not begrudge them that.

       “You are right,” she finally admitted in a low voice. “I cannot force you to make a choice you do not wish to commit to.  Fate is malleable, and with or without you, the threads continue, whether bound together or not.  But I ask this of you because…I truly believe that it is for the best.” She reached out a hand, touched his shoulder comfortingly. “It is your choice to make, my friend.” she spoke softly. “I ask nothing of you that you do not wish to do.”

       She stepped past him and moved towards the door, then stopped and half-turned.

       “There are other things I must attend to now, but in the meantime, I ask only that you think on this matter.  When you have made your decision,” and she paused, looking briefly towards Rogue, “please let me know.”

       She slipped out, silent as quicksilver.  Rogue brushed past him to follow her, but before she could leave he gripped onto her wrist, jerking her back violently to face him.

       “You told her…!” he seethed under his breath, his eyes glinting.

       “Ah couldn’t conceal it from her much longer,” she replied coolly.

       Bullshit!” he raged at her, finally losing his temper. “If I know anyt’ing about you, Rogue, you did it t’ hurt me!”

       She stood straighter, met his gaze with calm determination. “Maybe Ah did it b’cause this time Ah want you outta mah life for good.”

       That got his attention.  His hands snapped round her upper arms like talons and he shook her violently, his face livid with rage, crimson flames leaping from his eyes.

       “I don’t believe you!” he spat. “Dis is one o’ your crazy schemes at revenge, your fucked up way o’ payin’ me back!”

       “Yah think?” she hissed back, her own temper flaring. “Now why on earth would Ah be wantin’ payback, Remy LeBeau?”

       He blinked, his grip loosening. “Goddammit, Rogue, d’you hate me so much?” he questioned her, despair edging into his voice.

       “Ah don’t know,” she replied honestly. His fingers were sharp through her sleeves, digging into her flesh, the warmth of each digit seeping into her body.  It was almost more than she could bear. “Have you ever loved me enough t’ stay?”

       “Y’know I love you,” he growled.

       At the words tears glazed her eyes and she blinked them away fiercely, desperate to hold them back. “It ain’t enough anymore!” she rejoined in sudden anguish. “Those four years you were away, Ah finally figured it out, Remy.  Y’all want t’ be free, t’ go where you wanna go, t’ do what you wanna do with whoever you wanna do it with.  Ah was never anythin’ t’ you except a quick fix!”

       “Dat ain’t true!” he roared.

       “Ain’t it?  Why, Remy?  Give me a reason why you want meh back, tell me it ain’t because Ah’m just another whore to yah!  C’mon Remy!  Fight for me with every last inch of the body an’ heart an’ soul that you have, tell me why Ah should believe that this is for real!”

       For a wild moment she thought he would strike her, and half of her wanted it, half of her wanted to feel the physicality of the rage and the passion they felt for one another.  But then the fury fell from his face; his fingers slackened and he let go of her.  She stumbled away from him, trembling, clutching her arms about her, feeling the imprint of his hands soak into her skin.  She knew he wouldn’t fight for her.  It was too much for him.  It always had been.  Almost instinctively he reached for her again, wanting to hold her in his arms, to comfort her.  But she flinched away from him and he stopped, his arms hanging loose by his sides.

       The silence hung over them, thick, impenetrable.  She turned away from him, eyes swimming.

       “I did look for you,” his voice broke into the quiet. “But you weren’t where you was s’pposed t’ be.  Jus’ an empty, dusty house, all cold and hollow-like… seemed you hadn’t been there in years.  Thought it was our latest run o’ hide an’ seek.” He gave a short, mirthless laugh, ran a hand through his hair. “I don’ blame you.  You’re right – I used you.  I never meant to, but you were just always there and I…” He sucked in a breath, exhaled. “What you told Roma… It was our secret, Rogue.”

       She closed her eyes, shook her head. “There can’t be any secrets anymore.”

       He caught the gravity of her tone, the meaning behind her veiled words.  His dark eyes narrowed. “What have you seen?” he asked in a low voice.

       She was tired.  So tired.  She wanted to sleep, to dream, to pretend that she was the only woman he’d ever want, that he wouldn’t be afraid to want her and just her.

       “Nothin’,” she said at last, her voice small. “Just the same as Ah always saw for us…nothin’.”

       She moved to leave the room, but as she brushed past him he caught her left hand and pulled her back, mimicking the way she’d reached for him when he’d left her that night four years ago.  He found it – the old, scuffed gold band on her ring finger, battered and worn from all the nights she’d spent slipping it on and off, wondering if she shouldn’t just throw it away forever.

       “Don’t go,” he begged softly.

       Too late.

       She snatched her hand back roughly.

       Turning, she left him the way he’d left her four years before.


*     *     *     *     *

       He’d proposed to her on a rainy day ten years earlier, back in her hometown of Caldecott County, having chased her halfway across the world and back, only to find her closer to home than he’d ever imagined.

       For two weeks he’d encroached upon her hospitality, giving no reason for his continued presence in her makeshift home other than bursts of tongue-tied bemusement which led her to suspect that this time, maybe – just maybe – he really would be staying for good.

       One morning she’d taken him out for a walk by the Mississippi, winding their way up its muddy banks to watch the trawlers steaming by lazily under a fevered red sun.  Over the horizon, beyond the wooded hills that were gathered on the furthest banks of the river, thunder had begun to roll down over the plains, as if that ponderous sun had somehow buckled under the weight of its own heat.  In a matter of seconds the storm had swept down the bluffs towards them – they were soaked before they’d even decided they were going to make for the woods.  He’d taken her hand and raced her towards shelter, cursing under his breath as the rain sheeted down on them in thick slats, drenching their clothes, running off their hair and down their backs, making them shiver as the damp found their pores and seeped into their bones. 

       They’d stood under the canopy of some great and ancient oak tree.  Ever since he’d arrived back in her life they’d barely touched one another, too frightened to know where their feelings would take them.  She’d stood with her back to him, fingers on rough bark, shivering.  Like a candle, flickering.  He’d reached out a hand, touched her waist, feeling warm skin through the dampness of her blouse; she’d started, melted.  Touch was their only source of shelter.  He’d pulled her into his embrace, and she hadn’t resisted.  Hearts beating, louder than words.  She’d stared up at him, trying to say something, trying to break the awkwardness of the moment – what she did say, in the end, he’d never remember.  He’d only remember the way she looked when she spoke – pallid cheeks, the blush of wet lips, damp and bedraggled cinnamon curls; droplets clinging to the lashes of sea green eyes.  Mermaid skin.  The taste of her mouth, velvet roses…

       He’d remember never wanting anything so badly.

       He’d remember wanting to be the one to pin this butterfly down.

       And suddenly the words had come tumbling out of his mouth, one by one, in every which way he’d posed them in all his wildest dreams, in all his most terrifying nightmares.

       Temporary, blinding insanity.  They both knew it.

       She’d shuddered from something more than just cold, and said ‘yes’.

      

       They’d signed the contract a few weeks later in a small, spontaneous ceremony with neither friends nor witnesses; the deal made, the bond sealed, no blueprint drawn, no turning back.  No madness, no compulsion of his had ever lasted this long; yet they’d both known instinctively that, as with all his whims, it would not last.

       He’d moved into her makeshift house; and then, inevitably, her house became a little less makeshift.  Clutter accumulated, tactile, nostalgic things – photographs, records, books, letters, nick-nacks, bills – the relics of married life settled like so much dust.  Two years passed and they became mired in each other, in their own closeness, in all the idle minutes spent together.  Almost unconsciously he began to drift away again, for days on end, just like he always had done back in the day.  She’d stayed at home, pottering round a forlorn and empty house as if the sound of her footsteps could make up for his absence, for the scuff of his boots on the doormat, for the sound of his laugh, for the song he would hum while cooking breakfast.  Waiting, wondering, dreading.  Afraid.  Afraid of the same thing he was afraid of.  That if they stayed together forever, that if they became the thing they’d sought so long to be, they’d lose that special something they had, the thing that kept them needing, wanting, loving, the thing that stopped their passion from withering in on them and dying.

      

      One morning she’d woken up to the pinkish-hued light that came with his energy signature, a sight she hadn’t seen for many years, not since their days with the X-Men.  He was sitting at the end of the bed, his back to her, scrutinising a charged playing card in his right hand.

       “Remy?” she’d said, sitting up and rubbing her bleary eyes.  He didn’t turn to her, didn’t move at all.

       “I can do it,” was all he said. “I know exactly how t’ do it.  I can become everythin’ Destiny prophesied I would be.”

       She’d known then.  From that very moment she’d known how it would end.  Out of fear of losing him she’d nurtured her own powers as he nurtured his, thinking that she would be able to watch him, steer him towards a path where he would remain always by her side.  But the proliferation of possible futures was too great, too jumbled, too confused – all she could see was the thing he could – would – become, the thing she was powerless to stop.  With every step he took towards reaching the ultimate potential of his powers; with every step that took him further away from her, she learned to overcome the obstacles that had prevented her from developing her own powers of foresight, the thing she had stolen unwillingly from her foster-mother, Destiny.  Her proficiency grew to such a point that she outstripped her mother, that she was able to look into all points in time, past, present, future – a million possibilities became the instruments of all her whims.  The door to Fate finally opened up to her on a vast and incomprehensible sea of change that she alone could shape if she so wished.

       But by the time she had unlocked that door, and passed through onto the other side… By the time she had turned around to beckon him through to follow her… By that time all that stood where he had been was an empty space.

       By that time, she’d lost him, and he’d already gone, never to return the same again.

      

       She knew what he did while he was away.

       She bore it because infidelity was the only way he could consciously remind himself why he loved her, because it made him long for the taste of her, for the comfort she gave him.  Whenever he had come back from one of his time-jaunts, she had welcomed him back to their home as she always had, ever the faithful, patient wife – though in truth, while she feared he might not come back, his eventual return would always be a gnawing source of consternation to her.  What she feared was that he would come to despise her for being the only constant in his ever-changing and eventful life.

       But every time he had come back, it had been like meeting again for the first time; for a month, or two, or three – or maybe even four or five or six if she was lucky – they’d live together in perfect bliss, their passion revived by their separation; they’d feel as giddy as the moment they’d first laid eyes upon one another, the moment when they had collided in that incandescent starburst and first fallen in love.

       And then that hush would begin to grow between them, that nagging doubt neither could bring themselves to voice.  Their fear settled between them like an invisible barrier; the space in their bed grew wider.  The monotony of their everyday lives and the routine of their lovemaking both frightened and bewildered them.  That was when he would tell her he was leaving, that he still loved her, and that he’d be back soon.

       Only this time he’d been gone four years.  And this time she’d waited too long – stale, unloved, untouched, alone.

       An empty shell, a husk.

       She hated him.

       She loved him more madly than she’d ever done before.

*     *     *     *     *


       Rogue stood in her room, viewing herself in front of one of her many mirrors, absently twisting her wedding ring back and forth round her finger.  She knew she had a choice to make as much as Remy had.  If she chose, she could hold him back, she could keep him with her – she was the only person that had that power.  It would be utter selfishness.  But he would remain hers – until the next time he went away again.

       But he would be hers…

       She stood, waiting, waiting for the inevitable.  Much as she loathed using her powers, from the very beginning they had been intrinsically tied to him, and she always sought him out more from habit than comfort.  She knew he was coming.  It was the only way they could possibly end this.

       She did not move when he finally stepped inside.  She merely gazed at his reflection.  She’d spent the past four years viewing him from behind smoke and mirrors.  It seemed somehow easier to see him that way.

       “Ah’m sorry,” she broke softly into the silence.

       “Me too,” he answered quietly, shutting the door behind him.

       She made no reply.  He was being honest with her, and that was more than she could have asked for.  His reflection moved a step closer to her, the sinuous, cajoling movements of his body sending signals stronger than words out to her.  He stopped, regarding her from behind those soft, beguiling eyes.  Everything about him was still unwitting, unconscious seduction.

       “So,” he continued conversationally, looking around. “Y’ left our home…set up here?”

       “Ah left mah home,” she corrected him blandly, watching her face form the words, disembodied, in the mirror. “You seemed to come and go when y’pleased.  Roma invited me to stay here, but Ah waited the year anyhow.  When you didn’t show up… Ah decided to take her up on her offer.”

       He nodded briefly, glanced at the carefully ordered chaos of her room, the specimens in her museum. “You left all our things behind,” he noted somewhat reproachfully.

       “Ah wanted to forget you,” she replied bluntly.  Her bottom lip trembled slightly in the mirror as she said it.  She knew it was a lie.  After all, all these things around her – the roses, the cards, the mirrors, the wind chime… even though he’d never touched a single one of them, she’d hoarded them because they reminded her of him.  Or of what he was not.  She wasn’t certain anymore.

       He, however, made no reply to her statement, casually strolling around the room, inquisitive as a stranger in a quaint old town.  She watched his reflection, saw him step under the wind chime and regard it with grave appraisal.  Then: “I recognise dis,” he said.  He touched one of the silver cylinders delicately, sending it spiralling.  Its song tinkled into life, that familiar old melody, bringing sudden tears to her eyes.  He knew.  He knew her guilty secret.  The way she watched him, the way she watched them together in all her dreams, trying desperately to work out why, when every thread of the future bound them so tightly together, they could never get it right.  He knew because he’d been watching them too, because all these things she had gathered around her, keepsakes of their alternate lives – they belonged to him too.  They were his symbols as much as her own.

       Rogue’s fingers clung tightly to the edge of the dressing table.  She watched him turn towards her reflection, his lips say the words:

       “You’ve been watchin’ dem too.”

       She swallowed, looked away.  Her throat was dry.  All this time apart… believing it impossible to be together… and all the while they had been playing voyeur to one another, in the same places and the same times, just so far apart…

       “Why?” she asked.  He took another tentative step towards her, stopped.

       “Wanted t’ find out find about you, chere,” he answered after a moment. “About me.  About us.  Whether there’s somethin’ more, or somethin’ less, or nothin’ at all.  And whether it really matters anyway.” She said nothing.  He continued. “S’like replayin’ imperfect recollections of you,” he mused, a corner of his lip curling, faintly nostalgic. “At first, I’d study dem.  Dere walk.  Dere smile.  De flicker of an eyelid, de twitch of a finger… De way their lips would wrap round de rim of a cafe au lait…” His voice was low, thick with desire and she ached to hear it. “Sometimes I used t’ watch dem ‘til I thought I was goin’ crazy,” he half-whispered. “Had t’ remind myself dey wasn’t you.  Dat you got somethin’ dey don’t.  Somet’ing dat makes you unique.  A part of myself.  A part of my history.”

       Their history.  All the pain and the hurting, the trials that were never finished, that they could never overcome wherever or whenever they happened to be.  All the knowledge accumulated throughout those long years, the secrets they were afraid to unravel for fear that it would kill their love.  She finally broke free of the mirror, turning towards the window with a small, rueful laugh.

       “Funny.  Ah thought our history was what made me least desirable t’ you.”

       She peeled back the curtain with one hand, looked out.  Down below the Timestream danced, sending whirling iridescent rainbow colours upward and outward, bathing her face in its dappled light.  This was a sight she had spent so many long, lonely hours torturing herself with ever since she had arrived here in Roma’s secret place, knowing he was somewhere near yet agonisingly far away.

       “That is what you’ll become, Remy,” she told him with a note of finality, the limpid glow of the Timestream replaying itself twice in her clouded eyes.  He moved to stand beside her, his gaze following her own.  The warmth, the proximity of his body filled the emptiness inside her, made her ache for the comfort of his arms once more.

       “It’s beautiful,” he said, but his eyes were on her.

       “It’s lonely and cold and indifferent,” she corrected him softly. “Is that how you want t’ be?”

       Her voice wavered and she hated herself for it.  She desperately wanted to communicate the terrible truth to him, the truth that she could not escape from and that she wanted to negate to the very core of her being.  That although the future was comprised of so many paths and so many possibilities, at the centre of its web lay only one purpose and one conclusion, the conclusion that would end them both forever.  He was the Witness.  Yet how could she confess to him that that was the real reason why, whenever she had searched for a future them, all she had seen was a blackness, a nothingness, a void?

       The warmth of his breath touched her neck, tearing her reverie to pieces.  Had he really stepped so close?

       “You know what I want,” he answered huskily.

       Her eyelids fluttered, closed.

       “No.” The word came as light as a feather. “You want to be free.  And the Witness is freedom.”

       Closer.

       “Is dat it?  You afraid dat one day I’ll stop wantin’ you enough t’ come back?”

       Yes – that was what she feared.  Familiarity breeds contempt; that’s what she wanted to say.  She was tired of this, of the pull they had on each other, like satellites in orbit… Collide, clash, repel; collide, clash, repel…  Even now they were tugging at one another, reeling one another in without looks – it was always the way, subtle as the tap-tap-tapping of morse-code, as a velvet hand climbing up her spine, knot by knot, settling at the base of her neck, tingling, electric… No words, such promise…

       No – his hand was there, really there, on her back, in a touch so agonisingly familiar she burned.  Clash.  His breath on her ear, his fingers caressing the nape of her neck, sliding through soft hair, gentle, so gentle… cradling her head, his eyes on her lips, willing her to look at him, to kiss him… 

       Only three centimetres and one night between them, and she wanted it so bad…

       She turned with sudden greed, finding his mouth without even having to look anymore, her arms coming up to wind about his shoulders, to hold him close.  A soft, involuntary moan escaped her as his tongue touched hers.  Despite all the pain he had caused her, all the rage she felt for him, she pressed against him, her hands twisting in his hair, pulling him closer.  And he was responding, his arms wrapping round her, desperate, fierce, crushing her hips against his, devouring her mouth, matching her violence with his own.

       She wanted to kill him.  She wanted to end this game of torture they played; she wanted to stab him in the place where he’d so often stabbed her, she wanted to slide her fingers over his skin and feel the warmth of his blood on her hands, to taste it in her mouth – it was the only way she could own him, make him hers.  She wanted to end it, for it all to be over.  She wanted to hate him with just as much passion as she loved him.

       She couldn’t.

       She knew they were both too weak to stop playing this game, that they needed one another too much.  And yet her foresight had told her that in all the futures she’d ever seen, this game had to end tonight.  Tonight, after four years of loneliness, alone and without him, she would have to let him go for good.

       They shouldn’t have started this.

       It shouldn’t even have begun all those years ago, in the rain, under that old oak tree.

       She tore away from his kiss, breathless, angry, tasting blood in her mouth yet too weak to push him away.  It was beginning, she could feel it beginning, history repeating itself, and she didn’t want it anymore, she couldn’t want it anymore… But she needed him…

       He reached for her again, his lips blazing a trail over her throat, hungry hands plucking the hem of her shirt and finding bare skin. “I want you…” he murmured, pleaded.

       “We mustn’t do this,” she insisted, her voice no more than a notch above a whisper.  He ignored her, his hands moving over her body, drawing a whimper from her mouth and giving her away; he lowered his head, grazed his breath against her ear, whispered knowingly; “…You want me too.”

       She did and she didn’t, but he was already unclothing her, with such savage impatience that she clung to him, unable to fight, frightened at the gravity of this moment, their synthesis.  Fate and time, two sides of the same coin, two ends of the same equation, the finest balance, something meant to be.  Yes.  This was exactly how they were supposed to end.

       “Ah’m just afraid,” she spoke brokenly, hoarsely, her face buried in his shoulder, her fingers in his hair, “that if we don’t stop now, Ah’ll never be able to let you go again.”

       His hand touched her face, tilting her chin, those beautiful eyes finding hers, imparting an answer so simple, so terrifying that she shuddered to hear it.

       “Then don’t,” he murmured, his mouth folding over hers once more, binding all questions, all protestations.  This time there was no hesitation.  The tempest had begun, the beginning of his homecoming ritual, the rites for which they could find no other substitute, the penance for all the terrible hunger they had inflicted upon one another.

*


       Later.

       The storm ended, leaving only an aching aftermath – silence; the air thick, raw with the memory of touch, of need, of taste, of flesh.  They’d made love every which way either of them could possibly imagine, desperate, graceless, so much to make up for, so little time.  And now there was nothing left.  Nothing, except for the reason they were here – their choice.

       Don’t make me stop, Rogue…I want t’ be here inside of you…a part of you, for as long as I can…

       Over and over.  Then over; finished.

       She’d felt like a dulled blade.  No more edge.

       It was what he always did to her.

      

       From the darkness, light slid across a silver sliver of the motionless wind chime, a thin pillar of liquid moonlight casting mottled spots of prismatic colour across the room.  Rogue lay on her back, watching the light of the Timestream play on the ceiling, on the formless walls swathed in dark shadow.  She knew what she had to do; she didn’t want to do it.  But the threads of so many futures clung so tenuously to this moment, and she knew… she knew…

       Honest goodbyes only work once or twice…They work once or twice then the rest must be lies…

      The words licked at the edge of her consciousness, the emptiness he’d eaten up and replaced with himself.  In and out, in and out, constant as the tide.

       Beside her, Remy lay on his side watching her, toying with a curl of her auburn hair, studying the way the pearly light played upon the coppery strands, waiting for her to say something.  What to say?  Rogue closed her eyes, rubbing slow, soft circles over her belly, feeling his warmth still inside her, the seed now planted, a skein, a thread of the future now set in motion.  There it was – finished.  She had to set him free.

       The rest must be lies…

       She opened her eyes, drew in a quivering breath. “Ah think Ah can let you go now,” she announced quietly.

       “Can you?” he asked, bringing the lock of hair to his face, flicking it thoughtfully against the tip of his nose.  She dropped her hand to her side, hesitating, wishing he had not asked her.

       “Yes,” she answered at last, rolling over into the familiar warmth of his body, reaching out for him with arms and legs. “If it’s what you want t’ do.”

      He cradled her, tender this time, their bodies fitting together with artless perfection.  She closed her eyes, listened to his heartbeat.  She understood now.  He was afraid that someday he would grow to love her so much that he couldn’t bear to love her any longer.  That was why he always ran away from her, why he could never stay.

       But this time there would be no turning back.  And she was tired of hating him.  She was tired of wanting him and loathing him.  He was right – she had intended to hurt him by telling the Roma the truth about his powers.  But she had also known that it was the only way they could stop playing with one another’s hearts.  And deep down, he knew it too.  He knew he should stop hurting her, disappointing her, and leave her once and for all.

       But she knew he could only do it for their sake, for the chance to make a better them.

       She nuzzled against his chest, waiting for his answer, for his choice.

       “Rogue?” he began pensively, his fingers gliding through her hair. “Dis timeline Roma was talkin’ about…”

       “616?”

       “Yah.” He paused as her fingers spread against his chest, rubbing him lightly, fondly.  He took in a breath and closed his eyes, relishing her touch, the pleasure he had so long foregone. “You seen it?” he asked.

       She was silent a long moment, her fingers tracing the contours of his torso, lower, dragging through the fine track of dark hairs over his abdomen, making him shudder. “Yes – Ah’ve seen it,” she finally replied, her tone a slumberous murmur. “A little.”

       He gave a low, appreciative rumble, both at her tender ministrations and in acknowledgement of her words.

       “An’ will we stay t’gether in dis 616 or not?” he continued huskily.

       “Sometimes,” she murmured in return.

       “Like here?”

       “Like here,” she agreed.

       She rolled off him, settling onto her back beside him.  She knew the decision he’d make now.  Taking his hand she pressed it against her naked flesh, letting him explore the soft tract of skin with his fingers to the place where she guided him.  Her belly.  He opened his eyes, swivelling his head round to face her, his dark red eyes inquisitive, but she made no answer to whatever question he would have asked, a question he could not articulate – he didn’t know the thing he felt when he touched her there.

       “Are you goin’ t’ leave then?” she asked him instead.

       He was silent, evaluating her glance, her face, the pressure of her fingers against his palm, the softness of her beneath his touch.  She saw him thinking, hesitating, hurting.  He didn’t want to give the answer they both knew to be inevitable.

       “I don’t know dat I want t’ leave you yet,” he answered at last, carefully, as if he might say the wrong thing.

       “But you will,” she rejoined softly, firmly. “You always do.” She half-smiled, raising his hand and pressing his palm against hers. “Time present and time past, are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past.” She paused in her recital, knotting their fingers together, holding on tight. “Isn’t that what you always told me, whenever you were goin’ t’ leave me again?” A slight, watery curve of the lips. “You’ll still be there, Remy.  Wherever or whenever you go, Ah’ll be watchin’.”

       She kissed his mouth one last time, rolled away.

       “Ah’m goin’ t’ sleep now,” she mumbled, her voice suddenly thick.  A pause; a soft, wavering sigh. “Remy?”

       “Hmm?”

       “When you’ve made your decision… wake me up, won’t you?”

       “All right,” he said.  She let out a breath, a long, fluttering exhalation, bird-like, as if she had laid down a burden, as if no more weight rested upon her, nor ever would again.  Resignation.  He shifted up to spoon against her, folding his arms about her waist, planting the lightest of kisses against her shoulder blade.

       “Anna Marie?” he whispered.  She stirred. “Je t’aime.”

      

       Rogue squeezed his hand once, before she closed her eyes and began to dream once more.

*     *     *     *     *


[1] No, I’m not just making this up.  In Gambit #24 (1999 series), an alternate version of Gambit, New Sun, was able to travel in time and into different timelines by using his biokinetic powers.  And for more about the weird trans-temporal powers of the Witness, see Gambit & Bishop: Sons of the Atom #2-3.

 

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