Disclaimer: I would just like to know, how many of you are actually reading this disclaimer? C'mon, be honest now...

A/N: It's nice to see that the site's up and running properly again. Sad thing is, a few of the reviews I received didn't get through to the Review Board. But for those who sent them, I still got a copy via email so you don't get to weasel out of hearing my annoying rants. ; ) And WHOO-HOO! We passed the 200-mark! Don't worry, I'll spare you all the horror of seeing me do the happy dance again. But know that mentally, I'm doing the dance! ; )

~ TrinityC, Lucky439, Mystical Sand, heartstar, prettyputty, T., Sakura Scout, Rogue Worrior Spirit, Wishful Thinking, Cris-X, Susannah De Silva, Lisa, Kiki Lee, Hedwig Trelawney, katjen, girlonthem00n, nasico, paranoiachick, Leina, -- Just a quick update: the coup of the Microsoft Corporation is right on schedule. Monetary bonuses and really big material rewards should be coming your way in about six months or so. ; )

~ Eileen Blazer -- Holy hand grenades? Not a bad idea... But then, who's going to clean up the mess once we blow the plot bunnies into the next hemisphere? That's not exactly something I want to volunteer for... "I demand to know what's happened to Marie." I demanded the same thing out of the plot bunnies and look where that's gotten me...

~ Panther Nesmith -- Hidden dragon? Did the bunnies bring him in? They did, didn't they? That would be so like them...

~ GrinningContrivance -- Okay, does the fact that I actually heard violin music playing in the background mean something? Has my insanity gone and mutated itself again?

~ Alwaysright -- What? I'm not looking at you... *continues to stare in open curiosity* I've never watched a single episode of General Hospital. My mom used to be a Days of Our Lives viewer when I was little, but that only lasted for so long. Though clearly it's left a lasting impression on me. ; )

~ Mag Carter -- Could you 'ooh' from the left and then 'awe' from the right? You know, like stereo? 'Cause if you can do that, then that's worth a cool million right there... : )

~ Christy S -- "Most people depict Rogue's fanfiction father as some twisted and evil man who abused her." Hmm... I fell into that stereotype back in After Midnight, didn't I? : ) ... So I'm assuming your finals are done and you're now on summer vacation, so you don't have any more reason not to update!

~ vagabond -- Very intriguing theories you have there. Unfortunately, that's all I'm gonna say about that. : )

~ Disturbed Courtney -- Wow, your prediction came true... You actually did post Street Livin' before this part. Do you have clairvoyant abilities that you aren't telling us about?

~ Dark Void -- Why is it that everyone is gleefully asking me to hit them and then when I move to oblige their request, they suddenly don't want me to go through with it? I'm seriously beginning to wonder... ; )

~ ishandahalf -- Okay, here we go... 1) This isn't like the possessed cake from last time, is it? 'Cause that one kind of brought me some problems... 2) *sigh* I think the interpretive dance is just like the cheese story... I just shouldn't have asked... ; ) 3) I restock on dignity every once in a while, just to pass as 'normal.' They come in these convenient economical 12-packs, good for the whole year. 4) You know you're right... what proof do they have that that goldfish wasn't suicidal? Those poor kids were wrongly accused! 4) Again with the food! Why is everyone giving me food?! : ) 5) Okay, wait a minute... "a cliffhanger by association"? Now you're just making this stuff up!

~ Warmer Than Fire -- Wow, your first review ever? Well, thanks for picking this fic to give that honor to! : ) And a balloon? Coolness! Is it one of those really big ones with the basket on the bottom and the hot air that makes it float? That way I can use it for an alternate escape route when the bunnies come a-hunting. Bunnies can't fly, can they? ; )

~ Shadow Spirit -- Laughing and crying in one sitting? Is that normal? I don't think so... *gasp!* Maybe you've crossed over to the land of the insane! Whoo-hoo, we nabbed another one, people! ; )

~ Malena -- Well hi, stranger. It's been a while since I've seen you around here. : )

~ kari lebeau -- Two reviews within a week of each other? I'm sorry... has the insanity gotten to you, too? It pops up when you least expect it. ; )

~ Goddess Evie -- 1) *gasp!* A lost review! Killed before its prime! The tragedy of it all! *sniff, sniff* 2) I hear you about the "Marie" thing. I addressed that issue in a response to Disturbed Courtney back in Chapter 4, if you wanted to check that out. (Haha, can you tell I'm just too lazy to type it all over again? ; ) 3) Wait a minute, WHAT?! I had a fanfiction baby and I didn't know about it?! How the heck did that happen? More importantly, who's the father? ; ) 4) You're going to get rid of the plot bunnies? Wow. Nobody's ever offered to do that before! I don't actually have to eat the bunny stew, do I?... umm... But who will think up all the insane insanity once the bunnies are gone? I mean, half the time my muse is on vacation so they usually compensate for that... 5) I'm glad to hear that you refused the snot... ; )

~ Neoen -- Wow, another two-review reviewer! (Did that make sense? It sounded like it didn't make sense. 'Cause if it did make sense, I could always go back and change it so that it doesn't. : )

~ this is sex -- Nothing to comment on really, but DAMN, do you ever have a cool penname! ; )

~ cooldotgirl -- *feigns innocence* I'm sorry... no, I didn't notice those 8 wonderful reviews that pushed the review count up so much higher... Maybe if you did it again it would catch my attention... ; ) Just kidding. Thanks so much for taking the time to do that!

~ Marvel -- *chuckle* No, the site didn't eat your review... well, not completely anyway. I got a copy of it through email so it wasn't lost.

~ Makura Koneko -- Ooh, a fledgling Rogue and Remy fan! How nice! I hope you soon become a no-hope-of-ever-seeing-the-light-of-day, diehard fan like the rest of us! ; )

~ Marie -- Hmm... maybe I should consult with Goddess Evie about making monkey pie to go with her bunny stew... ; ) If I'm a dealer, then I could be making money off of this! Maybe I should withhold all succeeding fics until the checks clear... : )

Make It to the River

It was raining.

It had been for a few hours now, yet he didn't seem inclined to rush out and seek shelter. The downfall was far from being heavy, but it fell steadily onto his hair and shoulders without apology or pause. The wind picked up, bringing with it the scent of newly scrubbed earth. It was strange how everything seemed fresher when it rained, how everything smelled cleaner, even though the falling water made puddle after puddle of mud that clung to his boots with a viscosity that any leech would envy.

He felt the hefty weight of his water-soaked jacket pressing down on his body, just as he felt the same weight pressing down on his heart. Pitching one leg over the seat of his bike, he climbed off and settled the vehicle onto its kickstand. The Harley looked ready to tip over, what with the load secured at the bike's rear, but it was sturdy enough to hold. Not bothering to pocket his keys, he turned up his collar and made his way up the steps.

The first thing that hit him when he entered was the bright florescent lighting, blinding compared to the darkness outside, followed by the cheery warmth of the diner's interior. Not many patrons were there that night -- the rain having kept the rest safe and dry in their homes -- but a few had braved the elements and were scattered sporadically amongst the tables.

Without hesitation or concern for the glances thrown in his direction, he strode purposefully towards the kitchen in the back.

"Remy!" Margaret called out when she caught sight of him. She slipped past a waitress who was pulling ingredients out of the refrigerator. "Good Lord, boy, you're soakin' wet! What're you doin' stayin' outside in weather like this?"

He offered her a small smile. "Haven't you heard o' water conservation, Maggie? I'm doin' Mother Nature a favor by takin' my showers wit' her."

"Flirtin' with death is more like it," she scolded, shooing him out of the kitchen and back into the dining area. With a nod of her head, she led him into the backroom that had once served as living quarters for both he and his mother.

There was an old smell to the room, as if the air was heavy and stale, only now being allowed to intermingle with its fresh, clean counterpart. It'd been a while since Remy had last been there; school and work and Marie had taken up a lot of his time. It hadn't changed much over the years, not that he expected it would. No one had lived in that space after they had moved out nearly a decade before. Both his bed and his mother's bed still stood a few feet apart, with a nightstand in between and a small, old television set positioned against the opposite wall. A large chest of drawers lined the wall to the right, while to their left was the bathroom. And though the door was securely shut, Remy knew that it still boasted that familiar white and blue pattern from his childhood. The walls themselves were bare, having been stripped of what little decoration adorned their surfaces when he and his mother had moved into their own home.

Margaret turned to him after closing the door. "So this is it, huh?" she asked. "This is where it ends?"

There was deep sadness written across her face, and Remy regretted being the cause of that. "Oui. Dis is where it ends."

"Kind of funny, ain't it?" she continued, gesturing around the room with an ironic grin. "This is where you an' your mama started out here in Hazard, an' this is where you're endin'..." She tried to hide the sob that caught in her throat.

Inwardly, Remy wanted to smile at that. Margaret had a reputation for being a hard case, a tough-as-nails, call-'em-like-she-sees-'em kind of a lady. But with him, she was nothing but softness and warmth. He had found a second mother in her, their bond only strengthening more after his own mother's death. To have it all come to this...

He walked over and wrapped her into a tight hug. "I'm gonna miss you de most, Maggie," he whispered gently. "I'm sorry t'leave you like dis, but I jus' can't..."

"It's okay, sweetie," she soothed when he trailed off, rubbing her hands across his back in a motherly gesture. "I know why you're leavin'. I know why you have to go." She broke the embrace and wiped her tears away with the back of her hand. Reaching up, she adjusted the collar of his jacket and then smoothed back his wet hair. "Just wish you'd reconsider an' wait for these rain clouds to clear up." She looked at him sternly. "You take care of yourself, ya hear me? I don't wanna find out that you've been in a hospital or somethin' 'cause ya forgot to stay healthy."

He did smile at that. "Oui, madame."

"An' no stayin' up so late either. Despite what ya like to think, young man, you need your rest too."

"Yes, ma'am."

She peered up at him then, a serious expression gracing her features as she gently cupped her hands against his cheeks and locked gazes with him. "Remy," she said softly. "I'm sorry about..."

He nodded, accepting her sympathy but grateful that she didn't complete her sentence. There were some things that hurt too much to hear out loud.

She sighed and then held him tightly once again, the top of her head barely reaching his shoulder. "You come back to see me every now an' again, all right? No excuses."

"I'll try." He looked down at her and with all sincerity, he murmured, "Merci, Maggie. F'r ev'ryt'in'."

By this time, Margaret wasn't even trying to prevent her tears from falling. She had never really been very good at goodbyes. It seemed like everyone in her life heard the call to move on, while she stubbornly stayed put -- first her husband passing away, then her children migrating to other states, now Remy leaving. Maybe it was time for her to start another chapter in her own life, as well. But then again, to start all over at her age... Maybe it was better to stay where her roots were.

"Now look what you've gone an' made an old woman do. I'm beginnin' to think you're tryin' to make me cry on purpose," she chided good-naturedly.

"How many times I gotta tell you, Maggie? Ya not even close t'bein' old."

"Uh-huh." She slipped her arm through his and guided him toward the door. "C'mon, ya li'l devil, I'll walk you out."

They made their way back through the diner, ignoring the rest of the townsfolk, and didn't stop until they were just out of reach of the cascading raindrops. A small stream slipped through a crack in the gutter overhead, steadily spilling into a deep puddle it had already created in the mud.

Remy turned to Margaret. The older woman's frame was surrounded by the diner's bright lighting, giving her an ethereal appearance. He almost got the impression that she was some sort of deity from the heavens bidding him farewell and good journey on the next leg of his quest.

"Au revoir, Maggie." He bent to kiss the back of her hand, and was not the least bit surprised when she pulled him into yet another tight embrace as he was straightening up again.

"Godspeed, Remy," she whispered emotionally. "The good Lord'll watch over you." She hugged him fiercely for several long moments before finally relenting her hold and taking a small step away from him.

He offered her a weak smile, pulled up his jacket collar and then ventured out again, back under the rain's stinging affection. The Harley was exactly where he'd left it, safe and untouched, save for nature's elements.

"This is Hazard, Remy," Marie's voice came to him in memory. "This town's so safe they even let thieves live here."

After climbing onto the motorcycle and starting the engine, he looked back towards Margaret, who still stood outside the diner, watching him leave. He raised one hand in a final goodbye, and then took off down Main Street.

Five minutes later, he was at the river's edge in the front of town. A few more feet and he would be out of Hazard. All he had to do was cross the bridge and leave. But something made him stop. Something made him turn and take one more look at the only home he'd known since he was seven years old.

He'd once told himself that the reason he had stayed was because of his 'anchors,' because of his mother and his best friend. They were the reason he chose to live in a town that shied away from him like he was diseased. They were the reason he put up with all the discrimination and prejudice that had been thrown in his direction. But he no longer had those reasons. He no longer had the two most important people in his life. He'd wondered just how much time needed to go by before he couldn't take anymore.

A year.

An entire year.

That was how long it had taken. That was how long it had been since Marie's disappearance. A little more than three hundred and sixty-five days had brought them no closer to discovering what had happened to her. The Sheriff and the Deputy had exhausted every potential lead that had come their way, including interrogating and then re-interrogating nearly every member of the community. Both Remy and Donald Robinson had been given particular attention, since they were in the general area where Marie had last been seen. But every turn had nothing new to offer. There was nothing else to be done. Marie's case was soon filed under the 'unsolved mysteries' category.

There had been more than one occasion over the past twelve months when Remy wished they'd simply found her dead, as sick and morbid as that may have sounded. But at least then he would have had some form of closure; he would have learned what had happened to her that night. What he had now was speculation... merely possibilities of what could have happened to Marie. There was nothing definite, nothing concrete -- just his imagination and the vast number of plausible scenarios. On the one hand, she could have been dead; on the other, she could have been kidnapped. There was no way of knowing for sure. Sometimes he felt that the unknown was infinitely crueler than her death would have been.

And so he was leaving. He was finally moving on and putting Hazard behind him. He'd sold his mother's house, packed only the barest of his belongings onto the back of the Harley, and was ready to get on with the rest of his life. He didn't actually know where he would go. Maybe he would just see where the open road would take him. Or maybe he'd ride up to New York, like he'd originally planned to do with Marie. Truth be told, he hadn't really given his final destination much thought. He simply needed to get away from Hazard, to get away from the memories that lay soaking at every turn.

The rain was still coming down, the cold seeping into his skin. He ran a hand through his shoulder-length hair. It'd been a while since he had a haircut. Marie was no longer around to needle him into getting one.

"You look like a rat fresh out o' bed," she chided him one afternoon. "Ah don' know how yoah momma can stand ta look at you."

He had smiled at her then, teasing her back with a jibe about her own two-toned tresses. The argument had ended in a huge pillow fight that had all but cost one of her stuffed animals an arm and a leg.

Reaching into his pocket, he felt for the silver chain that lay within. Technically the necklace was still considered evidence in a police investigation, but Remy felt no qualms about liberating it from the Sheriff's office. He'd originally intended to return it to the Reverend -- as it was a reminder of the man's daughter as well as his late wife -- but he had asked Remy to keep it, "to help him hold onto her spirit" as the young Cajun went on his way.

Saying goodbye to Marie's father had been difficult for Remy. The Reverend seemed like the last link he had to his best friend, and leaving the older man behind felt like he was abandoning Marie herself. He almost didn't want to leave. His memories were at their strongest within the town's borders. But that seemed to be the problem. The memories were a double-edged sword. They brought him back to the happiest moments of his life, but at the same time reminded him of all that he had lost. In the end, the black hole in his heart had won out, and he had to leave before it consumed him entirely.

Remy allowed his gaze to wander down Main Street and over the fields in the back of town, though he couldn't see them clearly through the rain. In his mind's eye he could picture their cove by the river, the same as it had always been. The place where they went to watch the sunset die and dreams come alive.

"What 'bout you, Remy? Don' you have a dream?"

I didn't, chèrie, he thought as he lowered his eyes to the necklace in his palm. Not dat day. Not 'til you taught me how t'do it again. How t'dream about you an' me… an' f'rever.

He closed his fist around the delicate chain and slowly hide it away, back into his pocket. With sad eyes, he memorized the last image he would ever have of Hazard.

"Wish you didn' teach me how t'dream again, Marie," he whispered into the wind. "'Cause it hurts like hell when it doesn't come true."

The sounds of nature drowned out the Harley, as it made its way across the bridge and into the night.

* The End *

Richard Marx

My mother came to Hazard when I was just seven
Even then the folks in town said with prejudiced eyes
That boy's not right
Three years ago when I came to know Mary
First time that someone looked beyond the rumors and the lies
And saw the man inside

We used to walk down by the river
She loved to watch the sun go down
We used to walk along the river
And dream our way out of this town

No one understood what I felt for Mary
No one cared until the night she went out walking alone
And never came home
Man with a badge came knocking next morning
Here was I surrounded by a thousand fingers suddenly
Pointed right at me

I swear I left her by the river
I swear I left her safe and sound
I need to make it to the river
And leave this old Nebraska town

I think about my life gone by
How it's done me wrong
There's no escape for me this time
All of my rescues are gone, long gone

I swear I left her by the river
I swear I left her safe and sound
I need to make it to the river
And leave this old Nebraska town


Now before anyone goes on a killing rampage because of the way this fic ended -- I, btw, have plot bunnies and an armor-clad muse who stand ready to fight, if it comes down to that -- please hear me out. I don't know if anyone has noticed, but every time someone would ask the question, "What happened to Marie?" I would never answer. That's because from the very beginning, when this fic was still an inkling of an idea in my brain, the outcome was always like this. It was never supposed to go any further than this point. This is not, in any way, my attempt to simply jump on the bandwagon of recent fics that have ended in not-so-happily-ever-after's. You can see from Richard Marx's lyrics alone that the song itself is left hanging; they never find out what happened to Mary.

Over the months, the thought of concluding this fic in some other way had briefly crossed my mind, but in the end I'd always decide against it. The best piece of advice I've ever heard about writing is to be honest with the story, and that was what I tried to do here, staying true to the story started by Richard Marx. I have a few ideas about a sequel, and perhaps extending the story even further, but at the moment they're sketchy and vague at best. I'll probably continue with this storyline eventually, but not right now. There are other ideas that I want to develop first.

Just a couple of quick notes that I wanted to point out: 1) Every chapter title used came from the lyrics of the song. And 2) The reason I decided to make Rogue's name Marie in this fic is because in the song the girl's name is Mary. I just thought it was so perfect since Mary is a variant of the French name Marie. Little bit of stupid trivia. ; )

Just an annoying little reminder. The Hit List will be used for any upcoming fanfic that is -- *gasp!* -- written by me. (Get out while you still can!) If you're as insane as the rest of us and would like to join, then by all means leave your email add on the Review Board.

Thanks for reading!
Hope to see you all again when the insanity next pops up... : )