Disclaimer: Characters belong to Marvel and not to me.

Rating: T for Tension. Woot.

Author note: Pappy drabble. Takes place between X-Men #99 and Uncanny X-Men #380. The backstory:- The High Evolutionary has depowered mutants and the X-Men temporarily disband. Mystique gets stuck in one form and is arrested. Rogue poses as a lawyer and tries to get her off the hook. Gambit presumably leaves the Institute to go out gallavanting.

Dedicated to K-Nice, whose awesome fics were the first I ever read.

Gonna miss ya, girl. x

-oOo-


: Danger Room :

She can't remember the last time she felt this freaked out.

Sitting here, gloveless and exposed in a pretty white dress that'd been gathering dust in her wardrobe the past two years.

This isn't the first time she's done this, sat in the Danger Room and run a sim of pretty pointlessness, playing out her earnest little roles wherein nothing could be gained and no resolution could be sought. Like the white dress, this is one of her perverse pleasures, one of her many secret indulgences. Only this time there's a difference, an undeniably dangerous one, and she feels it when she absently moves to scratch her wrist, to tug at the hem of her glove, only to find…nothing there.

She sighs, drops her hand, takes a sip of her pina colada, and looks out over the restaurant terrace. It's nearing sunset; row upon mismatched row of colourful rooftops reach out into the distance in a picturesque display of stereotypical European quaintness. A pair of seagulls fraternise in the sky, dipping and diving in the undercurrent of an unseen breeze. Her heart lurches at the sight. She wants to fly, almost more than anything. So bad that she feels it could displace the churning in her gut, the yearning in her heart. But it's not real; none of it's real. She half smiles to herself and glances at the shadows of the dancers that flit to the softly accented tinkle of a grand piano, like butterflies in the tawny sunlight.

She should've taken them out of the simulation parameters, she thinks absently to herself; she wants to be alone, and even if she knows they aren't real, their presence plays upon her heart and her mood like the strings of a mournful harp. Their languid swaying rubs too close to raw bone.

And she can touch.

No gloves, no barrier.

No barrier to raw bone, her last defence gone. It unnerves her more than the sitting here, more than the waiting and the want and the danger.

"So dis is what de Danger Room's bein' used for dese days," he says behind her. "And here I was t'inkin' it'd be free for some good, honest trainin'."

She half-starts; this is the only surprise she shows at his sudden presence. She's almost used to it by now, the silence of his footfalls, the ghostly emergence from shadows. She glances over her shoulder. He's standing there, leaning on the archway and courting the shadows of the twirling dancers behind him. His dinner jacket hangs crumpled over his shoulder, and despite looking this dishevelled, despite looking like he hasn't even slept the past twenty-four hours, when he smiles at her it still takes her breath away, it still makes her cheeks colour and her eyes dart away.

He has no more power to charm; but then, on her, he's never needed it in the first place.

"Is dis what you usually do at four in de mornin' now, chere?" he asks her conversationally as he pushes himself off the archway and rounds the table to face her. "Run a sim and pretend you're a princess?" He slings his jacket over a chair, draws it out, sits opposite her. "Strip away de powers, strip away all dose layers and is dis de Rogue we get?" He smirks, produces a cigarette seemingly from nowhere, and lights it with a lighter. She wonders why he always insists on this affectation. Lighting a cigarette with a lighter rather than his powers. Always the same lighter too. Antique and gold. Now he doesn't have a choice. He's as powerless as she is.

"Gotta admit, Rogue," he remarks, blowing smoke, "I'm kinda disappointed."

"Ah couldn't sleep," she half whispers; half to herself.

"Neither could I." He grins. She feels it and looks up. Brown eyes. Beautiful. She looks away. Swallowing.

Nothing is said, for a moment. He orders a drink; when it arrives he says: "Aintcha gonna welcome me back den?"

"Ah thought you'd left the Institute," she replies in a rush, right off the tail-end of his sentence, and he looks at her, stares… with those brown eyes that should be alien but that are comfortingly familiar, his gaze questioning… "Why've you come back?" she finishes on a breath. He shrugs, and even though she isn't looking at him directly she can feel it; feel his gaze on her breasts and her neck and her lips and her eyes. Where they stay with a heated intensity. Making her flush despite herself.

"Guess de kleptomanic urge lost its edge. Dat and wakin' up at six every mornin' in a strange woman's bed." He leans over, drink in hand, and without missing a beat, without even giving the impression of having changed his tone or expression at all, says: "Cheers."

All the barbs she has expected from him are there, right there, and despite the script, despite her expecting every one of them…despite them not even being together anymore, she still can't help that old, familiar knife-twist in the guts. Something glazes her eyes, but she holds it back, she leans over, clinks her glass against his and murmurs softly: "Cheers."

Their eyes meet; she sips; he knocks it all back in one go, as if this isn't the first drink of the night. He orders another. When it arrives, his eyes are still on hers.

She knows he sees other women. She doesn't resent him that – not much anyhow. It was he who'd decided they should break up anyway; it'd been a mutual agreement, before the High Evolutionary had depowered them. And he hadn't exactly been exclusive to her either. None of this should hurt. But Lord knows it does, and she knows what that means. She hates what it means.

"Why did you go?" she asks him quietly.

He downs his drink again. His eyes still on hers. Like a challenge.

"No point in stayin', chere," he answers shortly, his voice gruff, burnt with smoke and liquor, and she feels it in her stomach and in her throat. "De X-Men disbanded – dose wit' any sense left, anyhow. Who's left now? You? Kurt? Why, chere? Why you stayin'?" His cigarette's nearly burnt down to the butt and he stubs it out on a nearby ashtray, deftly lights another one, not even waiting to hear her answer. "B'sides," and he takes a long drag, chest tightening, "we broke up. Didn't we."

Definitely a challenge.

He orders another drink.

"Go easy," she warns him softly.

"Can't get drunk in a computer simulation," he scoffs, this time belligerently.

"You're already drunk."

"Suddenly, I'm t'inkin' it's better dis way," he mutters.

The sun is setting, golds and oranges bleeding out into pinks and purples and violets. Bruised and battered. The sun is sinking. She suddenly thinks this is a mistake. Being here. Giving the impression that she's facing things, when all she's doing is running and hiding again.

"S'pretty," he says at last, his tone more conciliatory; it takes her a second before she realises he's talking about the scenery. "Did you write dis program?"

She looks down at the glass in her lap and half-laughs, embarrassed.

"Nah. Piotr did, Ah think."

"Figures," he replies.

Another silence follows, awkward, contrived, and she gives up wondering where this script will lead them. She's suddenly self-conscious, her heart pounding, wondering if he realises this is more than just a mere computer simulation. She lays down her drink, stands and walks to the railings, leaning out into the growing darkness. She raises hot cheeks to the cool evening air, feeling his eyes on her, on the pretty white dress, and she lets him because she wants it, she wants to let him know she's not afraid even though she is and…and…

Is this how it feels, to be open and exposed and so utterly at another person's disposal in every sense imaginable? Is this the meaning of the crashing of her heart and the tumult in her ears and the triumph building song-like in her throat?

Is this how it feels, to throw yourself down, body and soul, at the feet of someone you love, without thought for consequence?

She knows why she's here, and yet, conversely, she has no idea what she's expecting to gain from all this. Mystique, alone and rotting in her prison cell, stuck in a form she loathes, would despise her for this. Mystique, who now looks in the mirror and sees the face she was born with, something as foreign as if she'd never possessed it. Where Rogue had always seen her mutation as a curse, Mystique had revelled in her own. And now those mutations were gone. Slates had been wiped clean. There was nothing to hide behind. No fear of touch. No identity but their own.

Before she had come here, Rogue had stood in front of her mirror and put on the pretty white dress very much aware of that clean slate. That what she saw inside that silky, strapless disguise (and it was nothing more or less than that) was something she'd always striven to be. Her – just her – just a woman. Trying to lay herself bare to a man who is now just as uncomplicated as she is.

And still she finds she can't do it.

A minute or two passes before he comes to stand beside her, as she knew he would. He doesn't look at her. He leans on the railings and stares into the sky and asks: "Why'd you stay, Rogue?" And his voice is soft.

"Guess Ah ain't as brave as you."

She expects him to tell her it wasn't bravery that drove him away, but he doesn't. Of course he doesn't.

"You come here often? T' get away?"

She shakes her head.

"No." She half-smiles and looks down into her hands. "Been busy tryin' t' bust an ungrateful mother outta jail. This is the only time Ah've had t' myself since we got depowered. Since you left, leastways. Been tryin' to keep mahself busy, Ah guess."

There's a short silence.

"Me too," he answers at last, softly; and for the first time she realises it's the truth.

They look at the sun for a moment, watch it disappear behind the rooftops, sink into blood-red skies – extinguished, all in a moment. Stars take its place.

"It was workin' out, wasn't it?" she suddenly says, earnestly, too earnestly; but she doesn't care. "The whole bein' friends thing?"

The laugh he gives her is short and mirthless.

"Yeah," and she can feel the wry bitterness of his smile. "We were doin' okay, chere."

At least, she thinks they had. It'd finally got to the point where they'd been able to walk into the same room as one another without feeling awkward. Where they'd been able to hang out together without fighting. Where he could make sexual innuendos and she'd been able to laugh it off and give back as good as she got. Where she'd even got to the point that she could start seeing someone else. Until it had happened. The High Evolutionary's depowering. And suddenly they could touch. And suddenly it wasn't safe to be close anymore. And suddenly it wasn't even safe to be friends.

The stripping of their powers had stripped them down to something even more fundamental.

The fact that sometimes feelings don't change, no matter how hard you try to force them to.

And deep down, she knows that's the reason why he'd gone. Why she'd let him go.

She'd wanted to hear that from him; but suddenly she finds she doesn't need to anymore. Nothing he says now can change any of this. It can't make her feelings any more or less tangible than they already are. And it certainly can't make his any more comprehensible to her either.

"Ah understand now," she half-whispers, more to herself than to him. "Take away the whole touch thing and all we have left is you and me and these crazy feelin's."

"And is dat why you stayed?" he asks softly, and she shakes her head decidedly, saying: "We couldn't handle it."

Another silence; she freezes when she feels his hand on her bare shoulder, warm and wonderful and alien and unfamiliar, and her heart clenches, her stomach clenches, the song in her throat hangs tremulous and unrealised … and when his palm slides to cup her shoulder blade, so soft and so gentle, she wants to cry, she wants to burst.

"Can you handle it now?" he asks her, low and thick and charged, and she wants to choke and sob and laugh, her head feels so light…

And she's scared. She's never felt so scared in all her life, and she's trembling like a child because she can touch for real and she shouldn't be touching him, not like this

He feels her trembling. Reaches out to place his free hand upon her other shoulder, swivels her round to face him. Presses her against his body, murmuring: "Is dis what we were afraid of?"

He smells of smoke and whiskey and other women's perfume, and for once it doesn't hurt. She stops trembling. For a moment they hold one another and sway in time to the music, and there are no more questions… And she can feel his heartbeat… And it all feels so real, so blindingly real and exhilarating because for once she isn't afraid anymore…

She braves looking up at him them, finding his eyes on hers in a gaze that should be unfamiliar but that she finds beautiful and reassuring. And his eyes are brown, and she thinks, this is what he really looks like when he looks at me…

And suddenly it's the way she'd intended it to be, just a man and a woman with nothing between them but a moment shared; a stolen moment he'd never know. And it's breaking her heart, making her want to turn and flee from this cruel contrivance, from this thing she wants with all her soul and more.

"I wanna kiss you," he says abruptly, as if suddenly aware of her thoughts; and his statement so simple, so serious, that it has her stomach in knots, because she knows, she knows…

"This ain't real," she returns in a breathless rush, but this is real, too real…

"What, dis?" The restaurant, the terrace, the rooftops, the music, the starlit sky… "I'd take you up t' my room, but chere… I don't t'ink I can wait dat long…"

And then his lips are on hers, and she's reeling, and she feels his long fingers splay, press hard into the bare skin of her back, pushing her to him, into him, closer, closer… And it's her, her crushing him to her as his mouth closes over her own, and for the first time she realises how much she's wanted this, how much she's waited and wanted and needed and hungered for all this time… Just like she feels the same need and want and hunger mirrored in his kiss.

And it kills her. It kills her to know they've waited that long only to finally find release in this.

His lips leave her mouth; it's her cue to end this. His kisses caress her chin, her ear, her neck and her collarbone, delicate and fleeting, and she twists her face into his hair and tries not to cry as she murmurs: "Remy… Ah haveta go."

"Come back wit' me," he mutters, pressing his lips against her throat. "I know you're scared…" Climbing… "Lord knows I'm kinda scared too…" Higher… "Have been ever since we started out…" Breath on her lips again, making her pant… "But I don't wanna just be friends…" Going to kiss her again… "We both know we're more den just dat…"

So she pushes him away.

He stumbles backward, injured, hurt, but she can't look at him. It gives him hope; he takes a step forward. But she holds out a hand, presses it against his breast, keeping him at arm's length, always at arm's length.

Now or never.

"Ah'm sorry, Remy," she speaks to the floor, not daring to look into those soft brown eyes. "Ah just want yah t' know… Ah never meant to hurt yah. And Ah know yah told me that all was forgiven and forgotten, but Ah know it still hurts, deep inside. Because it still hurts me too, deep down."

She raises her face to his, the breath fighting inside her chest, and she braves his eyes, the brown eyes so familiar and so strange and wounded and loving she can hardly bare it – but she does. Because she can't have this moment any other way.

"Ah love you," she admits on a soft breath, the words still bearing a strange yet not unpleasant texture on her tongue. "And Ah know you can't answer that right now, but Ah wanted you to know that. Ah wanted you to know that for sure. Ah-Ah just wish it was enough to heal us both."

There – the confession ended, the script drawn to a close.

He opens his mouth to answer and she doesn't want to know what will be said.

She looks up into the starlit sky.

"Computer," and her voice is suddenly calm. "End simulation."

The restaurant, the terrace, the tables, the rooftops, the music, the star-pricked sky – they all begin to melt.

She drops her arm.

Watches as Gambit, mouth still poised to speak, finally melts away and disappears too.

-oOo-

-END-

03-05-2007