This chapter will be cut into two different versions. For those of you following the "M" rating, there will be some significant variations to follow. It will come during the last few chapters with the hot springs. Trust me, you'll know when… Anyone following the "T" rating will see enough bits and pieces to know what's going on, but without the hairy details. However, the very nature of the later scenes are generally sexual in nature, so there will be quite a few gaps. Hopefully it will all still make sense though.
Also, I wanted to thank everyone for all the great supportive comments. I believe everything happens for a reason, and I think I've finally found the right path. I'm pretty sure I know where I'm supposed to go with my life and what I'm supposed to be doing. There are quite a few little "coincidences" that are all lining up to point me towards being a … teacher. Yeah, I know, but I feel like this is right. I'm trying to get a job at a private school in my area and I've already done the first interview, qualification testing and teaching interview. Now I'm just waiting for the phone call telling me that I've got the job (hopefully).
Scratch that last one. Part of the "Getting Warmer" jinx. I got the job, then lost it again within a few months for a really lame reason. One that I'm still not sure is perfectly legal… Anyhow, I found an even better job and have no reason to believe that it is now, nor ever will be, in jeopardy.
I wish everyone the best and thanks again for all the support. Hope you enjoy this chapter – it should be a long one!
After note: Anything marked with an (S) after it was directly inspired by Sassy18's influence and ideas. Captain Cueball, the rabid Wolverine, etc. So thanks go out to her for all those jeweled bits. Sorry I didn't put it in earlier. I was so pressed to just POST the darn thing I forgot to do my shout-outs.
Thanks also go to everyone who reviews/reviewed!! You guys are awesome.
"Hey, you up yet?" Remy asked from where he lay on the forest floor. He was on his back again after switching positions all night – utterly unable to find a comfortable way to sleep on the cold, hard ground.
"Rrrmmm…" Rogue half growled and half hummed as she elbowed him roughly in the side and rolled onto her own, burying her face deeper into the crook of her arm.
Remy sighed as he laced his hands behind his head and stared up at the early morning sky. The sun had been up for a while now, but the young man had decided it was better to get a bit more sleep before they started another laborious trek through the woods.
Rogue needed all the rest she could get and he wasn't going to refuse her an extra few minutes of shut-eye.
Remy bit back a groan. It had to be at least… seven-thirty, maybe eight a.m. now and they really needed to start moving again. He despised mornings on ANY day of the week, but throw in the fact that he was stiff, cold, hungry and smelled like week-old garbage and he REALLY hated this particular morning…
With a huge yawn, he finally sat up and stretched his arms above his head before reaching over to shake Rogue's shoulder.
"Come on chere; time t' get up now," he coaxed.
"Five more minutes Kit," she mumbled as she tugged Remy's coat over her exposed shoulder.
"Sorry petite, it don' work dat way out here. We gotta get movin' 'fore dose goons find us." With a barely contained sigh of frustration, Remy pushed himself up off the ground and extended his arms again. He rolled his head around on his neck and smiled at the satisfying series of 'pops' that emanated from his neck. Just like a professional runner, he continued through the motions as he stretched out each limb and joint until he was convinced he could finally start walking again.
The same could not be said for Rogue, who was still curled up in a ball on the moss-covered ground.
Remy toed the back of her thigh lightly. "Rise an' shine sleepy head," he sing-songed to her with a quirky grin.
In response Rogue groaned, lifting her hand and one finger to express her aggravation with him for waking her up so early. "Go away, ah don't wan' any," she grumbled and pulled the coat over her head to block out the sun.
Remy chuckled. It seemed she detested mornings even more than he did.
Abruptly, he reached down and pulled the coat off her completely to toss it over his shoulder. "Ya want me t' carry ya?"
Rogue rolled over and sat up immediately, glaring at him with a mixed look of disgust and disbelief.
Her expression perfectly matched his when, on those rare and horrifying occasions, he woke up with a mind-numbing hangover and a less-than-attractive woman beside him.
"What?" she barked as she tried to finger-comb her hair. "You don't look too hot yourself right now."
"That's not … I wasn't laughin' at YOU petite, just de way you were lookin' at me. Reminded me o' somethin," he apologized and reached down to help her up.
Instantly, she drew back from him, flinching away from his exposed hand. For a moment, she'd forgotten that her powers were missing and instinctively reverted back to her fear of being touched.
Shaking his head, Remy continued to hold out his hand for her and waited, but she sniffed instead and hoisted herself up on her own, stepping well out of range of his bare fingers. Remy sighed as Rogue straightened and took another step away from him. Frustrated, he immediately advanced on her and snatched her wrist, pulling her toward him abruptly and eliciting a gasp from her chapped lips.
For Rogue, the two were standing uncomfortably close - their noses were almost touching and she could yet again feel his breath caressing her face.
He had HORRIBLE morning breath. Of course, she probably did too; she would kill for a toothbrush right about now. Hell, she'd kill for anything even remotely civilized right now.
"Now listen here chere," Remy scolded as he held her close, ending her train of thought. "Y' gotta stop dis nonsense wit' not touchin'. I thought we talked about dis already."
Rogue tried to pull herself out of his grasp, but Remy held tight to her wrist. "Whatever," she rounded on him, "Ah just don't like bein' touched."
"Well get over it den," he replied simply, still latched to her.
"Maybe it's just YOU I don't like!" Rogue tried again to pull herself free again, but Remy grabbed her other wrist instead.
"Let go of me!" she yelled, spitting venomous curses as she struggled against him.
In the canopy of pine and fir trees surrounding them, the birds suddenly ceased their songs as the woods went eerily quiet. The only other sound was the soft whisper of wind through the surrounding trees and the reverberating echo of Remy's bellow.
Rogue swallowed hard as she tried to stare him down, but the defiant glare in her eyes was overshadowed by the wideness of them.
Noting the complexity of her gaze, Remy dropped Rogue's wrists at last and took a step back, running a hand through his hair irritably.
"I'm sorry chere, I didn't mean t' lose m' temper like dat. S' just, dang it Rogue, y' gotta HELP m' here. I can't MAKE you do dis, but y' gotta at least TRY if y' wanna stop Apocalypse!"
"Ah AM tryin'!" she yelled at him, taking a few steps back from the Acolyte. "Do ya think this is EASY fer me?! I've spent most of mah whole LIFE flinchin' away from people. First with that phony skin condition, then when mah powers came along… Shit Gambit, you're tryin' to get me to reprogram everything I am - everything ah've been and known for the last thirteen years - in just a few days!!"
Rogue felt her throat swell as her face burned hot and her eyes blurred, and she turned swiftly away from her traveling companion. The last thing she wanted was for him to see her cry. It was bad enough he had to see her like this at all – dressed up like a doll in what barely passed for clothes, no makeup, no uniform, no anything to provide that necessary barrier between herself and the outside world.
She was utterly and completely vulnerable in front of this man and she hated him for it.
As hot tears dripped down Rogue's cheeks, she bit her lip harshly for betraying her normally cool exterior. Struggling not to sniffle or give away her emotions, Rogue swiped angrily at the tears that coursed down her face and turned her gaze upward toward the morning sky as she took a deep, calming breath.
"Look," she continued when she thought she had herself back under control, "Ah know you're tryin' t' help me and ah appreciate that, but there's only so much ah can take – only so much ah can do – before it's just hopeless. Maybe all this is for nothin'. Maybe there ain't no use in even tryin'. Ah can't change who ah am, Gambit. Ya might as well just hand me the knife now so ah can save the world and be done with it all before it's too late."
Suddenly, Remy was right behind her, grabbing her by the arm roughly to spin her around to face him. She was startled by the angry, almost ruthless look in his flashing red eyes and a barely audible gasp grazed her lips.
"Don't you EVER say anyt'ing like dat again, ya understand!? Ya ain't givin' up dat easily Rogue," Remy raved at her harshly.
"You're better den dat!! De Rogue I heard Magneto talk of would never just hand in de towel. You're not some weak, pathetic thing that cries and talks of death as a way out. You're ROGUE! You get pissed and curse, and you fight as hard as you can all de way t' de end. And dis," he gestured to the quiet woods around them as his voice calmed and dropped, "dis surely ain't de end chere; so I don't wanna hear none of it outta you, comprends?" (understand)
Rogue dropped her eyes a bit, staring directly across at Remy's chin and quickly growing stubble. For a brief moment, she considered what the little hairs would feel like against her fingers. She'd heard it was course and prickly and she'd felt it, second-hand, through other people's memories, but she'd never actually smoothed her own fingers across such enticing facial hair, and she actually had to restrain herself from reaching out to touch him.
Her fingers twitched unexpectedly, as if they were trying to move on their own, and Rogue balled her fists, setting her jaw stubbornly as she tried to focus on the situation at hand.
He was right, of course. She WAS better than this. She was Rogue! She didn't CRY! She hadn't cried since she'd first developed her powers (at least not in front of other people – except that once…or twice…), and she couldn't start such an awful habit now.
What was WRONG with her anyhow? Why on earth was she crying in front of him? She should be handling this like an X-Man, not some weepy teenager! If it came right down to it and they couldn't defeat Apocalypse, she knew what she would have to do. Despite what Remy said, she knew he would be considering the same options if he were in her place.
The bigger concern to her at the moment, however, was the fact that she couldn't control her own emotions in front of this Acolyte. If she were traveling with Scott, Logan or any of the X-Men, she KNEW she wouldn't be this emotional. Likewise, she doubted she'd have the same problem with any other Acolyte either. Granted, she would be a lot more edgy if she were with Magneto or Sabertooth, but… Okay, if she were with Magneto or Sabertooth, she'd probably already be dead, so that was a moot point... Still, it bothered her that Gambit was able to get under her skin so easily. She had no idea why she couldn't just keep her cool; she was constantly blushing, crying or puking in front of him and it was driving her batty!
She couldn't just be bitchy and ignore him because of Apocalypse's plan – she HAD to be conversational and try to open up a bit, but she didn't have to be so emotional either. Why couldn't she just answer his questions honestly and politely and not be so … ugh.
Rogue continued to stare straight ahead at Remy's chin, unspeaking, as she attempted to sort out her thoughts. Setting her jaw stubbornly, she tried to reign in her emotions and get herself under control. Thankfully, the Acolyte was content to just let her have her space for once and made no move to advance on her or try to touch her again. It made thinking a LOT easier when he wasn't touching her.
Only problem was that she was now having trouble thinking while staring at Remy's goatee. It was practically begging to be touched now, and her fingernails were starting to leave imprints on her still-balled fists. She didn't know how much longer she could keep herself from just reaching out and touching him.
In the past, she'd confronted and quickly crushed similar urges, but she'd always had a good reason not to give in to them; she wasn't particularly thrilled about having another psyche stuck in her head, and didn't think anyone would appreciate being put into a coma – however short-lived it might be.
As she sat staring at Remy's chin, however, she realized that there was no longer the threat of coma or absorption and thus, she had no real reason NOT to touch him.
Other than the sheer embarrassment of actually doing such a thing of course!
He'd think she was nuts if she suddenly started stroking his face like some deranged psychopath, and she had already faced her share of mortification on this trip, so she firmly clamped down on her inner urges and emotions and tried again to meet his eyes – his intoxicating, entrancing eyes…
Rogue shook her head rigorously.
Dear GOD what is WRONG with me?!?!?! She HAD to stop thinking like this. The lack of powers must be wreaking havoc on her hormones…
The Southerner closed her eyes and took a deep, calming breath before opening them again. She had to be absolutely certain that her body wouldn't betray her before she looked at Gambit.
Yes, good. Maybe if she started calling him Gambit again, she wouldn't be nearly as affected by him. She felt a little more confident this time and trusted herself to speak once again.
"Alright, fahne, you win. Ah'm not gonna throw in the towel as long as we don't get caught," she said at last, finding that, disturbingly, Gambit had not taken his eyes off her.
"BUT," she held up a hand to silence his oncoming protest, "if he DOES find me before the new moon, all bets are off. Ah'm not gonna risk the entire world being decimated because of me. And, ah am definitely NOT gonna be his damn puppet, or queen, or sex toy, or whatever for the rest of eternity, ya got me?"
Rogue tried to appear as calm, collected and firm as possible. Remy HAD to understand where she was coming from. There was no way she'd risk millions of lives just to save her own skin. She wasn't worth that; no one was. The X-Men were all about the good of humanity, and if that meant she'd have to sacrifice herself to save countless others, then that's just what she would do.
Remy pondered her proposal for a moment… He had to admit she was right.
If it came right down to it, and he couldn't save her from Apocalypse, the most logical alternative would be death. He himself would have rather jumped off a bridge than become a slave, but he couldn't change his past now. All he could do was try to make up for his own sins before he died.
Rogue, on the other hand, was an innocent; she had never committed the same horrors he had. And, when it came to self-sacrifice, he had to believe that whatever God was out there would not forsake her soul if she took her life to save others.
He swallowed hard and nodded slowly.
"Okay," he said at last, "but I don't wanna hear no more of dat kinda talk unless we be starin' dem right in de eye, d'accord?"
Rogue nodded silently in agreement.
"Bien (good), den we best start movin' again. We don't wanna give 'em any chance t' catch up."
Again, Rogue nodded and with a last look around their impromptu 'camp site' they began another day's journey.
It was around nine in the morning when Kitty was roused from her half-sleeping, half-waking state by a knock on her bedroom door. Bleary-eyed, she sat up slightly in her chair and turned her head to the source of the noise.
She stared at the wooden fixture for a while, trying to figure out what she was supposed to be doing, when another soft knock echoed through it.
"Come in," she called at last as her brain finally caught up with her senses.
She'd expected to see the boy with a mess of brown, mullet-cut hair peek through her door, so when the Acolyte, Piotr, smiled at her instead, she was somewhat shocked.
"Oh!" Kitty exclaimed, still only half awake, "Pete! What's up?"
As Piotr stepped gingerly into the bedroom, he immediately noticed two things. First was that the girl's room was very… pink. Her untouched bed was splashed with pink flowers and light blue paisleys. The fuzzy round rug in front of her bed was bright pink – nearly fluorescent even. There was a neon pink lamp on the simple white wooden desk, which was also adorned with pink roses, and the cushy leather office chair on which Kitty sat was pale pink as well. The room was decorated with dozens of stuffed animals and posters of various pop stars hung from the walls on her side.
The second thing he noticed was that Kitty had obviously not slept at all that night and probably not well since Rogue had been taken. The girl's hair was limp with random locks pulled out of her ponytail and hanging haphazardly around her face and neck. She was still wearing her clothes from yesterday - a light blue tank top and a pair of tan capri's complete with fuzzy pink bunny slippers.
There were dark circles under her eyes and she was apparently having a hard time focusing and keeping her eyes open. She was blinking at him rather rapidly and, if it weren't for the blank expression on her face, he would swear she was trying to bat her eyelashes flirtatiously. Either that, or her eyelids were having seizures…
"I, uh," Piotr started, taken back by the valley girl's uncharacteristic demeanor, "I wished to know if I could be of assistance."
After another few moments of Kitty blinking stupidly at him, he took another step closer. His brows furrowed together in concern as he noted the way she was staring at him – as if she were trying to figure out how or when he had come into her room.
"Katya?" he asked, taking another careful step, "are you all right? You do not seem well." Slowly, he bent down to put a hand on her petite shoulder and noticed that she was incredibly diminutive – even when he was not armored up.
The warmth of Piotr's hand on her shoulder finally snapped Kitty out of her sleep-deprived stupor.
"Huh? Oh, sorry Pete," she apologized, ducking her head as she blushed, "I guess I just zoned out for a minute there. I've been staring at this computer screen so long I can hardly see straight."
"May I be of assistance?" he asked. He was still crouched beside her pink chair with his hand on her arm and neither of them seemed to notice or care about the proximity.
"Wha..? Oh, um, actually, I'm just Googling everything I can think of that might be of some use. Something to, like, help us figure out how to stop Apocalypse, you know?" The girl half-smiled at him, but her eyelids were drooping so badly it was hardly noticeable.
Piotr finally removed his hand and stood slowly, staring down at the small screen of the laptop. "May I take over for you so you may rest your eyes? I have much experience vith 'surfing the web' – I use Google frequently vhen researching things myself."
Kitty frowned slightly, not liking the idea of leaving her search in the hands of someone who might be less capable with a computer. If he missed something…
"I don't… I don't know Piotr. If you accidently skim over a page that could be important, it might ruin our chances at figuring out how to stop Apocalypse."
"Then I shall read every page," he replied seriously.
Kitty snorted. "Pete, that's totally sweet of you, but there's, like, over 23 MILLION pages that mention 'Apocalypse.' I don't think either of us could go through all those within our lifetime, let alone a few hours. I think… I think I'd better keep doing it. It would probably be best if I keep doing it."
She bit her lip as he hung his head slightly and nodded quietly. She didn't want be rude or anything, but everyone knew she was a total control freak as it was. She couldn't just trust an Acolyte to work on something this important.
"I understand, Katya," he replied in a low voice. "Iz there anything else I may do for you instead?"
Kitty smiled softly. Darn but this guy was persistent. Sweet, but persistent. Biting her lower lip, she tried to think of something he could do to help. Well, something he could do that she wouldn't have to control.
Her face brightened. "I would LOVE something to eat! I, like, don't thing I've had anything since the sandwich Lance brought me last night." Her nose scrunched up at the memory of the sad little snack.
She loved Lance to death, but the boy just couldn't cook! (*)
"And, food vould be helpful for you?" Piotr asked, not entirely certain she wasn't just trying to get rid of him.
Kitty's stomach responded before she could, and it rumbled loudly enough for the Acolyte to hear very well. She laughed a bit as he smiled at her.
"Oh yeah, food would be a BIG help."
"Vhat vould you like?"
"Honestly, it doesn't even matter as long as it's Kosher. You could bring me cereal and I'd be your best friend."
With a smile, Piotr nodded once and retreated to the door without another word.
After he left, Kitty stared after him for a few long moments, amazed by the Acolyte's concern and his sweet personality. She promptly shrugged off her wandering thoughts though, and turned back to her laptop as her stomach growled again.
She honestly didn't care if Pete brought her cereal or a five-course meal as long as he hurried!
About five minutes later, Kitty was surprised to hear another soft knock on the door. 'Hmm,' she thought 'looks like Piotr went with the cereal after all.'
When the large Russian Acolyte walked through the door with a plate of Pop Tarts instead of a bowl of Frosted Flakes, she was more than a little disappointed.
Pop Tarts? Really? SHE could make those for crying out loud!
Regardless of her internal monologue, Kitty plastered a wide smile on her face. She HAD said she didn't care, after all. Unfortunately her stomach wasn't agreeing with her decision.
"Thank you, Piotr," she stated automatically as he handed her the small ceramic dish with her 'food.'
He nodded quietly. "You are velcome."
No sooner had she taken the plate than he turned and headed for her door again.
"I vill come back soon. I must attend to someZing downstairs for a vhile," he called over his shoulder as he shut the door behind him.
With a simultaneously confused and disappointed expression, Kitty looked to the closed door, down at her Pop Tarts, and back to the door again before sighing.
Remy heaved a labored sigh as Rogue trudged along silently behind him. She hadn't said a word since they'd started walking a few hours ago, and she was probably still fuming about him grabbing her arm like that. Unfortunately, he didn't really know how to broach the subject with her. He wanted to apologize for his harshness, but she HAD to open up and allow him to touch her if they wanted to beat Apocalypse!!
She was just so darned stubborn though!
Biting his lip to contain his own anger and frustration, Remy subconsciously walked a little faster to burn off some of his emotional issues. He was still very bothered by the fact that Rogue had even MENTIONED suicide.
'Of course,' he thought to himself as he stamped through the wilderness, 'I can't really blame her for feeling that way. I've contemplated the same fate on more than one occasion. Only difference is I was too much of a coward to go through with it.'
Considering her situation, he doubted that Rogue would hesitate to do herself in if she felt the need. Perhaps that was the reason he was so upset by her admission – he was afraid she really WOULD kill herself just to stop Apocalypse. She was the type of person that would do whatever it took to achieve something and he knew it.
The thought made him terribly uncomfortable and he was VERY bothered by the fact that he WAS so uncomfortable. Why was he so infuriated by the idea that Rogue would kill herself to stop a lunatic?
In the event Apocalypse was able to go through with his plans, countless people around the world – mutant and human alike – would perish. Seeing that the only way to stop the entire world from collapsing under the madman's leadership was to keep him from getting to Rogue, wouldn't it be better to just let her die? If it came right down to the line and Apocalypse DID manage to get a hold of Rogue, wouldn't it be better to let her take her own life rather than destroying millions of other innocent people around the world? Sacrifice one to save the world…right?
He sighed again and ran a hand through his mud-streaked, oily hair. Darn if that wasn't a tough question. He was only a few years older than Rogue and could barely stomach all of this. He had absolutely no idea how in the world SHE was dealing with it!
Rogue tried not to glare at Remy's back as he picked up his pace slightly. She doubted he was doing it on purpose, but he wasn't making this journey any easier on her. Her feet were in so much pain she could hardly walk at all, let alone at a quick pace, and her ribs were still bothering her quite a bit too. The pain wasn't as bad as it had been yesterday, but it was enough to drive her to distraction nonetheless.
It didn't help that Remy had already pushed her limit of patience this morning. First, he didn't even let her sleep for just a few more minutes when he'd gotten up. Lord knew that for all the time he'd spent spying on her and the X-Men, he should know by now that she was NOT a morning person.
Second, he'd practically ripped his coat off her body, making her feel extremely vulnerable and exposed. After all, her dress wasn't all that long anymore, and she had no way of knowing if it had ridden up (or down) during the night. The bottom hem could have been around her waist for all she knew and, as Remy had mentioned before, Apocalypse hadn't intended for her to be wearing undergarments…
Then, Remy had gone and tried to TOUCH her.
Even if they WERE trying to work on her touching problem, he should know better than to just reach out and grab her like that. She honestly wanted to work on it, but … she just couldn't handle him touching her. If it had been Kurt or Kitty or maybe even Ororo, it would be totally different. She wouldn't have a problem touching any of them.
So why was it such an issue with Remy?
Was it because he was an Acolyte? She gnawed on her lower lip as she considered the possibility… That might be the problem, but it felt much deeper than that.
Determined to get to the bottom of the nagging dilemma, (after all, she had a LOT of time to think) Rogue carefully analyzed the way she felt whenever Remy touched her.
The first time she'd really felt his skin on hers – and had a moment to dwell on the sensation – they'd been hiding inside the alcove of the cave where she'd nearly drowned. Her bare back had been pressed flush against his naked chest, but she'd been too preoccupied to really consider her feelings or the situation.
Now, however, she had ample time to mull over her emotions.
The first emotion was anxiety. She hadn't touched anyone in so long that the sensation had felt foreign and surreal. That nagging voice in the back of her mind had been screaming at her to get away before she drained and/or killed him. The last thing she wanted to do was harm anyone, and it had taken her brain a few moments to remember that her powers were gone.
Secondly, she'd been only a heartbeat away from fear. The knowledge that she was trapped and defenseless with the Cajun Acolyte was more than a little intimidating. Rogue had never been concerned with being … forced… into anything, because it simply wasn't possible. As she'd sat in the cave with Gambit, however, she realized that such a scenario was much more plausible now that she was powerless.
Third was the pure thrill of actually touching another human being without worry over killing them. She'd been deprived of the sensation for so long that she'd nearly forgotten how nice it was. In fact, if not for the stolen memories that helped her see how wonderful touching could be, she would probably hate it completely.
So, while she and Gambit had been stuck in that tiny alcove for so long, she couldn't help herself from reveling in the feeling of his skin on hers.
And that, of course, had led to other feelings.
Rogue had felt the heat of Remy's body radiate through hers and it had kindled a fire somewhere inside of her. The fact that she'd been utterly exposed in front of him hadn't helped soothe that fire either. Now, as she walked through the forest trying to keep up with Gambit, she remembered the way his smooth, finely toned chest had felt against her bare skin . It had been exquisite - all that warm, hardened muscle pressing against her cold, sensitive flesh. She could pull all the memories of everyone she'd ever touched, but knew she'd never find anything with which to compare it.
She'd felt that heat radiating from his back and into her body – through her own back, into her bones, around her limbs and down, deep down, into her very organs. His heat had fueled hers and it made her very uncomfortable. She had felt that heat and fire travel down through every inch of her body before finally coming to rest between her legs, and it had taken every ounce of willpower not to fidget as she struggled with the exquisite and unbearable sensation.
Rogue had nearly sighed in relief when Remy moved her to lie across his lap. It had only alleviated the heat by a bit, but at least he couldn't feel that heat and fire roaring inside.
The moment was long over now, but her mind and body still experienced those same emotions every time he reached for her. That same anxiety, fear, thrill, and heat rushed through her whenever she felt his skin on her own. But, she especially remembered that heat. It rushed through her body like a plague, haunting her very blood as it traveled throughout her extremities and came to rest on her face and between her thighs.
Rogue blushed slightly as she tried to get herself under control again. She HAD to stop doing this if they were going to have any hope of stopping Apocalypse.
Her lack of powers, Remy's touch, Apocalypse, even drowning – it was almost too much for her to take and she didn't know how long she could keep this up. Her mind was at war with itself and her body was a mess, hormonally and physically.
They had been walking for so long that Rogue had lost track of time and although she desperately wanted to stop and rest, she didn't dare to ask for a break for fear of seeming weak in front of Remy.
She had no way of knowing if they'd been walking for one hour or four because of the canopy of trees above them. The thick green leaves filtered out most of the sunlight, with only a few rays shining through to fall on their faces and necks. She was unable to actually look up at the sky to try and decide on the time for fear of giving away their position to Apocalypse. So, she walked on deliberately despite the fact that she ached horribly and was tired, hungry and hot.
Inside her chest, Rogue's ribs were burning with exhaustion, making it difficult to breathe. Pain exuded through her entire body, and each step was more excruciating than the last. Still, she knew if she quit, it would be like laying out on a silver platter for Apocalypse. There were no pills or quick remedies to ease her agony, so the best she could do was try to put it out of her mind and just deal.
One thing she couldn't put out of her mind, however, was her stomach. It grumbled and twisted every few minutes, begging for food. The berries were long gone, but it wasn't like she had been able to stomach them after her digestive display anyhow. They'd spent the last day with their eyes peeled for any type of edible looking vegetation and hadn't found any fruit or berries yet. Unfortunately, neither of them were able to tell which greens were poisonous and which weren't, so they couldn't just pick random plants to eat, and despite Gambit's suggestion on eating bugs, neither of them were all too keen on that idea either.
All in all, the combination of hunger and the hot sun beating down on them was making Rogue slightly dizzy. They hadn't gone for water yet today and Rogue licked her dry and cracking lips subconsciously. She could feel the skin on her face and neck burning as a few rays of light beat down on her, and although she was sweltering under Remy's duster she refused to take it off. The long leather jacket made her feel much more secure and less vulnerable around the Cajun, so she was absolutely not going to remove it any time soon.
One thing she DID wish she could remove however, were her shoes. On top of everything else, the golden sandals were really cutting into her feet and calves now, and she could feel blisters forming on the soft skin of her soles as the leather rubbed against her feet incessantly. Instead of whining or asking to stop though, Rogue simply bit her lip and continued on after Gambit, consoling herself by concocting many different ways in which she'd like to disembowel Apocalypse, Mesmero and Mystique…
Remy spared a glance back at Rogue as they walked. Her face was flushed with heat and the contrast of the pink in her cheeks to the alabaster of her skin was stunning. Her jaw was firmly set as she ambled along – the determined, stubborn look only leaving her face for a fleeting moment when she winced suddenly.
"D'ya wanna stop for a bit, chere?" Remy asked as he pulled up to wait for her. "Y' look like y' could use a break."
Stubborn and resolved, Rogue simply walked right past him, refusing to meet his eyes.
"Ah'm fine, let's just keep goin,'" she replied automatically as she continued moving. If she stopped now, she doubted she'd be able to get up again.
As she forged ahead, Remy noticed that the southerner was hunched over and limping slightly. Her altered gait was almost imperceptible to the untrained eye, but the Cajun easily observed the way she tenderly picked up and placed each foot back on the ground as if hesitating to walk even while she maintained a brisk pace.
Sighing, Remy stopped short. He knew Rogue was hurting, but there wasn't anything he could do if she was going to be stubborn.
Or was there?
"I think it's about time we went for water petite," he called to her.
Instead of stopping, however, she kept walking.
Remy rolled his eyes. Stubborn, stubborn, stubborn. With a smirk, he thought, 'Oh well, at least it makes things interesting.' He ran to catch up with her and grabbed for her hand.
As Rogue felt Remy's fingers brush her skin, she pulled back with a small hiss. She turned to glare menacingly at him and folder her arms, trying to keep her hands out of his reach.
Fixing her with a reproachful look, Remy fought to keep from laughing. Rogue was still wearing his trench coat over her dress despite the heat, but the poor, tattered garment was far too large for her small frame. The sleeves were rolled up at least five times and rested about halfway up her arms, her petite hands appearing even smaller amidst the mass of fabric.
The burnt ends of the coat nearly dragged in the dirt and licked playfully at her heels as she swayed slightly on her feet. The coat barely stayed on her thin shoulders and hung off her body like a blanket, constantly threatening to swallow her.
She looked like a child playing dress up and Remy smiled warmly at the image. It slowly faded, however, as he realized that she'd likely never played dress up, or been able to do ANY of the same things other children do.
Just like him…
He forced another smile onto his face – careful not to let her see any sympathy in his countenance.
Still, he filed away the image and implications for another day.
"Come on," he said at last, pulling himself from his reverie, "we need more water."
Rogue eyed him warily. "I'm fine. Let's just keep goin'," she responded, the automatic tone creeping back into her voice.
"Sorry chere, but I don't buy it. Y'r pink as a strawberry and I can see y' limpin' from here."
That arrogant smirk had settled on Remy's face again and Rogue felt herself flushing instantly. How was it that he managed to sound concerned and caring while simultaneously making her furious and flustered?
He brushed aside a stray pine branch and sauntered up to her. Rogue had to force herself not to retreat and instead stood her ground resolutely, wiping all emotion from her face.
"All right, fine," she huffed, placing her hands on her hips in annoyance. Secretly, she was very thankful he was pushing the issue. Her feet and ribs needed a serious break and she wasn't about to ask for one herself.
Regardless, she rolled her eyes as Remy grinned wickedly and crouched down in front of her. With a roll of her eyes, she obediently hooked one tender calf around his hip, and placed her hand on his shoulder for balance as she redistributed her weight across his back, hoping he wouldn't try anything cheeky again.
But honestly, how could he resist such a temptation?
With a sly grin, Remy made sure Rogue was no longer supporting her own weight before sliding his left hand up to her ankle. Ever so slowly, he dragged his palm up along the smooth skin of her calf, lightly fingering the golden ties of her sandals and savoring the slight gasp she emitted as he went. He stopped as he reached the top of the ties where they ended just under her knees. As his fingers traced the ties, he exalted in Rogue's suppressed moan. Smiling, he assumed that she must really be enjoying it if she wasn't even fighting him yet.
Rogue, on the other hand, wasn't smiling. The first gasp had been pure shock as her mind ran through the same emotions it did every time Remy touched her. As his fingers flitted along the laces of her shoes, however, she tried not to moan in pain as the dexterous digits slid along the sores the ties had carved into her skin.
It seemed Remy finally noticed that something was amiss, because he stopped suddenly and gently grasped the back of her knee as he bent his head to examine her leg.
"Merde chere," he said at last, finally noticing the angry gashes in her calves. "Didn't know d'ose fancy t'ings were causin' such a problem. Je suis desole. (I'm sorry)," he apologized. "Never would've done that if'n I'd known. Why didn't you say dey were botherin' y'?"
She offered no response to his question and Remy tried to cock his head backward to see her face. "Soon as we get to the river we gotta tend to those wounds 'fore they get infected, d'accord?" (okay)
Rogue couldn't tell if it was request or a command, but she didn't really care as long as he made the throbbing stop.
Remy was careful to lift her from behind the knees and avoided her torn calves as best he could. He didn't want to aggravate the small cuts or make them worse. Also, they had to be very careful to avoid infection. Rogue wouldn't be happy about it, but he would need to take more scraps from her dress to wrap her legs up and keep the shoelaces from causing further damage.
Rogue grunted slightly as Remy lifted her up, but did not complain. "Y' all right?" he questioned quickly.
"Dandy," she responded with a pained grit to her voice.
Remy took a deep breath. Darn but she was stubborn! This girl could be on her deathbed and probably wouldn't say a word. He wasn't sure whether the concept was inspiring or just plain irritating.
"Y're eyes closed?"
Determined to get Rogue talking in full sentences again, Remy reverted back to his time-old tradition of twenty questions.
"So," he started as he began walking again, "I believe it's my turn, n'est pas?" (Is it not?)
Rogue snorted in response and Remy nearly laughed at her lack of enthusiasm toward his little game.
They started through a sparse part of the forest and Remy took a moment to look around and get his bearings again.
The pine trees were dispersed throughout the area with at least 10 or more feet between each one. Tall yellow grass covered the uneven, lonely terrain and thousands of wildflowers danced in the light breeze. The flowers came in every color imaginable - pinks, greens, yellows, oranges, reds, purples, and even blacks blanketed the land and created an absolutely beautiful scene.
He just wished Rogue could see it.
But, even if she couldn't see the magical sight, she could certainly smell it. A multitude of scents surrounded them and Remy's eyes watered slightly from the onslaught. Thank God he didn't have hay fever! The variety ranged from sickeningly sweet to bitter, relaxing to stimulating, and the scents played with his senses like a finely tuned piano.
Remy could hear Rogue sniffing the air with curiosity and knew she was dying to open her eyes.
"Mon dieu," he said at last, "dis is amazing Rogue. Wish you could see it - t'ink maybe I'll bring you back here, someday, just for dis. C'est magnifique. (It's magnificent)" He wanted to at least describe the image, but couldn't risk Apocalypse finding the spot.
Rogue stayed quiet and Remy missed her wistful smile as she kept her eyes firmly shut. Instead, he continued walking through the colorful flowers as he moved toward the direction of the river and finally asked his first question. Praying all the while that they wouldn't be stung by bees to boot…
"Okay, so number one: Why do you stay wit' Captain Cueball anyhow? (S) Y' don't seem t' like it there much," he inquired casually.
Remy bit his lip. He was worried that Rogue would simply refuse to answer his question, and he really DID want to know why she was still there when she could simply go back to the South. He knew she must miss it terribly.
He certainly did.
Rogue snorted at Remy's nickname for Professor Xavier, but mulled over his question regardless. It was pretty personal, but she knew that she'd have to weather a few of those types of questions if she wanted to stick it to Apocalypse.
Sighing, she prepared her answer. "Ah guess… Ah guess it's 'cause there's not really any place left to go." She bit her lip nervously. "Imagine you know the story with Irene and… Mystique?" She bit out the blue woman's name venomously and Remy nodded, uncertain whether she would understand his gesture or not.
Apparently she did, because she continued. "Ah really don't know what ah'd do without the Institute. Ah'll never go back to Irene. As grateful as ah am that she took care of me, ah can't go back. When ah found out that it was really Mystique that'd been raisin' me with Irene for all those years…"
Rogue quickly walled off her emotions and moved on before she could dwell on her feelings.
"Sometimes ah think that ah'm only with the X-Men because there ISN'T anything else for me. Ah can't go off and live mah life like a normal person 'cause of mah powers. Can't have a regular job and risk hurtin' somebody….Ah won't join Magneto 'cause he's just crazy and ah definitely don't believe in makin' 'baseline humans' suffer because they're different. Ah WANT to believe in the Professor's dream of peace between mutants and humans, but sometimes ah wonder if it's only just that… a dream and nothin' else."
Content with her answer, Rogue fell silent as Remy absorbed all the information.
"What about you?" she asked finally. "Why are you with Magneto of all people? Y' seem pretty decent to be with a psycho like him."
"Well, Gambit don't think he's all THAT crazy," the Cajun replied as he walked. "He takes de 'superiority complex' to new heights, but I can see his point. He just wants t' be left alone, really. Jus' like anyone else."
"Trust me Gambit, that is NOT all he wants. I've been in his head remember? He's just a step or two away from reaching Apocalypse's level of psychopath. Neither of them cares who gets hurt as long as they get what they want. They're obsessed with being the best and not having any opposition. The only difference is, Magneto accepts ALL mutants, not just the most powerful ones. It won't be long before Magneto loses it and tries to destroy every human on the planet."
"Peut-etre (maybe)," Gambit replied, deep in thought.
"So?" Rogue asked again, impatience dripping from her voice.
"Y' never said why y' joined him." Rogue knew he was avoiding her question and was determined to get an answer out of him.
"Dat's because it's not y'r turn t' ask," Remy responded cheekily.
Rogue rolled her eyes. "All right then, next question." She reminded herself to ask him about it later. Turn about WAS fair play after all.
Remy hitched Rogue up a little higher on his back and readjusted his grip on her knees. The sea of flowers still hadn't ended and it was making Remy more than a little nervous. If Apocalypse's guards came by, they'd have no trees in which to hide.
"Who's your best friend?" He asked a simple, non-emotional question to give her a little variety. He didn't want to hit her with a bunch of difficult questions at once for fear that she'd chicken out and quit playing.
"Ah guess Kitty," the Southerner replied. "Her, Logan and Kurt are the only ones that really even seem to give a crap. Everyone else just avoids me, which is pretty much how I want it anyhow. Still, they've always been there for me. Mostly when I don't want them, but they're always there. It's nice to know that someone cares."
"True dat," Remy agreed quietly.
"Number three den. What's y'r favorite movie?" he asked as he hitched the girl a little higher on his hips, being cautious not to jostle her ribs. Up ahead, he could finally see the beginning edge of the forest a few hundred yards beyond the sea of wildflowers, and he wanted to get there as quickly as possible.
"Pff," Rogue scoffed, "that one's easy. Interview with a Vampire."
This time it was Remy's turn to huff. "Typical," he scolded softly. "Dat's real great chere, you jus' keep tellin' everyone dese automatic responses an' mebbe you'll start believin' dem y'rself, d'accord?"
Remy felt Rogue tense up slightly as he finished his minor tirade. He didn't want to be harsh, but he was just so SICK of her trust issues!
Not that HE had any room to talk, but he wasn't the one in danger of losing his soul to some madman.
After all, he'd ALREADY done that…
"Fer your information," Rogue bit out as she glowered at him from behind closed lids, "it actually IS mah favorite movie!"
Some of the fire in her voice died down as she continued, "I, uh, ah kinda… ah don't know. Ah guess ah just identify with Armand, ya know? Ah can imagine what his character must be feelin' – bein' so isolated and alone. He lost so much – his family, his home, everything he ever knew, even his own sense of self. Ah suppose ah sympathize with him. He's a vampire, just like the other ones in the movie, but he's also different than them, too. He's an outcast even among his own kind – partly because of who and what he is, and partly because he knows it's better that way."
With a deep, calming breath to indicate she was finished, Rogue fell into a reflective silence as Remy pondered her admission.
Wow. He REALLY needed to watch that movie again.
"Huh," he replied at last. "You uh, y' sure put a lot of thought into y'r movies, chere. Me, I like um f'r pure entertainment. I'm a comedy man myself. I get far too much angst, drama and horror in m' life as it is. I don't need t' watch other folks go through it too."
"Oh yeah?" Rogue piped up, her curiosity peaked. "And what kinda horrors have you witnessed, Gambit?" She tried to keep her tone light and playful, but she was truly interested. Any visions or memories she'd pulled from his head were long gone now and he was a perfect mystery to her.
It was starting to get obnoxious.
"Chere," his voice was equally light as he responded, "I've been livin' wit' Magneto, Sabertooth and Pyro f'r de better part of a year. Trust me, I've seen PLENTY of horrors."
Rogue chuckled silently and the motion reverberated through Remy's back. "Really, like what? It can't be THAT bad."
"Oh, it's worse – much worse." Remy's tone was serious, but Rogue could still make out the teasing, playful intonation as well.
"F'r instance," he continued, "did y' know dat Sabertooth likes t' sleep in d' nude? T' be honest, so do I, but at least Gambit don't sleepwalk!"
Eyes still glued shut, Rogue tried to suppress a rather undignified snort as she blushed simultaneously.
Still, Remy continued. "And, y' can't tell a SOUL I told y' dis, but Magneto… he sings in de shower."
This time Rogue chuckled outright at her companion's serious tone. "That's a good one Ga – er, Remy."
"I'm SERIOUS, Rogue!" he exclaimed. "De man sings constantly! In de shower, on de toilet, readin' de paper, you name it. 'S why he's got his own bathroom on de ot'er side of the compound – he don't want anyone t' know what he really does in dere!
"What d' ya t'ink it'd do t' his reputation as 'de most terrifying mutant terrorist' if people knew he sang show tunes on d' pot?! Dat's why y' can't tell anyone! He'd kill us both! No one would believe ya, but he'd still kill us t' preserve his good name."
As Rogue mulled over his confession, trying to decide if it was in fact true or not, Remy silently chastised himself. He hated keeping things from the girl. Of course he'd seen worse than Victor Creed naked (not many, but he had). Admitting the truth and divulging his tumultuous past to her WOULD probably help them bond more quickly, but he couldn't risk her being afraid of him right now. Besides, this was about HER, not him.
"So, how 'bout de Wolverine, eh? You got any dirty little secrets on him?" Remy asked at last, trying to break the silence.
Rogue was suddenly VERY glad she was on Remy's back and not right next to him.
Logan was… Well, she got most of her information on the PHYSICAL aspect of relationships from Logan. Whenever she wanted to know something about the human body, she typically used his memories to learn it. Occasionally, she would access Mr. McCoy's vast knowledge on the functions of specific body parts or whatnot, but, well, Beast's information usually came from textbooks whereas Wolverine's was more… hands on.
An unbidden memory of him, naked and dripping under the spray of a hot shower, came crashing to the forefront of her mind as if just waiting for her to dwell on it. And, before she could stop herself, she was immersed within the vision she had witnessed many, many times already.
Rogue had revisited that memory so often, in fact, that it was practically engrained in her mind. Her entire body flushed pink as she tried to wipe away the image, but it really didn't matter at this point. She could see the picture just as vividly as if she were standing right there and she tried not to gasp as the same sensations washed over her body and mind as it did nearly every time she saw the scene.
It played very much like a raunchy home movie: it was a vague, distant memory that had lost some clarity over time. The image was fuzzy, as if being viewed from a distance, but she, however, always had a front seat to the show…
Logan's dark hair hung limply around his shoulders, plastered to his tanned skin as he submerged his face within the scalding water. Rogue swallowed hard as her mind's eye traveled down along the firm, glistening muscles of his chest and the dark patch of hair between his pecs. Downward still, her vision raked over the perfectly defined abs and followed the small sprinkling of black hair that started at his belly button and became thicker the farther down it went.
Finally, her inner eye rested on his strong hand, wrapped firmly along his manhood as he stroked himself, muscles and sinew contorting and writhing silently as he grunted and moaned out a name…
Remy tried again, "Hello, earth t' Rogue. You in dere girl?"
With a sharp intake of air, the girl in question crashed back to reality, flushing hotly.
"Uh, Logan's not… he um," Rogue stumbled on her words as she tried to explain her way out of the mess. "Let's just say Wolverine definitely doesn't SING in the shower."
If at all possible, Rogue's skin glowed an even darker shade of red.
Remy laughed grandly. He could tell Rogue was trying not squirm as she attempted to stutter out an acceptable answer, but she was failing horribly. It didn't take a genius to figure out why she was suddenly so uncomfortable. He could only imagine the many vivid scenes she had likely absorbed from the infamous Wolverine.
"So, uh, is dere anyone ELSE at de Institute dat DON'T sing in de shower?" he asked with a sly grin.
Rogue blanched at his outright audacity. She made a few indistinct noises in her throat – much like a drowning fish – and finally squeaked, "PASS!" before becoming rather angry at his obvious attempts to make her blush.
Remy's face fell. He'd almost forgotten they were even playing a game. The conversation had been going so well, too!
"Okay, fine," he rounded on her. Trying not to sulk, he steered his inquiries back into 'safe' territory so he could slowly wheedle her back into more a more difficult line of questioning.
"Favorite movie genre?"
Rogue chewed her lip thoughtfully, still flushing and fuming as she took deep, calming breaths.
"Ah don't… ah don't know if ah even HAVE a favorite genre. Every movie's a little different, but ah guess ah like the ones that have a…" she hesitated, worried he would laugh at her again.
"Go on," he coaxed, "ones that 'have a' what?"
With much uncertainty and a tinge of irritation, she sighed and spoke. "A – a message, ah guess." She was still flushed from the last round of questioning and subsequent images, and the fact that she was embarrassed by her own answers wasn't helping much.
Smiling, Remy praised her for the confession. "See, dat wasn't so hard, was it? Makes perfect sense, too. It fits you."
"And what does THAT mean?" Rogue tried to keep the fury out of her voice as she suppressed a rather nasty snarl. Atop his back, she felt the Cajun shrug nonchalantly.
"Just means it makes sense that you would prefer movies wit' a deeper, more intriguing meaning. Don't know if anyone's ever told you dis before, but you have an aura of complexity and gravity around you dat can be more den a little intimidating. Intriguing, but intimidating nonetheless."
Rogue's cheeks reddened once again, but this time it was the combination of embarrassment and pleasure that made the blood rush to her face. That was, hands down, one of the best compliments she'd ever received. At least, she THOUGHT it was. It WAS a compliment, right?
"Um, thanks. Ah guess," she replied sheepishly. How many times had he made her blush already today? She'd lost count at a dozen.
Remy smiled, "Avec plaisir, ma belle cherie." (With pleasure, my beautiful dear)
The pink in Rogue's cheeks turned crimson and she pursed her lips to keep herself from grinning like an idiot. She should have smacked him, not thanked him! What was she thinking? WAS she even thinking anymore? Why on earth did this stupid Cajun have such a stupid affect on her stupid brain!
She forced herself to frown indignantly at him despite the slightly giddy feeling in her brain. She didn't have long to dwell on her feelings however, because Remy suddenly spoke up again.
"Alright, here's number five," he started, but Rogue cut him off abruptly.
"Number seven actually. Those questions about mah friends' 'dirty secrets' count too, ya know. Ah didn't bother t' count the unintentional ones, so you get them free."
Huffing resentfully, Remy continued, "Fine den, number SEVEN. Besides gaining control of y'r powers, what's one thing you've always wanted? …And it can't be 'World Peace."
Rogue whistled, impressed. "And ya think I'M deep!" She wasn't sure she wanted to answer, but figured she should probably keep her last 'Get Out of Jail' card for a more difficult question. Thankfully, she didn't have to think long about this one. She already knew the answer.
"Yer probably gonna laugh, but well… Ah've uh, ah've always wanted a – a puppy."
Before Remy had a chance to ask for clarification, Rogue immediately launched into a hurried, almost apologetic explanation.
"When, uh, when ah was seven, this family moved in next door. They had this daughter who was just a year or so older n' me and, well, she was an utterly spoiled little… brat."
Remy chuckled at Rogue's choice of words, but did not interrupt.
"This girl'd come over all the time just t' show me all her nice things. She'd flaunt the number of friends she had, all the places she went, the things her parents let her do…"
Rogue scrunched her eyes a little tighter and took a deep breath. "Ah never cared much, not really. Irene gave me practically everything ah ever needed and some ah didn't – like that phony skin condition for instance."
The X-Man bit down on her lip and inhaled slowly, letting it out again just as carefully and evenly to calm herself down.
"Anyhow," she began once she was under control, "Ah never really cared until one day, she brought over this puppy. Ah'm pretty sure it was a Border Collie – it was black with a white nose and paws, and a streak o' white goin' up the middle of it's forehead."
With a wistful sigh, Rogue smiled at her own memory. "Ah remember how she just thrust it right into mah arms, not even carin' that ah wasn't supposed to touch any type of animal 'cause of my 'condition.' In fact, ah'm pretty sure she wanted it to flare up or something just so she could rub it in a little more."
Rogue scowled slightly, but brightened a fraction as she continued. "Ah just held that little pup in mah arms, and it was like it'd known me forever. She sat and licked mah face and arms and didn't give a hoot about who or what ah was. It was really nice, ya know? Ah'd always been kind of an outcast 'cause of mah skin, and that was the first time ah'd ever really felt wanted in mah whole life. Irene tried, of course, but she was still so distant. But that little puppy… That's when ah figured how unconditional love should prob'ly feel. Maybe that's why it was so important to me."
Remy could hear the smallest hitch in Rogue's voice as she stopped to take another deep breath.
"Then, after about a month, that stupid gal just got sick of her puppy and wanted a… a pony or somethin' instead. Told me they were gonna get rid of it, put it to sleep or something, unless I wanted t' keep it. Ah begged Irene t' let meh have it, but she always had some kind of excuse for me. After two days of non-stop pesterin' she finally just blamed it on my skin."
Rogue chuckled, but it was mirthless and bitter. "That's when I told her ah'd been sneakin' over t' the neighbors house and playin' with that puppy nearly every day for a month and hadn't once gotten sick."
Rogue's tone turned angry as she continued, "I came down with a nasty rash about two days later and by the time ah got better, they'd already taken the puppy away to the pound. Ah still remember the look on Irene's face when ah told her, though. It was priceless. Looking back now, ah guess she was just shocked that she hadn't already known about it."
Another disheartened laugh escaped her. "Growin' up, ah always thought she wasn't really blind, or that she must've had some type of sixth sense or somethin' 'cause she always knew what ah was doin' – sometimes before even AH did. 'Course, it all makes sense NOW."
As Remy listened to her tale, the look on his face morphed rapidly from amusement, to sympathy, to full blown anger.
"S' wait," he interrupted quickly, "Are you tellin' me dat Irene actually GAVE you a rash, just t' maintain dat stupid 'skin condition' story?"
"Ah reckon so," Rogue replied with another calming breath. "Especially considerin' ah never actually HAD a condition 'til mah powers kicked in. She used t' make me put on this cream every night though. Most of the time it seemed like regular old lotion, but right before ah'd get a rash, there'd always be this funny smell to it. Those were the nights ah'd fight her on usin' the stuff, too."
Although Remy couldn't see it, Rogue's face fell, eyes still shut tight, as she bit her lip. "Ah guess that on some level, ah've always known that it was just too good, ya know?"
Remy nodded and grunted in response, but inside his blood was boiling. His own adopted father had been cruel at times, but he'd never intentionally hurt Remy. (At least as far as Remy knew.) The thought that Rogue had grown up in such a place… No wonder the girl had so many emotional issues. He couldn't imagine the psychological torture she'd been put through, all the while thinking that her life was perfectly normal and just being thankful she had someone that cared for her.
"So here's another tough one for yah," Remy asked as soon as his rage was back under control. "I can only guess dat you'd just as soon push Mystique's stony ass right offa cliff, but what would you say t' Irene? Knowing everything you do now? Mystique may be de one who adopted y' and all, but Irene's de one who raised you – does dat make her more or less guilty den Mystique?"
"Geez Remy!" Rogue exclaimed, suddenly more than a little angry. "Are you suddenly channeling Dr. Phil or what? (S) Ah don't… Ah – ah can't think about that right now, okay? Pass."
The truth was, Rogue's eyes were already starting to sting with tears. There was no way Mystique would have known about Apocalypse unless Destiny had told her. Which meant Irene – the woman she'd lived with, trusted, and loved – had played just as large of a role in this whole debacle as Mystique. Possibly even more so.
The real question was this: Had Destiny foreseen the possibility of Rogue becoming Apocalypse's slave Queen? And, if so, had she and Mystique tried to prevent or encourage that future?
If they'd been trying to prevent it, then why hadn't Irene and Mystique simply gone to Xavier? Had they been worried that perhaps the Professor or Magneto would rather kill her than risk freeing Apocalypse?
No, that couldn't be right either. Mystique had gone out of the way to use Rogue in order to do just that. Which meant…
"OW!!" Remy yelped as Rogue's grip on his shoulders tightened painfully. "What was dat for?!"
"Oops, sorry Rem! Ah guess ah just got lost in thought," Rogue apologized sheepishly.
"You, uh, you think of pain often, chere?" he asked with mock nervousness.
Rogue smiled sweetly, and though he couldn't see it, he could definitely HEAR it as she whispered low into his ear – saccharine as the honey from a beehive and with the slightest twinge of suggestiveness.
"Only with you, Remy. Only with you."
Just when Gambit was beginning to panic over losing the river, he heard the rushing of water up ahead and sighed in relief. God help them if they didn't have fresh water. They'd be dead from dehydration long before Apocalypse could get to them.
Before he could actually see the river ahead, he stopped in a small clearing that was completely enshrouded by trees. Not a drop of sunlight poked through the dense branches above, and the sound of the river echoed loudly through the entire area, making it impossible to tell in which direction it was located. The ground was covered in soft, green moss from the river's moisture, half a dozen large protruding boulders, and a few old trees that lay dead among the new growth.
Overall, it was perfectly serene and picturesque and would be a marvelous spot to sit, rest and tend to their grievances.
"Once again, thank you for riding with us today. We are now beginning our decent. We hope you enjoyed your trip and will come back soon. A bientot!." (See you soon)
Remy crouched down low enough for Rogue to simply plant her feet and stand up, but as soon as she had done so, she began to sway again. Instinctively, she reached out for the closest thing to steady herself…
Which happened to be him.
"Whoa dere cherie," he cautioned as he turned around and held onto Rogue's forearms. He didn't miss the grimace that crossed her face as she took a step forward and, within a moment's blink, he scooped her up bridal-style and carried her to a cluster of nearby boulders.
"REMY!" Rogue screeched as she was suddenly lifted into the air once more. She HATED being carried like this. It made her feel like some weak little girl!
"Put me down!" she hissed while smacking him upside the head.
"Of course mademoiselle (Miss)," he replied and carefully deposited her on a rock. It was about three feet off the ground, which was exactly perfect for inspecting and caring for her wounds.
"Y' need t' stay off y'r feet as much as possible, d'accord? (okay) I'm gonna have t' take the scraps off y'r ribs t' take care o' dose gashes on y'r feet, but I'm probably gonna need more of 'em, too."
Remy held her gaze as a look of distain and worry crossed Rogue's features.
"Uh, can't… can't we just take some off the coat? Mah dress is gettin' a little short as it is." Rogue licked her lips nervously. She REALLY didn't want to take more off the garment.
As it was, the dress hung just barely at her knees. Taking off more material would bring it even higher and she wasn't particularly happy about wearing something that resembled a mini-skirt. Especially not around this cocky Cajun flirt!
Remy smiled apologetically.
"Sorry cherie, but no. We gotta have dat thing intact f'r warmth at night. De weather's been changin' around us. It's getting a lot warmer during the day, which means we probably gonna get a storm sometime real soon. We need dat coat f'r survival."
Rogue nodded resolutely. Darn him, but he was right. She knew what they'd have to do, but it didn't mean she liked the idea none.
From his half-crouch on the ground, Remy reached up for the impromptu bandages around Rogue's ribs. She, however, moved away slightly and eyed him suspiciously. With a little laugh, Remy held up the Boy Scout's honor sign with his fingers.
"Don't worry, I ain't gonna tickle you. Can't risk you gettin' injured any worse."
With careful, delicate hands, Remy once again reached for the small knot in the fabric and worked it free. Ever so slowly, he began unraveling the ties from Rogue's torso, careful not to accidentally jostle or tickle her in the process.
Rogue took slow, easy breaths as she tried to calm her heart rate. She tried to focus on anything besides Remy's strong hands around her waist or the way he stared so intently at his work.
Or was he staring at her chest?!
She took another breath and tried to convince herself that he was only looking at the ties and not the way her chest was heaving up and down right in front of his face.
Meanwhile, Remy was trying VERY hard to concentrate.
He was bent over, with his head incredibly close to Rogue's ample breasts (covered only by a tiny tube-top, mind you) as he unwrapped the bandages from around her ribs and chest. With a great deal of effort, he focused his vision on only his own hands and tried to ignore the way Rogue's chest bobbed enticingly with every breath she took.
He bit his lower lip harshly as he tried to block out some not-so-gentlemanly visions.
With a furrowed brow, Remy watched his hands carefully unravel each and every tie as he sped up the pace a bit. He knew he had to work fast to avoid any embarrassing displays. If he did something stupid now, Rogue would never let him touch her again and that would instantly give Apocalypse the upper hand.
Remy sighed in relief as he finished unwrapping Rogue's ribs, but instead of standing up, he immediately crouched low and began working on the sandals, trying to get his body back under control.
Rogue exhaled slowly, relieved when Remy moved away from her ribs and toward a less intimate area of her body. Her pulse had been racing the entire time he worked on removing the bandages.
Now however, she took a deep breath to calm herself and instantly winced at the pressure on her broken ribs. She made a little noise in her throat and Remy's head whipped up to stare at her, his hands held up away from her feet.
"Did I hurt you?" he questioned, concern racking his features.
Rogue forced a smile on her face even while she tried not to wince.
"No, ah just took too deep a breath is all. Didn't realize how much those ties helped."
Remy nodded in understanding. "It's easy t' f'rget. Jus' try t' keep it low and steady, eh?"
Rogue agreed with a slight inclination of her head, and Remy bent his to work on her left shoe again.
As Rogue sat patiently waiting, monitoring her breathing and enjoying the quiet, Remy was fighting yet another internal battle.
He'd thought that removing Rogue's shoes would be safe territory compared to her ribs, but he was very, very wrong.
As soon as he'd looked up to check on Rogue, he realized how close his face was to her OTHER womanly parts. And despite the fact that neither of them had bathed in three days, she smelled absolutely divine.
The scent of her sex alone was enough to drive him to distraction and again, Remy had to force himself to focus.
His fingers gently worked at the small knots on Rogue's laces, which had practically been cemented into place over the last few days. He was having an immense amount of trouble loosening them and, with the other distraction to his senses invading his brain, he couldn't fathom a single way of untying the laces.
Rogue nearly yelped when she felt Remy's lips on her tender calf. With a look of shock and wonder on her face she stared down at him, trying to figure out just what the hell he thought he was doing.
As she peered down at him, however, she realized that he was quite simply trying to untie her shoes… with his TEETH.
The Southern girl bit down hard on her lip as she felt Remy's tongue dance against her sensitive flesh. She knew he was only trying to get her shoes off, but doubted he had any idea what he was doing to her senses.
It took every ounce of her willpower not to moan.
Remy felt Rogue tense up as his lips descended on her laces, but did not to look up at her. He knew that his eyes were positively filled with desire right now and he couldn't risk her getting skittish again.
The Cajun used a combination of his teeth, tongue and lips to try and work the ties free, and when the knot was finally loose enough for him to pull apart with his fingers, he grinned triumphantly to himself.
Instantly, he worked on slowly removing the laces from Rogue's calves and inspected every gash and wound carefully as he went. He would have to use the cloth from her dress to pad the wounds and keep them from getting infected. After all, the X-Men would have his hide if he brought Rogue back with gangrene…
In particular, Rogue's 'father figure' Logan would be much less appreciative of Remy bringing her home if she was in such poor condition, and he shuddered at the image of a rabid Wolverine chasing him around the mansion lawns. (S)
Once Rogue's left shoe was off, the Cajun began work on the right. He huffed miserably, however, as he realized that the right laces were just as stubborn as the left ones had been.
Again, he bent his head and started to work on loosening the knot with his teeth, completely missing Rogue's expression of frustration and headiness as her head fell back on her shoulders.
This was getting absolutely ridiculous! Why in the world didn't Remy just use the pocketknife to cut the ties off? It would be so much simpler and less torturous!
Rogue didn't know how much more of this she could take. The Acolyte's tongue and lips dancing over her tender flesh was enough to make her crazy! The saltiness of his saliva burned at the little wounds and made her wince, but the combination of the pain from the gashes along with the pleasure of his lips on her skin was nearly enough to make her squirm. As it was, she had to squeeze her lips and thighs together to keep herself from moaning like a banshee.
Silently, she cursed the Cajun for the way he was affecting her.
Little did she know, Remy was, at that very moment, fighting valiantly against his own hormones. His senses were so far gone that he desperately wanted to just take Rogue right then and there.
With growing frustration, he chewed at the ties more roughly as he tried to gnaw them apart. However, the more flustered he became the less efficient he was so the ties were much more of a hassle than they should have been.
After nearly two minutes of struggling with the ties, Remy growled low in his throat and savagely attacked the leather threads, nearly sending Rogue into a meltdown. Her eyes, lips and thighs were all clenched so tightly it looked as if she was in utter agony… which really wasn't too far off.
At long last, the knot came loose and both Remy and Rogue released a quiet sigh of relief. Still, Remy did not look up at Rogue, nor she down at him as he continued carefully unwrapping the ties while she kept her legs carefully locked together.
Once Remy had removed both sandals and carefully examined the many wounds on Rogue's legs, he reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his pocketknife.
"Hold still now chere, I don't wanna cut ya," he warned before making a small slit about two inches up from the bottom hem of her dress and cutting horizontally across the fabric.
He held the material away from Rogue's legs to avoid accidentally stabbing her and continued working until he reached the sides of her legs. At that point, he stopped and looked up at her.
"I'm gonna have t' lift y'r legs up on m' shoulders to get the back side, petite. Den I'll start a second strip from de back an' cut forward so y' don't have t' move around too much."
Rogue finally opened her eyes and nodded down at the Acolyte, praying that he couldn't see how badly this business was affecting her.
"-Kay," was all she could manage.
With a reassuring smile, Remy gently lifted Rogue's legs from the back of her knees until they came to rest on either side of his head.
And they both instantly realized how awkward the situation really was…
With Rogue's legs held straight and positioned on either side of Remy's shoulders, the Cajun had an absolutely perfect view of Rogue's aforementioned womanly parts.
With a gulp, Rogue tried to squeeze her thighs together as much as humanly possible while Remy cleared his throat and attempted to cut from the last point behind her knees.
Unfortunately, Rogue was squeezing her legs together so tightly that he couldn't see around them to make the cut.
"Uh, Rogue," he spoke softly, "I, uh, I need you to move y'r knees farther apart so I can see the fabric. I can't see over your legs. Need to be able to look under 'em."
Rogue winced and shifted uncomfortably. "Are you… are you sure ya can't do it some other way?"
"I'd have y' stand up, but we can't risk gettin' any dirt in dem blisters and cuts. Sadly, dis is about de only way t' do it."
There was no point in avoiding the big purple elephant now, so Remy bravely forged ahead. "Don't worry none though, I'll keep m' head down like a good boy."
She snorted. "Somehow ah find that hard t' believe."
"Scouts honor," he replied with mock resentment and held up two fingers as he gauged her reaction.
Rogue simply cocked an eyebrow at him. "An what do ya think yer doin' right this very second Cajun?"
"Oops," he replied with pure shame in his voice and quickly ducked his head again – partly to cover his tracks, and partly so she wouldn't see the bit of redness staining his cheeks.
Rogue, however, had not missed the small sign of embarrassment and it simultaneously helped soften her expression ever so slightly while also making the situation a little easier to handle. If Remy was flushing, then he probably wasn't a complete pervert and might actually stick to his word.
Still, she was more than a little nervous about the prospect of trusting him to be a gentleman…
"Ready?" he asked with his head cast straight down at the ground.
Rogue drew a deep breath, closed her eyes and replied, "Ready," before sliding her legs farther apart on Remy's shoulders.
Instantly, Remy began sawing away furiously, determined to get this over and done with as fast as possible.
True to his word, he kept his eyes on both his fingers and the blade throughout the process without once letting his gaze stray from his task.
When both strips were finally cut, he gently removed Rogue's legs from his shoulders and let them hang down safely once again; her dress now shortened by another four inches above the knees.
Rogue opened her eyes, unconvinced that it could be over so quickly. 'Well,' she thought, 'that wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.'
While Rogue examined the new length of her dress, Remy quickly picked up all the dress scraps, both old and new, and vaulted up almost at a sideways angle, standing just behind and to the side of the girl.
"I'm uh, gonna take dese down t' de river t' wash 'fore I wrap yer legs. Don't want 'em t' get infected or nothin'. Stay here, I'll be back soon."
And with that, he was gone as quickly and silently as his legs could carry him.
Rogue wasn't certain how long she'd been sitting on that rock, but it seemed like quite a long time now. In fact, she'd been sitting for so long that she was starting to worry about Gambit.
What if Apocalypse or the guards had caught him somehow? Would he tell them where she was, or refuse to give up her hiding place?
What if he was tortured?!?!
What type of man WAS he anyhow? Was he the strong, brooding and relentlessly stubborn type - like Wolverine - who refused to give up any information no matter the cost or pain? Or, was he like Kitty and the other girls at the mansion, who squealed like piglets when they sensed the slightest bit of danger?
She doubted Remy would give her up easily – after all, he'd gone to great lengths to keep her alive and comfortable up to now – but how far would he go to keep her from Apocalypse? Especially if they came face to face a second time? After all, during their first encounter, Remy had nearly given her straight over to the maniac without a second thought.
The memory had Rogue rather worried. Was Remy … it was 'LeBeau,' right? … the type of man who put on a good show and pretended to be tough and heroic while faced with trivial dangers and obstacles? Or, was he the type of man who really WAS tough, heroic and brave, no matter what the situation may be?
If he was the former, and they were faced with Apocalypse again before the new moon, Rogue knew she'd be doomed. However, if he was the later and was as brave and chivalrous as he seemed to be, Rogue doubted she could find a better traveling companion.
She gnawed quietly on her lower lip and glanced around the clearing again. She really did hope he came back soon…
With a large tray in his hands, Piotr Rasputin carefully made his way down the hall as he tried not to let his soup spill.
Dressed in a nice pair of black slacks and a dark green polo shirt instead of his typical uniform or jeans, the large man paused to maintain his balance as the liquid sloshed dangerously close to the top of the bowl.
The tray he carried was fancy, far too fancy for such a simple meal, but he did want to make an impression. The tray was made of fine silver with large, ornate handles and a faint floral pattern etched into the bottom. He hoped that Kitty would appreciate the extra effort and his knack for paying attention to detail - the bowl holding the soup in question was pale pink with a line of small blue flowers adorning the rim. He figured that she probably liked pink and would therefore like the bowl even if she didn't care for the meal – which he hoped she did.
Finally, he was standing before her door and he swallowed hard, afraid she would be offended or upset by his gesture. Before he could chicken out though, he moved the tray to one hand and rapped on the door lightly, not wanting to wake her if she was asleep.
"Yeah?" she called from behind the door, confirming that she was not yet resting.
"Katya? It is Piotr, er Peter… Rasputin. Colossus," he stammered as his nerves started getting the best of him. "May I… may I enter?"
"Uh, sure Pete. Come on in."
She sounded a bit irritated and he began to wonder if he should have even gone through with this plan. But, steeling himself for the worst, he carefully grasped the door handle and pushed it open.
Kitty was still sitting in the same spot he'd left her in two hours ago, but was slumped so far down in her chair it looked like she was going to fall out of it.
The very end of her ponytail hung over the back of the chair and her nose was nearly even with the keyboard as she stared up at the screen. Only her shoulders were really on the chair and her legs were braced against the wall to keep her from sliding out from under the desk.
It looked horribly uncomfortable.
Piotr took a few steps into the room with the tray in his hands and waited for the girl to acknowledge his presence.
"What's up Pete? Do you need something?" she asked without taking her eyes from the screen.
Her reaction to his presence was confusing. Earlier, she'd been happy to talk to him and had given him her rapt attention despite being so busy with her project. But now it was almost as if she was displeased with him.
Realization dawned as he noticed the plate from the Pop Tarts he'd brought her earlier. It was pushed aside and there was scarcely even a crumb left upon it. She HAD said she was famished, and yet, all he had brought her was a measly breakfast dessert.
Piotr cleared his throat apologetically. "I am sorry for the poor snack I delivered to you earlier, but I did not want you to starve while I prepared lunch."
The aroma from the soup must have hit her nose as he explained because he heard Kitty sniff the air like a Bloodhound as he spoke. Her head instantly whipped around to stare greedily at the silver tray. She couldn't see what was ON it because of her current posture, but her eyes went wide as she pushed herself out from under the desk.
As soon as her feet had left the wall, her precarious balance on the chair was compromised and she fell flat on her backside.
Piotr resisted the urge to drop the tray and rush to her aide and carefully placed it on the desk first.
"Are you all right?" he asked, bending over to lend her a hand.
Kitty stared up at the large Acolyte as she tried to figure out what had just happened.
Blushing furiously, she sat up hastily and took Piotr's outstretched hand. Once she was standing again, she brushed the invisible dirt from her Capri's and cleared her throat.
"Wow. That was like, totally embarrassing."
The Russian smiled down at her. "Do not be embarrassed, I am very large and not very graceful – it iz not a good combination."
Kitty smiled, but the blush still did not leave her face as she stared down at the floor instead of meeting his eyes.
"I have," he stammered again, "I brought you food, er… lunch. Zat is, I have brought you soup… that is lunch. Here."
Piotr resisted the urge to smack himself in the forehead as he motioned to the tray.
Within milliseconds, Kitty was standing right over the bowl and sniffing it with abandon. Her little nose worked on the scent furiously as her eyes scrunched in concentration.
"Do you… do you not like it?" The large Acolyte was also blushing now – convinced that he had messed up horribly and displeased the sweet girl.
With her eyes still firmly shut, Kitty shook her head in the negative. "No, it's not that. It smells delicious! It's just that it's so … familiar. I can't place my finger on it."
With a small, almost relieved smile, Piotr sighed softly and stepped closer to the tray, using a lavish silver spoon to stir and scoop up a bit of the soup.
"Here," he suggested, "vhy not see if it also TASTES familiar."
Piotr Rasputin's heart was beating rapidly. He hadn't felt this much anticipation or anxiety since his first meeting with Magneto over a year ago. Even battle did not fuel this much adrenaline within him! He was terribly nervous that Kitty would hate the soup, but the fact that he was trying something so bold as to actually FEED it to her was positively pulse-pounding!
Kitty swallowed nervously, but smiled as she obediently kept her eyes closed and nodded. She tried not to let herself wonder about the intimate implications of the situation and instead concentrated on where she had smelled such a divine aroma.
Then, as she opened her mouth, she wondered if the dish was Kosher and suppressed a grimace. Was it a sin to eat non-Kosher food if you didn't KNOW if it was Kosher? Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to relax, unscrunched her face, and waited patiently for Peter to make his move.
Piotr tried – for the third time – to keep his soup in the spoon. As he lifted the delicate silver away from the bowl, however, his quivering hand caused the liquid to slosh out once again.
Sighing, he steeled his nerves, scooped up yet another spoonful and lifted it to the girl's mouth.
Kitty almost gasped as she finally felt the warm spoon touch her lower lip and, as she sipped the broth into her mouth, her eyes popped open in disbelief.
The sudden outburst startled Piotr tremendously and he nearly fell on his behind. Thankfully, he only dropped the spoon, which was quickly snatched up by Kitty before it even hit the ground.
After seizing the AWOL silverware, Kitty immediately lunged for the entire bowl of soup - completely forgetting about the large Russian who was still staring at her in disbelief.
She slurped up a bit more broth before closing her eyes and sighing in ecstasy. Lost in her own private heaven, the girl began shoveling soup into her mouth, pausing only to chew an occasional large white ball of bread-like dough.
Meanwhile, Piotr continued to stare at the small girl in amazed amusement.
Kitty released an almost indecent sigh and paused in her feeding spree to mutter three little words that sent Piotr's heart rate soaring.
"Oh. My. God."
Slowly, a giant smile split Kitty's face and she lunged at Peter, throwing her arms around his neck.
At first, the large Russian was so shocked he simply froze. Gradually though, he began to recover and slowly relaxed into her embrace. After another minute, Kitty still hadn't moved away and he felt a damp warmth seeping into his shirt.
"Katya?" he asked, trying to pull away slightly, "Are you all right?"
He tugged the trembling girl away from his torso and bent to examine her face.
Her cheeks were flushed light pink and streaked with fresh tears. Her blue eyes glistened as more tears spilled over her face and down her nose; yet still she smiled. It was watery and weary, but still a smile.
"Katya, what is wrong? I zought ze soup waz to your liking?" Piotr was tempted to scratch his head in confusion, but the girl once again wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her face in his shirt.
"I – I'm sorry," she started, "I just… It's really good."
She finally dared to look up at him and smiled again before ducking her head shyly once again.
"I haven't had Matza Ball Soup since… forever. My Grams used to make it for me when we'd go to her place for Hanukah. I'd tell her about all the things that happened in the last year and we'd eat it together while we talked. She made the best Matza Ball Soup I've ever had."
A sniffle interrupted her for a moment.
"For a minute there," she continued, "I felt like I was 10 years old again and unloading all my fears and worries with my Grams."
She gently raised her head and met Peter's gaze.
"Thank you," Kitty whispered.
Despite the fact that Peter was crouched over, she still had to stand on tiptoe to place a chaste kiss on the Russian's cheek.
She sniffled again, blushing as she ducked her head again. "Thanks."
"Uh…" Piotr was at a loss for words momentarily. "I… Uh. Of course. It is my pleasure. Please, sit and enjoy it."
With an embarrassed giggle, the suddenly timid girl followed Peter's hand gesture and took a seat at her desk, pushing her laptop aside as she pulled the ornate bowl close.
"May I help read a few web pages while you eat?" he asked politely.
Kitty had already absorbed herself in the soup once more and nodded eagerly as she took another mouthful.
Piotr gently lifted the laptop from the desk and, finding nowhere else to sit, placed himself somewhat awkwardly on the edge of her bed.
As Kitty ate quietly, Piotr read through page after page of Google hits as he tried to find anything useful on Apocalypse.
About half an hour later, Kitty finally sighed contentedly and slowly crawled up to sit next to Peter on the bed. With her feet tucked beneath her, she sat beside him and read over his shoulder as he analyzed each individual web page.
Within five minutes she was sound asleep, her head resting heavily on Piotr's shoulder. The Russian felt the girl's head drop onto his arm, but he simply smiled and continued reading.
When a soft snore emanated from her lips, however, Piotr knew she wouldn't be waking anytime soon. He shifted uncomfortably.
He knew he should move her to a more comfortable position, yet he was more afraid touching the girl than facing Apocalypse.
Cautiously, he placed the laptop on the nearby desk and turned slightly so Kitty's head dropped against his chest. Placing his arm around her back, he supported her neck in the crook of his arm and slowly laid her down on the bed.
Standing up, he looked at the girl's legs – bent oddly underneath her – and cringed. With a slow, steady hand he gently pried her feet out from under her. Unfortunately, this caused her feet to slump off the bed and Piotr sighed.
Boy was she ever a heavy sleeper!
Piotr gently hooked his arms under Kitty's neck and knees and lifted her easily, placing her properly on the bed with her head against the pillows.
With a small smile, he picked up the laptop once again and began reading as Kitty slept beside him.
It was about three in the afternoon when Todd and Freddy finally made it outside to survey their 'project.' So far, it consisted of a large pile of wood and nothing else. Still, the boys were proud of their accomplishment. They had spent the better part of the last three hours (the awoke at noon, after all) finding, chopping, and carrying wood.
Fred had done most of the carrying and chopping while Todd had picked out the best trees on Xavier's lot (two so far) and had also drawn a picture of what he thought the memorial should look like.
Quite surprisingly, the picture had turned out rather well. It consisted of a small pillar, almost a column, with an inscription (he hadn't decided what to say yet) carved into the front. Atop the pillar was a dove, relatively small, but it appeared grand and proud as it spread it's wings to fly away.
Todd smiled at the drawing. Yeah, that was probably a good representation of Rogue. He thought that she herself would like the simplicity of the column, as she was never one for fancy, elaborate things. The dove wasn't large or overpowering either. It was small, almost life-like on the paper, and the way it appeared to fly was just as Lance had said it. "She can fly free now."
Todd jotted the phrase down on the paper. "Fly Free." It was simple, tasteful and only those who were ever truly friends with Rogue would understand.
Most people didn't think Todd Tolanski was very smart (he wasn't really), or deep (he wasn't really that either), but he was definitely a sentimentalist. And, no matter what, he really did care for his friends. Even if they weren't such good friends anymore. Which is why he knew he had to do this.
Even in Xavier ordered a nice, elaborate marker for Rogue, at least she would know that she had more friends than just at the Institute. After all, a home-made gift was far better than a purchased one right?
"Are… Are you Todd Tolanski?" someone asked, startling Todd from his reverie.
A man dressed in blue coveralls and a blue cap reading "Modern Masterpiece," was standing next to Todd. He carried a clipboard and was looking back and forth from the paper in front of him to the boy.
"Huh?" Todd blinked and finally nodded. "Oh, uh yeah. That's me. I'm Toa – er, Todd. Todd Tolanski. Heh heh."
The man cocked an eyebrow, but shrugged and handed the clipboard and a pen over to Todd.
"Sign here please."
"Thank you very much Mr. Tolanski, I hope you find the specimen to your liking."
Todd's eyes furrowed together and his nose turned upward as if he had just smelled himself.
At that moment, two other men came forward, wheeling a large cart with a giant white rock atop it.
Todd's eyes shot open.
"Whoa! Freddy, hey! Get a load of this!!" Todd hopped over to where the men slowly brought the cart to a stop and steadied their giant load.
"This is awesome man! This is for me? Uh, I mean, us?" Todd asked, his eyes dancing with excitement.
The man with the clipboard checked the name again and shook his head in disbelief. "That's… that's what it says. Deliver to Todd Tolanski, East Lawn at Xavier Institute, Bayville, New York."
"WHOA!" Fred exclaimed. It's like they KNEW what we were doing!! That's so crazy!"
As the man helped the other two unload the giant stone and before they left Todd stopped him.
"Uh, yo man, what… what IS it?"
"Excuse me?" The man took off his hat – he had graying red hair which was balding in the front – and wiped his forehead with his sleeve.
"What IS it?" Todd asked again. "Is it just a big white rock or what?"
The man rolled his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "You've gotta be kidding me. It's freakin' MARBLE kid. Expensive as hell and heavier than that. Shit, YOU bought the stuff and you don't even know what it is?? Christ!"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!!!" Todd exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air.
Fred did the same, and the load of wood he'd been carrying clattered to the ground.
"Yo man, we didn't pay for no marble! YOU brought it to us! We didn't BUY it!! Honest!"
Both boys took a step back.
The man cursed under his breath. "That just freakin' figures. Now we gotta load it back in the truck! Son of a …"
He stormed back to where the other two men stood cursing and sweating and the three of them lifted the giant stone back onto the cart.
As they were wheeling it back to their truck, however, they were stopped by none other than Charles Xavier himself.
"Excuse me gentlemen," the Professor started, "I believe there has been a misunderstanding."
The red/gray haired man stopped and glared at the Professor. "And who are you?" he asked snidely.
"I am Professor Charles Xavier. This is my school, and that," he pointed at the slab of marble, "is the marble I purchased for these boys to make a memorial."
The man snorted and looked at Todd and Fred, their hands still held high in the air.
"Oh yeah, a memorial for what? Their long lost intelligence?" The man smiled as the other two workers snorted.
"No," Xavier corrected politely, "they are building a memorial for a friend – one of MY students – who passed away recently."
"Oh," was all the man had to say.
Quietly, the three men wheeled the marble back over to Todd and Fred (who, thanks to a mental nudge from Xavier, had put their hands down at last), and with much grunting and groaning, deposited the enormously heavy slab on the ground.
"Actually," Todd spoke up, I think I want it right over here." He hopped about five feet away, toward a shady spot under a tree.
The men groaned, but lifted the object regardless and placed it under the tree.
"No, no, no," Freddy exclaimed, "You can't put it THERE Toad, the birds will poop on it!"
"Oh, man, you're right, yo! How about…" he hopped to another spot a few feet away from the tree, "right here."
The men dragged the marble near Toad again.
"Naw, man, this spot is better, it gets more sunlight." Fred countered.
The men looked at Xavier, who nodded, and they dragged the marble near Fred.
When the men were done, the boys sat and examined the marble and the setting for a moment.
"You know where the perfect spot would be?" Xavier said quietly.
Everyone turned to look at him – the men in disbelief and the boys with admiration.
"Over there," he pointed toward the sunniest point near the middle of the lawn, "where we can all see it from our windows."
The boys nodded in agreement, but the red/gray haired man took off his cap and folded his arms.
"Forget the friggin' tip, pal," he exclaimed furiously, "You want the damn thing over there, you move it yourself."
With that, he started to storm away.
Freddy simply shrugged his shoulders. "Okay," he replied, and picked up the marble slab with ease, carried it the twenty-five feet across the lawn and dropped it on the spot Xavier mentioned.
The men from "Modern Masterpieces" simply gawked before swearing like bandits and stomping off the grounds.
"Well," Todd exclaimed, "we certainly won't be doing business with THEM again."
Xavier smiled at the boys, "Certainly not."
As Xavier excused himself to go back to his study, Sabertooth, who stumbled through the doors half drunk, met him in the foyer.
The man was completely bloody, his fur encrusted with dried patches in various spots, and by the permanent snarl on his face, he was more than a little ticked off. Presumably at Wolverine…
"Where is he?!" Sabertooth growled at the Professor.
Xavier played dumb (not an easy task for him).
"I'm sorry, to whom are you referring?" he asked.
"Don't friggin' play games with me Gramps, I'll…" Sabertooth threatened.
"You'll what, Creed?" Magneto descended the staircase just above the foyer with a very angry look on his face.
"Well," he asked again, "You'll do what??" Magneto's eyes narrowed menacingly as metallic objects – furniture, picture frames, mirrors – throughout the room began hovering in the air.
"Nothin'." Sabertooth replied. "I ain't gonna do nothin'."
The objects settled back to their original positions.
"That is what I thought," Magneto agreed. "Now go outside and wait while I collect Pyro and Collosus. We're going to Egypt."
Sabertooth grunted something under his breath, but, regardless, trudged outside to wait.
Xavier looked up at Eric. "You will all be going then?"
Eric shook his head. "I'm leaving the Brotherhood here in Bayville. It's probably safer – for MY team anyhow." He offered Xavier a small smile. "I'll report anything we find directly to your team here at the mansion."
"And we shall do the same," Xavier agreed, "Good luck old friend."
"Same to you Charles. I'm sorry we'll be missing the services tomorrow. You know you have my condolences though, don't you?"
A wary look passed over Xavier's face and he sighed. "Of course Eric. And I will keep looking for Gambit. I just hope we find him in time. Perhaps he was able to escape."
Eric nodded, still smiling. "Ah, yes. Gambit is very adept at that sort of thing, I'm sure if anyone can escape harm's way it will be him."
Xavier nodded and returned a brief smile before gazing down at the floor, momentarily overcome with emotion.
Immediately, Eric Lensherr was kneeling on the ground beside his oldest and dearest friend. "Charles, it wasn't your fault. You did what you could. The only thing left to do is find a way to stop him and avenge her."
Xavier smiled forlornly at Eric. "Ah my friend, perhaps someday you, too, will know what it's like to fail saving someone you love."
Giving Eric a thankful pat on the shoulder, the Professor excused himself, wheeling to the elevator, which would take him back to the sanctuary of his study.
As Xavier left, Eric stood, a wistful smile crossing his features as he heard the distinctive laugh of the Scarlet Witch.
"Ah, my friend. Don't you know? I already have."
A soft knock on the door broke Elizabeth Braddock from her thoughts. With one last look at the lonely, sad picture of the X-Men's lost teammate, she plastered a warm, welcoming smile on her face and called out to the visitor.
"Please, come in."
A small, young boy with tousled brown hair and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pajamas peeked around the door.
'Ah, this must be Jamie,' she thought.
"Come in dear, please don't be shy."
Little Jamie offered the woman a timid smile and slowly came closer.
He looked around the room, amazed by the difference she had made to the small area in such a short time.
The twin bed had been pushed against the far wall, just beneath the window and a small chest of drawers took up what was left of the limited wall space. Atop the chest were numerous candles and a stick of incense. He thought it could be lavender, but he wasn't sure.
Two overstuffed chairs had been placed nonchalantly in the middle of the room and a box of tissues and a trashcan were placed next to one of the chairs.
Jamie bit his lip. Was HE going to cry? Again? Did she already know how he was feeling and have the foresight to place the items there just for him or was it for anyone who needed them?
"Are you Jamie?" the British woman asked at last and the young boy snapped his attention back to her.
He immediately noticed how well-educated and polished she appeared. Her long purple-black hair was pulled into a neat bun and she wore a pair of square-framed glasses that made her look all the more formidable.
"Oh, uh, yeah. I mean, yes. That's me. I'm Jamie." He gave her an embarrassed smile.
She removed her glasses and Jamie nearly sighed in relief. Then he nearly choked on his own oxygen. Had she just read his mind??
"Just so you know, I am not a telepath like the Professor," Dr. Braddock assured him. "I have telepathic abilities, but I cannot go traipsing through your head at will. The Professor gave me a quick briefing on all of his students. I just made an educated guess."
Still, Jamie seemed unsure.
Dr. Braddock continued.
"I'm also very adept at reading body language. I can see you're a bit anxious right now by the way your shoulders are slumped and your eyes won't really meet mine."
Jamie's gaze jerked up to meet hers. "You can really tell all that?!?" He stared at her apprehensively.
She nodded, a small smile upon her lips.
"Oh," Jamie replied, "That's cool." He relaxed a bit, but still stood awkwardly next to the tissue chair.
After another moment of silence Jamie finally spoke up again. "So uh, what IS your power then?"
Dr. Braddock quirked an eyebrow and smiled at him mysteriously.
"Have a seat, I'll show you."
Now feeling a little more anticipation than anxiety, Jamie sat obediently as Dr. Braddock rose from her desk and sat in the other chair.
Gradually, as not to startle the boy, Betsy formed a small ball of purple light in her hand and let it grow until it was long, thin and slightly curved.
Jamie's eyes grew with it. "WHOA!" he exclaimed. "That is SO cool! Can you cut people in half with that thing?!"
Betsy laughed politely, but shook her head. "No. That I cannot do. This sword is called a katan; it's an ancient Japanese weapon. With this, I could do many things – even kill someone – but I cannot physically cut them."
Jamie continued to stare at the glowing weapon, entranced by it.
"It's a psychic knife. It works more on a person's mind than on their body."
The awe melted slowly from Jamie's face and was replaced by confusion. "It's a Japanese weapon? But you're not Japanese, you're British."
Betsy smiled again. "You are correct. I am British. I just fancy the katan, which is why I choose for it to form instead of anything else. The katan is more of a symbol for my own sense of self. It has a great and proud history like my own family. It is sleek and elegant, yet powerful and dangerous; much as I can be – when necessary. Plus, I have a few Japanese connections of my own."
Jamie gulped and Betsy let the sword disintegrate.
"I was not ALWAYS a councilor, after all." Again, she smiled at Jamie mysteriously and he dared not ask for an explanation.
"So uh, how does this thing work?" he questioned, shifting to a more comfortable position.
"However you'd like it to," Besty explained. "Some people like to get started by answering questions, some just cry, and others simply need someone with whom they can speak with openly and without judgement."
Betsy smiled again, reassuring him. "So what was your relationship to Rogue? Were you close?"
Jamie bit his lip and stared at the ground. "Not, uh, not really. She wasn't really close to anyone, but I, uh, I always felt like she was looking out for me."
Jamie looked up at Betsy. "Yeah. There was this one time when the other boys were picking on me and saying I couldn't play football with them because I wasn't big or strong enough. Rogue came sauntering out of the trees – she really liked it in there because it was dark and stuff – and she told 'em that she figured I could do more damage than any of them, even without powers, because I could run faster and dodge everyone better than they could."
Jamie's face glowed with pride. "She said that I would make a great football player – especially a quarterback. Whatever that is...."
"That is a great way to remember her. It seems to me like you've gotten this thing mostly figured out already." Betsy assured him.
"I do?" Jamie regarded Dr. Braddock quizzically.
"Yes. You've decided to see the good things – the good times you did have – instead of the bad ones. You have chosen to make the best of things instead of letting your grief get the best of you."
"Oh," Jamie pondered her response for a moment. "Wow. I guess I have. Thanks."
He started to get up when Betsy interrupted him. "Jamie?"
The boy turned, a small, but wary smile on his face. "Yeah?"
"Was there anything ELSE you wanted to know? Wanted to ask me maybe?"
Jamie swallowed abruptly.
"Oh, uh, well. I just uh, wanted to know if… I wanted to know if it's okay to NOT be sad all the time. 'Cause, like, Kurt and Scott are just really down - I mean REALLY down - all the time and I'm not… Is something wrong with me?"
Betsy smiled at the boy again and shook her head slowly. "No, Jamie. There is nothing 'wrong' with you. Tell me this: if you were in Rogue's place, would you want everyone to be sad all the time?"
Jamie shook his head no. "Well, no. But I… I wouldn't want people to forget me either. I would want to know that I … that I mattered to them."
Betsy nodded and smiled. "Then show Rogue how you felt – you can make a card, write a story, play football – just do something to show her spirit – wherever it may be - that she mattered to you, and then be happy for her and for yourself."
Jamie smiled – large and genuine – and nodded.
"Thanks Dr. Braddock. I feel a lot better now."
"Betsy, please. Dr. Braddock is far too formal. And I'm glad I could be of assistance. Please come back and see me if you have any more questions. I'd love to chat with you."
Jamie nodded again and left, thinking about what he was going to do for Rogue.
As Jamie left Betsy's office, he nearly ran into both Bobby and Sam, who were in a heated debate over which of them were going in first.
"No way, man. YOU go first," Sam hissed. "Ah ain't used to high class gals like that. Ah'll trip over mah own tongue!"
"Well at least YOU'LL be able t' say something!" Bobby retorted. "I'll just sit there mumbling like a dumbass and stare at the floor!"
Sam scoffed and folded his arms. "Pfft. With all the luck YOU have with gals, she'll prob'ly find it adorable."
"Oh yeah, well I'm sure you'll find some way to use that stupid southern accent to get yourself some appreciation. I don't understand why all the girls around here find that so… ugh."
"Well YOU'VE got those dang blue eyes and blonde hair that all the gals find so … sexy … or something!" Sam retorted, his voice rising rapidly.
"So do YOU!" he retorted, but was stopped from saying anything more by none other than Dr. Braddock herself.
The British woman was leaned against the frame of the open door with a coy smile. Her purple-black hair seemed to glow in the bright lights of the hall.
Neither boy said a word.
"Let me see," Betsy began, looking first to Cannonball. "Southern accent, tall, athletic, and handsome yet awkward – you must be Mr. Guthrie."
Dr. Braddock awarded him a small smile and Sam nearly melted. Then she turned to Bobby, looking him up and down as well.
"Hmm… Smartly dressed, well poised and spoken – obviously upper class background – muscular, yet slim. Robert Drake, yes?"
Bobby simply nodded.
Betsy stepped away from the door and gracefully extended her arm, silently ushering the boys inside.
They followed, dumbstruck.
Once inside, however, Bobby and Sam immediately began feeling self-conscious again. They looked around the room, at the floor, the desk, the chairs, the bed – everywhere but at Dr. Braddock or each other.
The councilor walked to where the bed was pushed against the wall, her stiletto's muted by the beige carpet.
Her movements were so fluid and graceful that the boys couldn't help but stare. They both knew it was impolite, but were so entranced by this mysterious woman that they really didn't care.
Betsy strode over to the bed and sat down, crossing her legs casually. Even that simple movement caused her long black skirt to ride up along her knee and the boys' eyes were instantly drawn to the expanse of creamy, exotic skin.
"Please," Betsy said, still smiling, "have a seat."
They sat, one on each chair.
"Now," she began, clearly amused by the reaction she was causing. "Sam, Bobby – I presume you are both here to talk about Rogue?"
"Were you all close?" she asked, making eye contact with first one boy, then the other.
Bobby simply shrugged, his tongue too large to utter a single syllable at the moment.
Sam's face screwed up a little and he finally looked away from Dr. Braddock and turned his gaze to the floor. "Not really, ah guess. Ah mean, nobody was really ever CLOSE t' Rogue. It, uh, it just wasn't possible, y' see. If she WAS close t' anyone, it was Kurt and Kitty."
"Well, and she had a crush on Scott, too." Bobby added, finally able to speak.
"What?" Sam turned to his friend, dumbfounded.
"Yeah, didn't you know?" Bobby continued, "He's pretty much like, the reason she joined the X-Men in the first place. She really liked him, even asked him out once, until he and Jean got together officially."
Sam just blinked.
"Are yah… are yah serious?" Sam seemed unable to get his head around the concept.
Bobby nodded, yet he seemed a little disappointed, too.
"Dang," Sam exclaimed. "Ah'm sure glad ah never asked her out lahke ah was gonna. Eventually. Maybe."
Bobby's head whipped around to stare at his friend. "Seriously man?" His eyebrows shot up in surprise before he slowly smiled. "I uh, I kinda wanted to, too."
"Oh yeah?" Sam questioned.
Bobby nodded again. "Yeah, man. I mean, she was … pretty… I guess – in her own way. And she woulda been a total knockout if she'd just not worn all that makeup and stuff. I never asked her out because… Well, because I thought she'd hurt me."
Betsy had to stifle a rather unladylike snort, but her presence was barely even registering to the boys anymore.
Sam smiled back at Bobby. "Ah know whatcha mean. She was one tough gal. Not one t' mess with – especially when she was mad!"
Laughing, Bobby recalled the incident when they were rebuilding the mansion. "Yeah, remember when Spike almost skewered her? If it hadn't been for his skateboard and Ororo, I doubt he would have made it out of there alive!"
Sam laughed, "Course, y' know what beats that one, right?"
Bobby shook his head no.
"That time she stranded you out on the lawn naked." The Southerner was laughing hard, but was also shaking his head – as if he didn't WANT to remember the event.
The other boy's face went red.
"That was sure a hoot," Sam went on. "And the gals here didn't seem to mind the show one bit – although," he sobered, "ah sure coulda done without it…"
And, despite his embarrassment, Bobby laughed in spite of himself. "Yeah. She really DID get me good, didn't she?"
Both boys chuckled for a moment or two when Sam suddenly got serious again. "So, uh, why didn't yah ever ask her out, anyhow?"
Bobby shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I was just too intimidated to make a move. You?"
"Ah guess ah was just chicken too – Rogue's just, ah don't know – a whole different type a gal from the ones here. Not that the girls here ain't great an' all, but … she just seemed like there was more to her than she ever let on, ya know?"
Sam sat back against the cushions, deep in thought. "Like, ah wouldn't doubt it if once she gets over her powers, she ain't a total knockout. Then we'll REALLY wish we woulda asked her out."
"I already do," Bobby answered quietly.
Sam looked to his friend, surprised that he was feeling the same thing right now.
"I just," Bobby started, "I wish that I'd had the guts before – not really for MY sake, but … for hers. I feel like if I'd asked her out – maybe been her boyfriend or something – I would have noticed that something was wrong before it was too late."
"So do ah, pal."
Both boys sat in silence for a moment before Betsy finally felt that it was time for her to speak up.
"So, you both wish you would have acted sooner, yet even now you have yet to learn from your mistakes."
The boys stared up at Dr. Braddock quizzically.
"Are there things you wish to do – right now – that you don't dare do for sake of rejection," she looked to Bobby, "or simply because you find the prospect risky? You are, for all accounts and purposes, X-Men. You are trained to take risks others can't or won't and you do it with little worry for your physical health. Yet, when it comes to matters of your own heart, you fail to do what you know should simply because you fear being hurt."
Two mouths hung open, gaping at the attractive councilor.
"Well," Betsy finished, getting up to open the door, "if you want my advice, go out, risk your hearts and LEARN something from your mistakes with Rogue." With that, she nodded to the boys and smiled calmly as they left – confused, yet somehow satisfied.
"Ah definitely learned one thing from Rogue," Sam said as they left Dr. Braddock's office. "Do not mess with that gal. She doesn't take crap from anyone!"
Rogue sighed as she waited – impatiently – for Remy to return from washing the torn scraps of her dress. She warily tugged at what was left of her dress and sighed. It was about the same length as her black skirt back home, but had none of its security. It wasn't so much the fact that the dress was now shorter, but that she had absolutely NOTHING besides that dress to provide her any personal protection. She had no decent shoes, no tights, and no underwear – because, well, Apocalypse hadn't planned on her needing any.
She shuddered. It was bad enough being powerless out her with Remy, but with her dress getting shorter and shorter by the day…
She could only imagine what was taking him so long.
Remy took a deep breath and tried to relax a little. He had FINALLY finished washing the scraps of Rogue's dress – after all, it had taken him awhile to get them satisfactorily cleaned. And, he'd taken his sweet time too. Pursuant to the debacle that was cutting off the scraps, he'd needed a while to calm himself down.What he REALLY needed was a cold shower, but Rogue would probably know what was going on if he came back soaking wet. Besides, he didn't have time for that sort of thing and he wasn't the type who liked to get his own hands dirty… at least, when it came to THAT.
Ah, what he wouldn't give for a beautiful girl to come sauntering through the woods right now… He could just imagine it - a gorgeous, fair skinned forest nymph would step lightly through the brush, speak his name in her low, sweet voice, and rid him of all his worries and frustrations.
So entranced was he in his fantasy, he could practically hear her calling him… right now…
He turned, half expecting to find himself going mad and imagining things, and half expecting to actually see a beautiful forest nymph standing in the sunlight, ready to take him into her arms…
And… there she was! He blinked to make sure it wasn't just a figment of his imagination. Yet, there she stood in a small clearing just beside the river, her auburn hair glistening brightly in the sun, her perfect pearl-white skin practically glowing as it absorbed the rays…
But, instead of a dress of leaves and grass, she wore a black dress and was carrying… were those shoes… and a coat? Wait…
"Rogue!" Remy tried to push all of his other thoughts and … feelings …aside as he dropped the scraps on the rock, stood, and hurried toward her.
"What the hell are you doin' out here wit'out y'r shoes!? Y' wanna get gangrene or somethin'?"
Instead of looking angry or put out though, Rogue's face was a picture of peace and serenity as she placed the coat and shoes on the ground.
"Ah got worried about you – thought maybe Apocalypse found ya or somethin' – so I came lookin'."
Remy took a deep breath to calm himself and touched her arm – and felt his fingers practically burst into pleasant, tingly flames…
Was shethat warm, or was it him?God, he hoped it wasn't him… Better yet, he hoped she couldn't feel it too.
Rogue bit her lip to keep from gasping as Remy touched her shoulder - he was practically vibrating warmth and, well, just vibrating…
"Remy, are you okay? What's wrong with your hand? It feels kinda funny."
Remy swallowed, trying to figure out some kind of cover story. He smiled reassuringly. "Huh? Oh, yeah. It gets that way sometimes when I uh… get cold. Yeah. I've been washing the scraps in the river and my hands got cold, so uh, I made them warmer."
"You mean you used your powers?" Rogue was starting to look a little angry now…
"Oh! Uh, no. I mean, kinda, but don't worry, it's more of a latent thing than an actual power. I can't even really control it. It's uh, it's kinda like my eyes. Just always there…"
He waited expectantly to see if she was buying it.
Rogue smiled sweetly, almost coyly even, and nodded. He smiled back – whether it was of his own accord, or in response to her was debatable.
Rogue shifted – toward HIM maybe – but then wobbled, instinctively grabbing him to steady herself.
Remy responded too late to be of any help, but held onto her arms regardless.
"You okay?" he asked, concern smoothing out the husky tones in his voice.
"Hmm," she responded noncommittally, "guess ah just need t' sit and soak mah feet a bit. That water looks mighty refreshing…"
"Consider it done." And, with that, he gently scooped her up and leapt from one rock to another until he reached the perfect sitting spot.
There were a few large rocks near the middle of the river which each sat about two or so feet above the lazy, gently flowing river and Remy deposited Rogue on one of the rocks before getting comfortable on another.
He folded his legs up under him to keep his feet from getting wet while Rogue let her toes dangle in the water.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, still staring down at the water, "That water IS cold!"
Remy nodded, watching her with a goofy smile plastered across his face.
Rogue chanced a look at him and, seeing said smile, bit her lip while ducking her head.
"So, uh, what was takin' so long out here?" she asked, presumably enthralled by the flow of the river.
"Huh? Oh, uh…" Remy stuttered, trying to find an acceptable answer. He couldn't very well tell her that he'd needed some personal time and… Was he STARING at her???
Forcing himself to look away from Rogue and toward the trees, he tried to think rationally. "Oh, uh, I couldn't uh… get the berry stains out." He hoped she was buying all of his B.S.
"Oh." Rogue blushed, recalling her berry-eating binge.
"It's okay though," he reassured her, "they look fine now." He looked back to make sure the rags were still on the rock where he'd left them.
He sighed in relief when he saw them. Rogue would KILL him if he lost all those pieces!
They sat in silence for a few moments before Rogue spoke up again – almost timidly this time.
"So uh, what were you thinkin' about while you were washin' em? Y' looked pretty lost in thought."
"You." His response was so automatic that it caught HIM off guard and he had to back-track quickly to keep Rogue from hitting him.
"Uh, that is, your situation. I mean, OUR situation. I mean, like how we're going to get food and adequate shelter and all that. That's what I mean…"
Rogue pursed her lips together to keep from laughing at him. She'd NEVER seen him this flustered before and she knew exactly why he was acting so strangely.
She wasn't stupid. After all, it had taken HER plenty of time to calm down after that debacle back in the clearing. It was a highly hormonally charged situation and she didn't blame him for need a little… release.
If he needed time to … do his thing, then she would do her best to play it off as completely normal - not at all weird, or creepy, or hot.
Now he was starting to affect HER. When she'd walked, well LIMPED, into the sunlight and called to him, she knew he'd been deep in thought. She'd been completely ready to give him a case of verbal whiplash – how DARE he leave her on that rock for so long, make her worry sick, and then make her walk, barefoot, all over the damn forest to find him!
But, she never expected him to fix her with that LOOK.
It had been enough to stop her heart for a few seconds at least. Even from such a distance, she could practically FEEL the heat and lust radiating from him – especially from his eyes.
When he'd looked at her like that she conveniently forgot her anger. She'd felt positively entranced by those eyes, as if he was staring right through her and into her soul. It sounded corny, but she didn't know how else to describe it. She'd felt as if all of his emotions and feelings transferred over to her just through his eyes.
And, instead of wanting to kill him, she'd wanted only to kiss him.
Then there was that touch…
Now, normally when Remy touched her, Rogue got that warm, tingly feeling anyhow, but this had been MUCH different. This time, it had been Remy who'd felt warm and tingly and caused HER to feel the same. It was almost like he was siphoning all of his feelings and emotions into her.
It was rather unnerving.
The worst thing was that every time they made eye contact those emotions would feel just a little bit stronger, so she had to keep from looking at him even though she felt him staring at her. Those damn vibes were practically radiating off him.
"Well," Rogue said at last, finally steeling herself to look Remy in the eyes, "there's uh, one thing ah think you uh…" she trailed off as Remy met her gaze and transfixed her once again.
"Yeah…?" his eyes drooped slightly as he stared at her.
She felt hers do the same.
"Uh…" what was she going to say? She could barely remember. God his eyes were gorgeous. So was his face… and his lips – which she couldn't stop thinking about.
"You uh…" her eyes dropped another fraction and she leaned toward him, closer and closer until they were almost touching.
Until their lips were almost touching…
And she stopped, less than an inch away from him and she turned her head, whispering in his ear.
"You need to …"
"Uh huh?" Remy whispered back, so wrapped up in his own fantasy and desire that he missed the evil smile spreading across her face as she ran her hands down his shoulders.
"… Take a cold bath!"
And with that, she pushed him as hard as she could – thereby throwing Remy, who was completely out of it and unable to help himself, backward into the icy cold river.
When Remy came up for air, gasping and spluttering, Rogue was laughing like a banshee.
Between her guffaws, she moaned in pain and grabbed her ribs, but still she roared on until tears sprang from her eyes.
"You… should see… your face," she announced between moans and giggles.
Finally the shock of the cold wore off and Remy smiled deviously.
"You should see yours," he commented.
"Huh?" Rogue could only mutter one syllable before she was pelted in the face with icy river water. Then she, too, was spluttering and gasping as she wiped the water from her eyes.
"Oh you did NOT just…" Rogue warned before plunging both feet deep in the water and kicking out at Remy, soaking him from head to waist with more water.
Remy retaliated by splashing Rogue with more water, who countered his attack by kicking out at him rapidly, sending a wall of water at him.
Hence the two went on, laughing and splashing each other for at least five more minutes until Rogue was sure she was going to break a few more ribs and Remy was certain he was getting hypothermia.
"Okay, okay," Rogue called at last, "Truce. I can't … take it … any more…"
Remy, who was also laughing, bent over slightly to catch his breath. "Oui, (yes) truce. I can't feel m' toes …"
His comment set Rogue to giggling again and she moaned loudly as she doubled over. "Oh god, stop. No more. I can't laugh any more. Please, I'm begging you."
Remy smiled as he straightened, nodding. "D'accord (okay), I'll try not to make y' laugh any more. But, it'd help if y' didn't find Remy's pain and suffering so amusing…"
Rogue bit her lip to keep from giggling yet again.
"Sit tight," Remy called, "Lemme get y'r feet wrapped while we're already wet."
Rogue nodded and waited patiently as Remy retrieved the material and her shoes.
As he sloshed up the shoreline to get the sandals, Rogue couldn't help but chuckle again at the way the way his shoes and socks 'squished' every time he took a step.
Then, instead of leaping from rock to rock again, Remy simply walked right back into the river and over to Rogue.
He deposited the shoes and cloth on an adjacent rock – the same one on which he'd been sitting – before reaching for Rogue's right leg, winding one of the scraps around her toes and working up to her calves.
"Guess this counts as a shower, don't it?" he commented as he finished wrapping her first foot and reached for her sandal.
"Sadly, ah suppose it does," Rogue agreed, her chin quivering as the cold seeped into her bones.
Before Remy was finished with her other foot, both of their teeth were chattering in synchronization.
Remy helped Rogue stand on the rock and held her hand as she stepped from one stone to the other until they reached the shore again. After all, Rogue was a LITTLE drier than Remy was – it didn't make sense for him to pick her up and get her wet again. Even if it was only fair…
As soon as they were both securely on dry land again, Remy began removing his clothes until he was once again clad only in his boxer shorts… which clung to him in all the wrong places. Or the right ones…depending on your point of view…
"Uh, chere, I know y' find Remy attractive, but it might behoove you t' get outta those wet clothes. Y' can put m' coat on instead."
Rogue shook her self, blushing. "Huh? Oh, yeah. Right."
She turned around and reached for the bottom hem of her dress before she stopped and turned back toward Remy.
"How do ah know you ain't gonna sneak a peak?"
Remy rolled his eyes. "Oh come on chere,Remy's gotten plenty of peeks already," he winked salaciously, "and besides,I'm a man of integrity. I give y' my word I won't look."
Rogue regarded him apprehensively while simultaneously rolling her eyes. "All right, fine. You close y'r eyes and turn around. That way, I can tell if y' try to look.
With a smile, Remy did as he was told and waited.
Once she was zipped up in Remy's leather jacket (which was far longer than her dress at this point), she inspected herself and, finding the setup satisfactory, called to Remy.
"All right, ah'm done."
"It's about ti…" Remy trailed off as he turned to see Rogue, half swallowed by his duster, and had to suppress an automatic "aww…"
"What?" Rogue asked suspiciously, inspecting herself once again.
"Damn, I wish I had a camera right now. Y'r just too darn cute f'r words chere."
Rogue rolled her eyes, "Oh stuff a sock in it!" she retorted as she thrust his clothes in his arms.
Remy had barely given Rogue a moment's reprieve from the new version of FIFTY questions since they'd left the river. He was obliged to carry her a few miles until he felt it was safe again, but that didn't stop him from pestering her with an endless array of subjects.
He'd bombarded her with stupid questions: 'If you were an animal, what would you be?' Political questions: Who's your ideal Presidential Candidate and why? Heavy religious and spiritual questions: 'Do you believe in a higher power?' and 'What do you think happens when we die?' As well as some off-the-wall questions: 'What's y'r favorite state/ city/ country/ continent/ language/ dog/ cat/ bird/ fish/ mammal/ reptile/ amphibian/Senator/ person/ etc?'
Just when it seemed like he'd finally run out of questions, he'd throw in one that was difficult, thought-provoking or infuriating: 'What do you REALLY think about Kurt bein' your brother'; 'What's one thing you've done in y'r life dat y'r really proud of;' and 'What's your idea of a perfect first date wit' me?'
Frankly, Rogue was getting mighty tired of all the nonsense. Especially when Remy wouldn't even answer the same type of deep, philosophical inquiries with a straight answer. He always managed to weasel his way out of it somehow or another. He'd used misdirection, tried to answer without really answering, exploited the subtle 'getting off on a tangent' tactic, made use of sneaky vague answers, and finally there was the good old fashioned 'changing the subject' maneuver.
Of course, this was perfectly acceptable behavior for him, but as soon as she'd tried it on a difficult question, he'd point out that she hadn't answered honestly and was trying to help Apocalypse again.
Even more infuriating was the fact that when Rogue had called him a hypocrite for doing the EXACT same thing, he'd simply stated that it wasn't about him, it was about her.
She was interrupted in her fuming, however, by yet another question as she walked beside him through the woods.
"If dese were normal circumstances – well, as normal as dey get f'r de likes of us anyhow – and you'd just gained control of y'r powers, what's de first t'ing you'd do? And, what would ya do t' celebrate?"
Rogue tried not to groan at the latest invasion of her privacy. Why would he even ask that? It wasn't like it was going to happen anyhow. Heck, she'd probably be dead – one way or another – within a few days time! Still, she might as well just answer and get it over with. She only had a few more left to go.
"Ah'd uh," she started hesitantly, "ah'd burn all mah clothes and go shoppin' with the gals for a new wardrobe."
The Southerner felt her cheeks redden slightly as she confessed her long-repressed disgust for her bleak outfits.
Remy made a noise in the back of his throat and Rogue couldn't tell if it was from interest, thirst, or amusement, so she bravely forged ahead with an explanation before he could comment.
"Before you ask, no, ah don't really like mah clothes all that much. But, it's all ah've ever found that keeps me covered AND makes people stay away. It's the only way t' keep from hurtin' other people."
"Hmm," Remy considered her answer for a moment, "So what kind o' clothes WOULD you wear?"
Rogue chewed her bottom lip in thought. "Ah've never really considered it before," she stated at last. "Ah'm not into the same stuff as the other gals – especially not Jean and Kitty." She shuddered, imagining herself in Capri pants and polo shirts. Remy laughed, apparently visualizing the same thing.
"Honestly? Ah think ah'd be perfectly happy in a pair of cut-off jeans and a tank top. Summers are unbearable all covered up. Ah don't know how Kurt and Beast deal with it."
Remy laughed again – it was deep, throaty and utterly masculine – and Rogue swallowed abruptly.
"Yeah," the Cajun agreed. "I've caught Creed layin' spread eagle in front of de AC a couple a times. Really solidifies de 'Big Cat' image."
Rogue chuckled along with Remy as she pictured Sabertooth lying complacently in front of a window AC unit. She tried to train her thoughts on JUST Creed, but her thoughts inadvertently wandered to picture herself lying in front of the cool air and from there, her brain 'innocently' inserted Remy into the scene as well.
Rogue immediately stopped laughing and tried not to blush. Again…
"So, y' never did say how you'd celebrate," Remy reminded her as she went quiet. "And I don't believe f'r a second dat you'd ONLY go shoppin' f'r clothes."
"Huh?" Rogue shook her head as she tried to focus on his statement and, thankfully, she was able to stay coherent long enough to pull out of her sudden stupor.
She rolled her eyes.
With a sigh, she decided to simply come clean instead of stewing over an acceptable answer. It wasn't as if Remy believed any of her lies anyhow. He knew almost instinctively when she was telling the truth or not, so it wouldn't be worth it to try and fib her way out of this one.
"Ah've uh… ah've always wanted t' go out dancin' at a club or something, but with mah powers, it's just too risky. Ah suppose that's how ah'd like t' celebrate though… Just get the gang t'gether and dance the night away. 'Course, ah'll be plenty old enough to drink by then, so ah fully intend t' get plastered - and laid too."
Completely caught off guard by her last statement, Remy stopped short and nearly lost his balance. A slow, bemused smile crept onto his face as he shook his head.
"Y'r one hell of an enigma, chere, I hope y' know dat."
"Oh please," Rogue scoffed as she continued walking, "ah'm not all THAT puzzlin'."
She was slightly offended that he thought she was so difficult to understand. There wasn't really all that much to her – she mostly wanted to be left alone and hated her powers. It was perfectly simple.
HEwas just too dense to see it.
Remy shook his head in disagreement as he caught up to her again, dipping low and brushing aside the branch of a pine tree. "Yeah, y' really are," he argued, becoming slightly annoyed.
Did she really not see how complex she was?
"No, ah'm not."
Remy huffed, exasperated. "Oh come on! Y'r like a walking contradiction!"
The color rose rapidly in his cheeks as they continued walking, yet he couldn't explain why he was so upset. "Ya wanna be left alone, but y'r lonely and y' hate bein' lonely. Y' don't want attention, but y'r jealous o' others, like Jean, who get it."
Remy watched Rogue's eyes grow dark and angry as he chastised her, but continued ranting even as she tried to cut him off.
"Y' say y' can't stand school or group activities, yet you tried out and took part in dat play f'r Dracula. Y' ACT like y' don't need anybody's help, but you practically self-destruct when y' refuse it! AND, you say y' can't stand y'r powers and de way dey isolate you from everyone, but de MINUTE y' don't have 'em anymore, y'r scared shitless and STILL won't let anyone near ya!"
By the time Remy was through, Rogue could taste blood in her mouth. She hadn't even realized how hard she'd been biting her tongue throughout his tirade. She'd been too preoccupied with her own rage and resentment.
Once again he'd gone from being cute and charming to a completely clueless jerk.
As the gravity of his own words washed over him, Gambit assumed Rogue would be chewing him out or punching him in the OTHER eye within milliseconds, so when she just stood – fists balled at her sides, jaw clenched painfully and eyes aflame – he was a little shocked.
The longer she stood, glaring at him in such a way that made him think he would spontaneously combust, the more anxious Remy became. He swallowed nervously and took a subconscious step back, suddenly afraid of what she would do to him.
He could tell that Rogue was far beyond pissed right now. She was practically the epitome of homicidal. In fact, if Gambit was a gambling man (which he was) he'd bet 10 to 1 odds that she was merely cooking up a way to kill him without a conventional weapon.
Incidentally, Rogue was indeed contemplating the best way of murdering Gambit without sicking Logan on him.
The mere thought of a rabid Wolverine - looking utterly feral and ravenous while foaming at the mouth with his claws extended - chasing after a poor, bedraggled, and terrified Gambit made the edges of Rogue's mouth turn up ever so slightly, resulting in an even more dangerous and sinister-looking expression.
Remy forgot to breathe.
"R- Rogue?" he stammered, taking another two steps back. "Look, chere, m' sorry I went off on ya like dat, but merde girl! I've never met anyone in m' life dat is so frustrating and intriguing! Y' drive me crazy! I never know how t' act around you. One second y'r all fun – playin' and talkin' wit' me – and de next y'r angry again. We're takin' one step forward and two steps back in dis stupid little dance, and I don't know de damn moves!"
Remy ran a disgruntled hand through his now-dry, still-disheveled hair and grimaced at the sorry state of the strands. Even after their impromptu 'bath' he was still gross.
He made himself focus on the issue at hand though and sighed, realizing that if he was going to get any where with Rogue, he would have to apologize.
At risk of being punched once more, the Cajun took a quick step forward and extended his hand to Rogue as a peace offering.
Instantly, Rogue flinched and eyed his hand wearily, as if it were toxic.
For a moment, Remy didn't seem to notice her refusal to take his hand, assuming that she was still fuming at him.
"Can we please just call it a truce and TRY t' work t'gether? I can't stop Apocalypse all on my own and neither can you. Face it Rogue, we need each other. You gotta work on dis touching problem o' yours and you need me t' help you. And I, well…" he paused, trying to figure out something to which he could admit needing help. "And I… I'm shit at survivin' in de wilderness. Give me a city street wit' vacationers and I'm set, but I'll die out here in de woods wit'out you t' help me."
He smiled pathetically at Rogue from beneath his mess of hair. It earned him an eye roll and a bemused snort.
He extended his hand a bit farther, trying to get Rogue to take it.
"Can't we just agree t' help each other out?" He tried to look as pathetic as possible and gave her his best puppy eyes. "Please?"
Rogue sighed, but smiled at him nonetheless. Damn, but that boy was cute when he wanted to be. Pitiful, but cute.
"Alright Gambit, we have an agreement. Ah'll try t' help you survive out here and you'll… keep askin' annoyin' questions and such."
"Parfait!" he rejoiced and again raised his hand as an indication for her to shake on it.
Rogue didn't move. There was no way she was going to just TOUCH him like that. Not when her hormones were still completely out of whack from that river incident. Sure it started with a handshake, but the way her mind and body were going, she'd go from a simple gesture of agreement to a full-blown make-out session!
Oh GOD! What was wrong with her!?!?!
Quickly ducking her head to hide her rapid blush, Rogue made sure to keep her hands balled at her sides away from Remy.
"Are we gonna shake on it or what?" Remy stared at her in bewilderment, wondering why she was so paranoid about something as simple as a handshake.
A minute ago she looked about ready to kill him, and now she was acting as shy as a newborn lamb.
After a moment or two of silence, Remy dropped his hand and played with his goatee a bit. She sure was a puzzle. He had no idea how they were going to get through this no-touching thing if she couldn't even shake his hand!
"D'accord (okay), since y' don't wanna shake on it, can we just PRETEND we did and move right along?"
Rogue bashfully shook her head in the affirmative.
"Great," Remy replied with a wicked grin, "den we're movin' on t' dis touching t'ing o' yours. I think we've had enough questions for now."
Suddenly, Remy had Rogue's undivided attention as her head shot up to stare at him in disbelief, her mouth gaping like a fish.
Remy held up his hands in mock surrender. "Hey, you agreed to move on, so we're movin' on. Dere's only two things we can work on here and dis is a big one, so we better get goin' wit' it."
Rogue was still speechless, but Remy filled the silence by extending his hand once again.
"Well, come on, take it," he ushered gently, wiggling his fingers at her.
Instead of reaching out with her own hand, however, Rogue stared at his as if it would attack her at any moment. Her eyes were narrowed suspiciously and she crossed her arms over her chest as she regarded him rigidly.
"What's goin' on here petite? You were fine back at the river – let me help y' t' shore and everything – and now y'r actin' shy?"
He shook his head, bewildered.
" It ain't gonna bite y' cherie," he chuckled as he watched her with amusement, "s' just a hand. I can put it on y'r shoulder if dat'll make y' feel better."
Remy made to reach for her, but Rogue danced quickly out of the way. He dropped his hand and shook his head at her, laughing. "Y'r worse dan a wild horse, I swear. Y' gotta stop bein' so skittish about a simple touch, d'accord?"
Within less than a blink's time, Remy's hand shot out again and gripped Rogue's firmly. His grip was firm enough that she couldn't break free, but gentle enough to not cause her any pain. Still, she tried to pull away to no avail; his palm was wrapped firmly over her knuckles with his fingers locked just above the fragile bones. Every time she pulled, his fingers tightened just enough to keep her locked in place, causing only a slight amount of discomfort.
"Let me go!" Rogue demanded when she realized that struggling against him would get her nowhere.
"Je suis desole, petite. Not gonna happen." (sorry little one) Remy rounded on her as he stepped closer and pulled her in to him.
Rogue gasped as Remy moved in and held her so close that their noses were almost touching… again. Granted, he had to look down at her and she up at him, but still… She tried to take another step back, but Remy grasped her other hand and held her in place.
Heart pounding wildly now, Rogue threw her weight back and tried to dislodge both hands. However, she hadn't expected Remy to move with her and she backed into a tree instead.
She couldn't help the gasp that escaped her lips as Remy followed – the gap between them was only a breath's distance now and Rogue felt that familiar flow of adrenaline surge through her as she fought not to panic under the onslaught of her own emotions.
She just couldn't afford to lose her head again. Not like she had at the river. God only knew what would have happened if she hadn't finally found her wits and pushed Gambit in the water! Rogue didn't know if she could bet that strong again.
And she wasn't about to make out with an Acolyte. Logan would have her head!
"Get off me!!" she hollered and tried to throw herself against Gambit to dislodge him.
Remy still held tight and even went a step farther to press himself along her body to keep her from kicking out at him.
"Calm y'rself chere, I ain't gonna hurt you! I'm tryin' to help, remember?" Remy's voice was teeming with frustration at first, but as he finished his sentiment, he forced himself to sound as reassuring as possible to the obviously frightened girl.
But only the Powers That Be had any idea why she was suddenly so skittish. He certainly didn't.
Rogue was breathing heavily and still struggling fiercely against him while refusing to meet his eyes. He could see the violent glare on her face, yet she wasn't directing it at him. Her features twisted underneath an onslaught of emotions. There was fury, desperation, discomfort and even fear, but another more elusive emotion was buried underneath all the others though, and Remy almost missed it.
Until Rogue's muted, almost inaudible moan finally gave her away...
At first, he thought it was from the pain of her broken ribs, but as Rogue's eyes fell closed, her entire body stilled except for her hips, which tensed and shifted just enough to tip the Cajun off to the true cause of her discomfort.
Grinning like an idiot, he tried not to acknowledge the source the inner turmoil by coughing slightly and forcing his face into a mask of seriousness.
But still, he knew the truth now … She DID feel more than just loathing toward him and the thought had him smiling again.
He immediately had to reign himself in though, because his own body was responding to this newfound knowledge and he instantly took a miniscule step back so she wouldn't be aware of HIS reaction to her.
"You calm now?" he asked, trying to mask his glee within a tone of impatience.
It seemed that Rogue had finally gotten hold of her own body and emotions, because the sudden glare she fixed him with threw Remy completely off-balance.
"Let. Me. Go. NOW." She punctuated each word with a low, terrorizing growl that made Remy gulp. Despite the obvious threat, however, he stood his ground.
"I already told you, we gotta work on dis fear of touching you've got."
"Who says it's a fear?" she exclaimed, "Ah already told yah, ah jus' don' lahke bein' touched! Now let go a me!!"
"Hush!" he chastised her, "You wanna HELP Apocalypse find us or somethin'? Merde! I don't know how t' make dis any clearer t' you, Rogue, but I. Am. Trying. To. HELP. You!" He shifted uncomfortably as he stared into her murderous eyes.
"Well AH don't know how to make it any clearer to you, but THIS…" she raked her eyes along their bodies and jerked her head in the direction of his arms, which were now holding her hands above her head against the rough bark of the tree. "Not helping."
Remy sighed and let go of Rogue's hands, then took a step back and dropped his head. His hair, still shiny with oil and clumped with mud and dirt, fell across his face, hiding his gleaming red eyes.
"M' sorry chere. I just – I don't know how to get through this… this WALL you've put up around you. You want your space and I get that, but we've got something MUCH bigger to worry about than your dislike of skin contact."
He took another step back as his shoulders drooped dismally. "I can't force you though. Dat'll just make it worse, and I'd rather fight Apocalypse alone den have you look at me like dat every time I try t' touch you."
Another labored sigh fell from Remy's lips and Rogue stared at him as he shook his head and started to turn around.
She was torn. The prospect of letting Remy touch her – in any way – was both thrilling and terrifying. She didn't think she could keep herself from trembling under his hands. On the other hand, if she didn't work on this now, with him, and Apocalypse caught her…
"Remy, wait!" she called as he slowly picked his way through the underbrush. Despite the pain in her ribs, she jogged the few paces to catch up.
Biting her lower lip, Rogue swallowed hard and took a deep breath as she stared at his feet. "Ah'm… Ah'm sorry. Ah wanna… Ah wanna TRY." She finally looked up to see him smiling gently. It was encouraging, and she managed a meek half-smile back at him.
Slowly, he held out his hand, palm up, and she stared at his long, calloused fingers for a moment. She lifted her hand and, with only a slight moment of hesitation, placed it on top of Remy's.
"See. Wasn't that hard, was it?" He asked with a self-satisfied smirk.
Rogue rolled her eyes at him, but returned the smile nonetheless. It was small, but genuine, and it lit her face beautifully.
"Now don't go gettin' all cocky on me Cajun. Just 'cause ah'm touchin' your hand don't mean ah like ya or anything. This is business, that's all."
Remy refused to be brought down though, and continued grinning like a maniac. "Uh huh. You just keep tellin' y'rself dat Roguey. You know y'r fallin' for Remy."
In response, Rogue raised an eyebrow and fixed him with a doubtful expression as she dropped her hand from his. "Not even in your wildest dreams Gambit…" she chastised him, then added, "and don't call me Roguey."
"Okay Roguey," he agreed with a cheeky grin.
Rogue rolled her eyes again and sighed. "Yer freakin' hopeless. Ah hope ya know that. Just like some little eight-year-old boy. Next thing ah know, you'll be playin' the copy cat game."
"Ooohh," Remy's eyes went wide as he pondered the possibilities. "Dat's a GREAT idea chere, Gambit'll have to remember dat one."
Smacking herself in the forehead, Rogue grimaced. Fantastic, now she was giving him suggestions? What was wrong with her?
"And while we're at it, will you PLEASE stop callin' me chere, too? Ah ain't yer chere, Swamp Rat.
With an awful grin, Remy waggled his eyebrows at her. "I see we're back to de pet names, eh mignon (cutie)? Gambit would LOVE to comply wit' y'r request, but dat's just not possible. Nothin' personal, 's just dat I call all de femmes (women) dat. Chere, petite, fille (dear, little one, girl) – 's just my way. Desole. (Sorry)."
"Whatever," Rogue waved her hand at him dismissively and continued walking.
"Now wait just a minute, here," he replied and dashed after her, putting a hand on her shoulder. Rogue immediately turned and tried to shrug his hand off her bare skin, but Remy would have none of it.
"You and I both need t' rest for a while and dis seems as good a spot as any. Plus, we need to try workin' on the touchin' thing f'r a bit."
Rogue eyed his hand on her shoulder and fixed him with a suspicious glare, not liking the way this was going. "What exactly do you mean by workin' on it?" She finally smacked his hand away and took a step back, automatically crossing her arms over her chest with one hip jutting out defiantly.
"I mean," he said as he took a step toward her, "dat we gotta work on your fear of bein' touched."
He reached out to her again, as if to grab her shoulder, and Rogue shied away instinctively.
"See what I mean?"
This dance they were playing was starting to get redundant. Every time he got close to her, she'd jump away like a feral cat. Try as he might, he couldn't get her to be comfortable with him and it was really becoming bothersome. Remy had always been good with the girls. They usually melted right into his hands like warm butter. But this one… this one was challenging. He had tried almost every move he knew and hadn't gotten anywhere!
"Come on," he motioned to a fallen tree nearby and headed toward it, finding a spot on the lower end. "Have a seat. We're going to try something."
Rogue watched him warily, as if waiting for him to suddenly attack.
Why did he want her to sit down next to him? Why weren't they walking more? They should be trying to put more distance between themselves and Apocalypse, not experimenting with her aversion to touch.
"You ever played 'Patty Cake' cherie?" Remy asked with a bemused grin.
The girl in question cocked an eyebrow at him quizzically.
"I'll take dat as a 'no' den," he replied with a laugh. "Well, first of all it's a game for les petite enfants, mais,(little children, but) I t'ink we'll make an exception dis time. It's tres (very) simple. You just clap y'r hands together like dis," he demonstrated by clapping his hands together in front of him lightly, "den, you clap hands wit' de person sitting across from you. Dere's typically a lot of other motions, too, but we'll skip those ones. I wanna work on just de clapping part."
Rogue's eyebrow was still cocked suspiciously as she watched him, but as he fixed her with a pointed stare, she finally sighed and sat down across from him.
"First I wanna see you put y'r hands on top a mine," he coached gently as Rogue tried to make herself comfortable on the log. Remy held out both his hands, palm up, and waited for her to place her own hands on his.
He could see Rogue fighting with herself - the cogs in her head were practically visible to him as a flurry of emotions darted briefly across her face.
Finally, she tentatively lifted her hands into the air and placed them just above Remy's, letting them hover for a moment before she took a deep breath and quickly forced them to touch his.
With a wide smile, Remy congratulated her. "Nice job, cherie. See? It gets easier every time, don't it?"
Rogue flashed him a small, nervous smile, but said nothing in response.
For her, it wasn't just about the history with her powers any more, it was also about the implications of touching HIM. Remy affected her in a way no one else ever had and it was frightening.
After a moment, Remy removed his hands and asked Rogue to put her own out, palm up so he could place his hands on hers. As his hands slowly descended on hers, however, she flinched slightly and tried to remove them, but Remy reached out and caught the nervous digits.
Rogue inhaled sharply, but quickly took a deep breath and forced herself to relax, knowing that this was extremely important to their ultimate survival.
Gambit shook his head with amusement. She really WAS just like a foal. He released her hands, but didn't break skin contact.
"Dat's good, chere, real good. Now we clap," he demonstrated for her once more and with a roll of the eyes, Rogue followed his movements as she, too, clapped her hands together quietly. "Bien, (good) now let's try clapping them wit' each other."
Rogue took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. This really wasn't a big deal. Remy couldn't tell what was going on in her head and since she had no powers, she couldn't see his thoughts either. Plus, it was simple hand contact. It wasn't like she was nude or anything. At least, not anymore…
She watched Remy extend his hands toward her again, palms vertical, and she forced herself to do the same, chanting to herself all the while:
'Nothing's gonna happen; nothing's gonna happen; nothing's gonna happen.'
She sang the silent mantra as she finally made skin contact with Remy's hands and smiled gingerly at his glorious praising of her accomplishment.
He continued on, clapping his hands together and then extending them to meet hers, and as they did so, he sang a little song about Patty Cake.
Rogue was far too focused on controlling her breathing and emotions to even heed the words of the song though. She didn't notice the curious, yet proud look in Remy's eyes, nor did she see the soft, sweet smile that graced his lips as he sang. Instead, she focused only on the rhythmic clapping and her internal mantra to reassure herself that she no longer had her powers and that nothing was, in fact, going to happen.
But oh how wrong she was…
Okay, one: I'm sorry this took FOREVER. I'm absolutely convinced that this story is jinxed and unless I only update one page at a time over a very long period of time, it will continue making my life miserable.
That said, crap happened since the last update, I dealt with it, updated and now I'm posting.
Two: sorry for the bold. I need to take those parts out to make it PG-13 acceptable.
Three: No, I hope it won't take as long to update the next installment and no, this update was not nearly as long as I would have liked (although it WAS 67 pages).
Four: Thank you for your reviews. It reminds me that people DO miss the story and that it IS worth pursuing.
Five: Love and Light!!