Ororo Munroe heard the knock on her loft door, but didn't turn around. She didn't much feel like having company.
"I know this isn't the best time, Windrider--" Ororo turned in surprise to find Forge standing in the doorway. She stood, staring at him in silence. She had no idea what to say. She and the current version of the man facing her had only recently parted ways, more from his desire than hers. There were very few she would admit her pain at that parting to, and, as yet, she had spoken to none of them.
"Come in, Maker," she managed. As he crossed the distance to her, she tried to steady herself.
"Hello, Ororo," he said when they were face to face. He seemed glad to see her.
"Forge." She was surprised at the frost in her heart. And surprised at herself for not being able to separate this Forge from the other one. She decided to be direct. "What do you want?"
His face reflected dismay at the less-than-friendly reception. "Only to see an old friend, Ro. I take it you're angry with me?"
The quiet question stung because Ororo knew she was being unreasonable. "Not.... with you. I am sorry."
His expression softened into a smile. "Ah. I suppose it would be difficult. But, if it makes you feel better--"
"No." Ororo stared directly into his eyes. "I do not want to know the future."
Forge pursed his lips. "O.k." After a moment, Ororo looked away and he frowned. "Maybe this was a bad idea," he suggested.
Her head snapped up, blue cat's eyes centering on him. "No, I... would like you to stay." Her smile was thin, but she made a welcoming gesture and led him toward the short bench that gave an excellent view of her plants. Beyond them, rain pattered on the skylights in a monotonous song.
Ororo folded her hands in her lap as Forge settled beside her. She said a quick prayer to the Goddess for patience and an open mind.
"Have you talked to Remy yet?" he asked conversationally.
Forge smiled. "Either."
Ororo shook her head. She hadn't been able to summon the heart to face him, in any guise. Her sadness unrelieved, she stared at the rain on the skylights. After a moment, the fall intensified.
Forge reached over and took her hand. "This was his choice, Ro."
Ororo savored the warmth of his fingers around hers. Simple human contact was such a precious thing, so hard for her to ask for or give.
"You are good friends?" she asked.
"For more than fifty years. I'm probably the only real friend he has." He shrugged lightly. "He didn't exactly pick an easy life."
Ororo stared at her memories. "Thank you," she said at last.
Ororo looked up at him. "For being his friend when I could not."
Morning brought an odd peace to the mansion. Everyone gathered for breakfast-- and to Charles' surprise, seemed to be enjoying themselves. Even the Witness had a casual air about him, a calmness that came naturally instead of as the result of strict discipline. Stranger still, it was Remy who most encouraged the happy mood. He was all smiles and had managed to flirt with all four of the women with only minor complaints from the various significant others, including his own. It seemed for all the world as if the storm had finally broken-- the crisis passed-- and Remy was ready to live again.
Charles leaned back in his hoverchair, content to watch his family. And that is what they were, now more than ever. At the far end of the table, Hank was spinning out his latest shaggy dog story. It had become a kind of tradition for Hank to collect the stupidest stories available and relay them to his captive audience. Jean leaned on her husband's shoulder, breakfast neglected as she listened. Her expression was full of amused anticipation and a certain gleeful innocence that made Charles suspect she was plotting something. Scott was oblivious, sipping his coffee and watching Hank. But he, too, was smiling.
Bobby sat beside Hank. His coffee, now frozen, climbed out of the cup in an intricate sculpture that changed as Hank's story progressed. Charles was pleased. Bobby was showing more and more ability. The coffee sculpture was a minor use of his power, but it flowed from shape to shape flawlessly.
Forge dominated the middle of the table. He seemed to have an unlimited number of anecdotes from the mutant-human war. He had even managed to drag a short tale out of the Witness. Warren and Psylocke, with Logan, sat directly across from them. Many of the stories were sad-- but it was still somehow satisfying to hear about the deaths of friends, knowing it would not happen that way.
Remy, Rogue, Ororo and Bishop surrounded Charles at the head of the table. Remy was chiding Storm about the abysmal weather, which she accepted with her usual silence. Still, Charles could tell that she, of all of those gathered, had not yet accepted the inevitable.
"Y' will give us some sunshine today, eh, Stormy?" Remy asked with a smile.
Ororo swallowed convulsively. In a tight voice, she said, "I have told you before, Remy-- do not call me that."
Remy shrugged. "You get y' wish eventually, chere."
"No!" Thunder crashed outside the house with enough force to rattle the dishes. All conversation died. "Do not say that!" She had risen to her feet and now stared at Remy. Anger darkened her expression.
Remy pretended not to notice, despite the roar from the sudden deluge outside. "Why not? It's true."
Only Ororo's eyes betrayed her conflict. Her face remained still. "I do not..." She closed her eyes then reopened them. "I cannot... believe that. The Bright Lady could not be so cruel."
Charles saw Rogue draw in her breath and look to Remy, sudden fear in her face. But Remy's stance remained easy, his smile gentle and genuine. He reached across the table to take Ororo's hand.
"Your Bright Lady, she loves balance, neh?"
Ororo nodded jerkily. "She holds all living things in balance, one with another." Her eyes had begun to shine with tears, and she shook her head in vehement denial. "This is not balance!"
"What would a court say?"
Ororo's expression dipped in confusion at the sudden change in the conversation. "A court?"
"Oui, chere. A judge and jury. If dey put me on trial for what I done, what would dey say?"
Ororo simply stared at him, mouth working silently. Remy sat still, waiting. Rogue leaned back in her chair, hands covering her mouth, as if she had only just realized what had caused his sudden turnaround.
When Ororo didn't speak, Remy answered for her. "Dey'd give me de death penalty, chere. You know dat, an' so do I."
"No." But the protest was weak. Ororo sank slowly into her chair. "Do not do this, Remy," she whispered.
Remy's eyes narrowed as he stared intently into Ororo's eyes. He had no illusions. "It's already done, chere." He paused then added in a softer tone, "An' it's only fair. More dan fair, actually." He sat back in his chair, his usual, charming smile appearing as if by magic. "I get ten years o' de kind o' life I only dreamed 'bout, before I have t' pay de piper. Dere's no use cryin' over t'ings dat can't be changed, chere."
He leaned forward and took her hand up in both of his. "Bring out de sun, Stormy."
She stared at him in silence. A single tear traced a path down her cheek, but the rain outside began to fade. "I will," she promised.
Remy stared at the Witness, at a loss for words. Only a few minutes remained before the machine in the Witness' time would reclaim the two travelers. He felt like he ought to say something, but didn't have the slightest idea what. What did you say to a version of yourself that would never be?
Finally, Remy offered his hand. The Witness' expression twitched in surprise, and the ghost of a smile appeared on his face. With only the slightest hesitation, he took the proffered hand. His grip was firm and surprisingly strong. Then he clasped his other hand over Remy's as well and patted it. He seemed suddenly... grandfatherly. Remy had a brief glimpse of the man he might have aged into if time hadn't had other plans for him.
In that moment, he realized what he needed to say.
The Witness' eyes clouded. He pressed his lips together as he fought with his emotions. It was a phrase that Remy himself had heard precious little of. He could only image how the Witness might feel after so many years. That was why he had to say it.
Rogue stepped up beside Remy. She canted her head playfully and looked up at him out of the corner of her eyes. "Mind if ah say goodbye, sugah?"
Remy and the Witness shared a knowing look. Remy stepped back. He felt an amazing sense of kindred with the Witness now. It wasn't exactly family... Remy wasn't sure how to describe it. They understood each other on a level most people couldn't imagine. So he was pleased in a sense when Rogue reached up, wrapped her arms around the Witness' neck and kissed him soundly. There was a muffled "Oh my" from someone in the gathered group, and Remy's smile widened. Rogue was nothing if not expressive.
The Witness held on to her after their kiss ended. Rogue seemed content to prolong the embrace. She laid her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes, opening them only once to smile at Remy before closing them again. The Witness held tightly to her as if soaking up as much of her from that brief contact as he could. After a little while he straightened and Rogue stepped back. Though she did not look away from the Witness, she reached behind her until Remy took her outstretched hand and folded her fingers into his.
Bishop took Rogue's place. He and the Witness faced each other uncertainly. Then the Witness reached out and put his hand on his son's shoulder.
"I could never say dis before," the Witness said quietly, "but I love you."
Bishop's expression was as unreadable as always. "I know," he answered. His gaze was clear.
For just a moment, the Witness' face split into a devilish grin. Remy was shocked to suddenly see himself so clearly. The Witness turned that smile on Remy.
"I'm givin' you de responsibility o' findin' my son a girlfriend, hear?"
Bishop's expression went apoplectic. Remy bust out laughing. So did the other X-Men, until Bishop began to growl dire threats under his breath.
"Oh, oui," Remy managed through his laughter, "I can' wait."
"I'll be glad ta help, Gumbo," added Wolverine. He stood with his arms crossed, a dangerously gleeful grin on his face.
Remy snorted. "You? What you know 'bout women?"
There were a couple of sharp intakes as Logan uncrossed his arms and gave Remy a fierce scowl. Remy wasn't concerned. There was nothing but playfulness in Logan's eyes.
"Keep that up, boy, an' I'll take Rogue to the Princess bar in Madripoor," he said.
Ouch, Remy thought. "You wouldn't."
Rogue had her hands on her hips. "An' just who or what would ah find there?" Her challenging stare was split equally between Remy and Logan.
Remy rolled his eyes. "Not'ing but a piece o' de past, chere."
Her mock anger evaporated instantly and she smiled. "Well then, ah don't care."
Behind them, the Witness chuckled, but so quietly that only Charles, who was watching him, noticed. He met the Witness' eye with an expression of curiosity.
The Witness shrugged. "I didn' realize I was such an obnoxious pup."
Charles tried not to laugh. "Entertaining, certainly," he finally agreed. Then he sobered. "We never had much time to talk-- " he began.
The Witness waved the apology away, and nodded toward Remy. "Y' got all de time y' need."
Charles looked toward Remy then back to the Witness. He nodded. "You're right."
The timer on the Witness' wrist beeped and began a sixty second countdown. Forge, who had managed to make himself nearly invisible by Ororo's side, stepped up beside the Witness. Ororo followed him. She stopped in front of the Witness, then reached up and kissed him gently on the cheek.
"Goodbye my friend," she said with a smile. The Witness brought her hand to his lips and then she stepped back.
Remy LeBeau looked over the assembled X-Men, and could not help the swell of joy he felt. After so many years, so much sacrifice—so many times when he nearly gave up hope of ever being able to save them... to stare once more into each of their faces was worth everything he had paid.
The counter continued to tick away, and he realized that he had no reservations about the oblivion rushing so quickly toward him. He had lived his life according to his own rules, despite so many others who had tried to force him into their paths. He had played an impossible gambit—and had won.
But more than anything else, he had lived—and died—for the dream.