Set Them Free

Author's Notes and Disclaimers –

I would like to thank Jo the Phoenix for beta testing. Please note that I don't own these characters and no copyright infringement is intended here.

Like all my X-men fics, this takes place more in the 'verse of the "X-men Animated Series" rather than the comics.

Also, this fic is rated "T". The last scene of the fic has some material that might be rated "M" instead, however rest assured that there is no overt smut or PWP in this story.

It all came down to this. No matter how much angst Rogue had experienced, no matter how much crying, no matter how much rationalizing, there was no escaping this fact. She could not touch another human being without hurting them.

Gambit's passion, energy, and optimism didn't matter either. Rogue could tell he was hurting. She herself had never experienced sex. She understood longing, she understood desire, and she knew that he couldn't live without it despite his protestations to the contrary.

The X-men's current situation only exacerbated the problem. Stranded in this remote location – no matter how beautiful and idyllic it was – only intensified the group's interactions with each other. There was no way to avoid seeing Gambit, no way to avoid interacting with him.

And no way to avoid Audra. The X-men's newest recruit, a beautiful blonde in her early twenties. Rogue now hated blondes. It was impossible to ignore the looks Audra gave Remy. Just as it was impossible to ignore the effect she had on him. Had Audra been a bitch this would have been so much easier, but she was sweet as spun sugar. Gentle. Warm. Friendly with everyone. And Audra did not have a mutant power that prevented her from being able to touch anyone.

Rogue knew what she had to do. But she first needed someone to listen, someone patient and loving who would steer her in the right direction. Storm wouldn't be able to remove the dull pain from Rogue's heart but she had wisdom and she would offer a hug. Rogue would take it.

Rogue left her small hut and walked towards Storm's. `We picked a hell of a place to get stranded in,' she murmured to herself. Blue skies, gentle rolling hills, lush meadows, a sparkling clean and huge lake, and cooperative weather. And an obligatory break from fighting the Magnetos and Sentinels of the world, given that the X-men couldn't get out of this place. `Too bad I can't feel any of the peace of this place'.

Storm had picked some flowers. She had them displayed in a vase on her hut's small table. She had worn a similar bloom – crimson red – in her hair at dinner last night, Rogue remembered. There was little about that dinner that she could have forgotten. Audra had been sitting across from Gambit. He had been trying to not look at the young woman, and had failed. Rogue had glanced at Gambit and seen the color in his cheeks, heard the tone in his voice when Audra had smiled and joked with him. Enough was enough.

"Rogue. It is always a pleasure to see you. You look tired," Storm observed.

"Couldn't sleep last night."

"I see. I'm glad you've sought out my company. Would you like to talk?"

Rogue nodded. "Wanna fly up to that hill?"

Moments later, the two women seated themselves upon a ledge. It was soft and grassy and it gave them a fine view of the surroundings. They could see Jean, Scott, and their daughter splashing around in the lake. The canopy covering the group's tent obscured their vision of what went on inside it, but Rogue guessed that the Professor and Hank were still in there, still searching for an escape from their tranquil prison.

It was cooler up high and Storm, though not impacted too heavily by the weather, had brought a thermos of hot tea and was pouring out two cups. "Blast it. I forgot sugar for you," she murmured.

"I'll go back and get it. It ain't like we're pressed for time here," Rogue said. Time was one commodity the X-men now had in abundance.

She was back in a minute. Rogue hadn't been thirsty but, as she stirred the tea, she reflected that it wasn't a bad idea. It gave her something to do with her hands and something to look at other than Storm.

"What's on your mind?" Storm asked, the question of a friend so close that there is no need for small talk or pleasantries.

"I did it. I made a decision. Somewhere between dinner last evening and not bein' able to sleep last night." Rogue paused. "I gotta set Gambit free."

"Really?" Storm queried softly.

"I can't torture that poor man any more. Ain't like there's anything can be done 'bout this. Ain't like we're ever gonna be able to touch."

Rogue's statement appeared correct. Even before they were stranded, the X-men had been trying to get their hands on inhibitor collars but it appeared that most – if not all – had been destroyed. Hank had spent time in his laboratory working on one but his work on that was understandably often replaced with more urgent projects. His initial results hadn't been remotely encouraging anyway.

Ororo looked at Rogue, though the younger woman's gaze was still on her tea. "You may be right about that. Sometimes it is better to accept reality as it is and move on."

Rogue nodded. She knew Storm would say that. Storm herself had given up on Wolverine, had accepted that he would never be able to get over Jean. The object of Wolverine's love was the married mother of a toddler but the Canadian could simply not stop loving her or seek out another.

"I gotta be more like you," Rogue said, and she wished her voice hadn't cracked, but it had. "Wish I could just accept things more and not get so emotional."

"There is a certain peace that comes with accepting the world the way it is," Storm murmured, placing a hand on Rogue's shoulder. "We X-men can work to change the things that are changeable. But there are many things that we cannot impact. We must accept them, as much as we might wish the situation was different." Storm spoke with a deep longing.

Rogue swallowed the lump in her throat. At least the lump dimmed the ache that had settled in her chest. "You're right. How'm I gonna do that? I'm gonna have to watch him be with Audra."

"It will be difficult. But I think that each day the pain will grow smaller. To love someone is to want what is best for them. To set them free. So you can at least take solace in the fact that Gambit will be happy. And you may even want to open your heart to Audra, as well. Try to work on being sincerely happy for her. For both of them."

Rogue wanted to crush the mug in her hand. She took a breath though and held it steady. Storm. She could learn to be like Storm.

She felt the Windrider's arms encircle her and she cried soundlessly onto the older woman's shoulder.

Hours later, Rogue sat in the same spot but this time with Gambit. She had flown them both up. It was easier to talk away from the X-men's cozy settlement.

"Is cold up here," Gambit observed. "Remy gotta talk to Storm and ask her why she don't use her powers to make the evenin' warmer."

"You an' me might be the only two who think it's cold here," Rogue said.

"The others ain't from Dixieland like us. Dey complain when it get too warm."

Rogue kept her gaze on her gloved hands. She played with her fingers. "I didn't ask you up here to talk 'bout the weather, Cajun," she began, addressing the man whom she had been referring to as her boyfriend. He referred to her as his girlfriend, too, despite the fact that they were in a celibate relationship. Rogue reminded herself silently once more that that was ridiculous, no one but the very religious or very conservative committed to one person without making love to them. Gambit was neither of those, she reminded herself. All he was now was very deprived.

"What's on your mind den, chere?"

Rogue couldn't tell from the tone of his voice whether or not he guessed it. She was never fully sure with him. She was sure that he loved her, yes, but often she had no idea where his head was at on things.

"You know, Remy, I been thinkin' 'bout us and how we tried to give it all a go. You an' me. How we been tryin' to be a couple. You've been so good to me all this time." It was true. Rogue would miss the flowers, the moonlit walks, the hugs, the words of love. And before they were stranded, the nights on the town at the fancy restaurants and the bars and the plays. He always made her feel so special; she loved to be on his arm.

Gambit looked like he wanted to say something but Rogue touched a gloved finger to his lips. "Lemme finish, Cajun. Really. I gotta say all this."

He nodded, and she continued.

"This ain't fair to you. It ain't right to keep you from…from sex. You're a human bein' and you got needs, and I ain't got no way of meetin' them."

"Chere, we discuss dis before. We talk 'bout it before we get together. We decided to try."

"We did try and I'm glad we did," Rogue responded.

"We knew it wouldn't be easy," Gambit reminded her.

"And it ain't. But me, I'm used to not havin' sex. You ain't." She sighed. "Maybe, Remy, we're jus' meant to be good friends. Best friends. I'll always love you and I know you'll always love me. But we gotta let the relationship thing go. We ain't never gonna be Scott and Jean and no sense tryin'".

Rogue studied Gambit's face. She knew he had meant the words he had spoken. She knew he wanted it to work out. But she also sensed that their relationship had been wearying him and that he wasn't going to argue with her too much on this, that he would let it go. She tried to think of the exact moment when that knowledge had sunk in. It hadn't been dinner last night and his reaction to Audra. Had it been the night when Gambit had gently traced Rogue's lips with a gloved finger while slowly licking his own, wishing he could kiss her? Was it the night they had been cuddling together, him touching her breasts through her clothing, until Gambit had had to get up and return to his room, bulge in his pants? There had been a thousand moments like that. Only their love for each other had blinded them to the fact that this could not go on. Rogue look another look at Gambit's face and knew he was perhaps a step or two behind her but treading down the same pathway.

"I love you," Gambit said. His voice was intense.

"I love you too. And I always will. Like I said, I hope we can always be best friends."

Gambit was silent. Rogue eventually continued, "I'm gonna talk to Audra, too. I'm gonna tell her that I give her my blessin' and that I want both you and her to be happy."

Gambit slowly nodded. "You really t'ink dis is best, chere?"

"I do."

Gambit sighed. It was his turn to stare intently at his gloves. "Alright," he said finally.

Rogue kept her word. She sought out Audra the next morning. Audra had been weeding the garden with Jubilee and Nightcrawler when Rogue asked her if they could talk for a moment.

As they walked through the fields in search of seclusion, Rogue wondered about the other woman. Though young and inexperienced, Audra didn't seem the least bit intimidated by Rogue. She hadn't appeared surprised when Rogue asked to speak with her. Audra exuded a confidence that Rogue wouldn't associate with one so new and so young. And yet, she wasn't arrogant or haughty either.

Perhaps more evidence of Audra's confidence was the fact that the younger woman hadn't felt the need to make small talk as they plodded through the fields.

"Here's a nice shaded spot," Audra said, gesturing towards a large tree. Its fluffy leaves almost provided them with a canopy and they were now out of earshot of the others.

Rogue had been turning over conversation-openers all morning but had discarded them. She had had enough difficult conversations anyway and just wanted this one over. "I just wanted to let you know that Remy and I broke it off. So –"

"I'm sorry to hear that. Are you alright?" Audra asked. Her voice sounded frighteningly sincere.

"I'm fine. I just wanted to let you that I ain't gonna attack you or be a jerk 'bout it or anythin' like that. I know you like him, and he likes you. It ain't 'cause of you that we broke up. You should go for Remy if you want to. Sugar, I'll be happy for you."

"Wow. Well, thank you, Rogue. I appreciate that. And I am very glad to hear that the break up wasn't because of me, because I'd never try to do that to anyone. You've been so sweet to me. Everyone has. I really wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardize being an X-man. It's so nice to find a place where everyone's accepted."

Rogue wanted to tell Audra to shut up already but she let her finish. "Don't worry, sugar. Well, that's all I wanted to say. I will be happy for you and Remy."

With those awkward phrases, Rogue flew away.

A few days passed. Rogue went about her daily business on auto-pilot. Her chores didn't take long to finish – a few hours working in the garden, helping Bobby patch a hole in his roof, and the ever-popular cleaning out of the sewage tanks. Most of her time she spent with the other X-men playing sports and other games. Bobby had his computer games set up and Rogue played several. The team also had some books with them, and Rogue spent a lot of time in her hut, reading and napping. Most of her meals she took in her hut, alone, but she also put a brave face on and joined the group for a dinner or two. She made certain to sit as far away from Gambit and Audra as possible, and to keep her eyes on her plate. She stirred her food around and didn't eat much.

Most of the others sought her out at least once. Hank, Jean, Bobby, Nightcrawler. Storm, several times. Wolverine even tapped on her door once and although Rogue didn't think much of any relationship advice he might give, she did appreciate the thought at least. 'He's a good guy, even if he's clueless 'bout these things, 'bout what he could have with Storm,' Rogue thought to herself.

The ache in her heart wasn't any better. But she had known it wouldn't go away instantly, had known it would all take time. She could only hope that the ache might be a bit smaller the next day.

She had glimpsed Gambit that day, during the group's basketball game. It had sent her heart racing again. Her cheeks had flushed, and she knew it hadn't been due to any physical exertion. She suspected that this sort of reaction wouldn't cease anytime soon.

The sun now had set. She fluffed her pillow and crawled under the blankets. Jubilee had told her that they planned to build another campfire tonight, but Rogue had been to enough of those. It was fun to sit around with the others, look at the flames, eat s'mores, and tell stories but Rogue couldn't handle company right now. She didn't want to see Gambit and Audra sitting entwined together the way Scott and Jean did.

So Rogue tuned out the dim sounds coming from the campfire and tried to sleep. It would take a while, but sooner or later she would lose consciousness, she told herself. Her mind drifted to where it usually went, Gambit and Audra. Were they spending their nights together yet or were they taking it slowly?

Before the group was stranded, she had happened upon an article that mentioned it was customary for dating couples to sleep together by date number three. Rogue could never shake her sense of inadequacy. She had mused that she and Gambit were more like on date number 300 and yet she couldn't give him what he wanted. What they wanted.

`I set him free,' Rogue reminded herself that night, as she tossed and turned on her mat. 'So I don't gotta feel bad 'bout that no more'. She counted how many days it had been since she had set Remy free. She wondered what exactly would constitute dating on this place.

She had seen Remy and Audra depart for a walk together this afternoon. It was just a glimpse of the back of their heads. It had hurt.

Audra would get to feel Remy's lips on hers. She'd get to feel his mouth against hers. She could experience a real kiss. She wouldn't have to just experience desire; she could give in to it.

Rogue turned over on her mat again. She understood the longings of the body. She felt them intensely, always had. She would close her eyes, touch herself, tell herself that the fingers belonged to Remy. She would shudder with release; in those few seconds of climaxing all of her troubles and worries evaporated. She reached for herself again this night, once again wishing. No one said life was fair, her grandmother had told her when Rogue was a little girl. How right she had been. Rogue continued to stroke herself.

Rogue wasn't sure if she had fallen asleep that evening or not. It was still dark out. She didn't feel tired, didn't feel rested either. It was hot. Perhaps the X-men's campfire had subconsciously lodged in her mind but Rogue felt too warm. After moving her body into a few new positions and kicking off her blankets, Rogue decided to forget about getting any more sleep that night.

She decided to bathe. Storm always advocated bathing for soothing the mind and the spirits. Rogue picked through her belongings and found a large towel, lantern, and a pair of sandals. Instead of heading towards the group's showers, she walked down the opposite pathway to the lake.

It was pitch dark outside. Rogue continued down the path, making sure to put as much distance between herself and the X-men's camp as possible. The ground was soft and strong, and the evening's breeze still felt warm against Rogue's skin.

When she was satisfied with her distance from the camp, she turned off her lantern, swiftly removed her clothing, and dove into the clear water. It felt good against her skin, refreshing and invigorating. She dipped her head under the water again and then squeezed her hair. `Just what I needed,' she mused, as she moved to lay on her back and float, eyes closed.

Rogue remained that way for a while, floating in the soothing water. She opened her eyes and looked up at the stars, shining brilliantly in the black night. There was something so freeing about being naked in the water, outside and unfettered. She didn't have to fear accidentally touching anyone else here. She continued to enjoy the water against her bare skin. It was warm and comforting.

Rogue heard a soft noise in the distance. Her ears perked up and she strained to listen. With so few people in the area, and with most of them asleep for the night, sounds became magnified. `If it's Wolverine roaming around buck naked in the forest, I'm gonna fly outta here so fast. I'll come back for my clothes tomorrow'.

It sounded like water. Almost like the sound of someone swimming laps through water, and it was coming closer. Rogue wondered who would be up at this hour. She peered into the distance.

"Who's dere?"

It was Gambit's voice. He must have sensed he was not alone now, too.

"It's me. It's Rogue," she responded, turning towards the direction from which his voice had originated. "What are you doin' out here?" She still could not see her former boyfriend. She realized, however, that with his superior vision he might be able to see her. She lowered herself into the water until it came up to her chin.

"Jus' goin' for a swim." His voice was quieter now; Rogue could tell he was close. "Couldn't sleep. What 'bout you."

"Had to cool off. It's hot tonight," Rogue said, nonchalantly.

"Missed you at the campfire."

Rogue didn't know how to respond to that. Gambit now stood a few feet away from her and she could easily see his face in the starlight. She was now very aware that she was naked.

"Careful, Swamp Rat. You don't wanna come any closer, don't wanna actually touch me."

"I know," Gambit responded. His tone was soft and a bit heartbreaking.

"So, uh, how''s Audra?"

"Don't know. I talked wit' her today. Told her I didn't wanna pursue anyt'in' wit' her now. Maybe not ever."

"Why, Remy?" Rogue asked. Her voice sounded exasperated. "I want you to be happy!"

"Before I break it off wit' her – whatever you call it – I kiss her a few times. Didn't like it. Jus' made me t'ink how miserable you'd be."

Rogue sighed loudly. "That don't matter, Cajun. I'll be okay. I can handle it!"

"Maybe so. But chere, I can't."

His words made her heart skip a beat. She looked at him. His eyes glowed. The tips of his hair were wet. He looked miserable.

"I like her," Gambit continued. "But she ain't the woman I love."

"You can't touch the woman you love!" she bellowed. More softly, she added, "'Sides, it's okay if you don't love Audra. Sleep with her! Get your needs taken care of."

"'Been using my hand for dat and it's worked out okay. I ain't gonna die from it, you know." Gambit's eyes darted towards the shore. "You wanna step outta here an' talk on the grass?"

"Yeah. I – oh, wait a sec, Cajun. I don't know about you, but I was skinny dippin'." So flustered by Gambit's words earlier, Rogue had momentarily forgotten her nakedness.

"You were?" Remy asked, eyebrows raised.

"Wipe that smirk off your face!"

"I ain't smirkin'. Just surprised." Gambit paused. "And enticed."

"You can be as enticed as you want, you know you can't do a damn thing about it." Rogue's tone softened. "What about you? You weren't skinny dippin'?"

"No, chere. I ain't naked right now." He paused again. "But I could be."

Rogue's mind was still reeling from Remy's earlier admissions, that he hadn't slept with Audra and didn't intend to, that he couldn't live with Rogue being miserable. "Wouldn't it be amazin' if we found out tonight that water somehow cancels out my powers?" she mused, dreamily.

"So I do still have an effect on you," Gambit murmured.

"'Course you do! You know I love you; I told you so the other day," Rogue said. Her trademark sassiness was gone. Her voice was sweet now.

"I know."

They looked at each other again, and their gazes then drifted towards the grassy shore. Rogue spotted her lantern. Her entire body felt full, almost as if it were swollen. She still felt very warm, as if Gambit were radiating heat.

"You wanna," Rogue began, quietly, "…look at each other?"

Gambit nodded. "I want dat very much."

"Okay," Rogue whispered. She then smiled and tilted her head towards the shore. "You go first though. I don't want you to see me just yet."

Gambit again nodded and did her bidding. He swam towards the shore and walked a few paces. "You want me to turn the lantern on, chere? We could see each other better."

"You mean, I could see you better. I know you got great vision without it."

"Dat's true."

"Go ahead and turn it on then," Rogue requested.

Gambit did so. He spread out the towel Rogue had brought with.

Rogue swam as close to the shore as she could and watched Gambit.

"You want me to close my eyes when you walk outta the water?" Gambit asked.

Rogue continued to watch him. He was so beautiful that it made her heart hurt and her entire body ache. Still, it felt really good at the same time.

"No," she finally replied. "You can watch."

Gambit's eyes widened. "You want me to take dis off?" he asked, gesturing to his swimming trunks.

Rogue nodded. Her body shook as she watched him discard the small garment. He now stood before her naked.

"Lord, Remy. You're so beautiful. Like the most gorgeous thing I ever looked at."

Gambit smiled. "You like what you see?" he teased.

"You don't even gotta ask. You got me so weak in the knees that I don't know if I can even walk to the shore."

"Den stay dere and look for a while."

"Okay." Rogue's voice was still quiet and still sweet as sugar. She continued to look. She tried to memorize every detail of his body. He looked delicious. He looked god-like.

"I been takin' too long," Rogue finally said. "Let me join you."

"Dere's room on the blanket for both of us," Remy said.

Rogue nodded. She opted against flying out of the water and instead decided to walk slowly. She pulled herself out of the lake and approached Gambit. She lay down at his side, ensuring that a few inches were left between them.

"I am the most disciplined man in the entire world," Gambit murmured. "To be able to keep my hands off of you."

Rogue smiled. She didn't feel shy. She enjoyed the way his eyes were devouring her naked body. "You like what you see?" she teased, echoing his tone from earlier.

"I do," he said, his voice sounding hoarse. "Everyt'in' so beautiful. Everyt'in' turnin' me on so much."

Rogue's eyes took another look at a particular part of Gambit's anatomy, which had recently grown in size. "Does that hurt?" she asked.

"It kinda aches. What 'bout you?"

"The same. An achin' and it feels really wet too."

Rogue smiled again and continued, "Dang, Swamp Rat, that thing looks so big! If we could touch, you'd actually fit that thing inside me?" She wanted her voice to sound playful, but she knew that the passion came through as well.

"Not at first," he answered, taking her question seriously. "We'd go slow, as I see it. I'd stroke you first. All over, with my hands. Nice and slow, making sure you liked the way I touched you. Den I'd use my mouth on you. My tongue. I'd lick you, I'd ---"

Rogue let out a loud groan. Her body felt on fire, and she could feel the heat emanating from Gambit as well. His voice, his words, his body, laying naked next to him – it was too much.

"Can we touch ourselves now?" Rogue asked, her voice small.

Gambit nodded. They had never done this before. It may have been because Rogue had felt it would have been unladylike, it may have been because she would have viewed it as a sorry substitute for the real thing. In the past, the opportunity hadn't come up anyway; the times they had cuddled and touched each other through their clothing, Gambit had always gotten up and left the room at a certain point.

The lovers touched themselves tonight. Rogue kept her eyes on Gambit. She noticed he was studying her intently as if he wanted to learn the strokes she was using. After not very long, Rogue let out another cry and felt the pleasure wash over her. She felt good from her head down to her toes. She felt free, experiencing Gambit this way. Seconds later, Gambit released himself. Rogue touched a finger to one of the drops that had landed on the towel.

"Chere," Gambit breathed. "Promise me dis. Go to Xavier tomorrow. Go to him, tell him dat it don't matter how busy he is, how tired he is, but he gotta help you to manage your powers."

"We tried that years ago," Rogue began limply. "It didn't work."

"Maybe it work dis time. He's helped so many mutants before. Try again, chere. Keep tryin' wit' him an' don't stop. Go to Jean too. She nearly as strong as Xavier. Don't care how busy she is with Cyke or wit' the kid, she can help us. An' Hank. Maybe he can't make dos collars but he gotta invent somet'in else. Let's go to dem an' not stop till we get some help. Someday we can touch each other. We will."

"Yes," Rogue breathed. "You're right. I'll keep tryin'. Soon as the sun's up, let's talk to those others. There's gotta be a way."

"Dere is. I love you."

"I love you too." Rogue paused. She then quietly added, "In the meantime, can we keep doin' this? Till I find a way to control my powers?"

"Chere, I want not'in more."

"An' it's okay with you? It's good enough for you?"

"It's the only t'ing for me. 'Cause Gambit don't want no one else."

Rogue nodded. She was filled with new resolve, this time feeling certain that there was a way to control her powers. She would only need to find it.


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