A/N: I didn't mean to renege, coup fatal. I got swamped, so this was late. Very late. I'm very, very sorry.
Thank you endlessly to my beta, Heavenmetal, as usual for doing an amazing job.
Thank you all who read and review. I apologize for the long wait, and I wish the chapter itself was better and longer, but it is what it is and hopefully you like it. I've been busy again, writing original SFF fiction, reworking the contemporary stuff, updating my websites, earning a living, but not doing much fanfic. I hope to post some new stuff soon, but no promises, 'kay?
Without a Trace
Chapter Seventeen: La Belle Dame sans Merci
"The Beautiful Lady without Mercy"
- Admit it, mon ami, we actu'ly make a pretty good team...
when we ain't tryin' t'kill each other. -
Gambit to Bishop, X-Men #47
Chere was surprised at how good she felt, lying beside Remy, panting in the warming afterglow. He had settled the sheet between them and tucked her head against his shoulder and now stroked the small of her back.
"I don't think I've ever done that before," she admitted quietly.
He didn't comment, just held her a little closer.
Chere lifted her head, looked at him. His eyes were focused on some point above them. "What are you thinking?"
"Nothing much." He shrugged his free shoulder. "Just wondering..." His voice trailed off.
He shook his head. "Don't know if you'll ever need this, but her name is Morgan."
She blinked at him. "Whose?"
La Femme Fatale, the fierce, nameless patron of the New York Thieves Guild, traveled quickly and without company—in a swirl of sulphurous scent and enshrouded within her cloak. She had learned from years of using borrowed powers—those of Witness and Nightcrawler in particular—not to travel time and space at once.
She stepped briskly down the steps into her quarters at the New York Guild. Voices waited for her in the corners of the large, airy suite, whispered on the breezes coming in through the balcony doors, brushing lightly like footsteps across the heated tile floors, and crackled in the flames of a large hearth.
Rogue, Chere, Anna, Marie, la Femme Fatale, Amalgam—she'd worn so many names in her time—dropped her cloak onto a chair absently—So much like him now, aren't we?—Shut up, John, with all the briskness of long association, dispatching the jealous contender—and straightened a few things telekinetically.
The voices grew louder.
You'll need to contact Blindspot. She's the only one who can do it, Erik insisted, as he often had.
Been there, done that, she promptly shot back.
Quiet worry, lip-chewing hesitancy. I'm really not sure about this...
He doesn't deserve her. Snide, wreathed in flame.
He doesn't deserve this. Kitty and John volleyed back and forth so often in her mind.
Kid, you're doing fine. So loyal. She didn't deserve it.
Behind them all, liquid shadows stolen in corners, silent. He stopped talking to her years ago. She couldn't save him then. But now, even now, he wouldn't take a side. Witness. La Femme Fatale. He fought for a future she couldn't—wouldn't, who're you fooling?, bitterly—see. She fought for him.
He wouldn't pick a side and so she remained alone with a thousand voices and the only one that mattered, silent.
She studied the flames, eyes burning black and red, a soft magenta glow infusing her skin. She did not see the fire, but the twisting, burning threads of time. How many times had they changed it? Along one path, well-traveled, was the road that led her here and Witness there. Along the way, so many people had died, she cannot help but wonder why they're living now.
"Jubilee," she whispered. The petite Asian-American with her dark hair and exotic eyes, but more that open laugh that never feared Rogue's touch, had died in her first real battle.
"How did you change that?" she demanded of an unhearing Witness miles and miles away. How could he change that?
Her skin burned, melted into fiery kinetic energy, and she merged with time.
"You going to need a new name," the old man says. She often grounded herself in his timelines, in the things that he had changed.
The little boy with the devil eyes stares up into eyes just like his own and remembers the stories told before he was even born of the dangers of this man. "You're le diable."
"Oui. I am that." The old man studies him for a long moment. "Gambit."
She left him then, flung herself into the new threads they were both weaving, followed the pattern of her own first journey with Logan remade, where Jubilee lived.
Red on black eyes narrowed. Hundreds of thousands of potential timelines glowed and shifted and played out before her. Her greatest antagonist was the very man she was trying to save.
La Femme Fatale shook her head in disgust, then threw her own self backward and changed it. Again.
Remy woke cursing, body trembling, world spinning around him. Couldn't whoever was screwing with his memories againwait until he was awake?
By the time, his room had settled again, he could feel Chere pressed against him, holding him from behind, whispering soft comfort. He turned to her and she withdrew quickly with all that bare skin.
"It's okay," he said, reaching for her.
She smiled at the touch, but pulled back, wrapping her arms around herself, to sit Indian-style on the bed. "What was that?"
Remy grimaced, not really wanting to answer.
She studied him for a long moment before pulling away and reaching for her sleep shirt. She pulled it on and buttoned it up, then settled Indian style at the foot of the bed. "You did that before, didn't you?"
Her eyes narrowed.
He couldn't blame her for getting annoyed at how cagey he was being, but he couldn't stop the hint of his own annoyance. It's not like they had kept trust on the table.
"Let it go, Chere," he snapped.
She shook her head at him, mouth tightening into a frown, arms tightening around herself. "Why do I get the feeling that's a bad idea?"
Because it probably was. But he didn't answer. Instead, he turned away and culled through his memory banks to find whatever had changed. And found something...missing. He frowned.
"You ever meet a Carol Danvers?"
Chere's eyes went unfocused, then, "No." Her gaze sharpened again on him. "Have you?"
"Oui." Remy had plenty of contacts in the Canadian wilderness, gleaned from time spent there after his exile. Montreal had been more than willing to put up a Master Thief and former heir in exchange for his tithes. "Ace" had been one of them, courtesy of Wolverine. But someone had changed that. And he had a feeling that could be a problem. "Not any more, I guess."
Chere's head came up quickly. "What do you mean?"
He shrugged again, letting her draw her own conclusions. Judging from the glint in her eye, she would come to the right one.
"I'm going to take a shower. You leave in the morning."
She dropped her jaw, but Remy snatched up his own clothes and went around the corner into the bathroom without a backward glance. Things were moving too fast. He scowled in the mirror.
Who was changing everything?
There were rules in this game that Witness would not, or could not, break. They could put players into action, but they could not interfere with each other's maneuvers. He felt the timeline shift and knew that his lover was making her own moves. For not the first time, he wished he had never found her and guided her through her amnesia, never made love to her, never brought her into the Guild, and most of all, never let her become the merciless, beautiful woman she was now.
If only he knew what she wanted...
He ran one thumb over her picture apologetically. "Whatever are you up to now, Chere?"