A long time ago, a woman wrote a fanfic. That woman was Green Amber, and it was a beautiful piece of Rogue/Remy centred around the Alfred Noyes poem "The Highwayman". This fic is for her, and for the lovely airo25 (who has been so patient in waiting for "Architect", a fic I promised her aeons ago and seem to hit a wall with for now; never fear though, I'm still toying with it).
Now, a while ago, I discovered the concept of fanfiction remixes: telling the same story from a different perspective or in some other different way. Amber's fic was the first thing I thought of at that point, and I suddenly felt a desperate need to play with it.
The specific name of this mix comes from another Alfred Noyes poem, "On The Western Front". Though that specific poem is about the war-dead (which might actually be appropriate – how about you tell me?), there's a couple lines in there that run like this: The loose earth shook. The very hills were stirred. / The silence of the dead was all I heard. Those two lines resonated with me, and ended up shaping everything about this story. So now, with Amber's permission and blessing, I hereby present to you "The Highwayman (Silence of the Dead Mix)". I don't think you need to read the original fic to get this, as specific effort to make my plot mirror hers as closely as possible was made. To be fair though, I'm the author and a little too close to the material to be objective. Plus, giving Amber's piece a try certainly can't hurt; it's a fantastic story.
Rogue's limp body rests on the ground, left arm splayed in such a way that it looks as though she's reaching for Remy's corpse. His own arm is reaching for her. Bare inches separate them, and the irony that even in death they can't quite touch is not lost on any present.
Kitty can't even bring herself to squeeze out an omigosh or any other sort of exclamation that would seem familiar coming from her mouth. She kneels down, brushing the hair out of Remy's eyes – they've yet to even glaze over –and looks back and forth between him and Rogue. The remainder of the team stands around them, a silent honour guard, shock painted with vibrant depth on their faces as they try to take in what lies before them.
The Mansion had been all but empty.
Xavier and Dr. McCoy were away at a conference, delivering a paper on mutancy to some important people in the scientific world. The world wasn't in particular need of saving either, so the New Recruits all headed off to the movies while the rest of the team had gone for dinner in downtown Bayville to celebrate a night off.
Rogue and Remy hadn't gone with them.
He'd said that he just didn't feel like going out, and disappeared up to his room.
She had been planning on going, but had changed her mind at the last minute saying she wanted to stay home and catch up on some reading for Psych class.
Scott had been about to call both of them on this. It had been far out of character for Remy not to want to go out, and he was near certain he remembered Rogue mentioning having finished her reading earlier. Jean gave him a brief telepathic nudge before he could ask about it.
How long has it been since they've actually had a chance to be alone together? she projected. Scott bit at the inside of his cheek. He knew that Rogue and Remy were a 'thing' in all but the actual use of the word. He didn't necessarily like it (teammate or no, as soon as Remy hurt her, Scott was going to kick the man's ass), but Jean's question had reminded him that he respected Rogue far too much to push.
With that, he nodded and the team left to go eat. In the end his misgivings would prove unjustified. Remy had gone to his room, Rogue had gone to go read her Psych text, and despite their being away, the team ended up knowing exactly what happened back at the mansion. Foresighted to the last, Remy had ensured it through the use of a recorder tapped in to the X-Men's private frequency.
It had been Logan who out of habit had brought along one of their communicators. It crackled to life in the middle of dessert, indicating that someone on the other end had activated it, and the sound of Remy talking with a woman he called 'executioner' broke through whatever conversation might have been occurring. Assorted cheesecakes, squares, and sweets were abandoned as they threw some money down on the table and ran.
Piling into the truck, they listened helplessly as the executioner – apparently a woman named Belle – and Remy spoke of Guilds, of family; all things they'd never heard Remy talk about before. The executioner spoke of how these Guilds wanted him back in New Orleans and how they wanted him to bring Rogue along since her 'talents' would have been highly useful to them.
The way she said the word, 'talents', almost flirted with lasciviousness. It made Kurt feel ill.
Scott couldn't help but give a half-smile at Remy's refusal to comply with any of the executioner's demands that also served as a touching defence of Rogue herself. Though no-one in the truck said anything aloud since they were so focused on listening, all gave their silent approval and praise to the man they had once thought of as an enemy.
The executioner sighed.
"Remy," she said. "You know what I have to do now."
"Take your best shot," he replied, and Kitty could almost see him: arms spread wide and that cocksure grin of his in place.
As they sped towards the Mansion, the team could hear a door burst open, and the sound of heavy, combat-boot clad feet running.
A gun fired, and a heavy thump spoke to a body hitting the floor.
The sound of Remy screaming Rogue's name as he presumably dropped to the ground next to her would haunt the dreams of more than a few team members in the nights to come.
"Marie! You are NOT dying on me, y'hear?"
Logan's eyes closed tightly at this. Rogue had only shared her name with him after a matter of years. As far as he knew, she'd yet to give it to any of the other X-Men. That she'd shared it with Remy was incredibly significant. He'd known that they were close, but for her to have given him her given name? That was something else entirely.
"For the love of God, Marie, absorb me!" Remy screamed. "Absorb me, godammit! Live!"
Lapsing in to a sort of broken French that the team was only able to understand bits and pieces of, he continued to beg Rogue to take him, to live. Logan, who understood a little more French than the others by virtue his Canadian roots, thought he caught the words je t'aime in there somewhere. He would have sworn to anything at that moment the bullet had taken him in the chest.
Jaws in the car tightened as Remy continued his desperate monologue. Rogue was beyond hearing him now.
Kurt made a fist and bit his knuckles, making a valiant effort not to cry. Kitty's face went white, and a sombre Ororo squeezed her hand. Scott's teeth clamped down especially hard as he tried to focus on driving while Jean bit her lip, listening intently to the communicator while trying to get in psychic contact with Professor Xavier. Logan fought the urge to release his claws and hit something. Bobby just looked blank.
They had all seen death and destruction before, but never like this. Never one of their own.
The executioner had remained silent through this all.
The next sound out of Remy's mouth was hardly human. It was the sound of a wounded animal, an angry man with nothing left to lose.
While the team couldn't see the altercation that followed, they could hear it clearly enough: Remy launching himself up off the ground, the slams of bodies against furniture, the sort of explosions that sounded like Remy using his powers.
A gun went off again, another body hit the floor, and everyone dared to hope that perhaps Remy had managed to wrestle the gun away from the executioner and use it against her. Everyone also very much doubted this was the case.
There were no further words from the other end, just some exhausted gasping as the team pulled up to the Mansion. The security system activated as they ran up across the green, meaning the executioner was trying to make her escape. Powers blazing, they ran up to and through Mansion to where the communicator indicated the transmission had been coming from: Remy's room.
Upon bursting through the open door, a collective pained gasp was released. They had been expecting to see this scene, but expectation had in no way prepared them to see both Rogue and Remy laying there, still and lifeless in pools of their own blood.
Crouching down, Scott allows his hand to hover for a brief second over Rogue's face before letting it come to rest on her still-warm skin. He hangs his head. They are late by minutes. Just minutes. The combination of guilt and anger he feels are heavy, almost tangible weights.
Logan places a hand on Scott's shoulder, trying to be the bedrock of strength he knows he should be in this situation. He's supposed to be the one who understands this sort of thing the best of all of them. He still finds himself physically aching as he looks at Stripes, the closest thing he's ever had to a daughter, and the man who loves (loved, he corrects himself; it's past tense now) her lying there with a matching set of his and her bullet holes precisely where their hearts used to beat.
Kurt stands just in the door, his full weight against the doorframe since he doesn't trust his legs to hold him up right now. He whispers a quiet prayer that he doesn't even know if he believes. Kitty continues to absently adjust Remy's hair, looking as though she wants to speak but cannot find the words. She had been a friend to both of them by the end, and to see them like this is beyond anything she can articulate. Bobby still looks blank, and Ororo takes him in her arms. It is only as they hold each other that the two of them are able to shed any tears at all. Jean gets down on her knees next to Scott and despite her own hurt, tries to stay calm and focused while wondering if it's possible given what's right in front of her. Pressing into Scott, she closes her eyes and continues to try for contact with the Professor.
"What now?" Bobby asks quietly, managing to separate himself from Ororo only to cross his arms over his chest and grab tightly at his triceps.
It may have been Scott who touched Rogue's cheek so gently, but it is Cyclops who rises, jaw set and expression stolid as he looks to the open window that he already figures the executioner left by.
"We find this Belle woman," he says. "We find these Guilds. We make sure they know just what they've done, and exactly who they've crossed."
In the same way it's Cyclops that has just spoken, it is Wolverine who nods before elaborating. "And we start with a full sweep of the grounds. Now."
The rest of the team hesitates, waiting for someone to say something about how this is not how the X-Men operate, that this sort of retributive thinking is against everything they stand for as a group: something sufficiently pacifistic and Xavier-esque. The hesitation passes quickly and they head off to do the sweep anyway, because none of them can find it in themselves to even open their mouths since the two corpses at their feet speak loudly enough in their deaths to overwhelm any other sound.