Disclaimer: The disclaimer is currently having its teeth cleaned for the customary Last Chapter photo session. I advise everyone reading to do the same. You wouldn't want the photographer to catch you with spinach in between your teeth, now would you?

A/N: Would you look at that! We crossed over the 200 review mark! *quickly glances left, then right, then starts dancing like a lunatic that's had too much to drink*

* I know, I know. I sure did take my sweet time with this one. Umm, Rupeshwari, you wanna tell everyone why that is and who's responsible for it? ; )

~ Lucky439, Erica, Disturbed Courtney, bellevuedrive, T., BJ, Jean1, Malena, Darkwolf, ilovetidus, Rupeshwari, Charisma, Marvel -- Thanks so much! I'd try to count all the exclamation points and capitalized words of horrid disbelief but honestly who has the time to go through all that? ; )

~ ishandahalf, missy42, Immortal Ninja, kez, Chez, The Great Misanthrope -- Oh yeah. You all are SO coming with me to the nuthouse... ; )

~ JADEOBLUE -- Let us out of the straitjackets? Are you kidding me? They're making me type out the chapters with the tip of my nose! Do you know how hard that is?! As for your other question: yup, I plan to write other stories. What can I say? I'm insane and clearly have every intention of torturing myself... again and again. (Dude, I am SO pathetic...)

~ DragonBlond -- I'm sorry, what? I heard the words 'Remy' and 'sex symbol' in the same sentence and my mind just started to wander...

~ V -- Don't do that! *sniff, sniff* I'm a very sensitive person (neurotic, though I am). If you start to cry then I'll start to... *sniff, sniff* Damn it! *proceeds to bawl like a baby*

~ Amazon Neners -- Hmm, becoming a writer... Voluntarily submitting myself to the painstaking process of banging my head against the wall every time I hit a story pothole. Being hunted down by savage plot bunnies with razor-sharp teeth and talon-like claws. Spending an excessive amount of time recuperating in mental hospitals from the dramatic repercussions of such twisted stories as this... Nope, can't say that I have thought about becoming one. ; )

~ Shelbster -- I know. And from the looks of the other reviews, everybody agrees with you. Hell, even I do! ; )

* Just to inform everyone, the administration at the asylum has asked me to list down the names of the expected new arrivals. If you feel that you are in need of mental reevalutaion after completing this fic, feel free to sign up via the cute little blue button at the bottom of the page. (Ahh, stop pretending you don't need it! No one -- and I mean, BUT no one -- can possibly be sane after reading this damn fic!)

Darkness Before the Dawn

Remy's senses took note of the acrid taste of coffee washing over the inside of his mouth. One of the disadvantages of being away from home was that the caffeine beverages varied from city to city just as much as the people residing within them. It was on days such as this that he missed Tante Mattie's special blend. One cup of her brew was enough to jolt him awake in the morning and keep him alert for the rest of the day. He'd never been fool enough to actually ask what went into the concoction -- the rich, flavorful taste was simply too good to question -- but whatever it was, he was sure he didn't want to know.

As it were, the instant cup of 'coffee' nestled in his hand would have to suffice for the time being. After all, he wouldn't be in Los Angeles for that much longer. He was catching a flight out of the city later that same morning.

His week and a half stay had been successful, from a professional standpoint. After a three-month hiatus, work on his third record had officially begun, starting with this trip's intensive studio visit. Circumstances and conflicting schedules had forced him out of his self-imposed withdrawal from the limelight and into a hotel room clear across the country to rendezvous with several producers.

They were delayed, in his opinion; the work they were currently doing should have been accomplished months ago. But after the funeral, he simply couldn't bring himself to concentrate on recording. It was ironic, in a way. Music had always been a solace to him, a comforting hand to wipe away life's little pains. It should have soothed him, as it always had. But in the days following the service, it was a blatant reminder of everything that had been lost. It had taken him twelve weeks to get back on the proverbial horse. And even then he knew it wasn't the same.

Picking up his coffee cup, he stepped out onto the balcony of the penthouse suite. With the careless abandon of one who had never been afraid of heights, he leaned over the edge of the concrete railing, watching the endless stream of human life pass below him. There were too many feet of air and space separating him from the busy streets, but he could still make out the dull echo of the sounds of midmorning traffic.

It was strange how the world pushed forward with its everyday routine, despite the fact that his world had been turned every which way from Sunday in the past eight months. He knew it was extremely narcissistic of him to believe that the events in his life would somehow affect the lives of everyone else. But it still felt... strange to slip back into that routine as if everything were still the same.

He glanced back at the balcony door when he heard the shrill ring of his cell phone. No doubt it was Mercy calling to make sure he was awake and on schedule for the morning. If not his sister-in-law, then it was probably one of the producers with some last minute suggestion on one of the tracks they'd been putting together. Whether he was ready for it or not, work was pulling him back into its clutches with all the subtlety of a freight train.

Leaving behind the sun-shiny view, Remy stepped back into the suite to answer the call. Across the room, he saw Hank and Damien steadily devouring the breakfast feast laid before them.

"Allo?" he said into the mouthpiece.

"Remy LeBeau?" The voice was unmistakably female, with a slightly nasal tone to it.

"Who is dis?" It was an abrupt and rude question to ask, but three months of being incessantly hounded by the media had made him especially cautious. There was also the fact that this was his personal line, and no one save his family and friends knew how to reach him through it.

"My name is Sandy McKenna. I'm a writer for Starwatch magazine. I wanted to ask you some questions, if you wouldn't mind."

Remy sighed mutely. He did mind. There was nothing he wanted more than to terminate this call with a quick press of a button, but his southern upbringing wouldn't allow him to do that. Especially since the woman was being polite despite her nosiness.

"How did you get dis number, Ms. McKenna?"

"A source," she evaded. "I was wondering if I could meet you for lunch. No sense conducting an interview on an empty stomach. I know of an excellent Italian restaurant in the city. My treat."

"No offense, chère, but it's been three months already. Dere's no more story left t'tell."

"On the contrary, Mr. LeBeau, there is always a story to tell. So, are you available for lunch?"

"Merci, chère, but non. Unfortunately, I have other plans."

"Hmph. You've never turned me down before."

He started at that. "Excuse me?"

"Ah said, you've never turned me down before."

Remy nearly jumped at the warm breath and soft southern drawl that brushed against his ear. A revealing look over his shoulder confirmed his suspicions: Rogue was standing not a foot behind him with a cell phone pressed to her ear and a wicked grin plastered on her face.

"You havin' fun, petite, playin' tricks on me?" He ended the call and tossed the phone onto a nearby chair.

Her grin grew even wider as she mimicked his motions and discarded her own phone. "Oh, def'nitely, sugah."

She laughed heartily as he closed the distance between them and wrapped her in his arms, lifting her a few feet into the air. After allowing her body to slide back down along his frame, he captured her mouth and drew her into a fevered kiss.

"Hey, go get a room or somethin'," Damien called from the dining table. "Some of us are tryin' to eat over here."

Rogue smiled as she broke their kiss. Quickly sneaking in one last peck on her lover's lips, she whispered, "That's not such a bad idea, sugah. If we had more time, Ah'd be inclined ta use that li'l suggestion."

Remy returned her smile and mirrored her hushed tone. "Ya early, chèrie." She'd insisted on going out of her way to meet him in California, after she concluded some business in Minneapolis, so that they could fly back to New York together.

"Blame Logan. Man bet me fifty dollars that Ah'd make ev'ryone late."

An amused smirk twitched at the corners of his mouth. "An'?"

"An' mah pocket's now fifty bucks heavier. Y'all ready ta go?"

He nodded. "We c'n leave as soon as dose hogs over dere get done wit' deir breakfast," he answered in a louder tone. His statement was meet with several grunts from across the room.

Rogue settled herself onto the sofa and reached for the newspaper that had been thrown haphazardly across the coffee table. Rustling through the pages, she asked, "How'd yoah studio session go?"

He followed her to the couch and reclined against the backrest. "S'all right. Got ev'ryt'in' we wanted done an' den some. Dazz says hi, by de way."

She leaned back into his body, his arms automatically fitting around her. "Ah didn' know Alison was producin' a song fo' you." Finally finding the section she wanted, she read, "Nine letters, capital o' Kentucky."

"Frankfort," he answered. "Yup. Ali an' me, plus her hubby. Cute pair, dose two."

"Are they still here? Thirty-first president o' th' United States, six letters."

"Hoover. Non, dey left f'r Europe a couple o' days ago. Vacation, dey said, but more like a third honeymoon, if ya ask me."

She glanced up at him. "Ah wish Ah could've caught 'em. Ah haven't seen Longshot in ages." She continued with their crossword puzzle. "Four letters, type o' fish."

"Tuna." Stroking her hair, he stated quietly, "Dey were askin' 'bout you, belle. Dey heard 'bout... what happened."

She nodded quickly and returned her attention to the newspaper. "Tuna doesn't fit. Th' first letter's h an' th' third is k," she reported. "Hand me a pencil, would ya, sugah? There should be one in mah bag."

He eased himself away from her just enough to reach over to the chair next to them. He took note of her reluctance to discuss what had happened with Xavier. This wasn't the first time she had shut down a conversation when the topic was brought up. It had been months since that fateful night, but she still had trouble speaking of it.

"Chère," he began, handing her the pen he'd retrieved from her bag, "I t'ink you need t'open up 'bout what happened wit' Xavier." He felt her stiffen in his arms. In an attempt to soothe her, he brushed his lips against her temple, murmuring, "I know ya don' like talkin' 'bout it dat much, but not talkin' 'bout it is hurtin' ya more. Ev'rybody's worried 'bout you, petite: ya mamans, ya brother, Logan an' de boys, Jeannie an' 'Ro, but most especially me. Ev'ry time someone mentions it, ya change de subject faster dan a bat outta hell. Ya can' keep it all inside, chèrie; it'll make you crazy. Talk t'me, love. Let me be here f'r you."

His little impromptu speech was meet by utter silence. He wanted to sigh in frustration. She was shutting him out... again. He'd been trying to break down the walls she'd erected around herself since the night of the awards show, without success. The only people she had spoken to about the incident were the police, and that was done in a stiff, robotic manner, and only because it was essential to give them a detailed description of the events.

But she never talked about how that night made her feel. How everything was affecting her on an emotional level. It would be child's play for anyone to identify the obvious feelings that came as a result of such a traumatic situation: fear, hatred, helplessness. However, they wanted Rogue to acknowledge those emotions. They wanted her to release the pent-up feelings that were locked down tight, and express them in her own words. And the longer it took for her to do so, the more worried everyone became of the inevitable explosion.

"Rogue?" Remy uttered softly, ever aware of the fact that she hadn't relaxed her rigid posture against him. Leaning forward slightly, he saw that she was staring intently at the gold pen he'd handed her. "Mignonne, what's wrong?"

She jerked her head, as if having been jolted out of her thoughts. "What?"

He brought a hand down to lightly fan across her stomach, rhythmically stroking in an almost hypnotic manner. "Ya starin' at dat pen pretty hard. Pourquoi?"

"No reason," she muttered.

That was not an answer he wanted to hear. Tilting her face to meet his gaze, he asked again, "Pourquoi?" It was now more of a demand than an inquiry.

She hesitated. Pulling away from his hold and lowering her eyes, she reluctantly replied, "It... it was Karen's. Ah borrowed it from her a few days before... before..."

She didn't finish her sentence. Instead she pulled even further away from him and buried her face in her hands. Although she made no sound to indicate it, he knew she was crying. The obvious shaking of her body left no question. His heart twisted painfully at the quiet sobs that were tormenting her. This was worse than if she had screamed and wailed like a banshee. There was nothing he could do to stop the silent anguish that had its claws deep into her soul. And he hated that. He hated the fact that he was helpless to fix her hurting.

He reached out and drew her back against his body, whispering soothingly to her, cooing and rocking her as if she were a frightened child. Later, if he had been asked, he wouldn't have been able to recall exactly what he had said. The words that tumbled from his lips were a mixture of both French and English; whether they actually had any meaning would have been anyone's guess. But that didn't seem to matter to Rogue. It was the rich, smoky tone of his voice and the warm, loving arms around her that registered in her mind. And it was more than enough.

From across the room, Remy caught the questioning glances of both Hank and Damien. He nodded to them and politely gestured them out of the room. Judging from the wetness of his shirt, Rogue had freed her previously unshed tears, and it would be a while before she was calm enough to speak.

By the time she was finally ready, his chest was soaked two times over and her blouse was horribly wrinkled from where Remy had held her tightly. Her tears had ceased, replaced by the occasional hiccup that jumped into her lungs.

"Shh, ange," he lulled, drawing back so that he could look at her fully. He cleared away both hair and tears before cradling her face in his hands. "S'okay. 'M here." He closed his eyes, then kissed her brow softly and rested his forehead against hers. "S'all right, petite. Ev'ryt'in's gon' be okay."

"You don' understand, Remy," she whimpered. "It was mah fault. It was all mah fault."

His eyes snapped open and he once again pulled away. For a few moments, all he could do was gawk at her. Of all the possible emotions she could have exhibited, guilt had been the very last he expected to see.

She's been holdin' onta dis guilt f'r all dese months? he thought. They'd been expecting an emotional outburst of some kind, but not one such as this. They were thinking more along the lines of screaming, ranting and general anger toward Xavier and anything associated with him. They'd had no idea she was placing the blame on her own head. Remy couldn't believe that he hadn't noticed any signs, that he hadn't seen what she was doing to herself. But then again, he'd been too busy thanking Heaven that she was safe.

He couldn't recall a time in his life when he'd been more afraid: walking into that apartment, hot on Raven's heels, and being presented with the sight of the woman he loved sprawled on the floor with Karen half on top of her, a large pool of blood surrounding them. The world had blackened and robbed him of all his senses, save the excruciating pain in his chest. He remembered stumbling numbly toward her and being barred by the paramedics. Raven had been screaming and crying at the same time, the police officers barely able to restrain her from rushing to her daughter's side. After several agonizing minutes, Rogue's voice had floated back to them, snapping at everyone to attend to Karen since she was the one bleeding so profusely. The relief that he felt the second he heard her speak was immediate and intense, causing his legs to give out and forcing him to his knees. He had never been so glad to hear her temper before.

And yet here he was again, feeling utterly helpless in making her hurt disappear. It was another shot to his heart to realize that he had missed this reaction completely. But he would be damned if he'd let her continue with her self-inflicted guilt trip.

"Non, chèrie," he told her. "It's not ya fault. Stop talkin' crazy."

"She died 'cause o' me," Rogue said solemnly. Her words were no louder than a breath, so light he had to strain to hear them.

Grabbing her shoulders, he forced her to look at him. "Listen t'me. Karen's death is not ya fault."

"Yes it is," she argued. "She was there 'cause o' me. 'Cause Ah asked her ta come along with us ta th' show. 'Cause Ah... Ah..."

"Dat's bull, chère, an' you know it," he spat out. "Dere's only one person t'blame f'r dis, an' ya damn well know who it is. He's de one dat was stalkin' you all dose months; he's de one dat took you an' Karen hostage; he's de one dat held de two o' you by gunpoint. He pulled de trigger, mignonne. Not you."

She shot off the couch and away from Remy as if she'd been burned. Wrapping her arms around herself, she cried, "He would've never pulled that trigger if Ah didn' start shootin' off mah mouth like there was no t'morrow!" She looked back at him. "Ah provoked him, Remy. Ah was gettin' in his face an' practic'lly darin' him ta do it." Turning away in shame, she whispered, "Ah might as well have pulled th' trigger mahself."

Stomping toward her, he thundered, "Don' you dare say dat! Don' even dare. Xavier is sick, demented. Stop puttin' yaself down 'cause o' him. What he did was horrible, tragic, an' as a result, we lost Karen. But make no mistake, Rogue, he did it." He softened his tone and drew her in his arms. "I know you miss her, chèrie, an' I know you feel guilty 'bout her death, but dere's not'in' you could've done dat would've made t'ings diff'rent. Not'in'."

She began to sob once again against his chest. "Ah feel so responsible," she whispered brokenly.

"I know you do, belle, I know. It may take a while f'r de pain t'go away, but it'll get better wit' time. An' I'll be here f'r you, ev'ry step o' de way... whatever you need. I promise."

- oOo -

Jean reached over to grasp the hand of the woman seated beside her. "How're you doing, Dixie?"

Rogue gave her a weak smile, but didn't respond. Instead, she gently squeezed her friend's hand as a sign of appreciation for her support.

The two women were settled in the entertainment room of the southerner's New York home, along with the rest of Rogue's friends and family.

"Man, Hank, Trish sure is thorough," Damien stated from his position behind the couch.

Hank nodded. "That she is, my friend."

The group had been gathered around the television set for the past half hour, absorbing the special investigative reporting that was airing. Hank's girlfriend, Trish Tilby, had been covering the story since it had broken out three months ago following the incident in Xavier's Manhattan apartment. The program they were currently watching was a follow-up piece to Trish's much-talked-about special entitled The Xavier Files.

"I still cannot believe it," Ororo murmured. "All this time working with him, and never knowing..." Her voice trailed off.

"Never knowin' what a nutcase he was," Guido finished for her.

Scott added, "Or that he had a son." He shook his head. "I worked so closely with Charles for so many years. I had no idea."

"No one did." Raven adjusted her position next to Irene. "The man was brilliant. He deceived us all."

From the back of the room, Sam called, "Does anyone else find it ironic that now both father an' son are spendin' time in th' loony bin?"

"Woulda thought they'd throw Xavier's ass in jail fer what he did ta Karen," grunted Logan. "They ain't even gonna put him ta trial."

Jean was shaking her head. "He was evaluated by a psychiatrist, and deemed incompetent to stand trial. That's why they committed him to a mental institution."

"Hopefully, he's sharin' a cell with his wacko son," Guido grumbled.

Rogue winched at her bodyguard's words. Of them all, she knew that Guido missed Karen the most. The two of them had been on the way to becoming very good friends. Whenever they had to attend a public event, he would be just as concerned for Karen's safety as he was for Rogue's. She knew that he was beating himself up about sending them both with Xavier that night outside the theatre. She recalled the pure anguish she saw on his face when they were told of Karen's death. It was a look she hoped she would never have to see on another human being again.

She was so young, Rogue thought sadly. Her whole life ahead o' her. If she an' Guido had gotten t'gether... She shivered at her own whimsical thinking. That's not poss'ble. Not anymore. Karen... Ah'm so sorry...

"They are at least convicting Victor for his crimes," Peter said, breaking into Rogue's thoughts. "For aiding Xavier in his schemes."

Logan practically growled at the mention of Creed's name. "That traitorous son o' a..." He slid a cigar into his mouth to keep himself from cursing further. "I hope he gets life in prison four times over."

"What about the doctor at the laboratory?" inquired Bishop. "That Dr. MacTaggert?"

Hank spoke up. "She faces charges of conspiracy, just as Victor." He sighed deeply. "I almost pity her. She was a well-respected doctor in her field. And now, because of one bad decision..."

"Remy," Irene called suddenly to the young man who cradled her daughter in his arms. "What of the charges against you? The statutory rape and the paternity suits?"

It was Mercy who replied in her brother-in-law's stead. "Dey've been dropped, both o' dem. De police were able t'record de conversation over Remy's cell, an' dey're usin' dat as evidence o' Xavier's confession."

"Oh hey, check it out!" Bobby cried as he turned up the volume on the television. "That's the girl that delivered the flowers backstage."

Sure enough, the tall, attractive blonde from that night was shown exiting a car escorted by her lawyer and protected from the swarm of media by several police officers.

" -- Emma Frost," Trish was saying as the entourage made their way into police headquarters, "daughter of Edward Frost -- headmaster of the prestigious Frost Academy in Boston, Massachusetts -- was brought in for questioning for her part in this case. It is still unclear exactly what connection Emma had with Xavier. Police are still investigating..."

To Rogue, the words seemed to drown on without truly registering in her mind. Nearly half of the program had been lost on her, actually, but she wasn't about to admit that to the others. She'd gotten the gist of it, mostly: Charles was mentally ill; no one had the slightest idea, since he was the president of one of the biggest recording labels in the music world; he had chosen Rogue as the target of his fixation; he had created an elaborate plan to 'bring her to him,' which resulted in Karen's death; and he was currently being treated in an insane asylum, along with his son, David. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she understood all that, knew that it had significant meaning to her; but all she could see, as pictures of Charles kept flashing across the television screen, were memories of his face looming over hers in his downtown apartment.

She remembered all too clearly taunting him when he had discovered the open telephone line, challenging him to do something before the authorities arrived to throw him into the state penitentiary. She recalled the vivid expression on his face, as if something inside him had simply... snapped. The echoing from the bullet's discharge was deafening. A second later, she felt Karen's body slam into hers and they fell to the floor; but not before Rogue's skull impacted hard on the side of the coffee table.

She valiantly fought to stay conscious after that, but the task proved to be more than a little difficult. Her mind understood the fact that there was something heavy weighing down the upper half of her body, but for the life of her she couldn't identify what it was. Xavier's face appeared just within the boundaries of her vision, a sardonic smile painting his features.

"Stop fighting me, Rogue," he said almost tenderly, brushing away the stray tendrils of her hair. "You just keep hurting the people you love. Now look what you've done to poor Karen."

Karen? she'd thought desperately, coming back to herself slightly.

But before she could do anymore, the front door of the apartment had burst open and police officers were ordering everyone to freeze. As if from a distance, she heard the responding fire of Xavier and his men. Charles had turned over the armchair next to them and was using it as a meager shield against the authorities. Vic and the other bodyguards were holed up in the bedrooms and had better options for evading the onslaught of bullets. However, they had no real exit from within those rooms. It wasn't long until all four men were taken into custody.

Immediately after the firefight ceased, Rogue had felt hands pulling Karen's body away. A sickening feeling washed over her as she felt warm, sticky liquid spill onto her abdomen as they rolled her assistant onto her back. Rogue admired the professionalism that she heard in their voices as they relayed orders to one another: "She's bleeding bad! She's been shot! Start an I.V.! Check for an exit wound! Give me two milliliters of..." But she found herself extremely annoyed and frustrated when they couldn't hear her weak protests that she was all right. When she finally gained enough strength to demand that they attend to Karen first, it came out harsher than she'd originally intended.

And now three months later, the finality of everything still hadn't seemed to sink in yet. She had been the one who had insisted on watching Trish's coverage of Xavier's on-going case. A morsel of closure, somehow. She wasn't really sure if it was actually working for her. So far, all she was doing was reminiscing about the night Karen was killed.

It helped... if only a little, she realized reluctantly. She was home, wrapped snugly and warmly in her lover's arms, surrounded by nearly everyone she considered her 'family.' Both her bogeymen were locked up tight, with little chance of ever escaping again. An odd clarity came over her and she recognized the misplaced emotion she was experiencing at that moment: she felt safe. After so many months of worrying and looking over her shoulder, she knew that she was once again safe.

"You okay, chère?" Remy murmured in her ear. His arms tightened protectively around her, as if by doing so he could ward off any pain she might be feeling.

"Ah... Ah think so, Remy," she whispered back, turning slightly so that her forehead brushed against his lips. "It's better."

He nodded and then returned his attention to the TV where the program was coming to a close.

"Thank you for joining us on this special news report on The Xavier Files: Anatomy of Obsession. My name is Trish Tilby. Until next time, good night."

Quietly, Bobby switched the television off. The room quickly followed suit, a hush reverberating across the space. It was Damien who eventually broke the silence.

"So, that's it?" he asked. "It's over?"

There was another pregnant pause before Remy answered, "Oui, mon ami. It's over."

Raven was unmoved. She looked over to her daughter in concern. "Darling?"

Rogue raised her eyes to meet her mother's and smiled faintly. "S'okay, Momma. Ah'm okay."

It was not a completely satisfying response for Raven, but she found it more encouraging than the blatant denial that Rogue had been doing for the past several months. She knew the experience had scarred her daughter for life, but Rogue was never one to let anything get in her way. Raven was confident that even though Rogue would never forget, she would certainly move on.

"All right, then," she continued, standing and helping Irene to her feet. "What do you all say we head downstairs into the dining room and have dinner? Rosemary has been working in the kitchen all afternoon."

Not needing any further prompting, the occupants eagerly rose from their seats and filed out of the room.

"You two comin'?" Logan inquired, as he passed the couch where Rogue and Remy remained.

Rogue looked at him. "Inna minute, sugah. Save us a seat, would ya?"

"Sure thing."

"An' tell Bobby an' Sam ta save me some mashed potatoes!" she hollered as an afterthought. They could hear Logan's answering chuckle echoing back through the doorway.

Remy peered down at the woman in his arms. "Somet'in' wrong, petite?"

She twisted in his embrace so that she was half-facing him. In accordance with her movements, he propped an elbow on the couch's backrest and rested his head against his hand. His other hand absently stroked the skin of her bare arm, sending excited little tingles throughout her body.

"No," she replied, "nothin' really. Jus' thinkin' how lucky Ah am, ta have all o' you with me."

He grinned impishly. "Good dat you know it." Nodding toward the quiet TV, he questioned, "Dat don' bother you anymore?"

She looked into the direction he indicated. Staring at it for a moment, she sighed. "Ah'd be lyin' if Ah said it didn't, an' maybe it always will. But you were right, Remy, it's gettin' better with time."

Leaning forward, he kissed her lightly on the lips. "Je t'aime, chèrie."

"Je t'aime aussi, mon amour."

He stared at her in surprise. "Dat's de first time you've spoken French t'me."

"Oh?" She blinked at him innocently. "Well, Ah figured with th' way you keep butcherin' th' language -- an' people actu'lly acceptin' it -- well then, maybe Ah could get away with it, too." She shrugged indifferently. "Ah think mah first attempt was all right, wouldn't ya say?"

Disbelief at what she had just said was clearly written across his face. It was immediately replaced by a devilish smirk that sparked in his eyes.

"Butcherin', eh?" His hands slid down to her sides and began mercilessly fluttering over her ribcage. She squealed in shock and tried unsuccessfully to push his hands away.

Squirming and laughing at the same time, she breathlessly pleaded, "Re-Remy... stop..."

"Do ya give?"

She shook her head from side to side, tears streaming down her face from the incessant tickling. "N-no..."

"Well den, dere's not'in' I c'n do."

"O-okay... okay..." she gasped, falling onto her back. Remy's hands never lost contact with her torso. "A-Ah... give..."

"'M sorry, quoi?" he teased. "Didn' quite catch dat."

"Ah give already!"

With one final tickle, he ceased his attack and smiled down at her flushed face.

"Yoah cruel, sugah," she whimpered at his smug expression.

"Sans doute. [Without doubt.]" He assisted her to her feet. "You hungry yet?"

"Starvin'." She let him take her hand and lead her out of the room. "Beatin' you down takes a lot o' energy."

He flashed her a sarcastic smile. "'M sure." Looking down, he asked, "You still got it?"

Her face lit up alluringly. "In mah pocket."

"When're we gonna tell dem?"

"Not jus' now." She hurried forward and kissed him deeply as she remembered his little surprise for her upon returning home to New York. Something that he'd been meaning to give her for some time, he told her. "Ah wanna keep it ta ourselves fo' a li'l while. Our li'l secret."

His gaze locked intently on hers. With nothing but seriousness in his eyes, he whispered, "I love you."

"Ah love you, too," she whispered back.

And with that, they made their way downstairs to rejoin their family in the dining room.

Rogue's hand slipped into her pants pocket and fingered the exquisite diamond ring that rested there.

* The End *

* You didn't really think I'd keep them apart, did you? C'mon! They're my favorite X-Men couple ever! Separating the two of them by any means would be like shooting myself in the foot! *glances down in confusion* Hey, how come there's blood on my shoe?

* I can't believe it! We're done! *falls to the floor and starts kissing the ground* After so very long, it's finally finished! Somebody slap me. *backs away as one too many readers eagerly volunteer* Okay, that was just a figure of speech!

* Ironically enough, this story was never meant to be this long. Honestly, it was only supposed to serve as a short, getting-back-into-the-fanfiction-world kind of thing. At the most, it should have spanned about five chapters. But at the end of Chapter 3, after Jean1 pointed out a flaw in one particular scene, the plot went in a slightly different direction than what I'd originally intended. I'm pretty happy with where we've gone, and I really thank Jean1 for that first review.

* I'm gonna miss working on this fic. *sniff, sniff* But I gotta tell you all, it was A LOT of fun! Thanks again to everyone who ever left a review! I'm gonna miss catching your names up on the Review Board. Seeing as this is the last chapter... how about humoring a poor, mentally unstable writer who is about to be hauled away to the funny farm, by leaving a review? C'mon, this is the last chapter, man! (And I SO should be sleeping right now, but no, I'm sitting here typing Author's Notes... Did I already say I was pathetic? 'Cause I can say it again, y'know.)