: TWIST OF FATE :

PART TWO: RACHEL

(11) - Home -

It was only the city that never seemed to sleep.

The country was different; when night fell there was silence, and other senses took over. It was a strange new world where the only light was starlight, where colours were shades of black and blue, and where the scents were clean and fresh.

Rachel stood by the bike and shivered in the coolness of the night air. There was nothing to break the breeze from touching her skin; some distance away, she could hear the lap, lap, lapping of the lake upon the shore. She could see it, down a small incline to her right, a dark expanse of indigo that caught only faintly the light of the moon. Up to her left, a row of detached houses stood, looking out onto the water. Not a single one showed signs of habitation.

"Why don't we just go into that one?" Rachel asked of Rogue, who was going through her pack on the back of the bike. It'd been a long trip – Gambit had driven Rachel up to the lake, then gone back to pick Rogue up. Rachel had hidden in a small wooded copse by the water, waiting for them to return. She hadn't minded. She wasn't afraid of the dark, or of the animals that lurked in it. What she feared was people, and the harm they could do to her. Animals didn't hurt, unless they were scared you were going to attack them. She understood their line of thinking. She thought she had more in common with them than anything else.

"Remy said somethin' about the security bein' too tight," the older woman explained. She pulled out some gum from her bag, offered it to Rachel. After moment, she decided to take it.

"I didn't see anything," she muttered.

"Yeah," Rogue replied, stuffing the packet away again, "but Remy's got way more experience in this kinda thing than you or Ah have."

"Why?"

"He's a thief. He's used to breakin' into places."

"Oh."

It hadn't seemed right to Rachel, to intrude on another person's property. On the other hand, she had learned from experience that being able to break into places and leave no trace could be a useful commodity. For people like her, it had meant the difference between having a roof over your head and sleeping rough. It could also mean the difference between a square meal and a supper made of garbage you'd just picked up off the floor.

"So," Rogue asked her conversationally. "How'd you get here? To this part of the world, Ah mean. Can't have been easy makin' the journey from New York…"

She didn't really want to talk about it.

"I walked. Hitched rides. Jumped the train when I could…" She paused. "How'd you know I came from New York? Is that where the X-Men lived? Where I lived?"

Rogue looked momentarily uncomfortable.

"Yes," she said at last.

"I wish I hadn't left then," Rachel brooded. "I wish I could've seen the place where we all lived…"

"There ain't much left of it, sugah," Rogue replied sadly, just as Remy rejoined them.

"Found the perfect one," he greeted them jovially. "Managed t' take out de security – should be a piece o' cake gettin' in."

"Ah still don't like this," Rogue grumped uncharitably.

"You know it makes sense," Gambit said lightly.

"I'm hungry," Rachel piped up; chewing the gum was getting her stomach juices churning, and her abdomen was complaining noisily.

"You sure get hungry a lot," Gambit commented comically, before turning and leading them up to their next new hideout.

It proved, as Gambit had said, relatively easy to gain access to the house. A few quick movements with his skeleton keys and the front door was open as if by magic. Inside it was quiet and dark. There was barely a sign of habitation; all the furniture had been covered up in white sheets, everything was clean and smelled brand new. There was nothing in the fridge, only a couple of cartons and a large packet of chips in the cupboard. Rachel grabbed the chips before anyone else had the wherewithal to do so and went exploring.

Rooms and rooms and rooms and a huge conservatory. A swimming pool in the back yard and a small library in a little annex filled with books. Rachel took it all in with wonder. Never in her whole life had she seen such luxury. What kind of people owned this place? She felt certain they couldn't be mutants.

"Hey, Rae!" she heard Rogue call down the stairs to her. "Come see this!"

She left the library reluctantly and trudged up the huge beech staircase. There were several doors on the landing, and she stood, looking about uncertainly till Rogue's head popped out of one.

"Come and have a look," she called out before ducking her head back inside.

It was the bathroom. It had to have been the biggest bathroom Rachel had ever seen. Everything was made of glass and chrome with in-built lighting. In pink. The bath itself was a stupendous size.

"Look at this!" Rogue exclaimed gleefully, pressing a button on the side of the bath. A buzzing sound began to emanate from it, and Rachel looked nonplussed.

"It's a jacuzzi!" Rogue explained blissfully. "Ah haven't seen one of these in years!"

Gambit, who'd been leaning on the nearby radiator watching this little scene from the sidelines, looked amused.

"Dis should be interestin'," he observed, more to himself than anybody else.

Rachel moved back onto the landing, a little bewildered by these transports of delight. She poked her head round a few doors, seeing a kid's nursery, a storeroom and a master bedroom. On the other side of the landing was a small room, done up in pink and red. Rachel flipped on the light switch and looked around. It was a little girl's room. Princesses lined the walls in gaudy murals, and a single teddy bear sat waiting patiently on the bed.

Rachel stood in the doorway and stared. She felt a sudden and powerful communion with this place, and was surprised to find sudden tears smarting her eyes. Where they had come from was a mystery to her – but somehow, they felt right.

"You like it?" Rogue asked from behind her, looking in over her shoulder.

She nodded soundlessly in reply.

"Can I sleep here tonight?" she asked in a whisper.

"Every night if you want, sugah," Rogue replied, and Rachel couldn't help it – she flung her arms round the woman and cried.

-oOo-

The best stocked place in the house turned out to be the basement-cum-wine cellar.

Gambit emerged from down below with a bottle of red in hand, a triumphant expression on his face.

"That's stealin'!" Rogue said in an accusatory tone, but he seemed unfazed.

"C'mon, chere. Dey ain't gonna miss one bottle."

They went into the lounge, drew the curtains and, at Rachel's insistence, turned on the faux log fire. No lights to give their presence away. They sat on the white shag rug in front of the hearth with Rogue hoping out loud that they didn't spill anything because red wine stains were a nightmare to get out and she didn't want to have to deal with it. Gambit hushed her and poured out three glasses, passed them round.

"Remy, yah ain't tryin' t' debauch the poor gal, are yah?" Rogue objected, as Rachel took her glass curiously.

"C'mon, Rogue, it's justa glass of wine!" He turned to Rachel with a smile. "Go on – try it."

She sipped the dark red liquid, just to prove Rogue wrong more than anything else; the next moment she was coughing and spluttering at the fire in her throat. Neither Rogue nor Gambit could help laughing.

"That. Is. Gross!" Rachel declared in a rasp once she'd got some semblance of her voice back. "Totally disgusting! How can you drink it?"

"Years and years of practice," Gambit answered humorously, eyes twinkling. "I started young. Every Sunday, it was, when mon pere would take us t' de church… De priest would give it t' all de kids in de house…"

"Stop it, Remy!" Rogue cried breathlessly between chuckles, and;

"They gave it to kids?!" Rachel gasped in incredulous disgust, which set Gambit off again.

"Don't listen to a word he says, sugah," Rogue warned her conspiratorially, "he's teasin' you, hon."

"It's true!" Gambit insisted, and Rachel couldn't help smiling despite the fact that she knew they were both poking fun at her. To be surrounded by the sound of people laughing, joking, wanting to treat her just like any normal, human being… It was more than she could've hoped for in her wildest dreams. This was it. The best time of her life. In the warmth, with a roof over her head, food to eat, water to drink… And with friends to keep her company. Friends.

She watched silently as the two before her fell into the witty repartee she had so quickly become accustomed to, taking in everything she saw. Their familiarity, their closeness. Again, that strange sense of their connection, the one they weren't even aware of. Their intimacy was a comfort to her. These were all dreams she had never thought possible in her entire life.

They sat there in the light of the fire, till the darkness fell, and their laughter was spent. Rachel, sitting closest to the flames, felt the heat coax sweat from her pores; but after all the years of cold and damp and misery, the fire was a joy to her, and she wasn't inclined to have it turned off. She sat as close to it as she dared, as if protecting her own little territory from the trespassing of others.

Rogue and Gambit seemed to sense this. They sat a little apart from her, a little island of their own, comfortable in their closeness. Rachel didn't mind. That they let her in this close to whatever little world they inhabited, this past she was supposed to have shared with them yet couldn't remember… It was more than enough.

"Tell me about the X-Men," she asked them, taking a sip from her wine glass because there was nothing else to drink, and she didn't want to leave the fire. She decided the taste wasn't so bad after all. Maybe she could get used to it.

"What do you want to know?" Rogue replied, her expression soft in the glow of the firelight.

"I don't know." She lifted her shoulders. "Just… the people, I guess. Sounds like we were one big family."

"We were."

"How many of us were there?"

"There were a lot of us, all over the world. Some came, some went. Some of us stayed at the mansion."

"The mansion?"

"It belonged to a man called Charles Xavier. He was the one who brought us all together, taught us to use our powers for good, to make a difference."

Rachel stared at the flames leaping in the hearth. Xavier… it was a name Rogue had said before. But when she heard it she felt nothing.

"Guess we didn't make the kind of difference he wanted us to," she quipped sardonically.

"There were other mutants who didn't use their powers for good. The statics were already afraid of us. Ah guess they'd rather see the bad things we do, than the good. Anyway," and Rogue sighed, "by the time the shit hit the fan it didn't really matter who was good and who was bad anymore."

"And they got us all killed," Rachel finished quietly.

"Most of us. Not all."

There was a faraway memory… a faint impression of blood and screams and gunshots and tears. But she'd witnessed them all so many times it was hard to tell whether they were the memories of an X-Man or of a Hound.

"So what made you join?" she asked Rogue after a momentary silence. "Why'd you end up putting your life on the line for the statics?"

"Ah started out as one of the bad guys, believe it or not," Rogue explained, while Gambit shared out the rest of the wine between the two of them. "But that kinda life… it wasn't for me. By the time Ah figured out Ah'd rather split, there wasn't much else Ah knew except for fightin'. Fightin' for the good guys instead of the bad seemed the obvious choice t' make. And," she hesitated, as though the next part was hard to admit, "Ah guess a part of me was just bein' selfish. Ah wanted to see if Xavier could help me too."

"Help you do what?" Rachel probed.

"Her powers," Gambit spoke softly, reaching out and touching Rogue's hair, brushing away a white lock of hair and tucking it behind her ear. Rachel gave a questioning look and Rogue continued: "When Ah first manifested mah powers, Ah couldn't switch them off. Anyone Ah touched, Ah'd steal their powers and their memories and they coulda ended up in a coma. Ah thought… maybe Xavier could've helped me."

From the way she said it, Rachel could tell that he hadn't. She could also tell that talking about it made Rogue uncomfortable, and she didn't want to push it. So she looked at Gambit, who was running the joint of his forefinger gently down the side of Rogue's neck, his expression absent.

"What about you? Why did you join?" she quizzed him – and it wasn't idle conversation. The few times he'd spoken to her, it'd never been about himself. And she knew that if she'd tried to read him through other means, all she would've come up against was that static wall. He was curious to her. She couldn't say that she liked or disliked him, but she found him… interesting.

"Dat's a story you mayn't want t' hear, p'tit," he returned with a tight smile; Rogue turned and looked at him full on, and Rachel saw that she wanted to hear the answer to the question too. He dropped his hand from her neck, sensing that whatever he said, his touch would no longer be welcome. His smile grew wry and he picked up his wineglass, lifted it to his lips.

"Let's just say I joined up for less than honourable reasons. And when I walked out, I was hella confused." He emptied the glass, and when he put it down again he was looking at Rachel like it was a challenge.

"Were you one of the bad guys then?" she spoke up, surprised but not shocked by this revelation. There was something about him after all, slippery and sly and just plain untrustworthy.

"I don't believe in good and bad guys," he waved his hand as if to brush aside her words. "Angels and demons… Issa crazy notion. Poppa always told me, people only ever do anyt'ing for two reasons – love or fear. Love or fear somet'ing hard enough and you'll do anyt'ing to get it or get rid of it, good or bad."

"So… Statics want to kill us 'cos they fear us… right?" Rachel murmured.

"You smart." Gambit's grin was lopsided.

"So why did you join the X-Men then, Remy?" Rogue asked of him quietly; she'd been looking at him closely all the way through his speech, and her eyes were still on him now. Until that moment he'd avoided her gaze; but now he returned it, answered softly: "I t'ink de bigger question is why I left feelin' confused."

There was another moment of communication between them as they looked at one another in silence, a moment which Rachel was, once again, not a part of.

"So how do I know I can trust you?" she couldn't help interrupting them. Remy looked aside at her, not angry, not even offended, but… matter-of-fact.

"You don't."

"And that's supposed to make me feel better?"

"You can trust him," Rogue assured her from the sidelines, tugging the neckline of his shirt affectionately. "Ah'll vouch for him."

"You're biased," Rachel pointed out archly (realising simultaneously that somewhere in the past few minutes she'd drained her glass of wine).

"Ah know. But someone's gotta trust him, otherwise he'll get lonely."

He was completely unfazed by the teasing.

"You girls are both drunk. Looks like it's time for me to clear dese away." And so saying he picked up the glasses and went off into the kitchen.

"Did we make him mad?" Rachel whispered after he'd gone.

"No." Rogue's smile was wide. "Just embarrassed him a little, Ah think. Poor baby." She chuckled a little as she stood. "You should get some sleep, sugah. It's been a long day."

"Just a little longer," Rachel replied, turning back to the fire.

"Suit yourself."

It was just as Rogue got to the door that Rachel stopped her.

"Wait – Rogue?"

"Hm?"

The flames danced before her eyes, warm and close and yet so far away, always just out of reach…

"When I was with the X-Men… Did I have another family? Did I have a mom and a dad? I mean, I must've done, but… Well, did you know them?"

She felt Rogue's uncertainty as well as she was able to hear it in her silence. The edges of her psychic tendrils could feel that much.

"Your mom and dad… They were X-Men, sugah," she replied at last, and the sadness in her voice said it all.

"And they're dead, right?" she murmured, keeping her eyes on the fire.

"Yeah, Rae. They're gone."

She didn't have to be told to know. She'd felt it in her bones a long time ago.

She sat by the fire for a long time after the others had gone upstairs, watching and waiting for something in the flames that she didn't quite know.

-oOo-

The few days they'd intended to spend at the holiday house turned into weeks.

They settled into a routine of breakfasts and lunches and dinners, stories by the fireside and furtive trips into town. When they weren't together, Rachel would explore the surrounding land, whilst Rogue read romance books and Gambit stuck to his laptop. Sometimes Rogue would grab Rachel when she was bored and they'd raid the clothes in the master bedroom wardrobe, competing to see who could come up with the silliest combinations until they were bent double with laughter. Sometimes Gambit would poke his head round the door to see what on earth all the fuss was about. Invariably, he'd roll his eyes at them and leave.

Whatever this languid routine was, it was the closest thing to 'family' that Rachel had, and she cherished it. Slowly she began to heal, in whatever semblance that was possible for a girl who had no memory. There was nothing for her to miss, nothing to trammel her to the past. All she had was the nightmares, and here, in this place – they almost seemed never to have existed at all.

During her days spent wandering the lake and its environs, she found the courage to practice with her powers. Out here, with barely another sole to stumble upon her, it was safe to do so. Every day she would cast her net out wider and wider; she would touch upon the fleeting existences of the birds and the beasts, their simple and sheltered lives. There was nothing here that could hurt her or make her cry. She didn't care what Gambit said. She was safe here, safer than she'd ever been. What she saw with her mind was proof there was nothing to fear here.

And sometimes… sometimes she would practice her powers on them, when they weren't looking or listening and had let their guard down. When they would talk to one another in low voices, or steal a kiss. The sweet warmth and lightness of their minds as they touched captivated her. She found herself wanting something she'd never seen and never known, that she could put no name to. It would make her cheeks flame and her heart beat fast. In the bewildering heat of its haze she would slink away with a new and powerful ache inside her, one she wasn't sure how to feel, not in this place called alone.

-oOo-

Summer was making its face known early this year.

Its light sparkled on the lake like crystals glimmering in an ocean of blue.

Rogue picked up a stone from the grass and threw it into the water. The ripple effect made the light flash and flicker before settling back into a glacial smoothness.

"Well this takes me back," she remarked softly to herself.

"Where?" Rachel asked, as they continued walking on the shore, side by side.

"To the mansion," Rogue replied nonchalantly. "There used to be a lake just like this in the grounds. You and Ah were walkin' there, just like this, the day it all went t' shit."

Rachel did not respond. She felt as though she should remember, and though the site of the lake and the sound of the birdsong and the warmth of the sun stirred something in her, there was nothing substantial in any of it.

"So what's your name?" Rachel found herself asking her companion curiously.

"Huh?"

"Your name. You've gotta have a name, right? Gambit does. But he never calls you anything else but 'chere'."

The smile on Rogue's lips was strained.

"Just call me Rogue, sugah. Ah don't use my real name anymore."

"Why?"

"Because… because whenever Ah think of the person Ah was when Ah had that name… Ah'm glad Ah'm not her anymore."

They carried on walking in silence, Rachel wondering what on earth it all meant, half understanding and half not at all. They were interrupted only by the soft ping of Rogue's phone. She checked it with a small smile on her face.

"Gambit?" Rachel asked her.

"Yeah." She slipped the phone back into her pocket. "He's on his way back. Says he's got some stuff to cook up some culinary masterpiece tonight."

"Good," Rachel replied, and her tummy rumbled with the thought of it. "I'm so hungry, and the food he cooks rocks."

"Compared to mine, you mean," Rogue noted wryly.

"Yeah. Sorry."

Rogue gave her a curious look.

"What?" Rachel asked.

"Nothin'. Just… lately, you seem to get more like 'you' every single day."

She didn't know what to say to that. She certainly didn't feel more like her, since she didn't really know what 'her' was like… But she did feel different. Less… in turmoil. And that was a start.

"You and Gambit…" she asked the question that had been pulling at her for a while now, "are you… married?"

To her surprise, Rogue burst into laughter.

"Married?" she repeated after catching her breath. "Nope. Not married, sugah. Not even halfway."

"But…you two seem so… close…" She fumbled with what she was trying to explain, embarrassed.

"In some ways, maybe." She picked up another stone absently and threw it into the water. This time it skidded, once, twice, thrice, before sinking into the depths. "Bein' close and bein' married don't always go hand in hand, Rae. But Ah know Ah want to be with him. Always."

She still didn't get it. Not really.

"My mom and dad were married," she spoke at last. Rogue glanced at her quickly.

"Yes."

"And were they close like you and Gambit are?" she probed eagerly, hungrily even.

Rogue stopped and turned to her. There was a sadness in her eyes.

"Yes, Rae, they were. Very close. Remy and Ah… what we have can't even compare." She paused, and Rachel stared up at her, waiting, wanting more… "They were psychically bonded. They could share their thoughts, their feelings, in ways most people can't even begin to imagine. When your mom died, your dad was devastated. He was… he wasn't ever the same again."

Rachel frowned.

"I thought mom died with dad. When the military attacked the mansion," she half-whispered.

"No." Rogue shook her head slowly. "She died before that. In a battle against a guy called the Vanisher. She saved us all… But she died in the process. You and Scott… your dad… you both had each other. Ah'm not sure that it was enough though."

They began to walk again, Rachel again thinking that there were some things she should remember, things that were essential to her being and yet so very far away. She couldn't understand it. Whilst a Hound, she'd always been aware of her past life, she'd still had memories… But somewhere along the way, they'd all disappeared, leaving only the nightmares and the finest of traces.

"You and Gambit do have a bond," she spoke at last. Rogue stared at her, a look of disbelief and confusion, and Rachel hastened to explain; "I can feel it, sometimes. It's not a psychic one, but it's there. It's …fuzzy. Kinda tacky. It's not made of the same stuff as you get on the astral plane."

Rogue stopped and stared at her again, this time with a different look in her eyes that Rachel couldn't recognise.

"Threads," was all she said.

"Huh?"

"Threads." Rogue looked aside, a slight breeze touching her hair, struggling with something she wasn't sure how to put into words. "My momma once told me that some of us are bonded by the Timestream. That some of us are brought together, again and again, to do something, to make something happen… She told me that Remy and Ah…" She paused, her brow furrowing, as if she didn't understand it. When she looked back to Rachel, there was a slight smile on her face. "She told me your mom and dad were bonded in every future she looked in."

"I don't understand," Rachel returned earnestly, hearing the words and catching their flavour, but feeling them as though they had been spoken in an alien language.

"Ah don't think Ah really do either," Rogue confessed, her smile now wry.

Any further conversation was interrupted by the sound of Gambit's motorcycle returning up by the houses. Rogue gazed up in the direction of the sound.

"You're hungry, right?" she grinned. "Maybe if you go ask him for a snack, he might just letcha take a li'l somethin'…"

She began to walk up the hill to the house, and Rachel sensed that she was reluctant to elaborate any further on what her 'momma' had said. She trudged after Rogue, panting a little, realising just how hungry she really was.

"Rogue!" she called out, and the other woman looked back at her without stopping.

"Yeah?"

"Rogue… we're friends, right? I can stay with you guys forever, can't I?"

And Rogue turned and bestowed her with the warmest smile she'd ever known.

"Of course, sugah. For as long as you want."

She held out a hand, and the two of them walked up the hill together, back to the house, each with an arm about the other's shoulder.

-oOo-

She ran down the stairs, leaping over the last few steps in her excitement, and sped into the kitchen, coming to a stop with a skid.

"Look what I can do!" she exclaimed, as excited as a child who'd learned to ride its first bike.

Rogue looked up from her breakfast, Gambit from his laptop and his coffee. They stared. And stared.

"Neat, huh?!" Rachel cried excitedly.

Rogue pushed back her seat and walked up to her, only stopping to reach out and touch her face. There were no marks on her skin. Ahab's tattoos had gone.

"How did you do it?" Rogue breathed in wonder.

"Psychically," Rachel explained proudly. "They're really still there, but I can make it so that other people can't see them. Ain't it cool? Huh, huh?"

Rogue's face broke into a wide smile.

"Oh mah God, that means you can go out to the town and stuff…"

"I know!"

And they hugged each other, jumping up and down like crazy school kids.

Gambit's expression was muted. He picked up his cup and took a sip, considering the two of them with the look of a parent considering a stranger's errant children.

"Whaddya think, Gambit?" Rachel asked him once she and Rogue had calmed down. She was determined to get a reaction out of him. "Aren't you happy for me? Aren't you?"

Gambit set his cup down slowly.

"Sure I am, p'tit," he answered in measured tones. "Won't be long before you get your mem'ries back too, chere."

His words seemed to have had an effect on Rogue. She went very still.

"Why do you have to make everything so horrible!" Rachel railed at him, but Rogue broke off any argument she would have started, took her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes with a fond smile, saying: "You're beautiful, sugah. You look just like your momma."

She couldn't help but break into a grin. She couldn't wait for the day when she'd be able to put a face to the name 'Jean Grey'. And maybe it wouldn't look so very different from her own. She didn't care what Gambit said now.

One day she would remember, and everything would be good again.

-oOo-

Later that evening she dozed on the sofa whilst they sat in front of the TV.

They never put on the news channels when she was there, just in case she saw something that would set her off. She didn't know what it was they were watching instead. Rogue had her feet up in Gambit's lap while he massaged them. He liked to touch her – he was nearly always doing it, mentally if he wasn't physically. Rachel liked to think it was because he'd spent so long not being able to touch her. Making up for lost time – it was all so heady, so romantic to her. How much time would she have to make up for?

She lay there, bathed in the glow of the TV, cradled by the warmth their embrace emitted. Everyday she was getting stronger, getting more adept with her powers. Pretty soon she would be able to reclaim her memories, she felt sure of it. And then… and then…

And then she's ripping open the little box with greedy fingers, the gold and silver paper flitting to the floor in shimmering shreds, and she opens it up and sees… two stud earrings, red enamel in the shape of stars. She looks up at mom and dad with shining eyes, says excitedly:

"Does this mean I can get them pierced then, mom? Does it?"

Dad laughs, puts his arm round mom's shoulder, says:

"Well, we were gonna wait till you were at least ten…"

And mom says;

"Hush, Scott, don't tease her!" She gets on her knees, and Rachel sees beautiful green eyes as mom says softly; "Yes, hon, you can get them done. But it does mean you have to take care of them too, once you get them pierced. Clean them every day, and the earrings too, when you change them."

"I will, mom, I will, thank you!"

And she throws her arms around her and hugs her tight, and then—

She woke up.

It was still dark in the room, except for the light of the TV. Her head was heavy, as though she were drunk; her mind flickered over her dream, trying to hold onto every detail she had seen. It hadn't felt like a dream. It had felt like… a memory. She was sure it was. The clarity, the detail – her mother's eyes…

Her mother.

She felt tears sting the back of her eyelids.

"We should leave soon."

It was Gambit's voice, low and hushed, sounding from the other couch. They were still sitting there – she could sense them.

"Gettin' itchy feet, sugah?" Rogue's lazy magnolias voice murmured back.

"I was t'inkin' more dat it'll be summer soon. Don't wanna be here when de owners show up, neh?"

"Hm." Her tone was unconvinced. "Yeah, but you're gettin' itchy feet too, admit it."

"Yeah, well… Sittin' round playin' happy families really ain't my scene, chere. You know dat. Anyways, de sooner we get to Chicago and find Logan…"

"Yeah, Ah know. But you gotta admit, it's kinda nice. Bein' here like it was at the mansion, like everythin's normal again…"

"I guess."

There was a silence, during which Rachel, lulled by the soft light and warmth of the fire, nearly fell back into sleep, when:

"What are you gonna do when she remembers?" Gambit said.

"Remembers what?" Rogue asked in a more subdued tone, and despite the heaviness of her head, the pull of sleep, Rachel somehow knew that it was her they were talking about…

"You know. What happened down at de Hound Pens…"

Rogue was quiet a long moment. When she spoke her voice was hesitant.

"It's up to her what she wants to do with that knowledge…"

"You have a lot of faith in her goodwill," Gambit returned with that same sarcasm that Rachel had heard so often and had prevented her from ever truly becoming close to him.

"She's a good person, Remy."

"Everyone's a good person to you. But even good people can be hurt and angry, chere. It ain't just what you took, Rogue. It's everyt'ing dat came after dat. What she suffered because she couldn't remember. How d'you t'ink she's gonna take dat?"

Rogue made no reply, and as the silence fell Rachel sank ever closer into another slumber…

"She can sense the Timestream again, you know," Rogue's voice finally spoke, as if from very far away. "She told me the other day; she can sense it. It was the web Destiny was talkin' about… …"

And yes, she could see it. Sleep catching her in its web, all soft seduction, and she let it take her, she buries her head in her pillow and tries not to cry, tries desperately to hold the tears back because dad can't be strong, he can't hold back the tears, so she has to be strong for both of them.

"Why did you have to go, mom," she whimpers. "Why did you have to go and leave us all alone?"

And the next moment she feels a hand on her hair, soft and soothing and gentle and familiar, and she thinks she's dreaming when she hears that same loving voice:

"But I'm not gone, darling Rachel. I'm with you all the time. You just can't see me anymore, that's all. In time…"

"It's not you, it's not you, mom, you're dead, they showed you lying in the coffin, you're dead and I'm dreaming I'm dreaming I'm dreaming…"

And she closes her eyes tight shut she's so scared of ghosts… But the voice answers her and she can't block it out, she hears every single word:

"Yes, I'm dead, Rachel. And I wish it had never been this way. It means you'll have to grow up so quickly now, and you are so very young, my dear daughter. But you'll understand, soon. The Phoenix will come to you, she'll show you everything, as she once showed me."

And the room lights up so bright, with the flame of a fire that does not scorch and does not burn; it is the flame she had seen so often around her mother, and she realises it is her, it is her mom…

She opens her eyes and rolls over, but where she expects to see her mother sitting next to her on the bed she sees a great conflagration, burning so bright she thinks she should be blinded, but somehow she is not scared, she is not frightened… She reaches out into the flames and they do not touch her, and she sees a face in the fiery tongues, the face of a bird, and she snatches her hand back, and that is when the fear seeps in.

"Do not be afraid, child," says the fire, in voice that is both her mother's and another's. "The Phoenix watches. The Phoenix understands."

"What… What are you?" she asks, and the fire replies:

"I am life. I am eternity. We are one and the same, Rachel Summers, as we are with Jean Grey. We shall meet again, in Time, and when we do we shall journey onwards together. Towards the End."

And with that, the fire vanishes.

-oOo-