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"A Time for..."

Stories in this series

"A Time for Family"
"A Time for Homecoming"
"A Time for Giving"

Introductory Note: This fic was completely inspired by reading an amazing book. You've heard of song-fic -- this is a novel-fic. And the novel in question is Rebecca Wells' transcendent work, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. It's a story of mothers, daughters, friendship and, as Tom Robbins put it, "the monkey-dance of life". I can't recommend it enough. Also, this fits in with the other two holiday-themed stories I wrote, A Time for Family (Mystique) and A Time for Homecoming (Gambit).
Disclaimer: I am in no way profiting from this work of fiction. Vivi, Necie, Caro, Teensy and Siddalee belong to themselves and to Rebecca Wells, and appear here only in reference to the novel, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Rogue and all other Marvel characters belong to Marvel. The story and the mountains of crumpled paper that I created while writing it belong to me though :-)

A Time for Giving

You think your pains and your heartbreaks are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who have ever been alive.

-- James Baldwin

What can we see, read, acquire, but ourselves. Take the book, my friend, and read your eyes out, you will never find there what I find.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

It was only the second week of December, but the mall was already filled with the usual holiday crowd. Rogue deftly navigated through the throngs of other shoppers with ease, despite having her arms laden with so many bags and boxes she could just manage to see over them.

Chalk up another advantage ta all of them Danger Room sessions -- mind ya, if Ah play my cards right, this is one skill Ah won't have ta use again 'til next year. she thought with a chuckle.

Only one more stop to make, and her Christmas shopping would be complete -- and in record time. She soon reached her destination, flashing a grin at the bookstore clerk as she entered.

"I don't suppose y' all have anywhere I could stash these while I look around, do ya? I wouldn' want ta get in anybody's way..."

"No problem at all -- if you just leave those here, there should be just enough room behind the counter..."

"You are jus' too kind, sugah," Rogue sighed, handing over her purchases.

"Anything for a regular customer -- especially at this time of year! Your timing couldn't be better, either. Your special order just arrived."

"Oh honey, that is too perfect foh words. An' thanks so much foh lettin' me leave these things with ya -- Ah'll only be a few minutes..."

She walked through the store, feeling pleased with herself. She hadn't expected Scott's gift -- a hardcover, twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Slaughterhouse-Five -- to arrive so soon. It was Scott's favorite novel, and his own well-loved paperback copy was in the process of falling apart.

Moving to the Cookery section, she browsed the shelves looking for the volume she had heard Remy talk about getting. It would complement the other gifts she had found for him perfectly, even if they weren't as ... personal ... as she might have liked. After what had happened in Antarctica, she wasn't sure she had the right to assume their former level of closeness, despite everything else that had happened in the year since Remy's return. And as for what Remy thought ... she had no clue. They had been walking on eggshells around each other for months, so it seemed safer to go with a comparatively impersonal present...

Me, playin' it safe... Ah can just imagine what Momma would say ta that...

Of course, she thought wryly, that was assuming her mother would speak to her at all, which was an uncertain proposition at best. Although Rogue knew Mystique loved her, she also knew that her mother had never truly forgiven her for leaving, still considered it a personal betrayal. Their relationship had alternated between uneasy and hurtful ever since. Their last meeting had been typical -- equal amounts awkward affection, old bitterness, and manipulation -- but at least Raven had left her on a good note this time...1

Bringing herself back to the task at hand, she resumed her search, and soon found what she was looking for. One down, just two more to go...

Looking in the Biography section, she noticed a very well-received account of the life of Richard Feynman -- one of Hank's heroes -- and she knew for a fact that he hadn't picked it up yet. With all of the additional hours he'd been spending in the lab, he hadn't had time. A good book might just be enough to coax him into taking a badly needed break...

Picking up the large volume, she paused, thinking about what she could get to finish Ororo's present. Gardening books ? Storm had every one, and knew them by rote. If there was one that she didn't own, it was because it wasn't worth owning. Ditto most nature books, and Ororo had little interest in the popular genres...

Suddenly, she remembered a book Logan had mentioned some time ago. She went into Non-Fiction, and after a couple of minutes of searching, she spied her quarry, and seized it triumphantly. If any of what Logan had said about it was true, 'Ro would love it...

An' now that my shopping's done -- I think I deserve a little self-indulgence...

Rogue slowly walked through the aisles, looking over the many titles, and she soon found herself in Fiction. After browsing for a time, she came across one particular title that made her stop with a raised eyebrow and an inquisitive smile.

'Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood? That's gotta be worth a look...

She picked up the book, glancing at the cover, then opened it and read the first two pages. She could always tell if a book was worth buying from this little test -- and this one passed muster. She added the book to the small pile she carried, and made her way back to the counter.

"Those four, plus your special order? Would you like them gift-wrapped?"

"Thank you kindly -- except this one, seein' as it's a present foh me..."

Once the clerk rang in and wrapped her new purchases, Rogue gathered her collection of bags once more.

"Are you sure you don't want any help with that?" the clerk asked.

"No thanks, hon -- Ah'm fine, really."

"I don't know how you manage without a cart," the clerk said wonderingly.

"Ah spend a lot of time workin' out -- ya have a Merry Christmas now!"

"Thanks -- and the same to you!"

Thankfully, Rogue had managed to get a parking space near the mall entrance. After loading everything in the Cherokee, she climbed behind the wheel, and started the drive home.

Upon her arrival at the mansion, it took only a few minutes to lug everything up to her room, though she had to spurn Bobby's offers to 'help' repeatedly.

"What, can't I even make a polite gesture without being suspected of something?" he complained.

"Not this close ta Christmas, ya can't," Rogue said sharply, "Don't you think that Ah've forgotten how ya peeked in every last bag last year, Bobby Drake. I might have fallen foh your act once, but it ain't happenin' again."

"C'mon, Rogue -- where's your sense of tradition? Peeking at presents is as much a part of Christmas as plum pudding and 'Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer'. Can't I even..."


"Fine," Bobby grumbled, "But the next time you need a hand, I don't want to hear any smart remarks..."

"...'bout chivalry bein' dead," Rogue said, finishing his sentence with him, "Gotcha -- now scoot!"

Once everything was safely stowed in her room, she took her new book, flopped down on her bed and started reading.

She only noticed the time when her stomach grumbled rather loudly. Glancing at the clock, she received a mild shock when she realized how much time had passed. It had been a long time since she had so lost herself in a good book ... particularly one that spoke to her as this one did.

The storyline of an estranged mother and daughter -- and the daughter's strained romance -- had her identifying with the characters more than she would have thought possible. The Southern setting hadn't hurt either, though it was Louisiana and not Mississippi...

Rogue's stomach rumbled again. Marking her place, she put the book down, and wandered down to the kitchen, snippets of prose running through her mind along with thoughts of her past...

"I'm sorry I didn't call, Pal. It was just too Goddamn touchy down here with Vivi. She made us swear not to talk to you. Your mama's terrified of betrayal..."2

Terrified of betrayal...

That thought had stuck with Rogue because it had never occurred to her that her mother might be terrified of anything. She knew that to think so was being unrealistic, and she recognized where a good part of that false perception was coming from -- to the brutalized little girl she had been, Raven had been nothing short of a saviour, and Rogue had idealized her accordingly -- but the more Rogue considered the idea, the more likely it seemed.

Raven Darkholme was pragmatic, capable and supremely self-reliant -- yet she was always guarded in her manner. With the exceptions of Irene and Rogue herself, Mystique had trusted no-one, not even the most loyal members of the Brotherhood.

After Rogue had left them, Raven had gone into a towering rage, for a time not even speaking to Destiny, suspecting that the precognitive had known what would happen and had said nothing. Even after Mystique was over the worst of her anger, it had been months before she would even permit people to speak of Rogue in her presence.

Could it have been fear that had fuelled her mother's anger?

"You and your mama have broken each other's hearts..."3

That too, was true enough. When Rogue had left the Brotherhood for the X-Men, it was true that she had done so for the sake of her sanity. But ever since Rogue's power had manifested, her mother had been paying less attention to her as a person, and more to her potential as a weapon. Rogue had deeply resented -- and feared -- Raven's apparently growing detachment. Deep inside herself, Rogue had actually relished leaving as an opportunity to strike back at her mother for that neglect...

Not that Ah ever admitted it -- real mature, gal...

Arriving in the kitchen, she poked around in the refrigerator, and smiled at the several small containers of leftovers from the day before. It had been Remy's turn as cook, and between the large number of dishes he had made, and the tiny quantities left over from each, there was just enough to make a full meal.

Bayou food for a bayou book...

As she arranged her dinner on a plate, her mind drifted to the man who had cooked it. He was equally charming and irritating, open and distant, considerate and demanding. She loved Remy -- and he drove her crazy.

Like her mother, Rogue didn't like mysteries, or the unknown -- she felt compelled to find solutions, facts. And when she couldn't, it frustrated her no end. That facet of her personality went a long way to explaining the course of her relationship with the Cajun. He was a puzzle that she wanted -- needed -- to figure out. And whenever she couldn't, she withdrew in frustration and fear, until she worked up the nerve for her next attempt.

"You can't figure me out. I can't figure me out. It's life, Sidda. You don't figure it out. You just climb up on the beast and ride."4

She knew how unfair she was being to Remy -- demanding full knowledge of someone else's life before you would divulge any facts about your own was as unfair as it got -- but somehow she couldn't stop herself. Why did she have to know all of his answers? What did she hope to learn from them?

Why do I keep tryin'? Is it that Ah'm afraid Ah don't know how to love, like Sidda?

She remembered another part in the book that dismissed that thought. She had read it over several times, amazed at how much the fictional Vivi's letter sounded like Mystique on a tear...

Good God, child! What do you mean, you "don't know how to love"?Do you think any of us know how to love?! Do you think anybody would ever do anything if they waited until they knew how to love?! Do you think that babies would ever get made or meals cooked or crops planted or books written or what Goddamn-have-you? Do you think people would even get out of bed in the morning if they waited until they knew how to love?

You have had too much therapy. Or not enough. God knows how to love, Kiddo -- the rest of us are only good actors.5

Or is it somethin' more fundamental than 'not knowin' how ta love'? Maybe I'm like Momma, and what I'm really scared of is bein' betrayed...

She was brought out of her reverie by the beeping of the microwave announcing her dinner was ready. After setting her plate on the table, she snagged the last bottle of her stash of Mississippi Mud Black and Tan from the fridge, and sat down to eat.

Is it a fear of bein' betrayed by someone I love? Lord knows that would make sense ... but somehow, Ah don' think that's it, not really. Or at least not directly ... so what is it?

Abandoning her train of thought for the moment, she concentrated on her dinner. The food was delicious, as per Remy's usual standard -- and the cold beer was just enough to cut and complement the heat of the spices. Good, home-cooked meals were something Rogue had come to appreciate immediately after Raven and Irene adopted her. There was something about such a meal that spoke to an elemental part of the soul -- and it said 'love'.

When Irene had taught her how to cook, she had told Rogue that love was always the secret ingredient that made a good meal.

Rogue smiled, remembering her early days with her foster family. It had taken a lot of getting used to -- but then, so did getting out of any kind of prison. They had been so patient with her, giving her the time she needed to learn to trust again, even though she had had her setbacks from time to time...

In a flash of memory, she recalled the first time Raven had left her and Irene while on a mission for a few days. Rogue had been frantic. Despite reassurances from both her parents to the contrary, she had been convinced that Mystique's departure was somehow her fault, that she had done something wrong to drive her mother away. While Raven was gone, Rogue had stuck to Irene like a limpet, terrified that Destiny would leave her, too -- that she would be left alone, like Mother had left her alone.

Of all the things Mother had done to her -- that had been the worst. She had taken the beatings, the wounding words -- but at least Mother had noticed she was there. It wasn't like being locked up by yourself in an empty house, with nobody to know if you lived or died...

Maybe that was it.

She wasn't afraid of being betrayed -- she was afraid of being left alone.

She took a long swallow of her beer, and closed her eyes briefly.

Lord, Ah hate rememberin' this ... an' Ah don't want to. Damn it, I lived through it once, and that was more 'n enough -- I am not that scared little girl any more. she thought fiercely.

So why did she insist upon acting like one? Although she was capable enough with concrete problems, facing them head-on, whenever she had a personal crisis the first thing she did was retreat.

No big surprise -- that's the one thing livin' with Mother taught me ta do. It was safer that way...

And so here she was, back to playing it safe...

Thing is, like Momma always said -- playin' it safe ain't always the same thing as playin' it smart. So which is it gonna be?

Can I soften to love, with full knowledge of the suffering I welcome in?6

That was the question -- if only she knew what her answer was. She had seen and borne a lifetime's worth of suffering before she was out of her childhood -- she didn't know if she could bear any more.

Her meal finished, Rogue placed the dishes in the sink, and returned to her room. Taking up the book again, she settled herself on her bed and resumed her reading.

She didn't even know how to find her answers. But just maybe, the Ya-Yas could give her an idea of where to start looking...

It was very late -- or very early -- when Rogue finally laid the book down. Although she was smiling, tears streaked her face, and she reached again for the large linen handkerchief on her night table to wipe them away. Slowly, she got up, and walked to her closet.

She knew where to look for her answers now.

Reaching in to one of the far corners of the closet floor, Rogue retrieved a large box. She removed the lid, pulling out a thick, leather-bound album. Then she went to her desk, and picked up a framed picture, being careful not to look at it. She had looked at it thousands of times before, but never in the way she was going to now.

She sat on her bed, and laid the picture face down beside her, then opened the album on her lap.

Here were pictures from some of the happiest days of her life, taken when she was a child, after Irene and Raven had given her a home and family. The album was one of the few things she had taken with her when she had left the Brotherhood. Rogue leafed through the book, pausing briefly at some pages. She knew what she was looking for -- it was only a matter of finding it.

At last, she stopped at one picture. It had been taken not long after her first anniversary as a Darkholme -- her "rebirthday", as Irene had christened it. Her parents had pulled out all the stops to celebrate, and among the many gifts she had received was her first bicycle. Raven had spent hours with Rogue, teaching her how to ride it and care for it, and watching her carefully as she rode around the outside of the house.

It wasn't too long after that when the big day arrived -- the day the training wheels came off. Rogue had been excited and anxious -- could she do it ? Would she fall?

She didn't -- and her Momma had been ready with her camera when Rogue made her first circuit around the property by herself on her new bike.

Rogue studied the picture -- particularly her expression. Eyes laughing, cheeks flushed with triumph, her younger self smiled back at her brilliantly.

It was the smile of a girl with her own longings, her own pleasures. It was a smile smiled for no one else.7

It's all in that smile...

After all she had been through earlier in her life, she had thought that smile had been lost to her forever -- but Irene and Raven had changed that. Because of the care they had given her, she smiled again because she wanted to, not because she had to, like a trained dog on cue...

Irene and Raven had given her back that real smile. She had never fully realized the magnitude of that gift before...

Can you reclaim that free-girl smile, or is it like virginity -- once you lose it, that's it? 8

Looking at the picture, she knew the answer to that question.

"Oh, Reenie, Momma -- Ah don't think Ah ever even said thank-you," she whispered.

She looked at the picture for a few moments more before she reached for the framed photograph that was face down beside her. Taking a steadying breath, she paused, then picked it up, holding it in front of her.

It was of herself and Remy, sitting on the back porch of the mansion. It had been taken late on a summer afternoon a few weeks after their first real -- and uninterrupted -- date, on one of the rare days off the team enjoyed from time to time. As usual, the day had been spent in playing sports, eating barbecue, and simple relaxation. After stuffing themselves with a late lunch, the teammates had broken up into smaller groups to while away the rest of the afternoon.

Jean was the one who had snapped the picture, with neither Rogue nor Remy realizing she was there. The two of them were just sitting together, Remy with his arm loosely about her shoulders. He was leaning close to her to say something as she looked off into the distance, and she was smiling. As in the other picture, it was that smile that drew closer attention...

"She's smiling that smile they smile before they grow bosoms," Teensy said.

"The kind you smile for yourself, not the guy with the Goddamn camera," Caro said. 9

She had reclaimed that smile not once, but twice. She had lost it too early, when she was robbed of her childhood by her birth mother, but she had gotten it back with the help of her foster family. Then she had lost it again at the normal time -- when she had ceased to be a child and started becoming an adult.

Remy had brought it back.

Her vision grew blurry with welling tears as she set the picture and the album on her night table, and she reached for her handkerchief again.

Who would have thought that a little thing like a smile could tell ya so much when you really look at it?

She knew what she needed to do now -- she just had to figure out how to do it.

Suddenly aware of how tired she was, she decided to put off a plan of action until she had gotten some sleep.

One thing's foh sure, though -- my shopping ain't done after all.

That thought was the last on her mind before she finally drifted off.

Despite having been up late the night before, Rogue still woke at her usual hour on Christmas morning, but she wasn't tired -- nervous and elated, but not tired.

Elated, because on Christmas Eve, she had successfully approached her mother -- and she and Mystique had made a lot of progress in mending their damaged relationship.

Rogue hadn't known what to expect when she arrived at Raven's safehouse -- she only knew that if she passed up this opportunity, it would haunt her forever. It was only by chance that she even knew about the New York apartment that her mother had kept as an inner sanctum. And since both Kitty and Rogue now knew of it, it was no longer secure. As such, it was only a matter of time before Mystique would clear out of the apartment for good, leaving no way for Rogue -- or anyone else -- to find her.

Luck had been with the southerner -- Mystique was just finishing up her packing, planning to move out that night, when Rogue had arrived. After their first awkward exchange, she had taken the plunge and explained why she was there -- it was Christmas Eve, after all...

"An' I was wonderin' if we could spend it together. Reenie always said it was a time foh family -- an' this is the first one Ah ever belonged to. I haven't forgotten that, Momma -- an' I don't want to. You an' Reenie gave me a life that was worth livin'. She might be gone, but you're still here -- Ah was hopin' we could make up foh lost time, that is, if ya want to..." a

To her relief and delight, Raven had said yes.

They had repaired to an intimate little coffee house not far off, and they had spoken of many things -- of Irene most of all. When Destiny was killed, the two of them had never had a chance to talk about it -- or grieve together. But on Christmas Eve, more than three years after the death of Irene Adler, Rogue and Raven had managed to come together to remember the remarkable woman who had meant so much to them both -- and that had opened the door for them to discuss other things.

Rogue knew that they would never fully regain the ease their relationship had enjoyed in her childhood -- but last night had been a huge step forward.

Now if only her luck would hold when she spoke to Remy ...

Well, sittin' here ain' gonna help any in finding out. she thought dryly.

Getting out of bed, she put on her slippers and padded over to her closet. She reached for her robe, paused briefly, then rifled through her hangers until she found what she wanted.

The kimono had been a past Christmas present from Remy that she loved, but had seldom worn, considering it too good for every-day wear.

But then, this ain't every day...

Cut of the finest quality silk, the garment was a pale jade green in colour, with a delicate pattern of white cranes that had been painstakingly hand-painted onto the fabric. She slipped it on over the long white T-shirt that served her as a nightgown, fastening the ties at the sides, and carefully tying the wide belt around her waist. Finishing that, she looked herself over in the mirror.

It does look good on me -- an' it's definitely an elegant enough look foh gloves, at least. she thought wistfully, as she selected a pair from her drawer to match.

But I am not gonna dwell on that now -- not when I'm gonna have better things ta dwell on ... Ah hope...

She picked up the card and small, gift-wrapped package she had left on her vanity the night before, slipping them into one of the deep pockets of the kimono, just as there was a loud rap at the door.

"C'mon in..."

She had just turned to see who it was when a head poked through the door -- literally -- making her start.

"Lord, gal! Ya know Ah never got used to you doin' that before you left foh England -- what makes ya think it'd be any different now?" she asked, her voice scolding and chuckling at the same time.

Kitty Pryde grinned as she replied, phasing through the door completely as she walked inside.

"Who said I thought it would be? Wow -- you look great! Where did you get that?" she asked admiringly.

"It was a present awhile back -- seein' as it's Christmas, Ah thought Ah might as well get a little gussied up," Rogue said.

"Sure, and make everyone else look bad," Kitty joked, gesturing to the flannel robe she wore over the old set of sweats she had fallen asleep in the night before.

"Maybe jus' the ones who were busy doin' a complete systems overhaul until God-knows-when," Rogue teased, "Besides, you can get me back at New Year's, seein' as I doubt you'll wait 'til next Hanukkah. What did ya want, sugah?"

"I just wanted to ask if you were ready to come down for breakfast -- I think the party's about to get started."

"Right with you, hon..."

Rogue pulled on her gloves and followed Kitty out the door.

Here goes everythin'...

Rogue was getting anxious -- breakfast was almost over, and Remy had yet to make an appearance. She had hoped to have an opportunity to talk to him privately, but once the gift-giving started, she wouldn't have another chance for hours -- and she was tired of waiting.

Like Ah wasn't already nervous enough -- an' this would have ta be the one day the man's ever been late foh a meal in his life...

"Has anyone seen Remy?" Scott asked with a frown, "We can't just start without him..."

"Kid got in pretty late last night," Logan said, "He's probably still sleepin' it off."

"And we all know how he loves his sleep," muttered Henry, remembering a time when he had tried to wake the Cajun early and immediately discovered the gravity of his mistake.

Seizing the opportunity, Rogue piped up.

"Ah'll get him -- after all, bein' invulnerable might come in handy."

"Good point," Scott chuckled, "Go on -- we'll wait for both of you."

"Do we have to?"

"Yes, Bobby, we do. Try to hurry up, Rogue -- there's only so much of his whining the rest of us can take," Scott said with a grin.

"I do not whine! I just..."

Leaving the ruckus behind, Rogue flew through the corridors of the mansion until she found herself outside Remy's room. She lighted on the floor, and taking a deep breath, rapped on the door.

No response.

She tried again, louder this time, but there wasn't so much as a sleepily mumbled curse from inside.

All right -- so it's the direct approach after all...

She rapped the door once more as she opened it, and called out.

"Remy? Sugah, everyone's waitin' on you..."

As she peered in, she immediately noticed two things -- he wasn't in bed, and the room was freezing. Growing alarmed, she strode inside -- and that's when she saw him standing at the open window, clad only in a pair of pajama bottoms. Her entrance broke him out of his reverie, and he turned to look at her.

"Remy, have ya lost your mind?! You're gonna catch yoh death!" she scolded, then cringed inwardly as she realized what she had just said.

Think about what you say, gal, an' hopefully, you'll be able ta walk out of here on the foot you didn't put in yoh mouth...

She flew toward him, seizing his robe from the foot of his bed as she did so, noting that the chair which should have been at his desk had been moved. She draped the robe over his shoulders, and as she landed, closed the window. Fresh tracks led to the perimeter wall from the ground below -- and there were signs underneath them of an earlier set from the other direction. Someone had been here.

Remy still said nothing, his face masklike, anticipating the hurt, angry questions to come. And maybe at one time, she would have asked them -- but not now. His face was haggard -- from his appearance, it was doubtful he'd gotten any sleep during the night -- and his eyes were red-rimmed.

Forget love -- try good manners.10

With an effort she squashed her rising mistrust -- and did what any well-mannered person would do when presented with someone who was clearly upset.

She reached up, cupping his cheek with one gloved hand.

"Dahlin', are you all right?" she asked gently.

Although taken aback by her unexpected reaction, Remy managed to find his voice.

"Wish I knew, chère," he replied hoarsely.

"Then let me rephrase that -- are ya going ta be all right?" she asked, dropping her hand from his face to his shoulder.

Remy gave her a fleeting smile.

"Once I get a chance t' get a handle on what my Poppa jus' tol' me -- maybe." b

"Can Ah help?"

He smiled again, like he meant it this time, and raising her hand from his shoulder to his lips, he kissed her fingers.

"Y' already have, cherie -- you already have."

Reluctantly, he released her hand.

"'Spose we should get downstairs 'fore we miss the party, oui?"

Her nerves returned with a vengeance, but she managed to quell them before she spoke, and was rather proud of the fact that she was able to keep her voice steady when she did.

"In a minute -- Ah have somethin' for ya first."

"Was hopin' you'd say dat," he grinned as he sat on his bed, taking in and enjoying the sight of her wearing his gift.

"Down, boy," Rogue said severely, though she was barely successful in stifling her own grin.

Reaching into her pocket, she withdrew both the card and the small box, and held them out to him.

"Merry Christmas, Remy."

He received them with a broad smile, and setting the card down, he proceeded to make short work of the giftwrapping on the box. Lifting the lid, he found a tiny vial, less than an inch and a half long, which held some clear liquid. The vial itself was made of glass set into a gold framework, and a tiny cabochon ruby was set into its lid. Remy immediately recognized it for what it was -- a lachrymatory. In Victorian times and earlier, a tiny container of tears had been a common love gift, symbolizing the willingness to share all life had to offer with one's object of affection -- sorrow as well as joy.

Very slowly, he placed the lid back on the box, and set it carefully on his nightstand. When he looked up at her, his eyes were shining, and his voice was husky when he was finally able to speak.

"Chère, I don'..."

"Ya ain't done yet, sugah," she interrupted, "Read the card."

Wordlessly, he obeyed.

It was a simple card, with no Christmas theme to speak of -- on the cover there was only a quotation from Henri Nouwen:

Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all of us love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour -- unceasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.11

Opening the card, he read the brief note she had written -- and found that she had left him another gift.

Rogue watched him anxiously as he read the card, not sure how he was going to react. She had thought long and hard about her decision, and even after she had made up her mind, she almost didn't go through with it. But at last, she faced her fears, and at the end of the message, she had signed her name -- her real name -- and sealed the envelope before she could change her mind again. Rogue didn't trust easily -- she never had -- but if complete trust was what she wanted from Remy, she had to be willing to give her own, completely.

When his red eyes finally met hers, any lingering insecurities she might have had about revealing herself to him in this way vanished. The smile that lit his face was instantly recognizable to her, given her recent study on the subject. It was the same one she had seen in her pictures only a couple of weeks before...

Sometimes lost treasures can be reclaimed.12

Putting the card down, he took her hands in his, bringing them to his lips for a kiss -- then he surprised her by drawing her down onto his lap, hugging her tightly. She was a little stiff at first, worried about making contact with his skin, but then allowed herself to relax and enjoy the sensation of being held by him. After all, she had her gloves, and the kimono was floor length and long sleeved -- he was as safe from her as he could be...

That would be another obstacle, for another time, she resolved -- and they would pass it. Together, they would find a way. Remy had given her that promise once before, but she hadn't been ready to accept it then. To do so would have meant giving her trust, and accepting the possibility of getting hurt -- and the injured child within her had balked at that.

If you want to receive, ya have to be willing ta give too -- and Christmas is a time for givin', after all.

Very soon, they would have to go down and join the others. But as Remy whispered into her ear, she leaned back against him and smiled, placing her hands on his.

Soon -- but not just yet.

a. This is taken from my Mystique Christmas story, "A Time for Family."
b. The situation takes place following the events in my Gambit Christmas story, A Time for Homecoming.
1. X-Men issue #94.
All other notes, with the exception of 11 (a quotation which appears before the prologue of the novel) are taken from the pages of Rebecca Wells' Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which was published in 1996. It came up as a selection in the book club to which I belong, and now ranks among my favorite books.

Thanks go to Faith Barnett and Dandelion for their beta-reading -- and I have to thank Kielle, as well. Without her CFAN Christmas fic project for 1999, I probably wouldn't have gotten the idea to write this story.

"Be as hard as the world forces you to be -- and be as soft as the world allows you to be."
-- Sensei Chuck Merriman


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