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After Gambit's Return >
"Cantique Noel"

Stories in this series

Le Luth Constelle (Siryn)
Misteltoe and Diamonds (Rogue/Gambit)
A Rosary of Bone (Marrow)

'Like a blind woman reading braille with bloody fingertips'
- Kabuki: Colour Special

Her hands moved slowly across her ribs, unable to believe the smooth flesh that met their questing, feather-light touch. Almost normal, she thought amazedly, for all the bone remained pressing beneath the skin. Almost human.

She fingered the first curve beneath her breast gingerly, scared that any encouragement would cause it to emerge like a bleached, calciferous flower. Like it had at the end of childhood. If you could call it a childhood at all. Childhood was dogs, baseball, candy and Christmas surprises, not pain and fear. Blood and bone.

The only monsters they had to fight were the ones beneath their beds or in their corners, she wryly mused, brushing her second rib. Wickedly curved and sharp, it had been her weapon of choice during her trek across the wastes on her way back to the citadel. Her skin, as yet imperfectly healed and scarred from being broken so often, was rough to the touch, branded by agony. With it, she had slashed her way through the thousand chimera and grotesquiries that Mikhail had placed in her path to test her. With it, she had exposed viscera, cut arteries and gouged skin. With it, she had proven her worth...

Suppressing the resurfacing memories before they could overwhelm her, her hand moved to the third arc at the same time her eyes went to the mountain of presents heaped beneath the betinseled, bejewelled conifer. Wrapped in the red and greens of leaves, the gold and silvers of sky, they bore the names of all the members of the team. Pretty Kitty. The Weather Witch. General Logan. Her Angel. Teacher's pet and his perfect frau. The Elf. Painter Piotr. The Southern belle from hell. Beautiful Gambit. Sarah. Her hand wavered above her fourth rib and paused. Sarah?!

Dropping to her haunches, fifth rib pressing against her thigh, she scrutinised the tag more closely. Yes, that was her name on the cream envelope in someone's jagged print. The green ink was slightly smudged as if the writer's hand had brushed over it, fanning out feather-like from the word. Curiously, she prised the stiff card out of the envelope. Decorated with gilt stars above a chocolate-box village, it wished her a Joyeux Noel in gleaming gold. The sentiment inside was simple -- an echo of the greeting on the cover, that added that the sender hoped that she had a bonne nouvelle annee -- and it was signed simply 'Remy'.

Beautiful Gambit with his Harry Connick looks, Tom Cruise smile and Clark Gable charm had thought of her? Had bought her a present and wrapped it in sky-silver? Had written her a card in pine ink? Had wished her a 'joyeux noel et une bonne nouvelle annee'? Cared for her enough to buy her a gift? Stunned, she picked up the package to which the envelope was attached. It was slim yet heavy, knobbled and cool to the touch through the prismatic paper. Tempted to tear it open and see the contents, she glanced around the room to check that no one was watching her. If they were ... Her hand carressed the sixth ridge on her torso -- the touch of bone -- and she remembered who she was.

Don't be so pathetically grateful, the Gene National in her reminded her in a low, mad voice, it's probably some pity-present leBeau picked out of a catalogue. Soaps. Pens. China kitties. Everyone knows he's not interested in you. He loves that hick witch with her smooth skin, her evergreen eyes, her soft hair, her lithe limbs, her kisses. Sell your heart for a Made-in-Japan trinket, if that's how little it means to you, if that is how low you prize yourself, if that is how much you think a Morlock is worth. Beneath her seventh rib, she felt her stomach become hollow.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a gleam of holly-red. Not a knobbly, ugly present, but square and perfectly formed. An identical envelope with the same pine script was attached to it, addressed to Rogue. She dropped the parcel as if the paper was molten, white-hot, turning away from the gleaming pile of treasures to the silvered night; turning away from the mirror in the prismatic paper that showed the blossoming of bone-flowers on her face. It had begun to snow; heavy, fat flakes falling like tears from a blind woman's eyes.



1. The quote is from the Kabuki: Color Special by David Mack. Extra pressie -- you can read it at, I think. Probably not for the more delicate of emotion.


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