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After Gambit's Return >


Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5

This story is in progress.


Part 3
Ashes to...

Stars are
the remnants of dying fires,
understanding that they could no longer blaze
on stone or grass,
gave themselves to the night-breezes,
and flew into the dark.
~ WOODASH, by Ororo Munroe

The row of paper targets stood, complete with holes through their candy-box hearts. Dangling from strings, they were unscathed, save for the single, accurate shot through atrium or ventricle. She had always found shooting a soothing activity, an exercise that encompassed mind and body. It was different, of course, when the mark was flesh-and-blood, where the wound was not a neat circle in neat paper, but a jagged hole in all-too-soft tissue. As a villainess, she had not believed so, knowing instead that the difference between the animate and the inanimate was very slight. A press of the trigger away. Heroines were not meant to realise that, though, holding life as sacred and precious as any of their lofty ideals. Love. Nobility. Sacrifice. Understanding. Infinite mercy. Words from a comic-book, or a fairy-tale. She grimaced. She could never live up to the Dream; could not even live up to what her mother had expected of her and trained her to do .. Endlessly caught between sun and shade, good and evil, she was unable to choose a side, so walked in the grey twilight. She had betrayed the team, although she had done nothing wrong; she had not betrayed the team, although she had by coming within a breath of doing so.

"Computer? Restart sim."

The row of targets shimmered and were replaced by another row of intact paper dolls. Smiling stupidly at her, they swayed arms and legs in the illusionary wind. Rogue hoisted her revolver again, and shattered their hearts.

I don't know how long I have been sitting in the chair of the Danger Room's Observation Area -- that Jubilee ironically used to call voyeur central -- watching Rogue fire salvo after salvo into those targets with deadly accuracy. Truthfully, it scares me. I guess I thought I knew all about her past as a terrorist -- what X-Man didn't? -- but I never suspected that she still kept in practice. After all, her strength and invulnerability are more than a match for most supervillains. I, then, realise how very little I actually knew about her, beyond the superficial, or her true agenda. If she turns against us ... Bozhe moi, Piotr, who are you to question Rogue's loyalty? You, Magneto's former faithful acolyte who left Xavier because you were too small to accept responsibility for Illyana's death? She is loyal.

She has to be.

As Remy had entered the room, they had all turned to stare. A sea of faces and emotions. Hatred. Distrust. Curiosity. Amusement. Shock. Guilt. They had washed around him, breaking against him, like waves against a rock -- uncomfortable for anyone; unbearable for a psi-sensitive. Using a gift that he was only just beginning to understand, he snapped his shields down, blocking their thoughts and masking his own. It was a defense-mechanism that he had had since childhood, dating from his time spent with Fagan's brood.

::Mutie. Red-eyed rat-mutie. Squeak. Squeak.::

::Little freak'll kill us all. Lose control of those freaky powers and blow us to kingdom-come::

Here, they accepted him as a mutant, where the Unwanted had only cared for him as a skilled thief. It seemed he could never reconcile the two, be wholly and unashamedly himself. Like the Phantom, he would be forced to wear half a mask to disguise the malfigured, twisted side of his character. Remy had left the musical feeling uncomfortable, despite (or because of) Ororo's avowed declaration that it had touched her soul and heart. Stormy.

Naturally, it was his regal, loyal Stormy who had spoken first: "Is this how we welcome back our missing X-Men?"

"It is when the X-Man's a treacherous, lying creep," Angel had swilled the words around his mouth, before spitting them out vehemently. He had still sense their hatred crashing against the tissue-paper barrier, waiting for the first slip.

::Thief. Killer. Red-eyed tunnel-rat killer. Squeak.::

::What if we're next? What if he betrays us to Sinister? What if he blows us to kingdom-come himself?::

Remy had stared at a knot on the floor, attempting to block out their comments by retreating to the tiny place in his mind where he was unreachable, where jazz music played and women smiled at him with pink-painted lips. Somehow the thought of their unconditional, easy affection had comforted him, although he had known instinctively he only loved the one who was outside in the turmoil of sounds and colors. Who had been watching him across the room with the cool, green eyes of a terrorist, giving him no advantage by betraying her emotions. His mouth quirked ironically. It would have been easier if Rogue had been visibly angry, or upset, or -- hope against hope, Remy? -- glad to see him ...

He picked up a rock from the pile, wondering as to its origin, and skipped it across the pond. It leaped three times before sinking into the depths of Spuytin Dyvil Cove. It was a game Etienne and he had played as urchins at the edge of Lake Pontchartrain, before his cousin too had sunk beneath the dark waters off the coast of Granada on a pinch gone wrong. He had been thirteen, Remy a scarce two years older. Weeks later, he had watched Et's ashes, taken by the mistral, fly off across the ocean, before he lost sight of them. Although he had officially marked his passage into adulthood two years before and had realized that this experience was yet another portal into manhood, he had not been too old or proud for tears. He still was not, he thought, judging from the prickle in his eyes. Something white, bobbing on the dark waves, caught his attention and, curious, he unselfconsciously removed his fine, linen shirt, then dove into Breakstone Lake. He covered the distance between him and the object with a languid crawl, treading water as he removed it.

Despite the sodden and swollen cardboard, the clear, dark lines of the Queen of Hearts were still visible. She watched him with infinitely knowing eyes and Mona Lisa smile. The coincidence was too great to ascribe purely to chance, he thought, these were the ashes of his relationship with Rogue that she had scattered out across the waters...

I don't know what happened down there in Antarctica, other than Angel's said, and I'm not sure if I'm inclined to believe him. Anger and hate has a way of twistin' the truth until it ain't recognisable. Fact is, the whole thing stinks. I don't understand Red's motives for holdin' that drum-barrel trial (1) -- why'd he choose the Cajun with Creed and Sinister runnin' around, if he really gave a toss about gettin' revenge for the Morlocks? What I do know is that Gambit has hurt more than one member of the team before, and if he screws up again ... schnikt.

Glory poured from the sky, like a blessing, causing the white peaks and plains to burst into flame. The light leaped from mountain to glacier, where it shattered and was swept into the sea. One by one, curious seals and penguins followed it, skidding and drifting across the slippery ice before sinking into the black waves. Snowflakes sprinkled confetti-like from the sky to bless the union of sun and snow -- a six-month marriage that would give way to perpetual night when the reluctant groom left his white-clad bride. The man, who Coquette knew as the Creator, watched the scene from his citadel but saw no beauty in it. He appreciated that the refractions of the sun through the million crystals of ice was aesthetic, although it hurt his eyes. He even understood that some might consider it awe-inspiring in its crystalline peaks and ripples. He, however, loved the panaroma for its purity, its clarity, its order. His goal was as simple as it was chilling -- to bring perfect harmony to a universe that was a hodge-podge of crime and violence, to controvert the Second Law of Thermodynamics that stated that all things tended towards chaos. To do that, the Creator would bring unity.

He knew that some would consider him a madman, a traitor, a fool and a threat. Those he would eliminate as a gardener pruned a vine to ensure greater fruit. His father's students, who had worshipped him in another time and place but hated him in this one, would be first. However, he would be subtle in his destruction of them -- no crude knife or gun for him -- and tear them apart from the inside, as a worm in a branch or leaf. Framing the mark would accomplish that, as much as it would be a lesson in the dangers of turning back on deals. For all their weakness when it came to choosing one side or another, order or chaos, they had given him the tools to orchestrate the X-Men's destruction. He permitted himself an icy smile as he glanced at his wrist-watch -- Coquette was about to arrive in New York...


Continued in Chapter Four

1) In the olden days, when soldiers were suspected of a crime, a drum was upended and an impromptu court was set in place. The cases conducted by this supposed tribunal were hideously unfair, usually resulting in the innocent being found guilty with no possibility of appeal.

DISCLAIMER: All characters are the sole property of Marvel and do not belong to me or my two lamented, missing budgies. :( Comments and requests for archiving are loved and cherished almost as much as they were, so please send them to to fill the void left by the absence. sob (Most writers threaten, I make my readers feel guilty ;))


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