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After Gambit's Return >


Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5

This story is in progress.

Disclaimer: The characters belong to Marvel and are not used for profit purposes, but the scenario in which they find themselves belongs to me. Comments to :) Thanks to my two charming beta-readers without whom I would be completely lost. You're the peachiest. :)


Part 4
Here There Be Monsters

Who knows what lies
lakes of eyes,
rivers of blood,
seas of souls?

What scales
in and through
the dark waters?
- 'Lake', Katherine Pryde

"Kitty! Kitty! Hey, Pryde!"

The individual in question stopped in the middle of the path, turning to face the person who had been calling her with a decidedly impatient look on her face. Two empty mugs jostled with a plate on the wooden tray she was carrying as she stopped and she reached out a hand to steady them. Rogue was standing on the steps, hair tousled and damp with sweat, with a suggestion of violence in her eyes, that Kitty had not seen for years. Her voice, similarly, was a honeyed drawl that made the other woman look for a sting in her words.


The ex-terrorist pushed an unruly curl clumsily behind her ear, obviously ill-at-ease, although Katherine could not imagine why she would be. They had always been -- if not best of best friends -- comfortable with each other. Her eidetic, tricky memory threw up an explanation suddenly. She had just come from talking to Gambit. Rogue loved -- or had loved, Kitty wasn't completely sure -- him and left him in Antarctica under the control of his self-recrimination. A marionette dancing on the strings of a self-loathing puppet-master. If she still had feelings for him, coffee and croissants with Remy was hardly going to endear her to his ex.

"Ah ... need yo' help on somethin'. There's a glitch in th' Aurora's computer systems an' I was wonderin' if you could check it out."

Relieved that the conversation seemed to be strictly business, but disappointed at the iciness in a woman's, who she would have liked to know better, tone, Kitty replied: "Sure. What if I take a look now and then we grab a bite to eat at Harry's?"

Casting a significant glance at the tray, Rogue shook her head: "I've already eaten breakfast. So've you by the looks of things."

The hint of danger in her green eyes had become a full-blown threat, an eloquently wordless warning, while her voice could have etched steel without difficulty. Diamond-hard, frosty and sharp, it sliced through further pleasantries cleanly and efficiently. Nonetheless, Kitty steeled herself against the slight, resolving to make a final move at conciliation.

"Look, nothing happened this morning between Remy and me. I ... had to tell him something, get closure on the Massacre and what it did to us."

The Morlock Massacre had impacted her severely in more than one way -- emotionally by the images of death and suffering that seemed seared on her retinas, and physically by an injury that had left her permanently phased. Although she had since overcome that, the sense of horrible powerlessness, of insubstantial ghostliness, remained clear in her mind. Through confronting and forgiving one of the men -- she had to think of them as that so as to avoid the dangerous trap of irrational hatred and bitterness -- who had played a role in the event, she could finally lay that chapter of the past to rest. She hoped Rogue would understand. The Southerner's pink-painted lips curved in an incredulous smile, and she laughed. It was a dismissive sound, false and completely devoid of humor.

"You think Ah'd care even if y'two had...?" she trailed off, unable to phrase what Pryde knew she dreaded, and subsided into: "Gawd, Kit, it's ovah between th' boy an' me. Was ovah when Ah left him in Antarctica an' told him he didn't have a home with me or th' X-Men. Stupid move. It was th' first one o' too many mistakes -- none o' which Ah can set straight..."

The former terrorist's lips were too tight, guarding against a tell-tale tremble. Her eyes were too brilliant for mirth or anger. Her stance too tight and disciplined. All in all, her careful control over her body was as transparent as water, revealing the muddy, silty streambed of emotion beneath. Here there be monsters, Kitty thought unexpectedly, then banished the thought as disloyal. Still, there was something scaly, eyeless, dank and hideous hiding within the Southerner. Jealousy? Fury? Guilt? Suspecting it was the last, she replied more gently, "Nothing is irreperable."

"What Ah did is," the sea-beast stirred, "Ah ... Forget it, Katherine, you wouldn't understand."

The pronoun carried dictionaries of meaning. You, pampered kitten could not understand a sea-beast, could not conceive of a life of silt and mud. You, heroine, secure in your love, nobility, sacrifice, understanding, infinite mercy, had an impersonal relationship with evil, could recognise it but not experience it. You, eponymous Pryde, could not know what it is to be ashamed, to consider yourself the muck of muck and the slime of slime.

"You haven't given me a chance."

A cliched response for a cliched dismissal. Rogue recognised it and shook her head, as cold and unreadable as she was before.

"You'll check out th' Aurora then, sugah?"

The endearment was disparaging.


Rogue gave another wintery smile and returned to the mansion, leaving Kitty to wonder what monster lurked in the depths of her team-mate's slender frame and impassive eyes.

My mother saved me at her moment of death. I recall the imprint of her lips on my hair, her cheek pressed against it that was damp with tears. I remember her voice, low and urgent, telling me that I must never forget, that I must continue the cause in my parents' absence, that the son must become the father. I was four at the time. It's odd how memory works -- I cannot see her face anymore, but I know how she laughed, the prayer she said over me every night, the way she tucked the blanket around me, the scent of the soap she used. I was four, but I do my best to keep the promise to the point of taking his name. I had not relied on the untrustworthiness of others, of the one X-Man in particular. After staging the trial in Antarctica, I had observed the effect of my carefully calculated scheme.

Every element of that 'courtcase' was calculated to acheive an effect, including the petty cruelty of getting the woman to kiss the 'accused'. I knew she would be overwhelmed by his self-hate and leave him, and in turn become subject to her own feelings of incredible guilt. So ashamed that she would sell her soul to the highest bidder to save him. How was I to know that she would renege on our deal, leaving me with scarcely enough to carry out my plan? Scarcely enough, but ample to succeed. With some modifications, of course. Coquette - with her nigh-religious devotion to me - would commit hari kiri if she failed which was comforting and flattering. The X-Men would fall apart, supposedly betrayed by one of their own, leaving me to complete my sacred task, my geis.

Demon-red eyes met sulphurous yellow over the points of blades. A tail twitched. The edge of a mouth curved in a smirk. An eyebrow raised an inch. A muscle tensed. Motion. Silver streaks colliding with a satisfying crash. Grating metal. Postures shifting between forms and stances. The scent of sweat. The flood of endorphins and adrenalin. Legs danced. Arms thrust and parried and swung.

"Dieu, ya be good."

"Not as good as you."

"Was acknowledged as one o' de foremost blademasters back in N'Awlins, but ... we be evenly matched."

"Should we call it a draw, mein vreund?"


Foils were still. Movement ceased. The two men smiled at each other, relaxing. The competition had always been a friendly one, tainted with the inavoidable primal need to crush, kill and destroy, to prove one's superiority. Neither of them had won, so they were able to be friends without bitterness or resentment. The taller man took a sip from a bottle of Evian, then passed it to the shorter one who swigged gratefully.


"Bitte," the Cajun replied absentmindedly.

"You speak German?" he asked, sounding surprised.

"Terribly," he replied with a self-deprecating grin, "'Bout as well as I do Japanese, Latverian, Greek or Portugese. Languages were stressed in m' schooling. Had t'be able t'fit in anywhere, anytime, an' not'ing gives ya away as quickly as not speakin' de local lingo. Even awfully."

Too familiar with wearing a carefree mask to hide inner pain, Nightcrawler knew Remy's light response for what it was -- the verbal equivalent of high-wire acrobats as the circus freak in order to disguise the very real pain at their laughter. If he swung high enough or did enough dangerous stunts, he was almost able to convince himself that they were gasping at that and not his appearance.

"I must apologise," he grimaced, passing the bottle back, "I spoke without thinking. You have every right to be insulted."

"Comes wit' de accent," he said philosophically, "A coonass ain't meant t'be educated. Goes against people's view o' de world. I'm used to it."

"Nor are sideshow freaks meant to be more than trained apes," Kurt replied, "I will never be used to that."

Gambit raised an eyebrow, "True, but I t'ought momma Mystique kept her kids tied pretty tightly t'her apron strings?"

His mother -- Raven Darkholme -- who had abandoned him in the care of a travelling circus, seeing him as a little more than something to pass the time between the clowns and the magician. His adoptive parents had loved him, treated him like a son, and he had loved them in return, but it didn't make the sting any easier to bear.

"The ones who measured up to her expectations," he shrugged, "Rogue, in other words. Raven left Graydon to the tender mercies of Sabretooth, whereas I became an honorary member of the Flying Wagners."

Contemplatively, with a strange catch in his voice, "Rogue?"

His foster-sister had been the only child for whom Raven had truly cared. Intelligent but unquestioning, mercurial yet loyal and with a trigger-finger that would have been the envy of any cowboy, she was the perfect protegee for Mystique's unholy cause. When she had joined the X-Men, he had been surprised. He had not imagined that she was capable of rebelling so conclusively against her, although he suspected that Carol's influence had something to do with her decision.

"Ja, those two were ... you'll please excuse the expression, Herr leBeau ... as thick as thieves."

Remy grinned, "She does remind me o' Mystique on occasion. When she's mad wit' me and fixes me wit' a look dat ya jus' know she's learnt from Raven ... Dieu, ya get as far away from her as possible when she has dat expression on her face."

Kurt laughed, "My dear sister has quite a temper. Fortunately, she tends to direct it towards Sentinels and their ilk."

"Or de man she loves," his voice was softer, the smile gone. He stood, picking up his trenchcoat from the floor and slipping it on over the uniform. Out of the pocket, a white card, singed and water-swollen, fell and drifted to the floor. Queen of Hearts. Nightcrawler retrieved it and handed it to Gambit, who took it wordlessly, although his eyes communicated his grief eloquently.

"You still love Rogue?"

"Oui, like de espece d'idiote I am."

Prompted by the warped card, the significance of Rogue's tears a few days ago suddenly occured to him, and he said urgently:

"Her feelings have not changed. She is simply too proud to make the first move. She always has been. Talk to her. She will come around..."

The naked hope on his face was painful, "Ya t'ink?"

He nodded and smiled suddenly, "I would be proud to have a swordsman of your skills as a brother-in-law."

"Huh," Remy's answering grunt was ironic, "Jus' don' come t'de wedding."

Confused, "I don't...?"

"Ya see, m'last brother-in-law was a real fils du putain by de name o' Julien ..."

I slip the infrared goggles over my eyes and watch the world shift to shades of heat. The target is alone in her room, a single fractal shifting from white to purple. There are no other energy signatures in the immediate vicinity, which means that there is no one to verify her alibi. My gaze moves to the once-secret chamber in which the Professor's computer systems are stored and find it empty too. It appears that the Creator's blueprints and advice was accurate. I shift into mistform, becoming a breath of air, a plume of smoke. Showtime.


Continued in Chapter Five.


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