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"Smoke and Mirrors"

Smoke and Mirrors

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19

Part 2

De first time I came to de mansion, only two t'oughts passed t'rough my mind: it was huge and it was expensive. Obviously belonged to some bluebloods who had way too much money - money of which I was more than happy t'relieve dem. From Stormy, I learnt dat it belonged t'Charles Francis Xavier - humanitarian, professor an' mutant. I also learnt, dat more dan a School for Gifted Children', it functioned as a sanctuary for dose of my kind; dose humans called mutant, homo superior or sometimes, jus' plain freak.

"FREAK!" The woman screamed as she saw the mutant walk out of the alleyway. "What do you want here in this place? Dirtying the air with your vile mutant germs, kidnapping our children, killing our boys. Go away! You don't belong here!"

"Please, ma'am. I was just returning from work."

"Work? What work? Who employs mutants any more?"


"Milbury? I've never heard of him. Lying, mutant freak. You're here to break into our house, aren't you?"

"No . . . ."

"Go away! I'll call my husband - he's a member of the Friends of Humanity. He know what to do with you."

"No - don't. I'll go."

The woman watched him walk away past trashcans and drainpipes until he was out of sight.

She dusted her hands on her apron, turned around and walked inside.

"Fourscore and. . .shhk. . .years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a . . .shhk. . . nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all . . .shhk. . . are created equal . . . ."

The radio was suddenly silent.

"While it may be true that all men are equal, mutants most certainly are not . . .they are inferior beings created to contaminate the pure human bloodlines ." The man's voice was coloured with hatred for the other species which inhabited the planet.

"What are you going to do about it?"

"The only thing I can . . . . The only thing any real human would."

"You mean?"


The days were cold now; the moon hung high in the sky on nights that never seemed to end.

Some, on those nights, found the solace of sleep; an escape from an angry world of hate and fear.

Others who could not sleep lay awake and counted the stars that looked down on the small, green planet, until the numbers reached too high to remember.

Others took the opportunity to fly . . . .

The cool, night air swirled around her body as she soared above the clouds and with equal speed dove to earth. Here was the one place she could be free. Here, above the mountains, above the valleys, higher than eagles dared to fly, she had found emancipation. She'd never dreamed that anything could as beautiful and as frightening as this place where she was completely alone. The emotions and the adrenalin formed a dizzying combination. The world spun beneath her in circles and rose to meet her, then fell as she flew up again. Higher. Higher. Till it seemed she could go no further. Rogue plummeted back to earth. Returning to her problems. Returning to the petty hatreds and squabbles of humankind. Returning to joy. Returning to reality.

"This is insanity!"

"Scott?" Jean looked at him with worry in her eyes.

"We've had villianesses, ex-government agents and now a THIEF! Who's next - a homicidal maniac? A serial killer? MAGNETO?"

"Storm was a thief and we've never had problems with her." Jean gently reminded him.

"Storm was different. Storm was forced to become a thief by the circumstances of her life, Gambit CHOSE his path." Irritation furrowed Cyclops's forehead.

"Keep your voice down, you'll wake everybody! Besides, how do you know he chose his path?"

"I just do." He lowered his voice to a whisper.

"Scott, hon, you're many things but you're no telepath. You'll have to come up with a better reason than that."

"Just something about him . . . I wouldn't want him to watch my back in a fight."

"You said the same thing about Rogue."

"Yes . . . well, I still think she's a security risk."

"And Wolverine?"

"Perhaps I was wrong about Logan - but, despite his brusqueness, I always trusted Wolverine. There is something inherently honest about him. Something Gambit lacks."

"The man's been here two days; that's too short for a reasonable judgement."

"You're right, sweetheart, but sometimes one can just tell."

"Sometimes one is wrong."

"Yes, but that doesn't reassure me."

"I don't trust him either, but I am prepared to give him a chance to prove himself. You know how it goes, trustworthy until proven otherwise."

"Here's hoping the'otherwise' doesn't prove fatal."

Rogue slipped in the window, and into bed. The flight had had the desired effect - it had cleared her head of all conflicting thoughts and emotions. All except one. The smile on Gambit's face.

Lawd, sugah, one might almost think you cared. She had never been a believer in the love-at-first-sight theory - The eyes catching over a crowded room, the palpable attraction, the instant connection - now, she wasn't so sure, especially if one pair of the eyes was red-on-black.

Mentally, she shook herself. Enough. Stop torturing yerself. He probably acted that way to all the women; he probably really loves Storm; he probably won't even stay. He probably . . . .

But maybe, he actually . . . . What? Is attracted to me? Thinks Ah'm pretty? Yeah, an' Ah'm really Scarlett O'Hara. Time to face facts, Sugah, you ain't evah gonna be attractive to no man for th' simple reason that he can't touch you.

For a reason inexplicable to man or mutant, the simplest facts are always the hardest to grasp and often disappear like smoke before a whirlwind in the light of a greater truth . . . .

He stared at the ceiling of his room. It was white. Like the sheets, like the pillow, like the table and chair. Dey sure like white, don' they? The thought ran through his mind, arbitarily.

White like the stripe in Rogue's hair. Followed, unbidden, the words imprinted themselves on his conciousness. Remy wondered why the comparison came to mind so easily. She was a woman, that was all. A woman like any other. Like any other - except for her eyes, her hair, her smile, her face, her voice, de perfume dat hung in de air when she was near, an' stayed after she was gone. Just a woman like any other. He yawned, he was drowsy and comfortable. Perhaps his tiredness led to his thoughts. After all, I am Remy leBeau, aren't I? An' to Remy le Beau - no one woman be more important than another. Not even Rogue. Not even....

"The Mutant Problem has reached untold heights in our society. They go to the same schools with our children, they eat at the same restaurants and shop at the same stores. Your neighbour could be a mutant and, according to new legislation, we do not have the right to discriminate against them; the right to use our free will; our common sense. You and I, as American citizens have a duty to eliminate them from our fair country."

Applause as a hundred hands clapped together.

"Some may know me as Graydon Creed, a successful businessman - but what success can be savored while mutants still infest our land? That is why I proposed creating this defense against the Mutant Threat, a defense I call The Friends of Humanity'. What I hope to achieve can be construed as prophet's vision, a vision of purity and of untainted blood."

More applause, Creed drank from the glass of water on the lectern.

"Who will share in my vision?"

Not a voice in the room was silent. Fathers, brothers, husbands, sons: all stood and cheered, inspired by the passion that filled his voice. Creed raised his arms, as if he called blessings down from heaven upon the crowd.

"Yes. Yes. My comrades, America shall once more be pure."

"They're animals." Bob Jones exhaled, blowing out a cloud of cigarette smoke. "And it's up to us to put them out of their misery."

"Yeah." His friend threw back his head and took another long swig of beer. "Animals. How's Mabel and the kids?"

"They're fine. Mabel visiting her mother. She took the kids with her."


"Yeah, one would almost think that a husband doesn't haven't the right to discipline his family."

"The first person to think of that must have been some mutie-lover."


They stood silent for a long while.

"At least now we can do something about it."

"Shhh . . . Creed said no-one should know. That we were the elite, and the elite always operated in secret."

"Yeah . . . meeting tomorrow."


"Anyway, I've got to get back to Mary-Sue. She gets worried if I'm out late."

"Bye. Regards to your wife."

"I'll tell her you said so. Bye."

The sun rose over the hill, thawing the first signs of frost on the grass.

"Keep up, Bobby." Beast yelled over his shoulder as they sprinted across the lawn.

"Trying, Hank." Iceman puffed in return. "It's pretty cold out here if you don't have a built-in fur-coat and all."

"Why not ice up? Then you'll stop being cold."

"And slip? I don't think so."

"My dear sir, the solution is simplicity in itself - ice the upper-most regions of your anatomy."


"Freeze your top half."

"But my feet make the rest of me cold then."

"You're ice! How much colder can you get?"

"Say from minus 1 degrees to minus 10 degrees?"

"That is physically impossible . . . ." Beast launched into a long scientific explanation as to why it was so.

Rogue turned away from the window, smiling to herself. Beast constantly insisted on giving early morning training runs, which only he and Iceman ever attended. She was tempted to go with them sometimes, but she would hate to intrude on the whole male bonding ritual. Yawning, she changed into her training clothes. This time of the morning, when everyone else was asleep, was the only time she could ever get into the Danger Room, without Cyclops feeling it was his duty to accompany her as an exercise in team-work'. In other words, to make sure she didn't sabotage anything. She pulled a sweater over her bodysuit; spandex had many advantages, one of which was not its insulatory properties. Leaving her room and shutting the door behind her, she went down the hallway, and a few flights of stairs. The door to the Danger Room was open.

"Strange. Cyclops must be up early."

She shut the door behind her as she walked in.

"Hey, Cyke. You left th' door open."

No answer.


She looked in through the glass panel that separated the control room from the actual combat area.

A program was paused in the middle. Simulation number 67-Gamma. The Savage Land.


"Bonjour, chere."

She spun around, "Do ya always have t'sneak up on me like that?"

"Non. But it be more fun dat way."

"For you maybe."

Gambit smiled, "Nice sim."

"Hmmp. Ah always preferred the simple robotic one. No bells an' whistles or smoke and mirrors. Just you against the machine."

"You ever tried de real t'ing?"

"You mean real-life combat? Plenty of times."

"Den perhaps you like t'try a little one-on-one, chere?"

"If y'all think yer up to it!"

"I be able t'take anythin' you throw at me."

"Don't be too cocky, cajun. As th' old sayin' goes: pride comes b'fore a fall."

"Whoever said dat obviously expected t'lose."

"Then y'all'll be able t'identify with him after you take me on."

"An' you say I'M cocky?"

"Just keepin' you in your place, sugah."

"An' where might DAT be?"

"Th' Danger Room - now. Let's see if you can put your money where your mouth is."

She pressed the button to allow admittance to the room.

"Computer, Stop program."

"Beep - Affirmative."

"Computer? Run program 23-Alpha. Abandoned Warehouse."

Instantly the combat area disappeared to be replaced with the interior of a seedy warehouse. Crates were piled high, obscuring areas. The floor was concrete; cold and wet. Above everything stretched iron pillars and supports, from which dangled hooks. It was lighted by a few dim, electric bulbs.

"Good luck." He grinned, "You'll need it."

"We'll see about that." She turned to look him in the eye, but he had already disappeared into the dim light. Rogue's every muscle tensed, she knew he could be anywhere. But she had the advantage on him; she could fly and, besides which, she'd done this sim a hundred times before - consequently, she knew the terrain. Silence. She rose into the air, barely breathing. Was she insane? Entering into a dangerous simulation with a man she didn't know anything about, a man who might potentially be dangerous. Movement. She flicked around - just her imagination. She went higher, realising the potential risk of being sighted and ducked behind a large pile of crates.

Nothing. Rogue exhaled slowly in an attempt to calm herself; her heart was beating fast in her chest and it seemed that every time it did, it betrayed her location.Why didn't he make his move?

Was he waiting for her to reveal herself? The shadows seemed to close in on her. She looked around, where was he? Something whizzed past her, and landed a few inches away. A common distractionary tactic for which she wasn't going to fall. Another thing buzzed past. It appeared to be a playing card which lay glowing softly in the half-light. A glowing playing card? What manner of game was he playing? The crate behind her exploded, causing her to be flung forward onto her face. She expected the killing blow; to lose the sim. Nothing. Rogue's eyes narrowed in confusion.

What was he doing? In hand-to-hand combat she was without parallel, but in this shadow-dance she was at a disadvantage. He knew that. Why didn't Remy make his final move? Play the end-game? She stood up and looked around. Nothing. Just the ghostly light of the phosphorescents.

Not even a shadow to divulge his whereabouts. Another card landed at her feet. The Ace of Clubs.

She understood. His first attack. Who knew how many more? Footsteps. Him? She whirled in the direction and grinned to herself as she saw the faint, spectral motion. Heard the breathing. She knocked down the pile of crates. No-one. And he knew where she was now. A trick. Or not.

He was hunched between the two stacks of crates still remaining. She flew towards him.

"Ah'll give ya mercy. . . if you surrender now."

"Qui, moi? Never."

Rogue smiled. "Ah was hopin' you'd say that."

She punched him, but he feinted and parried with his own leg-sweep. To no effect.

"Did Ah mention Ah was invulnerable?"


"Well, Ah'm invulnerable."

"To everyt'ing, chere?"

Gambit was stalling, buying time. Rogue recognised the tactic as one of a desparate man.

"Give up - Ah've gotcha good."

"De say de game ain't over til de final card is played." He flicked one out and threw it at her.

"Oommph." She fell backwards, "Ah'll getcha for that."

"I hope so, chere."

Suddenly, they were standing in the middle of the Danger Room with its metal walls, and high arched ceiling. The warehouse had disappeared.

"Who turned th' sim off?"

"I did." Storm walked into the room, a smile on her elegant features. "While it is pleasing to see you two amusing yourselves so profitably, I am here to inform you breakfast is served."

"Gee Stormy. Coulda given me a bit of time t'finish her off."

"Hah! Ah was just about t'beat you good."

"Chere, you were de one who was on her . . . ."

"Ah was playin' possum." Rogue interrupted him angrily.





"Enough, let us say it was a draw." Storm quickly interceded.

"A draw!?" They echoed in unison.

"Yes, a more-than-fair result for two equally matched competitors."

"No way Ah'm equal to that Swamp Rat!"

"I agree, chere. I'm better dan you ever be."

"Hmmp. Ah still think Ah won."

"So do I."

"I think Jean and Scott are waiting for us." Ororo said, "They have prepared breakfast for the whole team today."

"What is it?"

"Umm . . . I believe it is cereal with milk."

"Any Coco Krispies?" Gambit asked.

"Or Cap'n Crunch?" Rogue followed close behind.

"You like Cap'n Crunch, chere?"

"Yeah. What's it to you?"

"Nothin'. It jus' tastes like cardboard."

"Better than that chocolate slime they pretend is cereal."

"Hey - Coco Krispies tastes far better dan Cap'n Cardboard ever could hope to."

"That's mah cereal you're insultin'!"

Storm shook her head. Rogue and Gambit seemed unable to agree about even the most trivial of matters. They probably would end up hating each other, or go to the opposite extreme . . . .

"I mean - Crunchberries? What kind of name is DAT?"

"Least it has a ring to it."

"Better dan Rogue den?"

"At least Ah didn't choose t'name mahself after a chess-move!"

"At least I showed some originality."

"How many girls do you know called 'Rogue'?"


"That isn't me?"


Rogue laughed, and looked slightly embarrassed.

"Ah mean ... this is silly. We're two adults an' we're fightin' about cereals."

Gambit looked at the attractive woman standing next to him, a smile on his face.

"Cap'n Crunch isn't dat bad ... if you're in de middle of de desert an' starvin' an' all."

"Ah'll pretend not t'have heard that."

"Good, chere."

"Finally, you two are agreeing." Storm smiled. "It's only after the wedding you're meant to argue."

"Wedding?!" Rogue laughed, "Whose wedding?"

"You'll see." Storm cryptically said. "Now are you ready to eat?"


" 'Course, Stormy."

They entered the pleasant domesticity of the kitchen oblivious to the storm that was brewing outside...


Continued in Chapter 3.


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