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"Mending Fences"

Mending Fences

Chapter One: Splinter
Chapter Two: Miracle
Chapter Three: Child
Chapter Four: Forget-me-not
Chapter Five: Dreams and Reality
Chapter Six: Angel of Death
Chapter Seven: Tunnels
Chapter Eight: Anything of Nothing First Created
Chapter Nine: Hard-Bought Freedom
Chapter Ten: Hours and Seconds
Chapter Eleven: Birdsong
Chapter Twelve: Fallout

This story is in progress.

Disclaimer: This story has been scribed for your enjoyment by RogueStar who is not making a rouble of profit from her endeavors. Therefore, enjoy and worry not how to make money with it! Marvel, by the same token, should try not to bleed me of money which I do not have. Your comments to will be payment enough for me. :-) Just a word of warning: mild violence and some unpleasant imagery. Nothing worse than your average Seagal movie though.

Mending Fences

(Part 9: Hard-Bought Freedom)

‘Freedom is a hard bought thing
A gift that no man can give,
for some a way of dying,
for most a way to live.
Freedom is a hard bought thing
A massacre, a bloody rout,
The candles lit at nightfall
and the night shut out.'
-Song of the Settlers, verses one and three, by Jessamyn West

Marrow strikes a match and lights the candle, laughing gleefully like a child on her birthday. Next to her, Angel hunkers, placing the lit ones into holders on the altar. It throws the objects into sharp relief - a bone-knife, a flechette, wax figures and a photograph. An angel stands between the candles, smiling down at the floor. Angel pauses, noticing something that he had not seen before in the dim light - the skin of the icon is blue . . . but . . . .

"Oh, skunkhead," Marrow taunts, breaking into his thoughts even though she is not speaking to him.

Rogue regards her without passion, her face a bland mask of indifference.

Her wounds have drained her of all energy or spirit.

"She's beyond caring. You're wasting your breath," Angel says curtly.

"Not so beautiful now, are we?" Marrow continues, like a cat playing with a fieldmouse.

"Please . . ." the captive whispers hoarsely, "May Ah have some water?"

The former Gene National laughs, "Water? Beg for it, pretty-pretty, like I'm going to make Traitor beg for your life."

Rogue closes her eyes, a single tear trickling from beneath a swollen lid, and Angel feels pity stab through him.

She looks so tired, scared. She doesn't deserve . . . he stops hastily, hot anger replacing the pity, But she does. She was the one who let Gambit back into our lives. She deserves everything she gets and more.

"I wouldn't worry, Rogue," Angel sneers, "You'll be dead within an hour."

"So'll you, Warren," she replies, "Ah wouldn't be you foh th' world."

"What a coincidence," Marrow comments lazily as she sharpens her knife, "I wouldn't be a pretty-pretty traitor lover for all the world either."

Rogue smiles, but it does not extend beyond her lips, "Nor would I, sugah."

Fury blazes in Marrow's yellow eyes and she steps closer to her hostage, placing the bone-dagger at her throat. To the Southerner's credit, Rogue doesn't flinch, being too disheartened or tired to care.

"Repeat that . . . ." the Morlock hisses.

Angel places a restraining hand on Marrow's ridged arm. In all his fantasies of revenge, he had never considered the reality of the situation. The color of blood. The terrible crunching of bone. The whimpering of the victim.

"You can kill her later, but she's no use to us dead right now."

"I . . . ." the terrorist drops her arm, "You're right, but I'm going to enjoy slicing her throat open."

"All in good time," Angel says, then repeats himself uncertainly, "All in good time."

The tunnels stretch for miles beneath the surface -a deadly labyrinth of slime and putrid air that would rival even Crete and its Minotaur. Twisting passageways lead to vertiginous drops, slippery with slime and encrusted dirt. The sewers were not built according to a plan, so much as evolved of their own free will. As the city grew and expanded, its underground equivalent did the same. However, this rotting, lethal place was home to some. Scraps of domesticity can still be found if the seeker is patient enough: an eyeless doll, a cooking pan, rusted tins and a soggy diary. All relics of the past. There are other relics, though, less cheerful ones - reminders of one of the darkest chapters in mutancy's bloody history, the Morlock Massacre. Skeletons, grinning aimlessly, still bear witness to the deed. Metal shards, glinting like the Reaper's sickle, are buried beneath layers of decay. Incongruously, a playing card - yellowed and torn - lies next to a bundle of rotten cloth. The Joker.

Gambit splashes through the ankle-deep sludge, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the pinprick of light in the distance. He cannot look down, see the evidence of his crime, so he looks ahead into the brilliance, although it hurts his preternaturally photosensitive eyes. Carefully, he removes a deck of cards from his pocket and strips it of plastic, adding yet another stratum to the layers of history as he tosses it aside. Three cards fall into his hands and he charges them, noting with horror what they are - the Queen of Spades, the Joker and the Queen of Hearts. It is in this way that, exuding an aurora of his own, he enters the light.

Wolverine lifts his head from the ground outside the tunnels.

"They've been this way," he confirms, "Three scents then a fresher one - Gambit's."

"Three?" Cyclops asks in consternation, "Marrow, Rogue and . . . ?"

The Canadian looks at Psylocke before continuing, "Angel."

Elisabeth lets out a gasp, "Warren? That's impossible."

"Let's not jump to conclusions," Phoenix soothes, "He could very well have followed them in order to stop them."

"Or he could be in cahoots with Marrow," Wolverine continues brusquely, "But that ain't important right now. There's blood on the air - someone's injured."

"Rogue!" Joseph squeaks, "If that madwoman's hurt her . . . ."

"That makes two of us then," Wolverine smiles grimly, extruding his claws, "Kid's a friend and I've lost too many of them already."

"Let's spread out, people," Cyclops commands, "Search the tunnels and report back when you find them."

"Goddess be merciful," Storm whispers, "I hoped never to return to this place of death."

Phoenix gives her a brief, wry smile, "Let's hope that we're more successful than we were last time, Ororo."

With those words still echoing in their ears, they descend into darkness.

The candles watch him with winking eyes, malevolent twisted shapes out of some gothic horror. Dracula's lair must have looked like this. Gambit's eyes gradually adjust to the brilliance and he is able to see again. He wishes instantly that he could not. A rack stands in the center of the room, a solid iron structure constructed to confine, to humiliate. An all-too-familiar relic of the Massacre. Rogue is attached to it where once Angel was. Nausea rises to his throat in a hot flood of bile as he sees how battered she is. The bruises and cuts that speak of unendurable pain.

Why had she not fought back?, Gambit wonders, then sees his answer in the thick, iron collar that surrounds her neck. An inhibitor. The one thing which Rogue always had refused to wear.

She lifts her head, lips mouthing silent words of warning.

"Behind you . . . ."

He spins, prompted as much by his own uncanny sixth sense as by her words. Marrow drops to the floor in front of him and smiles - a smile that is like the baring of fangs.

"So Traitor came," she purrs, "How noble."

"Let Rogue go," Gambit says, keeping his voice as steady as possible, "Ya know she's innocent."

"No-one is innocent," someone states from behind him, "Not even an Angel, but you knew that already, didn't you?"

"Warren," the young thief puts a name to the voice, "Ya be mad if ya t'ink dat dis will solve anyt'ing."

"It will make me feel better. Reason enough, I believe," Angel continues emotionlessly.

"An' den what?" Remy asks, "After I'm dead an' ya hands are stained wit' blood. What den, War?"

"Then I'll be at peace."

"Ya believe dat?" the cajun lets out a short, bitter laugh, "Non - I'll tell ya what happens den. Ya wonder what coulda possessed ya t'kill, what ya coulda done differently. Ya drive yaself crazy t'inkin' o' how ya coulda refused de stinkin' deal, but didn'. Ya always see de look in ya victims' eyes in ya dreams an' ya know . . . ." His voice breaks, "Dat ya are a murderer."

"Pretty words," Marrow's voice rasps, "Distracting words. I've had enough of words - I want revenge."

The bone knife whistles through the air almost before the X-Man is aware of it. Instincts, thief instincts honed on the streets of New Orleans, take over, compensating for rational thought. Easily, Gambit dodges the knife and releases a kinetically charged salvo in return. Marrow dives, rolls, drawing more knives, and scrambles to her feet.

"Warren," Marrow gasps as she parries Gambit's staff with a dagger, "Are you going to help?"

Angel seems to ignore her, staring at Rogue, haunted by some remembered pain. His wings tremble on his back, an integrated part of his physiology instead of a necessary burden.

"Warren," Marrow repeats stridently, "Are you going to help?"

"No use, chere," Gambit grunts as he essays a thrust, "‘Tween you an' me now. Ya ange de mort isn' gonna save ya."

"I don't need saving," she spits, shearing his staff in two with a clean stroke.

The two pieces fall uselessly to the floor and the cajun dodges the consequent knife thrust, retaliating with a kick of his own to her jaw. Blood trickles from the corner of her mouth and her yellow eyes become wild.

"My people's blood will not be spilled again," Marrow shrieks, then flings herself at him, death gripped in each hand.

Gambit whirls away as in an intricate dance, leaving her to fall helplessly to the hard floor, swearing. Leaving her to rise again with more hate in her heart as she has so often.

"Enough games," she smiles unpleasantly, "Time to pay the price for my people's deaths. . . . Time to wash away my pain with your blood. Time to die, Traitor. . . ."

Angel is not sure if it is the tears which blur his vision, or some higher power, that makes Rogue look so much like him. That makes her become his echo. She glances up at Angel from beneath blood-matted hair as much a victim of his deeds as he was one of the Marauders'.

"Warren - this ain't like you," she says softly, "You're an X-Man, sugah, which means acceptin' that people make mistakes an' that they deserve a second chance. It's why we're in this gig aftah all - ta give th' whole word another chance ta rethink their ways, ta try again."

The effort that it took her to speak is evident on her face. Exhausted and weak from loss of blood, he knows that she will die unless she gets treatment soon. The conflict rages within him - hate against love, selfishness against selflessness, past against future - adding another dimension to his already troubled thoughts.

"Rogue . . . I . . . ." he pauses, "It's too late now."

"No. It's nevah too late," she argues, "Free me an' Ah promise you that it'll end here."

Angel nods, walking over to her, giving her his silent promise. His hand touches her bare one as he attempts to untie the thick ropes and she smiles encouragingly at him.

Her skin feels so . . . normal, he thinks in strange abstraction, I suppose I always thought it would feel different.

The ropes refuse stubbornly to come loose and he looks around for some implement with which to cut them. A flechette lies on the altar - a symbol of everything that he was and has rejected - and he hesitates before taking it. He has not got the luxury of qualms any more.

"Warren?" Marrow sneers as she glimpses him out of the corner of her eye, "What has the witch told you to make you turn against me - the victim?"

Angel pauses then carries on walking towards Rogue, step by slow step. This child is insane, he realizes, And it is partially my fault for listening to her, for the simple reason that she told me what I wanted to hear. That I was a victim. That Gambit was the villain. That my hatred was just.

"Warren," Marrow bares her teeth, "If you are not with me, then you are against me."

Before Angel can defend himself against her, before Gambit can act to prevent her, the Gene National dives at him, stabbing him through his chest with a hard thrust. Warren crumples to the floor, like a limp ragdoll, falling into darkness. Marrow pauses, exuding horror from every pore, looking at her bloody hands, like Lady Macbeth once did.

"My Angel . . . are you?" she whispers, "But . . . gods can't die."

"Warren wasn't a god," Gambit says, feeling sympathy for her despite himself, "Jus' a man like anyone else."

"And what would you know about being a man, Traitor?" Marrow snarls, "His death is on your conscience. For Angel and for all my people, you must die."

She attacks, then, without reason or restraint, redoubling her previous onslaught. Gambit blocks her wild jabs and catches her across the stomach with a hard blow of his own. Marrow skids across the floor, knocking the altar over with a crash. The candles topple, catching the two photographs, eating the past hungrily with tongues of crimson flame.

"Angela!" Marrow yells and snatches at the burning papers.

The child smiles back at her from the yellowed picture, her eyes speaking of unbearable pain. Her father stands next to her with his hand on her shoulder, until he too is devoured by the spreading black ash, leaving only the child. The other, newer photograph is relatively intact - a portrait of two people evidently in love. Rogue and Gambit. Her sacrifice. Marrow lifts the two photographs to the sky, seeing them with new eyes. Angela . . . Rogue . . . Angela . . . Rogue.

"By the first one," Marrow whispers, "They are the same. What have I done?"

She drops her knife and runs into the darkness, into the cool of the shadowy tunnels. Gambit does not follow, knowing that she will return and when she does she might be a little different. There is always hope. He has more pressing concerns. Angel is in that strange place between life and death, poised on the brink of his flame's extinction, and he needs a doctor badly. So does Rogue; her face is flushed and sweaty despite the chill of the tunnels, her teeth gritted against incredible agony.

"Gotta make a choice," he says to himself, even though he knows that he has already made it.

Remy removes the metal flechette from Angel's limp hand and cuts the thick ropes, freeing the woman. He has no other choice - her chance of survival is greater than Angel's and it decreases with every second that he delays. Carefully, he wraps Rogue in his trenchcoat, realizing the importance of keeping her warm, and picks her up, grunting slightly at the strain.

"I'll be back, mon ami," he tells the prostrate figure on the floor, "Jus' hold on."

Rogue rests her head against his chest, settling more comfortably into his arms, eyes closed like a feverish child in sleep.

"Am Ah free?" she asks, her voice almost below hearing.

"As a bird, chere."

"Good," she murmurs weakly, "Flyin' always was mah favorite power."

"Hush, now, ‘tite. Ya need t'save ya strength. We'll be outta dese tunnels soon."

He walks towards the light. . . .


Continued in Chapter 10.


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