(Part 11 - Birdsong)
In the garden, a bird sings a lilting, strange tune that
heralds the arrival of dawn. The end of the night. Joseph
walks among the cool morning breeze and the trees which scatter
the mansion in patches of green and brown. The dew on the
grass has not yet evaporated. It still sparkles on the blades
of grass and leaves of plants like diamonds. Fresh. Pure.
Untainted. The first flowers peep out from sheaths of green,
defying the winter snows that blanket the surrounds. Here,
at least, it is warm. His eyes are blind to the beauty of
the morning, however, blinded with grief and concern. Rogue
has not yet woken, even though three days have passed since
Marrow and Angel kidnapped her. Beast attributes this to the
shock, which her system and her mind suffered during that
horrible night, then mildly quotes an aphorism of his creation:
"Sleep is the only panacea which doctors can prescribe."
Joseph kicks a clod, watching it break against the gates
of the mansion as he does so. To his surprise, he sees a taxi
make its way to the entrance and stop. A small, round woman
with chocolate-colored skin steps out of the car, a bulging
valise in each hand. She is clad in a brilliant, multi-hued
dress that sweeps the floor with the air of a princess. With
a curt nod to the taxi driver, she makes her way to the wrought-iron
"May I help you, ma'am?" Joseph asks suspiciously,
"I believe you've come to the wrong place by accident."
She cocks her head to regard him, like a fat, brown hen,
then laughs - a rich chuckle that shakes her whole body in
"So you're Joseph," she says, "Make yourself
useful an' open the gates."
"Ma'am . . . this is the Xavier Institute of Higher
Learning. I cannot see your purpose here," he protests,
adding silently, Nor how you know my name.
"Certainly not the Xavier Institute o' Etiquette or
ya'd have offered t'take m'bags," her accent becomes
broader in annoyance, "Now open the gates, chile, or
I'll call someone who will."
"I don't know who you are."
"An' your momma told ya never t'open the door for strangers,"
the woman shakes her head in amusement, putting her bags down,
and holding out a plump hand, "Mathilde de la Croix.
M'clans call me Tante Mattie though."
"Remy's aunt," he takes her hand, surprised by
the strength of her grip, "I'm pleased to meet you."
This Mathilde de la Croix obviously rules her nursery with
an iron hand. Her brown-sugar voice hides a keen intelligence
and a temper that any Guild leader knew better than to provoke.
"How is m'chile holdin' up?"
"Fine. He is sleeping at the moment. I guess watching
. . . watching Rogue has taken its toll on him."
His hesitation earns him a probing look, which is followed
by an expression of extreme tenderness.
"Ya love her, Joseph, don't ya? Remy has mentioned that
ya've been . . . ."
Cleansing anger bubbles up in him and he turns on the elderly
woman. Remy's aunt. He bitterly asks himself why Gambit should
have everything that he lacks? A family. A past, however painful.
A future with Rogue.
"Coming between them? Pretending that her pity
was love? Hoping that the connection I felt with her was more
"Joe, ya need ta accept that Rogue is beyond ya now.
She's made her choice and ya have t'respect that. I know that
ya must be hurtin', but there is no point holdin' onto the
shreds and rags o' something that was once beautiful. It'll
only cause ya pain. Let it go. Be her friend, because I know
she needs one."
The bird sings, its melody becoming richer and stronger.
In a flash of brown feathers, it swoops over the path, before
rising among the clouds.
"I'll try . . . ." he mutters, "But I know
that I'll fail."
Remy paces the rooftop, attempting to outwalk sleep. Like
attendant ghosts, memories follow him, visible in every tile
and every puff of cloud.
Rogue had been untouchable; as emotionally and physically
remote as the morning star that was gradually fading over
the horizon. The perfect challenge.
The rules of his personal contest were simple: ensure that
she fell for him, and pledged herself to him, without risking
his own heart. Perhaps there was a streak of cruelty in his
actions; or perhaps he had simply been hurt too many times
and was afraid of it happening again.
So Remy safeguarded his emotions - hid them behind a wall
of steel and briars - and exulted in his sport. He could see
Rogue's barriers crumbling as time went by, eroded by constant
Confident and cocksure of his own immunity to her, he relaxed
a little too much, released the iron grip with which he had
held his heart. It was then that the game of love had ceased,
and the painful reality had begun.
Remy remembers that evening well. It seems imprinted into
the slates of the roof and the vagrant, cirrus clouds. Blinded
in battle with Strobe, and more defenseless than ever, Rogue
had been sitting on the rooftops, feeling the cool breeze
on her bare skin and listening to the music of the night.
Crickets had chirruped in the mansion grounds and the rare,
beautiful song of a bird was on the air.
How could he have guessed that she would say that she wished
he was in her life? How could he have anticipated his
reaction to her declaration of love? Known that he would give
his heart unconditionally to her in that split-second?
In the dark, uncertain days, when he had lost and found her
again and again, Remy had never doubted in their love. It
remained pure - the nucleus around which their relationship
had revolved, drawing them back to each other, like electrons
He sits on the spot where he had held her for the first time,
swathed in a thick, scratchy blanket, and had realised that
love was stronger than fear.
"Good morning, Sleeping Beauty," Beast greets cheerfully
as he pulls the cord to raise the blinds. Rogue squints against
the brilliant morning sun, eyes adjusting to the sudden change.
She tries to speak, but her voice croaks and breaks.
"Don't attempt to vocalize your needs just yet,"
the doctor advises, removing a glass from the shelf and filling
it with water, "You've had nil by mouth for three days.
Don't drink too fast either or you'll give yourself a nasty
case of the cramps."
She takes the glass gratefully and sips the liquid contained
within, feeling her dry throat become lubricated once more.
"Three days, Hank?" she whispers.
"That is the period for which you've been asleep,"
he strips a syringe of its plastic wrapper and fills it with
a transparent liquid from a small bottle, "We were starting
to look for the number of a local Prince, my dear."
Rogue laughs slightly and holds out her arm. He steadies
her elbow, then plunges the needle into the vein of her forearm.
She winces at the unexpected pain, as he depresses the plunger
then removes it from her arm.
"Gawd, Hank. Some o' mah ol' invulnerability wouldn't
go amiss now. Why do Ah have ta wear this glorified choker?"
"Especially as they became gauche two weeks ago. Marrow
needs to entertain the notion of subscribing to Vogue,"
Beast wags a disapproving finger, "And, Rogue, you answered
your own query admirably."
"You're invulnerable," he tosses the used syringe
into the disposal, "I could no more get this needle into
your arm than Wolverine could carve through solid adamantium."
Rogue grimaces and pulls the blankets over her injured legs.
The entire room is as antiseptic and sterile as her dressings.
Pale hospital-green walls, a white bed, regulation blinds
and the obligatory, uncomfortable plastic chairs contribute
to this impression. White stencilled flowers surround the
ceiling, adding a personal touch to an impersonal room.
"How's everyone else holdin' up?" she asks.
Beast is silent for a moment, staring at the tiled pattern
of the floor, then he looks up at her, a broad, false smile
on his face. His body-language, the movement of his fingers,
tell another story.
"Do not trouble yourself with everyone else, my dearest
Mississippi Mudcake. Your health should be your primary concern."
"Damn it, Hank. Don't cushion me," she snaps in
annoyance, "Mah body's injured, not mah mind."
He swallows, looking uncomfortable, "Angel is still
in a critical condition. We've stabilized him, but . . . we
could lose him at any second."
"Mah lawd," Rogue looks horrified, "An' Remy?"
"Monsieur leBeau has not a scratch as a souvenir of
the evening's tumult," Beast lifts an incredulous eyebrow,
"As he is fond of saying, he seems to have the luck of
the ages on his side."
Rogue grins wryly, gesturing to her multiple injuries, "Guess
Ah didn't absorb that when Ah kissed him."
Beast smiles, picking up a clipboard from the foot of her
bed and removing a blue pen from behind his ear. In his neat,
cursive handwriting, he makes notes on the cream sheet of
paper held there.
"What are y'all doin'?" Rogue asks curiously, wincing
as she attempts to lean forward despite the protests of her
cracked ribs and bruised intercostal muscles.
"Lie back, dear," he suggests, continuing writing,
"Your ribs may take a week or two to heal."
The X-Woman sighs, nestling back into the large pillow.
"Ah hate bein' injured. Hate bein' treated like a child,
or an invalid."
"Enjoy it. It is not often that you get waited on hand
"Ah know but Ah'd rather have mah own back."
She closes her eyes and descends into sleep.
It happens again.
Sarah is standing before an altar, dressed in a loose, white
robe. The implements of her ritual lie on the slab of granite
- the bone-knife, the Queen of Hearts, the angel. A tall man
is behind her, handing her a smouldering taper. She looks
up at him, so powerful, so beautiful; surely he can save her?
His golden hair gleams as he bends over and touches a glowing
splint of his own to a candle. The room is filled with them
- sullen, brooding ones that splutter and choke on their own
wax; elegant, graceful ones that stand like sentinels; stout,
maternal ones that watch over her.
The flickering light plays over the face of the little girl
next to her. Barefoot and dressed in a too-thin cotton pinafore,
the child smiles back at her, dimples forming in her rounded
cheeks. Her brown hair is scraped back in two severe braids
and her green eyes are filled with an indefinable sadness.
"Can't we escape?" she whispers, leaning close
enough to Sarah for her to smell carbolic soap and grass,
"Run away from him?"
Marrow shakes her head, setting another candle alight.
"He'll rescue us, Angela. Wait and see."
"I don't want him to," the girl makes a face, "He
scares me, Sarah. He wants to hurt us."
"Don't worry. I'll protect you."
Angela nods her head, twisting her white dress with her plump
hands. As the light becomes brighter, it becomes increasingly
clear that her brown legs are scratched and bruised; her left
eye is surrounded with blue and black; her arm has a gash
running from elbow to shoulder.
"I know, but you can't save me. Only the Prince can
"There is no Prince. Only the Angel of Mercy who watches
over us, who cares for us, who rescues us."
"Both of you are wrong," a third voice interjects.
Sarah and Angela turn to face the speaker. She is a gangly
African-American girl dressed in an old-fashioned, Victorian
frock and trailing a jumprope. All arms, grin and legs, she
approaches them. As the stranger comes from the shadows into
the light, Marrow gasps, recoiling in horror. The child's
eyes are perfectly opaque; milky spheres in her dark face.
The girl's voice becomes sing-song as she flicks the jumprope
over and over, skipping in a rhythmic beat,
"Princes, angels and white knights
cannot save us from our plights.
Blind, broken and weary,
no-one comes to set us free.
You save you and I save me,
but how long til we are free?
One, two, three, four . . . ."
The counting continues, as regular as a breath on misted
glass, transporting Marrow to somewhere beyond dreams.
Jean Grey watches Angel with consternation. The only sign
of life he displays is the sine-curve on the electrocardiogram,
and the quiet hum of the respirator. His feathered wings are
crumpled beneath him, torn and broken. Even if he does survive,
it will be a while before he flies again. Driven by some need
to express a pain too deep for words, Jean takes his hand
in his and prays.
Continued in Chapter 12.
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