i. clotho, the spinner
She stops somewhere along the highway a few hours outside of San Francisco. The roadside motel is sad, and the bar beside it— defined as such by the neon sign above the door reading ‘B-R’— is even sadder. Inside, it's dimly lit and grimy, a forgotten dive, with air thickened by blue-white smoke. A few old-timers sit hunched over their drinks. Their bleary eyes are fixed on the ice hockey game playing on an ancient television behind the bar.
Hovering by the entrance, she breathes it all in. This will do nicely.
Rogue— no, you are Marie now, only Marie, simply Marie — saunters towards a seat at the dimly lit end of the long wooden stretch of bar. Once ensconced in the shadows, she tugs off her satin opera gloves, finger by finger, a private ritual. None of the patrons look at her. The bartender approaches her slowly with a wary expression on his wizened face.
Ready for a fight, she arches a plucked brow. Then reminds herself: she is just Marie now. Just a woman in need of whisky. Nothing to be feared. Nothing objectionable.
You are safe. Safe to others, safe to yourself.
So Marie tells him as much, or in any case, she tells him about the whisky part. He nods, reaching for the Jack Daniels, but freezes when Marie clicks her tongue at him. He looks back at her over his shoulder and she shakes her head.
“The good stuff.” She scans the shelves’ contents for a moment, then points upwards. “The Laphroaig.”
With a bemused nod, the old man pushes onto his toes to reach for the tall green bottle. It’s unopened so he breaks the seal, then shuffles back, grabbing a tumbler and setting it before her. After pouring, he caps the bottle and moves to return it. Marie snatches at his wrist, holding him in place. She stares down at their hands.
How odd, she thinks. Such an inconsequential touch, yet it takes her breath away. The feel of bones under tough, liver-spotted skin… it startles her almost as much as it does the old man. She squeezes, for no other reason than that she can.
She pulls in a deep breath and lets it out slowly. This is the first time she’s come into contact with another’s skin without repercussions since she was fifteen. Nearly ten years ago.
The man grimaces at her.
That, in turn, makes her pull a face: a moue of realization. The strength she’s borrowed (stolen) over the years has mostly faded but she is still strong, strong from years of training and fighting and fending for herself. And she is hurting him.
Hastily, she lets go, muttering, “Leave the bottle.”
“That’s… that’ll be… uh, three hundred and fifty.” His rheumy eyes narrow as they flit over her faded t-shirt, her ripped jeans, the twin streaks of ivory white in her auburn waves. Voice wobbling, he adds, “U-up front.”
Calmly, Marie digs four bills out of her coat pocket. She tosses them onto the bar.
“Keep the change.”
His jaw drops, but only for an instant; with the next breath, his features rearrange themselves into something circumspect. Marie shoots him a lopsided grin. She’s lived under the aegis of the Professor’s wealth for long enough to know this look: it is a look only money can buy.
Money talks. Money also stops others from talking.
Good thing she has plenty of money, since she doesn’t particularly care to speak or be spoken to at the moment. Which is ironic, considering how completely her circumstances have changed in the past twelve hours. Who can predict what the human heart will want?
Human, she thinks. A syringe in your arm and that’s all you are now. No more, no less.
The bartender gathers up the bills and, with the slightest, most respectful dip of his chin, he retreats, leaving Marie to her overpriced liquor and her gloveless hands and her wretched thoughts.
She peers down at those hands, thinking those thoughts. Takes a sip, bracing herself against the whisky’s smooth burn. Studies her hands some more. Another sip. Back to the hands. It has been so long since she’s seen them like this under any light other than that of her private en suite bathroom back in Westchester that the sight of them— tinted red by the neon Budweiser sign hanging behind the bar— is mesmerizing.
So red. Like blood, almost. She turns them this way and that, wiggling her fingers.
She does not think of the battle she watched unfold on the news today. She does not think about the cindered remains of the Professor, or the resurrected Jean, stone faced and terrible, or the grief that surrounded Scott like rushing waters freed by a fallen dam, drowning anyone who got too close. Before he disappeared, that is. Fodder to the Phoenix’s fire, like Xavier, like Logan, like too many of them.
Do not think of the dead or the wounded, she tells herself. Not those who suffered by your hand, nor those who suffered because you walked away.
Rogue never needed to bleed someone to hurt them. That was more Wolverine’s domain. But these are bad memories. She finishes her drink, and pours herself another.
Instead she turns her thoughts to another dive bar. Different from this one but essentially the same, up in the ass end of Canada. Where this whole thing began. Where she’d drifted in on a cutting northern wind and then clung like mad to a man whose primary redeeming qualities were that he was strange (like her) and that he was unafraid (unlike her).
Or maybe it was just that the Wolverine had been better at hiding his fear than she was back then.
Not anymore. Even if you’ve got a dozen faces to choose from, the easiest one to wear is none at all. Detachment has been her best defense for years now. Rogue didn’t need a single penny of the professor’s money to learn that lesson.
But no, she muses, honing in on this question of ‘the beginning’ as the whisky loosens her limbs, burning warmth into her chest and gut. She rests her elbows on the bar and slumps down, getting comfortable. That’s not right.
It all began much earlier than that, way before Logan and the cage fight and Sabertooth’s attack. She’d already been wearing gloves by then, had already been forced to learn the new rules of her body.
And no one had stared, anyway, on account of the brutal Calgary winter.
When had they started staring? Was that the beginning of it all: the stares? They’d sure as hell stared after she’d put her teenage boyfriend in a coma just by kissing him; they’d stared as her mama threw all her things out on the lawn and told her she needed Jesus, that she’d never be clean; they’d stared zooming past in their cars as Marie hitchhiked her way north out of Mississippi in the dead of summer.
Oh, yeah. She’ll never forget those stares. Gloved thumb hanging out, stumbling backwards down the shoulder of the highway. Swaddled in layers of clothing, sweating, terrified and sick and heartbroken. Already shedding pieces of her soul like excess baggage.
That was the beginning, maybe.
Her green nail polish is chipped. Her hands are pale and mostly soft; some spots are calloused from rubbing against the black leather of her uniform gloves.
(That pair is back at the mansion, along with most of her earthly possessions. This isn’t the first time she’s left an entire life behind. Marie has learned this much: the less you take with you, the easier it is to start again. Each totem is an albatross. Bring too many, and you will succumb to your sorrow, sink down in the dark waters and never be seen again.)
When she’s finished with this bottle, Marie reckons she will leave her pretty satin gloves on this bar. She will ‘forget’ her scarf, too, as well as the heavy wool coat she has draped on the back of her bar stool.
They have served their purpose.
Her skin is just skin now.
And besides, you don’t need physical reminders when you carry your victims’ very selves inside you, stolen through an accidental brush here or a foolhardy caress there or sometimes, in frenzied moments, an out-and-out attack, a firm hand laid knowingly. Really, what better souvenir of your own soul could there be than to see yourself at your most vicious, through the eyes of your prey?
Those days are behind her. I am only human now, she tells herself. Whatever happens, is meant to happen.
The field has been leveled, the slate wiped clean.
Should she be cold, then let her freeze. Should the sun burn her, then so be that as well. She’s done with layers, done with hiding. There is no more mystery, no more wonder, but also: no more horror. No more Rogue. She says this softly, under her breath, just to hear the words. To cement the idea in her fractured mind.
“No more Rogue.”
Yeah right, rebuts someone. Johnny. Or Bobby. Both, maybe, in agreement about something for once.
Marie shakes her head, as if they were here to see it. What had Logan said? Something about making sure she was taking the cure for the right reasons, and not some boy. Another shake of her head. No. No more boys. No more teams, no more friends. No more hurting others, no more allowing herself to be hurt.
Just the tattered scraps of a woman named Marie, elbowing for room in her soul beside all the other scraps she’s pilfered along the way. The stragglers. Marie is tired of them all. At least there will be no newcomers from here on out. She looks to the future, uncertain, except for this: a lifetime of tending to these ties that bind, that choke, that fray and fray but never yield. Never snap. Never let her go.
A threadbare quilt of a woman.
She finishes her drink in one swallow, wincing at the burn of it, then reaches for the bottle.
He walks in like he owns the place and immediately, she resents him for it.
Yet her eyes linger, taking in the way his dark trench coat billows around his long jean-clad legs, how his expensive sweater clings to his torso like a second skin. He moves gracefully, like an alleycat, a sort of sinuous saunter. A lean swimmer’s build; a pretty face, with a narrow nose bent just enough to suggest it's been broken at least once and full lips that pout winsomely.
She takes a few mental notes as she studies his attire; there she finds some interesting peculiarities.
The sunglasses he doesn’t remove, not even once he’s seated himself caddy-corner from her at the bar. The fingerless gloves, which also remain. The balaclava, cut away in the face to frame a jaw so sharp it could cut glass and at the scalp so his dark hair may spill haphazardly over his brow.
It’s a look, murmurs a voice in her mind that is not her own. Marie snorts quietly.
Even without the abilities she’s siphoned off of Jean and Xavier, Marie puts these notes together and sees him clear as day: something just a bit removed from normal, guarded, hunted. Mutant. But he's not even trying to hide it, she realizes. She cannot help but gape.
He angles himself so his back is to her, but there is something in the tense line of his broad shoulders… she knows he can feel her eyes on him.
And then he cuts a glance her way. She doesn’t bother to pretend she wasn’t staring because she’s been working on her Laphroaig for about an hour and she ran out of fucks to give several lifetimes ago. He stares back, matching her gall. There they sit, engaged in a silent little staring contest, until the bartender drags himself over to the man. Without looking away from her, the stranger orders, in a Cajun growl: “Mint julep.”
The bartender sneers, unimpressed, but moves away to begin making it.
Marie raises an eyebrow at the stranger.
He is the first to break. He shifts in his seat, turning his face downwards. Although she cannot see his eyes behind his sunglasses, Marie clocks the moment he notices the discarded white gloves, because his full lips quirk.
He tilts his head towards her again. Smirking. Knowing. Pleased.
Marie finishes her drink.
“You remind me a’ someone,” he says, apropos of nothing, two mint juleps later.
Marie keeps her eyes on her hands. “Got that kinda face.”
“Nah, no. It’s more… specific. You hold yourself with the exact same posture of a man I used to know. Real feral guy. Always spoilin’ for a fight.”
Intriguing. She still denies him the satisfaction of her full attention, but she does rifle through what little remains of Logan’s memories to see if the man is telling the truth. When nothing comes to mind, she lifts one shoulder in a disinterested shrug. It might be true, it might not. Logan’s memories are notoriously elusive, anyway.
“Rage issues,” he says, his tone conversational.
“Everyone’s got their cross to bear,” she says primly.
“What’s yours, chérie?”
“None of your business.”
“Maybe I can guess.”
She scoffs. “Doubtful.”
He changes tacks. “Wanna see a magic trick?” It’s a cheap ploy but it works; Marie looks up just in time to catch him pulling a card from thin air. Queen of Diamonds. It floats, glowing red and revolving slowly, above his gloved palm. Her heart skips a beat as she casts about, but no one is paying them any mind.
The stranger chuckles, amused with himself. Damn him. Her hands ball into fists; she longs to wipe that good humor off his pretty face. How very nice it must be for him, to have a mutation that doubles for a ridiculous parlor trick.
“That ain’t magic,” she snaps.
“Ah, no? What d’you call it, then?”
She shifts her gaze towards the tv, feigning interest in the decade-old hockey game— Logan murmurs his approval— but not so quickly that she misses the flush that climbs up his cheeks.
A drink later and Marie shakes off the whisky haze enough to realize he’s moved closer, onto the unoccupied bar stool beside her own.
Yeah, she’s good and buzzed now, despite the lingering traces of Logan’s high tolerance.
She levels him with her best foreboding glare, but that only seems to encourage him. He leans toward her, sloshing the ice around in the sugary, watered-down bourbon.
“You look lonely,” he says.
“Looks can be deceiving.”
To demonstrate, he holds his arms out, causing his sweater to rise. A glimpse of a chiseled abdomen appears between the waistband of his tactical pants and sweater hem. Marie’s eyes are drawn to it, then drift up to his face. He is watching her with a suggestive smile.
“What you see is what you get,” he tells her. “Open book.”
Right then and there, despite the fact she knows he’s lying, despite how obnoxious she finds him, despite all the alarm bells going off in her mind, despite how very new all of this is to her, Marie decides she’s going to fuck this stranger.
He pulls off his sunglasses and his dark eyes meet hers. Not simply dark in the traditional ‘tall, dark, and handsome’ sense.
Not a bit of white, which makes them appear depthless, and at their center where his iris should be: red. Like two burning coals. So red. Red like the buzzing Budweiser sign overhead, red like Marie's hands, red like Jean's hair the moment before the deluge at Alkali Lake claimed her, red like the blood splattering on Logan’s face whenever he unsheathes his claws, red like the fiery energy beaming from Scott’s eyes when he looked to kill.
Red, red, red.
“Mm-hmm,” he says, all self-satisfied confidence.
She couldn’t look away even if she wanted to. Marie would like to think she is the one calling the shots. She could stand up and walk out of here, be on her merry way. She could deliver a well-placed jab to his throat, leaving him gasping, and then a solid kick to the balls, dropping him like a ton of bricks.
She could grab him by the collar and lick that devastatingly sharp jaw from ear to ear.
But staring into those strange, hypnotic eyes, her choice feels like a foregone conclusion.
Marie swallows hard. “Of what?”
He sighs. “How long do we keep on pretending like this?”
“I’m just here to drink, mister—”
“Remy LeBeau, at your service.” He toasts to her, then finishes his drink. “So was I.” His eyes slip down to the glass, only muddled mint leaves and ice chips remaining. “All out, now.”
“Not my problem.”
“Could share some of that mighty fine whisky you got.”
“I could,” she says, considering. “…But I won’t.”
That earns a soft laugh. “What would happen to me right now if I—”
Marie tenses. He picks up on it, pausing for a second, then his smile widens. Laying one arm along the back of her bar stool, he leans in closer. Close enough for her to catch a whiff of smoky bourbon on his breath, close enough for her to see the stubble rising up to his high, sharp cheekbones.
“—took a hold of your hand?”
“Real cute,” she grumbles.
“I thank you for saying so, petite.” His smile mellows to something coy. Flirtatious. He flicks his gaze down to her chest, then licks his lips. She hates herself for how her body responds: kickstart heart, racing pulse, fluttering cunt.
She squeezes her thighs together like a reprimand and an appeasement, but it’s futile.
You’re smarter than this, kid. Logan’s voice, gruff with warning. Shut up, she thinks. But he’s not wrong. Marie is too smart to fall for a card trick and a pretty face.
“Cut the bullshit,” she says, obstinate. “What d'ya want?”
“What’s on offer, pretty girl?”
“Marie,” she corrects.
“Maaaar-r-rie,” he says. “Ça va, Marie?”
She runs her liquor-numbed tongue along her teeth, taking him in. Tall, lean, muscled. Handsome, with an edge. She wonders if the sleazy charm is part of the package, a mutation all its own, or just an affectation. Either way, she determines, he’s a perfectly acceptable first fuck. She figures she’ll only mildly regret choosing such a rake once it’s all over.
The lone bathroom door tempts her from the back of the bar. She studies it for a moment. Painted black and covered in graffiti, it promises seediness and sin. But she turns away, deciding: no. Marie doesn’t have much left in the way of sentiment, but she’s not in any rush either and after years of living under Xavier’s roof, she has developed a taste for comfort.
Her first time will be in a bed.
Mind made up, she throws back the remainder of her drink, grabs the bottle, and rises from her seat. She passes behind Remy, who watches all of this with undisguised interest. Leaning in close enough that her lips brush his ear, she lays a hand on his shoulder and whispers, “I’m in the motel across the parking lot. Room 103. You got fifteen minutes, then I’m lockin’ the door and gettin’ intimate with my vibrator.”
She doesn’t wait to see what he’ll say and she doesn’t look back as she struts out of the bar. The gloves remain where she left them.
Whatever will be, will be.
After knocking on the door of her dingy motel room, he barely waits for her to open it before barreling past her, slamming it shut and locking it, then turning to fix those demon eyes on her. It has her wet already, just at the thought of being touched, and especially being touched by him.
He herds her back against the wall and dips his head down to kiss her— a hard, bruising kiss. She tastes liquor and something else, something that is not the taste of her own mouth. And it is so strange because she has been kissed before, but never without the specter of fear, a primordial worry for the sanctity of her own mind and for her partner’s life. After that first kiss all those years ago, there have been no kisses that didn’t taste at least a little like terror.
But this is just sloppy tongues and teeth clacking, her thighs hefted up around his waist so he can push her against the wall and grind into her, hard and ready. He's already reaching for her shirt, her bra, so eager to have her naked, palming her heavy breasts then squeezing with enough force to verge on pain. Nothing tender or careful about him.
But maybe in that lack of tenderness, there is also a lack of danger. Marie doesn't need a romance for the ages. She doesn't need to bring anything with her when she leaves this motel. She just needs to get laid. Immediately.
The world spins for a moment. When it comes to rest, she’s laying on the mattress. She leans back on her elbows to watch. He shucks the trench coat and sweater, the balaclava and the gloves. He tosses his clothing haphazardly on a chair. The weapons he's hidden in the layers glint as they are exposed: a hilted knife at his belt, two more at his sides.
That should be enough to give her pause but it isn’t. His tanned body is chiaroscuro perfection in the filtered light coming through the closed blinds and she doesn’t care about anything else.
Marie wriggles out of her own clothes, then splays her legs and touches herself, gently, just warming up. He stops to palm himself through his pants, eyes on her cunt, seemingly forgetting what he was doing. Sinking her teeth into her bottom lip, she parts herself for him to see. The act makes him grunt. With a slight toss of his hair, he turns from her so he can perch on the foot of the bed.
Marie laughs, enjoying this view just as much. She strums her clit, admiring the way the muscles in his back shift and bunch while he unlaces and removes his big shitkicking boots. She’s wet now, wet enough that her fingers glide over her clit with barely any friction. The thought of scratching that back to hell once she’s got him between her thighs has her clenching, that wetness seeping down over her ass to stain the bedding.
He’ll remember her when this is all over, same as she will him. Hell, this motel room will remember, if Marie has anything to say about it.
When he stands once more, she notices he hasn’t bothered with his socks.
(There’s something silly about a man’s socks, she thinks whimsically. No matter how big and tough the man is, no matter the bravado or bluster, they still have to wear socks. It humanizes them, somehow. Minimizes them a bit. Even Remy— who she suspects might not have a humble bone in his gloriously naked adonis body— wears thick, practical socks. At the sight of them, rising halfway up his hairy calves, she laughs to herself. Five bucks says they came in a pack of ten.)
Her amusement is enough to distract her from Remy crawling up the bed towards her, his leaking erection bobbing up against his belly. With one hard tug, he pulls her to him, skin to skin. A warm hand on her back has her bowing so he can take a nipple in his mouth. She gasps.
He’s an impatient lover, she finds, as one finger slides into her with barely any resistance. She might have guessed as much, but then: all of this is so new. So different. So good.
“Ah, fuck,” she whines, threading her fingers through his soft hair. He smells good up close, like a bar and the open road and leather.
It is so much, all at once. Nearly too much and also, after so many years of layers and careful touches and gloved hands, nowhere near enough.
He glances up, releasing her with a wet ‘pop’. On his way towards the other breast, he sighs, “Good?”
Kneading her clit with the heel of his hand, he adds another finger, testing. He leaves a trail of kisses up her throat to that sensitive patch of skin behind her ear. And it is good, so good, but before Marie can really begin to enjoy it, he pulls away.
She knows exactly what she’s signed up for though, so when she feels the blunt tip of his cock nudging at her, she’s ready enough to wrap her arms around his neck, drag him down to her, and groan, “Do it.”
In one solid, pinching, burning thrust, he does. She barely manages to stifle a whimper, and then she is full, so full, so wildly and opulently full of him.
There is too much sensory input. The faded traces of his cologne, something spicy and citrus, along with the bourbon and the room’s decades of cigarette smoke. The coverlet beneath her, scratchy polyester. The warmth and weight of his body atop hers, heavy and muscled and anchoring her to this moment. So many fucking sensations, every bit of her skin lit up. And good Lord, maybe her mama was right, maybe she really does need Jesus after all, because she loves it. Right away, she knows that she needs this, that she doesn’t want to give this up now, not ever…
He stills inside her, breathing heavily. Glowing red eyes dance over her face, then down to her breasts, heaving, nipples standing at attention, then further down to her tensed stomach and then to where they are joined. Her muscled thighs grip his slim waist, pulling him in. Closer, deeper.
God, this is what she’s been missing all this time?
She rolls her hips, an experimental flex, and gasps at the feel of him brushing against her clit. He groans, hiding his face in her sweat-dewed neck, and pulls out, only to thrust his way back in, slowly, inch by inch and with agonizing care. It’s a more restrained approach and it’s so good Marie cannot stop the whimper that escapes her this time.
“You didn't tell me it was your first time,” he mutters, practically a growl.
She should be furious with his presumption, or demand an explanation as to how he knew, but nothing matters save for the feeling of him, buried to the hilt, giving her all of it.
Maybe that should probably worry her.
It’s just sex, she thinks. Don’t you dare fall for a troublemaker like this one.
“And?” she finally manages, clamping down on him, squeezing him. Urging him.
He snuffles in her ear, pushes closer. “Coulda’ made it nicer for you.”
“If I had wanted nice,” she grits out, digging her nails into the meat of his shoulders just like she’d fantasized, “I wouldn’t have picked up a stranger in the bar. Now c’mon, sugah. Make it worth my while.”
He kisses her, gently, an attempt at something sweet. Just their lips touching, just breaths mingled. And it is sweet. So sweet it tastes like a beginning, but Marie doesn’t want any more beginnings, not with him. This is an ending: one final brush with everything she’s leaving behind before she settles down to a humdrum human life.
So she nips at his lips, and tugs his hair, and slaps his ass, and scores her nails down his back, all while whispering the nastiest shit she can think of in his ear, until he gives her what she wants.
He fucks her, hard. Like he hates her, like he blames her for everything that’s ever gone wrong almost as much as she blames herself.
Hours later, sated and sore, Marie lies on her belly, head pillowed on his shoulder, pondering the life choices that have led her to this moment. They are both quiet, lost in their separate thoughts. A moth flits between the two bedside lamps they turned on at some point between rounds of fucking. Night has fallen, the world outside dark and silent save for the occasional swishing of a passing car. The room is warm, the sheets damp with their sweat; yellow light splashes over their naked bodies, casting shadows in the valleys of the sheets.
Remy runs the tips of his fingers over her bare back. Just that gentle pressure sends a shiver of sparkling pleasure up her spine. It’s a change from the ferocity of earlier— each round of sex like a power struggle— but she’s too sleepy now to call him on it and in truth, she already enjoys this too much, wants the feel of his hands on her any way she can get it. So she simply stares at the corner of his mouth. It’s a good mouth. She knows how it feels to be kissed by this mouth, to be sucked and licked and nibbled on by this mouth.
A week ago, she was a cloistered member of a team of do-gooder mutants. Untouchable. Girlfriend to a man whose eye was beginning to wander.
How things change.
Almost as though he can hear her thoughts, Remy says, “Think maybe it was fate I walked into the same bar as you today?”
“I don’t believe in any fate but the one I make for myself,” she declares.
“You so sure about that?” He chuckles, his shoulder shaking under her cheek. “You didn’t plan to meet me, did you?”
“I chose to acknowledge you. Coulda’ ignored you.”
“Maybe I had some part in it,” he says. “Been told I'm pretty charmin’.”
“Hey now," he says, giving mock offense. “You don’t think a girl like you could fall for a guy like me?” Though he tries to pass the question off as unstudied, there’s something in the way he drops his eyes that gives her pause.
Marie rises up on her elbows so she can properly glare at him. “If you got something to say, have out with it.”
He shrugs. “The thing is, Rogue, we both know you’re no regular girl. You’re special. You can do… incredible things. Unbelievable things. I heard all about it. Heard all about you.”
She goes completely still. Even the blood in her veins feels frozen. Only her heart continues on, pounding in her ears.
From nowhere, absolutely nowhere, he procures a playing card. The Queen of Diamonds. He does something to it. Crackling red light flows from his fingertips, fills it with… some kind of charge. It glows ever brighter, redder and redder. She can feel the heat it throws off.
“And me?” he says.
With a flick of his hand, he sends the card whizzing across the room. It slices through the television as though the device were made of butter. Marie sits up to get a better view; the card is buried in the plaster walling behind the tv. It’s a shocking display of power, perfectly self-contained. He is utterly in control of it and it makes her so envious she could cry.
“I’m no slouch myself.”
Red sparks pop and sizzle behind the jagged hole in the glass screen, as though they were watching New Years fireworks.
Red, red, red.
“Think a’ what we could do together.”
How loudly the universe is screaming at her that this is the beginning. But Marie doesn’t want it: not whatever he’s selling, not him, not mutants, not trouble, not danger. No more hurting, no more being hurt. Just a good hard fuck, to get it over and done with, then the rest of her life, something quiet and mundane and nice. Pleasant.
“You got me all wrong,” she says.
“Guessing you learned to control it, huh?”
She presses her lips together.
“Hey, not complaining.” He lays his hand on her back again: casual, almost a possessive gesture. She climbs out of the bed, grabbing her silk bathrobe from a nearby chair.
“I don’t know what you mean,” she lies.
Remy sits up. “I think you do, Rogue.”
She never told him that name. He keeps calling her by it but she never granted him that part of herself. This was not the deal. Her stomach drops.
“You got the wrong girl,” she insists. “I… took the drug. The cure.”
For the first time all evening, she sees a crack in the bravado; his grin falls away, sinking into a solemn expression. He rises from the bed as well, never taking his eyes off her. Across rumpled sheets, they stand off.
“No,” he finally says, sounding distraught. “Tell me you did not.”
Marie lifts her chin. “I ain’t sorry—you lookin’ for an apology, you better not hold your breath.”
“Quoi faire?” he asks, running a hand through his hair. He glances around the room then reaches for his pants, tugging them back on and looping the belt. “Why would you give up what we have?”
Can he really be so childish? What kind of question is that? she wants to scream. How can you compare what you are to what I am?
But he’s leaving, and she’s tired, so she simply says, “Don’t think it’s your place to question why, ‘specially after you just got to enjoy the benefits.”
The sweater is next to be donned. Then he shakes his head. “Ah, but this a great shame.” He seats himself on the bed so he can shove his feet back into his boots, not bothering with the laces. “Great shame.”
Fuck you, spits her teenaged boyfriend, a stray coil of jealousy twisting in her gut, and that is odd, because he has laid dormant in her mind for years now. Not that she doesn’t agree, because really, the gall of Remy to say such a thing right now, but even so… what timing.
Is it sex? she wonders. Did that rile up his memory? If she hadn’t put him in a coma that day, that day when she was still so young, eyes bigger than her stomach, dreams bigger than her means, when she showed him the plans she'd made and he kissed her so gently, so sweetly… maybe she would’ve slept with him, that day, her bare hand clamped over her own mouth so she didn’t alert her parents who were going about their day downstairs, her childhood bed squeaking as she lived out a normal teenage day.
Maybe her whole life would’ve carried on in another direction. Maybe she would’ve been pleasant and mundane for years now, bored with it already. Maybe she will be soon enough anyway.
Marie shakes off the thought. “How'd you find me?”
Weapons strapped to himself once more, he’s got an arm in his trench coat sleeve and is yanking on the other. “In this day and age? Anybody can be found.”
“Where are you going?”
Remy sighs. “Got a job to do and I’m sorry to say it, but… you’re no good to me like this.”
“Fuck you, Remy.”
His laugh is a bitter sound. “I'm no more Remy than you are Marie.” Those bottomless black eyes fix her with a stern gaze, all flirtatious pretense dropped. “You might not be no mutant, but you really think you can take a drug and wash your hands of this? The whole world forgets your past?”
“I don’t think anything,” she says, deadly calm. “I know I can, ‘cause I did.”
“Ain’t that a pretty lie. Hope it helps you sleep at night.”
“Fuck you,” she says again, choking on tears.
‘Atta girl, thinks someone.
He adjusts his modified balaclava into place, yanks on his fingerless gloves. Then he opens the door. “Nah, once was good for me. Now you are just a woman—and there are plenty of those around.”
That’s too much, even for Marie; it takes two steps to cross the room and then she has him shoved against the opened door, ready to haul off and punch those straight white teeth out of his pretty mouth.
“Say that again, I dare you.”
“That’s what gets you angry? I’m no good guy, petite. You knew that. You see, I wanted you as you were. What you are now—can’t work with that.” Ignoring the fist she’s using to hold his collar, he gives a careless shake of his head and stares at her with an inscrutable expression.
Unphased by any of this. Indifferent to her pain.
Marie rears back and slaps him. He takes it, but when she swings for a second slap, he catches her by the wrist. He doesn’t say anything, only shakes his head at her.
“Get out,” she says, low.
Remy nods. “Oui, okay. You take care of yourself, chérie. Look out for number one. I know you will. In the end, that’s what people like us are best at.”
Jaw set, arms crossed, she scowls at him. Without another word, he turns and stomps down the motel sidewalk towards a big, ugly motorcycle. He settles onto it, yanking on his helmet. The engine revs. The wheels kick up a cloud of dust as he does a loop around the dirt parking lot, maybe just to annoy her and then, without looking back, he rides out onto the highway.
Marie watches from the doorway, listening to the roar of his engine fade to a buzz, then a faint hum, then to nothing. Eventually, his red tail lights disappear into the darkness. He’s gone.
She thinks about Logan, no doubt doing his best to keep the ragtag remains of the X-Men together right now. Thinks about Jean, who died a hero and then died a villain. About Scott, who only ever loved his wife, only ever wanted to do the right thing. About Storm, who never, ever gives up. Who holds the line, no matter what it costs her personally. About Bobby, who loved Rogue, even when love was not enough. About Johnny, who found no peace in peace.
About the Professor. Father to so many. A flawed man, but a good one. She even thinks about Erik, cautiously, so as not to invite any contribution from his phantom. She huffs. He would be affronted by the choice she has made. He looks at humanity and sees an abomination. He stays quiet.
She wonders what the job was Remy wanted her for.
Then she wonders why she’s wondering.
At last, slumped against the door, half in darkness, half in light, Marie allows her defenses to drop.
For a moment, she sees herself clearly, exactly as she is.
Here she finds shame.
Beneath it: doubt.
And beneath that: the raw, bitter stirrings of regret.
ii. lachesis, the allotter
Life goes on. She’s got money; Logan made sure of that. So she moves to the southwest, rents a house with a pool in the suburbs, and buys a big ugly motorcycle all her own. She possesses neither gloves nor scarves. At night when the winds sweep through the streets and steal the heat from the air, she concedes as far as a sweater, but no further. During the day, under the merciless Nevada sun, she sips on beer and mint juleps and floats around her pool in the scrappiest, skimpiest bikinis she can buy. When the heat becomes unbearable, she rolls off her float and sinks into the warm turquoise water and thinks of nothing, remembers nothing, just exists.
Pool parties are a regular, almost daily occurrence; she becomes popular in her neighborhood. People come and go through her house at all hours. Her doors are never locked. Beer bottles and ash trays and pizza boxes litter the flat surfaces of the house, which is never quiet; an album is always playing on the vintage record player she bought on impulse from some hipster boutique in town.
She takes her big ugly motorcycle out for rides at sunset during that beautiful hour where the sunlight stretches golden fingers across the hills and valleys, the scrub and cacti.
Sometimes she brings her lovers with her, sometimes she rides alone.
Many nights, she goes downtown to her favorite bar, a kitschy tourist trap decorated with Route 66 memorabilia and posters of the Grand Canyon. She picks up someone who’s passing through for a night, brings them home. Kisses like she’s never been afraid of it, tosses her head back when she laughs as though she’s merely an untroubled young woman living her best life. Human. No more and no less.
Mostly, at first, she’s not too picky. If everything at the buffet is delicious, what does the meal matter to a woman half-starved?
In time, she develops favorites. Tall, angular women with red hair. Lithe, dark-eyed scoundrel types, especially those with deep southern accents. Gruff tattooed bikers, all leather and denim and cigar smoke.
And eventually, she begins to gravitate towards suit-clad older men. Maybe if she takes home enough middle manager types, she might somehow get out of her own way, grow up and become the woman she was meant to be before her mutation blew her so far off track.
Or maybe she just likes how eager to please they are. Happy just to be noticed by a feisty young thing like her, content with whatever she’ll throw their way. Never looking for anything too meaningful.
It’s not a bad way to live.
When her lovers ask if she is happy, Marie always smiles. Her answer is a simple, “Yep.”
No more, no less.
If there is a sense that her best days are behind her, that she has mishandled something of immeasurable importance, that though she is not yet thirty she has reached the twilight of her life, well… that’s why booze and pot and music and pool parties exist.
A few weeks pass this way, then a few months. She rarely wakes before noon. She stays up half the night. She sleeps fitfully. She dreams she is an ancient king of old: everything she touches turns to gold, as ageless and precious as it is dead.
The phone she owned in her do-gooder days is long gone, so she has no idea if anyone is trying to find her. She recalls what Remy said about being able to find anyone in this day and age. That goes doubly when you’ve got telepaths on your side. If the people who once claimed to love her wanted to see her… they would.
No one ever shows up.
She can touch anything and anyone she pleases now, but nothing really touches her. Life blurs into endless halves. Half-days, half-nights, half-joy, half-sorrow, half-living, and half-dying.
Marie never complains. This is everything she ever wanted, after all.
And then, on a night like any other, she brings home a man named Adam.
Adam is some kind of manager at a casino in Vegas. Blandly handsome, blond with soft blue eyes and a softer chin; he reminds her, ever so slightly, of what Bobby might look like someday. She tells herself Bobby doesn’t matter to her anymore, but… maybe she still wants to fuck a Bobby proxy, just for the thrilling revenge of it.
Besides, from the moment she enters the bar his eyes never stray from her. He flirts so persistently yet so bumblingly that Marie figures, what the hell. He’s handsome in a dad way, confident enough in his approach. Not a bad thing in the boudoir.
It all happens so quickly. Roaring down side streets on her Harley, buzzed and eager to get home, she checks her mirrors to make sure Adam is keeping up in his sedan. She nearly loses him at a light several blocks from her house when she flies through the yellow and he hesitates a moment too long, getting stuck at the red.
But he catches up.
Her arm looped in his, they amble up the front walk together. Pulling him inside by his tie, she gestures for him to ignore the random freeloader passed out on the couch. She leads him up the stairs, giggling, then shoves him onto her unmade bed.
There’s nothing hesitant or sweet in the way she kisses him— not like how she used to kiss Bobby— but then, there never is with the ones she picks up at the bar.
And thank God for that.
Adam is quick to roll her under him, which is fine by her. Top, bottom: it hardly matters, as long as she gets off. Twining her arms around his shoulders and her legs, his hips, she presses against him, the fly of her jeans doing miraculous things.
He moans into her mouth, unabashed. She’s barely even warmed up before he leans back on his haunches, tearing his shirt off then frantically pawing at his belt, wriggling out of the rest of his clothes. He’s back on her in an instant, helping her free of her boots, her minidress, her bra, her underwear.
She sneaks glimpses of him between kisses. He’s soft around the middle, out of shape, perhaps from too many beer-filled nights like this one. Already panting, though they’ve done little more than make out. He gapes at Marie’s breasts like a drowning man sighting land on the horizon.
It would be a lie to say she doesn’t enjoy that.
“C’mere, honey,” she says, crooking her finger at him. Laying it on thick. He obeys.
Pressing her into the mattress, he has his tongue down her throat and his fingers up her cunt so quickly she gasps against his lips, which draws another lewd moan from him.
Then another. And another, but… the tenor of the moan has changed slightly. Stretched out, lowering to a guttural sound, a continuous moan that keeps going and going. Alarmed, Marie opens her eyes. She stares up at him and he stares back, retracting his fingers from her. He looks afraid. He’s still moaning.
The moan turns pained, higher pitched and sharp with desperation.
A shudder passes through him, then another. He begins trembling. With a pained grunt, he collapses, a heavy weight. It gets worse. Though she plants her hand on his chest and shoves, she cannot move him. No longer in control of his limbs, he flails atop her.
And then the floodgates open.
She hears a sound like a high clear whistle as his mind pours into hers. A faraway train pulling into the station, at last.
She sees his whole life before her eyes: the boring job he hates, the grudge he holds against his supervisors for undervaluing his efforts, childhood ambitions of joining the military like his father dashed by a bum knee, weekly poker nights with his friends, two creams and two sugars in his coffee every morning, the younger brother who no longer speaks to him, the health scare he had last year.
It keeps going. Deeper, ever deeper into his mind. His wife waiting up for him at night, the arguments, the gold ring he’s hidden in his car’s glove compartment, the floor plans and schematics he’s stolen from work, stored in the vault in the basement, all the nights spent drinking in clubs and picking up younger women, desperate to feel young again himself. To feel alive. His guilt, his shame, each time promising himself it won’t happen again.
Two daughters, golden hair in ringlets, impossibly big eyes. Shaking him from a hungover stupor. Begging him to make them pancakes, watch them ride their bikes, fill the blow-up pool in the driveway, take them for ice cream…
A life, a normal one, full of all the boring and good and sad that comes along with it.
No, thinks Marie, pushing at his chest without avail. Please, God, no. No more, not this. Not now.
It’s too much. They're touching everywhere, too much skin and skin, and there is no respite. She finds herself hating him for his weakness, his humanity, all the ways he’s ruined his normal life.
And for this: she was free. Maybe she wasn’t truly happy, maybe she was. But she was done with this. A howl bubbles up her throat and she makes no effort to curb it: a scream of rage and frustration. Heartbreak. Dismay.
She cannot move him; he is heavy, her shocked reception of his mind is too much, she has gone soft from months of dissolution and drinking. He is pressing her into the mattress. A desperate sob escapes her as she attempts to roll herself and him with her. It does not work. She is trapped.
Wut, tod, verschlingen.
No, no, no. Marie knows that voice; it’s a shade that only dares show itself at her lowest, darkest moments.
Töte ihn, Rogue, she hears. Erik’s voice in her mind is a deep baritone, his pronunciation rolling and rich, aristocratic. A hard-earned affectation, she knows, because she has seen where he came from. Everything Erik— Magneto— has ever had, ever been, he has fought for. They have always been alike in that way.
It’s what he deserves, he urges. Take it, my dear. This is your birthright. What you are meant to be.
“Stop!” she screams aloud, at Erik or Adam, she isn’t sure. “Get off me!”
But he can’t, poor Adam. She’s already pulled too much from him; he’s begun to froth at the mouth, a dark web of veins bulging and writhing under his skin, as though he is being deluged with venomous ichor, full to bursting and at the same time, drained to nothing but a desiccated husk.
Marie whimpers through clenched teeth. “Adam, move. Please. You gotta move, dammit!” Again, she pushes at him. Again, his body jerks against her. “Get off a’ me!”
All his ugliest secrets, now, are there for the taking. There is no stopping it from happening, no unseeing: the pornographic magazines he’s locked up in the shed out back with the lawnmower and the weedwacker; that time he slept with his wife’s best friend at his sister-in-law’s wedding; all the one night stands; all his acts of malicious compliance while on the job, tiny failed rebellions scattered like roadkill throughout the years…
An entire lifetime, a history, a soul, all of it flooding her mind. Momentarily, Marie is lost in the sea of Adam.
What is happening to me? they think as one, confused. What are you doing to me?
Am I dying?
At last, it stops.
With one final convulsion, Adam goes still, his head drooping to rest on the pillow beside her own.
Trembling and nauseous, Marie is finally able to roll him away now that he is unmoving. She scrambles off the bed towards her bathroom, stomach roiling, and makes it to the toilet just in time to throw up what feels like everything she’s ever eaten. By the time she's finished, tears streak down her cheeks and she's shivering.
With a groan, she grabs hold of the vanity and pulls herself to her feet. In the mirror, she sees a scared, naked woman. There are dark trails in her carefully applied makeup.
That doesn’t make sense. She’s a middle-aged man with a wife and two kids. Isn’t she?
That’s not right.
Marie touches her pale breasts, lightly, just assessing, then drags her fingers down over her soft stomach to the thatch of curls over her cunt.
She was just thinking about how much she’d like to fuck this cunt, how good these tits would feel in her hands.
No. Her gut twists afresh. No, no she wasn’t. That was Adam.
What have you done? asks a voice. Adam’s voice, bewildered. Afraid. What is this?
Marie looks up at her reflection. There it is: she can see it now, the dividing line where her thoughts end and Adam’s begin. Hastily, before she loses it, she gives a mental heave, forcing him into the vault with all the others, wresting back control. She leans on the counter and stares into her own eyes— brown not blue, her eyes are brown, they have always been brown— and wills her panic to subside. She smiles, checking to make sure the gap in her teeth is still there. She looks for the scar just below her chin from when she fell out of that oak in the backyard. It’s all there.
This is your face, this is your body.
Deep breath in, deep breath out. The tears slow, then stop. She wipes her cheeks dry.
Several whisper within her mind, all at once. Adam’s voice is the freshest but Logan is in there as well, growling with disappointment, along with Jean and Erik and that poor, poor teenage boyfriend of hers.
Outrage, confusion, concern.
Sorry, y’all, she thinks.
Sorry? Sorry? Adam again. She can taste his rising despair: sour bile, faintly metallic.
She pads out of the bathroom and pauses at the foot of the bed. Adam’s body lies where she left it, naked and sprawled atop the mussed bedding.
And very, very dead.
Seeing what she sees, Adam recoils in horror. What have you done? He’s already beginning to understand, but he wants so desperately not to.
You’re with me now, sugar, she tells him.
I don’t—I don’t—
The cure was no cure at all, Marie muses, feeling nothing, feeling numb. She picks up her phone and drifts towards her closet, reaching for the old duffel bag tucked away on the top shelf. There is no cure. There never was.
What… happens now?
She isn’t certain who asked that.
“No more running,” she answers aloud.
The valley is cool at night. She has changed into a sweater, jeans, and boots, plus a cheap pair of stretchy polyester gloves purchased at a 24-hour pharmacy. She leans against her bike, parked on a scenic viewpoint on the side of the one-lane highway. On a clear day, she would be able to spy the jagged blue-green peaks to the north. Right now, she sees little besides the taillights of a passing eighteen-wheeler. Bored, she checks her phone again: the coordinates are correct. Now all she has to do is wait.
It begins as a low whine from far off. The wind picks up. It whips her hair around until, annoyed, she ties back.
The Blackbird is nearly impossible to make out against the velvet black sky, save for the stars it blots out. It is an absence of light, a moveable void in the night, a hulking presence, until the jet flies low enough that the ground rumbles with the energy it emits and she feels the warmth of its engines. It is no ordinary plane that needs a runway to take off or land. It just… settles down onto the valley floor, as a true blackbird might.
Less than a minute later, the loading ramp lowers.
Out stomps Logan, looking surly and chagrined and wild as ever.
His eyes meet Rogue’s. Even from a distance, she can see his broad shoulders droop. She knows why.
And she doesn’t cry, but Lord almighty, it’s a close call.
By the time they reach the suburbs of Vegas, Adam has long since fallen quiet. Rogue has no doubt he will reappear at some point, that the traces of him will pop up now and then for the rest of her life.
That’s just how it goes with the ones she kills.
She checks the rear view mirror of Adam’s sedan. Logan is bringing up the rear, riding her Harley. Not wearing a helmet, she notes fondly, but then again, has he ever?
He was, of course, less than pleased to hear from her, once she’d relayed her present circumstances and the favor she’d need. There’d been several minutes of silence after she’d finished. There she’d dangled, awaiting judgement, awaiting censure, until at last, Logan had cleared his throat.
“Don’t touch the body, don’t talk to anyone, don’t do a thing without me,” he’d said. “I’m sending coordinates. Be there in three hours.”
Marie takes the next exit and Logan follows. She pulls into the empty parking lot of a bank. Adam’s bank. It’s quiet at this hour. The sky is only just beginning to lighten in the east.
Logan parks a few spots away. He watches silently, relighting the stump of cigar clenched in his teeth, while she climbs out of the car and crosses the lot to the ATM vestibule.
She withdraws as much cash as the machine allows and pockets it. That makes Adam howl; she ignores him.
When she’s nearly back to the car, Logan grunts, catching her attention. “You said he had two daughters?”
What a thing to be reminded of. It’s the first he’s spoken since he hung up the phone, having merely nodded after he descended from the plane, then climbed onto the back of her bike. His inspection of the scene of the crime— she’d cringed at having him in her bedroom, at the sight of Adam sprawled naked on the bed— had been conducted entirely in reticent disapproval.
But now he speaks.
Rogue turns to study him.
His face is a haunted landscape of valleys and peaks in the sodium orange light from the street lamps; his leather coat and pants gleam, hair untamed as ever, as though he was pulling on it for the duration of the flight out. She thinks she can spot the disillusionment in his narrowed eyes. He’s chomping on that damned cigar like it’ll help him swallow this bitter pill: the fuckup his little Marie has become.
She holds her head high, refusing to be cowed.
“And yer stealing from him. From them.”
“He’s also married,” she says. She sounds harsh, shrill almost, even to her own ears. “But he died tryin’ to fuck me.”
Oh, but that makes her mad, even now. It’s so typically Logan: forever waffling between father and friend.
He fidgets, visibly uncomfortable. She takes a step towards him and he sighs. Holds up his gloved hands.
“Enough. ‘M not here to fight you, kid.”
“Why are you here?” she asks, by which she means: what do I mean to you anymore?
Whether unwilling or unable to meet her eyes, he turns, looking at some distant point in the dark. Scratches his mutton chops with his gloved hand. Cracks his jaw. Takes a long puff on his cigar then holds it out to inspect it, buying himself time.
“Owed you that much, I figured,” he mutters at last.
Rogue remembers a night, many years ago. A new friend thrashing in his bed, trapped in a terrible nightmare. Her meek attempt to soothe his pain; adamantium claws piercing her lungs. The bright, hot knowledge of her own mortality searing her almost as deeply as the physical pain. The anguish written on his face. And then her hand on his cheek, taking from him. Healing herself. She supposes that’s what he means, but it makes her scoff. He doesn’t owe her anything. They both know it, so she calls him on it.
“What do you owe a murderer?”
He grins ruefully, brow quirked. “A badge, maybe. Welcome to the club. We meet on Tuesdays.”
That forces her to swallow past a hard ache in her throat. “Jean—”
“I ain’t here to talk about Jean,” he says. “‘M here to help you take care of a problem, make sure this thing don’t go sideways, and bring you home—”
His gaze swivels back to her. “No?”
It hurts to hurt him like this, but better now than later. She shakes her head. “There’s nothing—”
“You’re coming back, Marie.”
“Rogue,” she corrects.
“And I’m not. I can’t be… some… some kinda… whatever.” She shrugs, crossing her arms. “There ain’t nothing for me in Westchester. That life doesn’t suit me.”
“And it does me?” he asks, with a snort. “You know how I feel about kids.”
“You’re a teddy bear.”
He lets out a frustrated groan. “Marie—”
“Rogue !” He recoils at her outburst. She forces herself to take a breath, disarm those hair trigger defenses. This is Logan; he’s not the enemy. With more composure, she says, “I told you. It’s Rogue now.”
“Got it, Rogue, you’re not comin’ back. So tell me this—why’d y’call? What’d you expect me to say, huh? Fuck off, you’re on yer own?” He gives an angry huff. “How was pretending we don’t exist? Couldn’t be more touched you didn’t bother to call ‘til you were in a jam.”
Logan has never been one to accept offense without returning it, so perhaps she should’ve seen this coming. Still, it pours salt in a wound that is already raw. Why didn’t you look for me when I was ordinary? she wants to ask. But she will not, and she will not cry. Not even for Logan. Maybe never again for anyone.
“I knew you’d understand,” she says, toeing at a weed rising up through a crack in the pavement.
She hears the crackle of his cigar as he angrily takes a drag of it, but otherwise he is silent. The quicker she gets this over with, the better. She’s left enough of a trail as it is. So she schools her expression into something bland, something bored. The hardest face to read is the one that isn’t there; blankness is a wall over which no one can climb. She forces herself to look up at him.
“And that you wouldn’t ask any questions,” she adds.
His dark eyes shine— if he were anyone else she might mistake that shine for the onset of tears— and his scowl has softened.
“Good.” She gives him a brusque nod. He nods back. She reaches for the driver’s side door. “Let's get this over with, then.”
The house is a cozy mid-century split level with a neatly mowed lawn illuminated by the front porch light. Logan helps her remove Adam from the trunk and arrange his body behind the wheel, once they’ve carefully parked beside the minivan in the driveway.
The household seems to be asleep, save for a single window on the second floor. As she peers up at it, she notices a gap in the blinds. Shit. They’re being watched.
The blinds snap shut.
“Shit,” she hisses aloud.
He follows her line of sight to the window. “No hurting anyone else.”
It pains her that he thinks she would on purpose. She fixes him with a pointed glare. “Stay here. I’ll take care of it.”
She clenches her jaw. “I am not touchin’ a hair on their heads, Logan.”
The security system beeps at her as she lets herself in with Adam’s keys; hastily, she types in the code and it falls silent. She hears a quizzical little sound in the darkness, like a muffled meep. She looks toward the foyer.
A twelve year old girl is standing before her, blocking her entrance into the house. Waiting for her.
“What’re you doing?” demands the girl, attempting a threatening posture, a forbidding expression. She’s scared, though. Even in the darkness it’s unmistakable: she’s shaking, eyes like saucers, and she’s drawing breath in ragged bursts.
Adam’s panic is a white-hot lance through her gut.
She does her best to muster a wan smile. “Hello, Lily,” she says.
The girl frowns.
Rogue checks that the hems of her sleeves overlap her gloves, leaving no skin exposed. She’s had enough of other people’s minds for one night, and is especially disinterested in the thoughts of a child. Then she brushes past Lily and heads for the basement door.
“I’m a friend of your dad’s.”
“I don’t know you,” Lily says, following her down the staircase.
“Probably for the best,” she murmurs.
“Where’s my dad?”
Rogue comes to a stop in front of the safe Adam has stored under the steps. Instead of answering, she grabs the dial of the combination lock and carefully spins it: 10, 17, 92.
An Autumn wedding. Ain’t that a pretty lie, she thinks, echoing the words once thrown in her own face. Hope it helped you sleep at night.
Don’t you dare hurt her.
I wouldn’t, she vows. Not a hair.
Liar, Adam seethes. Bitch. Thief. Murderer.
“Where is he?” The girl’s question is pointed, but Rogue pretends not to notice, instead focusing on her search.
“Your daddy’s not a good man, honey,” she says distractedly.
“Let me tell you something—woman to woman.” She pulls out a long, heavy roll of papers. Bingo. Then she shuts the door, leaving the rest of its contents undisturbed, and spins the lock. “Consider it a parting gift. Bit of advice for you to think on for a while.”
Lily frowns up at her, brow furrowed.
“But you gotta promise to keep this between us.”
She turns to the girl, taking in her blonde curls, her terry cloth bathrobe and cat-faced slippers. Blue eyes, just like her father’s.
“Your parents are just people, same as you or me. Flawed. Weak. Pawns a’ fate. Fate is chaotic, or anyway, we ain’t big enough to see the threads of it from down here. None of us are in control, you understand? Not one bit, ‘cept how we react to whatever’s thrown our way. And how you react—that’s what makes you different or the same as all the rest of ‘em.”
“The rest of who?”
“Don’t worry,” Rogue sighs, “You’ll understand when you’re older.” She feels drained, suddenly. She doesn’t want to hurt this child, maybe not even with the truth. She makes for the stairs, throwing back, “What will be, will be, hon.”
“I don’t think you know my dad at all,” says Lily, bravely. “My mom’s upstairs. I’m gonna scream and wake her up.”
Rogue doesn’t stop her climb. “Do it.”
“I will!” she whisper-shouts.
At the top step, she turns back and smiles down at Lily. “If I didn’t know your dad, how’d I know about the safe? And the combination?”
Lily gapes at her.
She chuckles. “Go on, then. Scream if you want to. Just remember what I told you.” And with that, she leaves Lily. Staring up at an empty doorway from a lightless basement. Frozen in confusion, filled with just enough doubt to hesitate. Maybe just enough doubt to alter the course of the rest of her life. That’s up to fate, Rogue figures. Fate and Lily.
And after she lets Logan drive her back to the valley on her big ugly bike, she pulls him into a fierce hug that goes on for longer than it needs to, surrounded by nothing but the rosy dawn overhead and the wind and the chirruping whisper of the desert awakening. Then she leaves him behind, too.
He isn’t happy about it but in the end, he lets her go. She knew he would before she even picked up her phone; she carries him in her mind, after all.
There’s just no space for Logan where she’s headed, the path that’s been chosen for her. At last, Rogue understands her own inescapable fate. She knows what her purpose is.
It’s time to find Remy.
iii. atropos, the unturning, the inflexible
Two weeks, a dozen phone calls, too many late nights and dead ends, and, as a last resort, help from Mystique in return for a future favor she is sure she’ll come to regret, Rogue struts into a rundown casino way off the strip. It’s the kind of place where the clientele is composed mostly of forlorn lifers posted up at their favorite slot machines, life slipping through their fingers as they cling to a cup full of coins and the hope that today’s the day their ship comes in. The decor is all mirrors and neon and distractingly loud carpet, a holdover from the ‘90s.
She spies him at a blackjack table. The seat beside his is empty; she takes it. He’s losing, terribly. He has no chips of his own left. Without looking his way, she places a single chip on the green felt table in front of him.
“Woulda thought you’d be better at this,” she says.
It’s gratifying to watch his brows jump as he shifts in his chair, taking her in. “Marie?” He lets out an incredulous laugh. “You been looking for me, petite?”
Rogue smirks at him. “Surprised?”
“Well, considerin’ how we left things…” He rubs at his neck, looking around the casino before his eyes, hidden behind mirrored sunglasses, come back to her. “Surprised you found me, anyway.”
“In this day and age, you can find anybody.”
The dealer pipes up. “You two in or out?”
“Out,” she says, for both of them.
Remy agrees with a slight dip of his head. “So, what now?” He leans an elbow on the table, attempting an air of nonchalance. But it’s not as convincing as it was the last time she saw him; there’s something shaky about his bravado where it was rock solid before. Cracks in the armor. “You come here to talk me into joining with your good guys? You gonna fix me?”
She shakes her head. “Nah, sugar. Just thought I might take a walk. You wouldn’t have any objection to accompanyin’ me, wouldya?”
His gaze travels down her frame and she waits patiently, allowing his inspection: black silk gloves, velvet scarf and an emerald green coat that brushes the floor. A dramatic look, a telling one: entirely inappropriate for the Las Vegas heat.
“Nope,” says Gambit, an easy grin lighting up his face. “No objection at all.”
Walking out of the artificially cool, dark casino and into the hot Nevada sunshine is like walking into a solid wall, but Marie grew up in Mississippi and prides herself on being able to handle the heat, so she puts on a brave face and strolls forward without pause. Gambit keeps pace, throwing cautious looks her way but saying nothing.
“Thought you were cured?” he finally musters, as they enter a nearby park.
It’s late afternoon, the air quivers with heat. Rogue is already sodden and wilted under her layers. The park is empty other than a few tourists on a shady bench in the distance, yet she discards nothing.
He pushes out his bottom lip in a pout; she’s struck with the errant desire to bite it. “So no more hanky panky?”
“Not unless you’re lookin’ for a world of hurt.”
Gambit stops walking and removes his sunglasses. She can’t look away from those onyx eyes, that fiery gaze. Her feet catch on something and she stumbles but he’s there, ready, catching her by the elbow.
“Might be worth it,” he says.
She grins at him. “Why don’t you find out?”
If he’d hesitated for even a second she might’ve laughed it off, played it for a joke or a taunt. But he doesn’t. Before she can say another word, he’s there, brushing his lips against hers so quickly there is no time to react. Then he rocks back on his heels, looking smug. Rogue waits a moment, but he merely smirks down at her, brow arched; the cat that got the canary.
“Think I discovered a loophole.”
“Clever you,” she says.
She pulls her casino chip from her pocket, drawing Gambit’s attention to it. Concentrating on the trace of borrowed abilities sending a frisson of excitement through her veins, she charges the chip. It floats up into the air, spinning slowly. Glowing, crackling red light flows from her fingertips and surrounds it.
Gambit gasps. “Well, I'll be damned.”
She smirks up at him. With a flick of her fingers, she sends the chip flying into the bark of a nearby tree. It embeds itself there, glow fading to nothing. The wood around it smokes.
“Clever you,” he says.
The look of awe on his face is gratifying. She could leave it at that, save for two things. One: he hurt her— and maybe she’s inherited this from Logan— but she never lets an offense go unreturned. And two: she needs to know if she can trust him.
So she tugs off one of her gloves and reaches up to palm his high cheekbone.
At once, his expression shifts from awe to something soft, something fond. Then, as she holds on, he jolts, and his look changes to shock. Still, she holds on. As she digs down into the very heart of him— his veins running dark and coiled against his skin, eyes rolling back into his skull— he falls to his knees. His jaw hangs open in a silent scream of pained horror. She does not let go.
The deluge begins: a rush of memories, thoughts, emotions. A soul, battered and weary, infusing through hers. All the things that make him Remy Etienne LeBeau, there for the taking.
She hears the train whistle, faint, as though from far away. It’s her cue. Breathless, she forces herself to release him and step back.
His head drops and he is shivering, weakened, but he’s still drawing breath. He’s on his knees, not fully collapsed. She hasn’t killed him.
He’ll be alright.
And now she knows whatever he knows.
Her first priority should be discovering where his allegiances lie, or perhaps what the job was he wanted her for, or even what he knows about her.
It should be, but it’s not.
Instead she goes right for the heart, like she always does: why her, all those months ago? How did he know she’d be in that bar? And what… did he think of it, being with her?
These are the insecurities of a young girl, chides Erik. Petty. Beneath you.
No one asked for your opinion, Erik.
Gambit’s head remains bowed, he is shuddering. With her gloved hand, she strokes his shaggy hair in reassurance. Even as she does so, she begins sifting through his memories.
The answer is so simple: there had been a job. A private collection of jewels valued in the hundreds of millions on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Having heard of Rogue’s abilities, knowing just how to utilize them in his plan, Gambit went to the White Queen to ask for her help.
He’d made his own promise of a favor owed in order to find Rogue. One that, given what little she knew of Emma Frost, Gambit would no doubt come to regret.
The White Queen deals in information, in knowing what others do not, can not: if anyone besides Bobby and Logan had been aware that at the same time that Gambit was planning his heist, Marie was on her way to receive the cure, it was her. Yet she’d let Remy cut his deal before divulging Marie’s whereabouts. Despite knowing what he wanted from her, despite knowing the encounter would end in disappointment.
“That bitch,” she growls.
Though she shies from it, she cannot avoid the tumble of his memories concerning their… encounter. The rundown, unimpressive appearance of the motel and bar. Spying her in the shadows, drinking by herself. Barehanded: he’d thought she was merely flirting with danger. She was so beautiful. Lonely and sad and calling to him.
More impressions rush over her: he was smitten from the minute she called him childish. By the time they’d laid in that uncomfortable motel bed together— sated and quiet, feeling oddly honored he’d been chosen as her first, his back screaming where she’d scratched him to hell— he was ready to induct her into the Thieves Guild, turn over the position of leader.
And after: his chagrin when she’d revealed the truth to him. Remy LeBeau, not half as smooth as he’d thought he’d been. A dupe. Lied to.
But something Rogue had not expected: his disillusionment was not with her, as she’d assumed, but rather with Emma.
He’d been played like a fiddle and had no one to blame but himself. So he’d stormed off like a petulant child, only to be filled with remorse not a day later. She was gone when he went back to the motel. Of course she was. Gone without a trace, and no doubt disgusted with him. He was disgusted with himself.
The job had been such a mess without her set of talents to aid them. They’d all nearly lost their lives, and only just made it out with the goods.
How often he’d wondered about her after, regretting the way that night had gone. What a thorny tangle of emotions lurks beneath that bravado. It wasn’t just the job, no matter what he’d told her. Not before he’d met her, and not after.
Especially not after.
She snaps out of it and shifts to peer down at him with softened eyes. Here before Rogue kneels a sad man, a lonely man. A desperate man.
But he is a good thief, that much is clear to her. Good in a fight, deadly with a bō staff. And that mutation of his…
She looks at the tree. The poker chip is embedded halfway in the bark, which is charred and still issuing a thin wisp of smoke. And she’d only taken a tiny bit. She crouches in front him, running her hand down his arm, feeling his muscled bicep. Panting, he lifts his head to meet her gaze.
“You missed me,” she says gently. “I’m… flattered.”
“You make… quite… the impression.”
“Let me allay your fears, then. I ain’t here t’fix you.” She tilts her head. “I came back to give you what you want. What we both want.”
“You,” he says, looking besotted. “Mo chagren. Forgive me, Marie.”
Drops of sweat roll down from under his balaclava. He looks at her with something like adoration; she searches, and finds that adoration in her own piece of him. It’s genuine. And she finds something like a corresponding affection in herself. Despite their rocky start, this could… be something.
“Rogue,” she says, correcting him. “It's Rogue. Was always gonna be Rogue.”
He sighs happily. “Just say the word, Rogue. Anything you want. The moon? For you, petite, la lune.”
She takes a deep breath. So over the top. Except, knowing what she knows now, seeing him as he is, at his core, she thinks if she accepted that offer he might really try.
“Ain’t got much use for the moon, but I do got a job for you. Right here in Vegas. A mighty big haul if we can pull it off.”
“Music to ol’ Gambit’s ears,” he wheezes.
“Oui, chér.” She leans in to peck at his lips, too quick to do any further damage. “Don’t worry, I’m here now.”
“We in this together?”
“That’s right,” she says, all swagger, all bravado, all confidence. They’re even now. Clean slate; level playing field. This is the real start. All the others, she understands, were false. And those blueprints are burning a hole in her duffel bag back at the hotel.
So. Time to get to work.
With a rakish grin, she tells him, “You’re with me, sugah. You’re all mine.”