Westchester, New York.
How long had it been since she'd last been here?
Well, it hadn't changed much, and that was kinda comforting. The same fresh-smelling air was blowing through the treetops, ruffling her hair as she hesitated, glancing around. Same big round moon, too, slyly winking down at her.
Harvest moon, her daddy had called it, back when life was still good and he'd still loved her. But that was a lifetime ago...no, several lifetimes. Those days were so far away that they might've happened to another person entirely.
Hell, maybe they had. She didn't know anymore.
She wasn't even sure how she'd ended up here, back in Westchester. She hadn't meant to come here, hadn't ever meant to return. She didn't belong here now, not since she'd turned tail and run away all those months ago.
Could it really have been two whole years? Somehow it didn't seem possible!
Two long, lonely years...
She drifted along with the cool wind, not really watching where she was going, as all the memories started coming back thick and strong. Memories of friendship, of adventure, of laughter and love...
A hauntingly familiar silhouette suddenly brought her up short. Xavier's school?
Shivers ran down her spine as she longingly stared down at the big mansion. In another lifetime, she'd lived there--had belonged there! Until she'd had to face the one thing that she just couldn't handle, and she'd run away, hoping to leave it all behind.
For two long years, she'd shut herself away from everyone and everything, trying to find some peace inside herself. And she'd really thought she'd succeeded...until now. Now everything was cascading around her, bringing back all the old fear and uncertainty.
She hadn't found peace...she hadn't found anything at all! And while she'd been hiding like a scared little kid, she'd managed to lose everything that had made her life worth living!
She was drifting past the tall gates now, and across the wide yard. The sensors would be picking up her signal any moment. Would Cerebro think she was an intruder, and fire the automatic defenses at her? Or would it still recognize her as a friend, and let her pass unchallenged?
No tingling chill ran down her spine, warning her of possible danger. Did that mean she was still welcome to return?
No, that was hoping for too much. And anyway, she didn't want to go back...
Now that she was here, wouldn't it be kinda nice to drop in for a few minutes...for old times sake?
Her heart began to race.
Maybe...just for a few minutes...
The night wind seemed to urge her on. The arbor was drifting by now, and the swimming pool. There was the big patio where they'd all loved to gather at sunset, to watch the moon coming up over the ocean.
And there...there was her old bedroom window!
Was anyone new living there now? Surely they wouldn't have left it empty after all this time, hoping that she'd return someday...
She knew it was crazy, but she couldn't help it. She had to see if her stuff was still there, like she'd left it.
Swallowing hard to gather her courage, she drifted closer to the window.
The curtains were drawn shut. And the window was latched. Well, she'd figured as much...it had been two years, after all!
Some last faint trace of hope made her hesitate. And now she saw it...down toward the end of the house. A big bay window. And it was open.
Was this why she'd come?
A giant fist clenched around her chest as someone moved just inside the window, throwing a dark shadow across the rippling curtains. For one breathless moment, the entire universe seemed to freeze.
Her faint, husky whisper drifted away on the wind, and was lost. But her heart was beating again...no, pounding hard against her ribs!
For the first time since she'd left, she felt alive! More than alive...like there was still something worth living for!
Bracing herself, she edged closer to the open window.
"You're gonna catch a chill if you keep leavin' the window open all the time!"
She hadn't meant to say anything...hell, she hadn't meant to come here at all! But the stunned look on his lean face was worth anything as he stiffened and then rapidly spun around.
Oh, lordy, he looked just like she remembered! Her pulse began to race as he stared at her in blank shock, his reddish-brown eyes widening. The empty glass he'd been holding slipped from his numb fingers and shattered on the hardwood floor, but he barely noticed.
How many nights had she woken with his deep voice echoing in her mind? Now the shivers were running up and down her spine, making her whole body tremble. She instinctively jumped back as wild panic flooded through her. She shouldn't have come back, she shouldn't have!
"Rogue, don' go!"
The frantic urgency in his voice stopped her. Barely breathing, she uncertainly hesitated. She shouldn't have come back...
"Please, Rogue?" He was moving closer to the window, and she heard broken glass crunch under his heavy boots. "Please?"
Now he was reaching out one hand, very slowly, like he was afraid of scaring her away. But then he'd always known what she was feeling, even when she hadn't. Did he know how scared she was right now?
Or was this just another dream that she'd wake up from the moment he touched her?
"Chér...mi amoré...don' leave me again!"
She must be dreaming, 'cause she'd never heard that note of desperation in his voice, not ever! But she couldn't still be asleep, not when she could feel his long fingers slowly curling around her hand!
"Remy?" Her voice sounded scratchy, but she hadn't spoken to anyone, not a single soul, in nearly two years. It was no wonder that she sounded so strange. Or was it because her throat was all clogged up? She swallowed hard, trying to get rid of the lump that suddenly seemed to be choking her.
Then the curtains were brushing against her arms as she let him gently pull her into the room.
For fifteen, maybe twenty seconds, neither of them moved. And her heart was racing so fast that she felt dizzy!
Two years ago, she'd have thrown herself in his arms and held him close until the trembling stopped. Minutes, hours, maybe even days...time wouldn't have mattered. Now time seemed like her enemy, stretching out each breathless second into centuries!
And he seemed just as lost as she was! Remy LeBeau, without a glib phrase to fit the occasion? If she hadn't been so terrified of her own whirling emotions, maybe she could have laughed at the cruel irony.
But what exactly did she want, anyway? Why had she come back? And now that she was here, in his arms, what should she do?
In his arms...?
He was holding her tight, and she was burrowing against his wide chest, but she wasn't quite sure how she'd gotten there!
Oh, hell, what difference did it make? She was where she'd always belonged, she knew that now. She must have been crazy to have run away, to have hidden from the truth for so terribly long!
But which truth had she really run away from?
Somehow Remy seemed to sense the change in her. Almost reluctantly, he loosened his arms, letting her step away if she wanted.
Again, for just a moment, neither of them moved. Rogue suddenly realized that tears were trickling down her cheeks. Tears of joy...or sorrow?
He saw them, too. And his eyes were so sad as he gently reached up to wipe them away!
It took an effort not to pull away from his light touch. But he was still wearing his thieves' gloves, the ones that shielded two of his long fingers. And he was being careful not to touch her with his bare skin. He remembered what that had cost them last time they'd dared to touch each other...how could he possibly have forgotten?
"Don' cry, chér!" His rich voice was husky with suppressed emotion as he curled his arms back around her and pulled her close again. "It's okay, you're home safe now. De rest don' matter no more."
But it did matter, it did!
Before she could protest, he laid a finger across her lips. "It don' matter, Rogue!" he firmly repeated. "P'fessor Xavier knows everythin'!"
Startled, she hesitantly met his earnest gaze. "H-he knows? Remy, I don't understan'!"
Remy's hands tightened over hers. He was leading her toward...the bed? Frightened, she tried to jerk away, then weakly subsided at the chiding look in his glowing eyes. He'd always been able to read her so well...at least that much hadn't changed.
But what could he possibly mean? He'd sworn years ago never to tell his awful secret to anyone! Even she didn't know for sure what it was! That was why she'd run away--she'd gotten so scared when he'd finally offered to share his deepest memories with her!
Because he'd been offering her more than just his darkest secrets. He'd been telling her, in the only way he really could, that he truly loved her.
And she hadn't been able to face it.
"It's okay, chér," he was whispering as he gently tugged her down beside him. "Jus' sit wit' me a while, an' talk t' me. Gambit ain't gonna hurt you."
She believed him, she always had. But it still didn't answer the question...what had he told Xavier? And why?
"We all missed you," he was soberly confessing, his hands tightening over hers. Then he hesitated, as if he wasn't quite sure what else to say. "Gambit missed you most of all," he finally admitted, glancing away. "Dis big old place jus' ain't been da same without you, Rogue."
Suddenly she didn't know what to say, either. She'd been so scared that he didn't care about her anymore, that he'd found someone else...
That big lump was back in her throat, cutting off her voice. She had to swallow hard before she could force any sound out. "I reckon I missed y'all, too," she managed, lamely shrugging. "Never thought I'd see ya again! An' I still ain't sure just what I'm doin' here, but..."
"Nón?" He was looking into her eyes again, seeming to see right down into her soul. "I think you do, chér. It's time, Rogue...time t' learn da truth. You know dat."
She did know it...why had she been trying so hard to hide from it all this time? She loved him, and it was high time she faced that fact. And faced the truth about his past, too, whatever it might turn out to be. Surely nothing he'd done or seen could be as awful as the last two years she'd spent by herself...all alone...
He was soberly offering her his hand. She was still scared...but she knew that he was right. She had to know, if they were ever going to have a life together. For her own peace of mind, it was long past time!
Trembling, she started pulling off her sturdy yellow gloves. The moment of truth, she whimsically thought. Long overdue...
Smiling, Gambit stopped her instinctive gesture. "Nón, chér," he softly whispered against her hair. "We do dis right--we finish what we started 'way back den."
He was gonna kiss her again? Oh, lordy, he was, she could see it in his eyes as he bent closer. How many times had she dreamed about this moment...prayed that it would happen...
Brilliant energy flared around them as their lips met for one timeless moment. Rogue felt like she was drowning under the sudden flood of thoughts and memories that abruptly cascaded into her mind.
Gambit was already unconscious, his face pale from the pain and shock of transferral. Her hands trembling, she lowered him down onto the pillow and pensively stared down at him.
The moment of truth...
It wasn't buried as deeply as she'd thought. And there, riding along with it, were the memories of the long hours he'd spent in telepathic rapport with Professor Xavier. Had he really been so upset over losing her that he'd finally bared his entire soul to the Professor's keen mind, confessing everything?
She'd expected to be shocked...but instead there was only a calm sense of acceptance. Had she really known, all along, what was haunting him, and simply refused to see and accept it?
"You're a damned fool, gal!" she murmured into the silence. "You never shoulda left!"
Curious now, she drifted along the glowing pathways of his mind, gently exploring. Good lord, did he really see her like that, so unbearably sexy that her own heart started pounding? And there, when she'd been temporarily blinded by Strobe, that's when he'd really started to care about her.
Had there ever been a time when she hadn't loved him? Well, if there was, she couldn't remember it...seemed like she'd always been drawn to his easy charm and keen wit. And to the dark side of him, too, she knew that now.
He was already starting to stir. Thank goodness she hadn't drained away too much of his life force--she couldn't have stood it if he'd been seriously hurt! She could feel him struggling against that awful moment of energy-drained weakness. If only there was some way to touch him without always harming him...
"Rest easy, Remy," she whispered, brushing back a wayward lock of his thick hair. "It's okay."
"Rogue?" Her familiar voice seemed to galvanize him. Groaning with the effort, he forced himself up on one elbow and stared up at her in confused relief. "You ain't left me dis time, chér?"
Rogue slowly smiled. "I ain't goin' anywhere, swamp rat. Just lay back an' take it easy for a while. It'll pass...it always does."
Somehow she'd figured that he wouldn't give in...maybe that was one of the things she'd always loved about him. Ruefully shaking her head, she helped him sit back up and swing his legs over the edge of the bed.
His long fingers were tight around hers as he cautiously met her steady gaze. "You saw...everythin'?"
Rogue reassuringly squeezed his hands. "Somehow...I already knew!" she slowly admitted. "I just din't wanta accept it 'til now, I guess."
He was silent for a moment, watching her. "An' now?" he finally asked, his head tilted to one side.
Rogue hesitated, his vibrant memories still whirling around in her mind. "You told Xavier," she whispered. "Why, Remy? He coulda kicked you out, or turned you over t' them!"
Gambit helplessly shrugged. "I had to, chér. Couldn't live with knowin' what I'd done t' you an' me, jus' 'cause I was too scared t' tell you the truth. I figured if he kicked me out, I'd go lookin' for you, an' somehow I'd make things right.
"An' I tried anyway," he earnestly continued, "only you'd completely disappeared! No one knew where you'd gone! So I came back here an' settled down t' wait. I figured if you ever wanted t' see me again, you'd come here first."
For several long moments, the softly-blowing wind was the only sound in the room. Finally Rogue stirred, and stared down at their tightly linked hands. "I was wrong t' run away, Remy," she confessed. "I'm sorry..."
Smiling, he warmly hugged her. "Ain't nothin' t' be sorry for, chér. We've all run away from things now an' again." Then he tilted her face up and soberly met her eyes. "You reckon you'll stay around a while now?"
Rogue smiled. "I reckon so," she softly agreed. "Ain't got much t' go back to, that's for sure."
He was reaching for something on the table, and she saw a quick flash of gold between his fingers. For one quick moment, her heart faltered. Then she realized that he was holding a pretty gold bracelet.
"Beast made it while you were gone," he was explaining as he gently fastened it around her left wrist. "Took the Genosha collars an' did somethin' t' make 'em smaller, then made dis for you an' me...jus' in case you ever came back again."
The single golden stone began to glow with an eerie light as he lightly touched it with one long finger.
Suddenly the room seemed to shiver around her.
The wind...she could feel it blowing against her face! And she could feel every grain of leather inside her sturdy yellow gloves!
Stunned, she stared at Gambit in shocked disbelief. "Remy, what..."
His eyes began to gleam with delight. And then he was kissing her again, on and on like he never wanted to stop...and it wasn't hurting him!
A Genosha bracelet...taking her powers away? Only she could control it whenever she wanted! Turn it off, and she was a mutant again...she could fly and fight with the team, just like before. Turn it on, and...
"Welcome home, mi amoré," he fervently whispered. "Welcome home!"
"Welcome home, mi amoré...welcome home..."
The words echoed in her mind, warm and comforting, as cold reality slowly crept back in.
A dream... Had it really only been a dream?
But it had seemed so real! She could still feel the warmth of Remy's hands on her face, the sweet pressure of his mouth...
So real...so incredibly real!
As real as the truth hiding deep inside her own mind, just waiting for her to see, to accept...
And she felt that same calm sense of acceptance steal over her as she laid back against her pillow, ignoring the tears that trickled down her cheeks. She had always known...why had she been so willfully blind for all these months, refusing to see, refusing to know? Two long years...
The room blurred around her as she launched herself from the narrow cot and hovered above it, then darted toward the closet. She had one good jumpsuit left...
Moments later, she was soaring into the open sky. Behind her, the last remnants of Magneto's mangled asteroid fortress disappeared into the rolling sand dunes. Two years she'd lived there alone in the empty desert, wrestling with herself, shutting out the rest of the world...but the time for hiding was long past now.
She knew what Gambit's awful, dark secret was...and it simply didn't matter anymore.
Westchester, New York. A thrill of recognition shot through Rogue's body as she caught sight of the familiar landmarks. Another lifetime...
And there was the distinctive outline of Xavier's stately mansion! How could she have forgotten how beautiful it was, basking in the warm afternoon sunlight?
Now she was drifting over the tall wrought-iron gates and across the wide yard. She could feel the invisible sensors sweeping over her as Cerebro picked up her life signs. But the air remained calm and quiet. Another sign of proof that her vivid dream had been something more than just a dream...some internal urging that it was time to return?
The wide, curving driveway seemed to beckon. And somehow it seemed proper for her to go in through the front door, not sneak in through someone's window in the middle of the night. A fleeting smile curved her lips as she lightly settled onto the ground and started walking up the road.
The front door was already open! Xavier was on the wide veranda, calmly waiting for her. And standing next to him was...
"Remy!" Her joyful shout echoed through the air as the tall Cajun met her halfway up the steps, hugging her tight against his chest. "Oh, Remy, I've missed you so!"
He was clutching something in his hand...a small golden bracelet? Shivers ran down her spine as he gently slipped it over her wrist, and the world trembled around her.
She could feel the wind, and the touch of Remy's warm fingers on her face, and...
"Welcome home, mi amoré!" His deep, rich voice echoed in her ears as he bent to kiss her. "Welcome home!"
And from somewhere behind him, she could hear Xavier's warm, enthusiastic echo: "Welcome back, Rogue. Welcome home!"