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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24

Between the Darkness and the Light - REVIEW THIS STORY

Written by Amanda Sichter
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 10

Storm's fingers brushed lightly over the letters etched in the brass plate, tracing the shape of them. 'I know he may still be alive,' she whispered, 'but I did not like the thought of us having nothing to acknowledge he was with the X-Men, even if it was only for a short time. So I had this made for him.'

Gambit's hand squeezed her shoulder gently. 'Bishop would have loved it, Stormy,' he said, his voice equally soft. 'Somet'ing in my bones tell me he's not dead, chere, but I t'ink we need to remember him anyway. I doubt he comin' back, no matter where he be.'

Storm bowed her head and the muffling of her words concealed the tears inher voice as she said, 'I'm just so glad I did not have to have one made for you.'

'Ah, chere,' Remy said and lifted her from her knees and turned her to face him. 'X-Men are hard to kill -- and t'ieves are even harder. I made it back, 'Ro. B'sides, dere already too many names here. I wouldn' want you to have to add another.' He smiled down at Storm until she could not help but return his smile.

'I apologise for my emotion,' she said. 'Coming here -- it always brings me pain.'

'As it should, Stormy.' Gambit's face had regained its serious expression. 'De names of de dead surround you -- your pain acknowledges dem. But it keeps deir memories alive in you and dat's de most important t'ing.'

Storm looked around the copse, filled with the trees she had planted in memory of each X-Men that had fallen. Bishop, Illyana, Doug Ramsey, Thunderbird -- all of them had their own memorial here along with the others that had died. There was even a tree for Jean, from when they had thought she had died. Storm had not been willing to dig it up when Phoenix had been returned to them. And at the base of each tree, the stone carrying the brass plaque with their names and the dates they had been with the X-Men.

'No,' she replied. 'The most important thing is that there are no others to join them.' She slipped her arm in Gambit's and together the two of them turned and walked backed to the pond in companionable silence. They sat on one of the benches that were scattered around the pond and quietly contemplated the water.

Finally Storm broke the silence. 'I was surprised to find you out this morning,' she said to Gambit. 'I had expected you to be in the infirmary with Azimuth.'

Gambit grinned. 'I was gettin' too twitchy for her,' he said. 'Gambit don' like de infirmary dat much and I was startin' to go stir-crazy. Azimuth say she t'row somet'ing at me dis morning if I didn' get out of her face. She made me promise to run around outside until I could behave myself.'

Storm smiled. 'I will say that I have been most surprised at your continual presence in the infirmary. You have never made a secret of your dislike of the place and yet you have spent most of your time there since you came with Azimuth.'

'For her, anyt'ing,' replied Remy and his voice was deadly serious.

Storm looked at him long and hard. 'You truly love her, don't you?' she asked.

'She brings me joy,' Remy said simply. 'It seems dat Gambit's finally learned how important dat is. T'inking you're goin' to die put a whole lot of t'ings in perspective.'

'What do you mean?' asked Storm, softly.

Gambit leaned forwards until Storm could not look into his eyes. 'Gambit always been stupid, 'Ro,' he said. 'I spent my whole life lovin' only what I couldn' have. Maybe it was part of growin' up a t'ief, but I could never love a woman unless I couldn' have her, unless I had to steal her. I married Belle, but I didn' fall in love wit' her when I was told I had to. I fell in love wit' her long before, when I was de Prince of T'ieves and she de Assassin Princess and she was de unattainable one. I could have had a dozen other women just as beautiful, but I loved Belle because she was de only one I couldn' have. And when I was wit' you, Stormy, de only time I ever wanted you was when you went from child to woman and you kissed Forge. I wanted you so bad den, Stormy, I could taste it -- because you were someone else's and I would have to steal you. Lucky for our friendship and my sanity, I found Rogue. Gods, what a perfect woman for Gambit she was. If dere was ever anyone who fell in de category of someone I couldn' have, she was it. De perfect unattainable woman, de one Gambit could pour his whole life into and still have not'ing but de tiny pieces he steal away. I t'ought love was pain and plannin' and stealin', not'ing else. Gambit was a fool, den.'

For a moment Storm was silent, her mind flowing back to a time when Forge had left her -- for Mystique (and how *that* still rankled) -- and Gambit had seemed to be the only one who had been able to comfort her. There had been one night when he had sat with her in the attic, drinking wine, when she had been tempted to move their friendship one step further, much as she imagined he had been tempted when he saw her kiss Forge. Silently she gave thanks that neither had acted on temptation. Much as she loved Remy, their friendship was too important to risk as anything else. She returned her mind to the present and said, 'And now?'

'And now?' Gambit repeated. 'And now Gambit realise dat bein' in love supposed to make you happy. Azimuth can make me laugh, 'Ro, really laugh. She cheer me up, she make me smile, she do t'ings just because they make us bot' happy. And she's as honest as de day is long and knows herself and she knows me and she still loves me. Gambit t'ink dat -- for a long time -- he was losing himself in de darkness. Azimuth brings light back into my life.' His voice was full of wondrous astonishment as he said, 'She makes me - *joyous*, 'Ro.'

'You are very lucky, Remy,' said Storm, her voice touched with envy.

'Beyond imagining,' he replied. 'Beyond deserving.'

'When you were both Sinister's,' said Storm and watched the line of Remy's back tighten at the words. 'You told me you were lovers, then. Was that when you fell in love?'

'Gambit don' know,' Remy was genuinely startled by the question. 'We were - broken people, den. What we had -- it gave us bot' comfort. But love? I don' know. Dere wasn' enough left of either of us for deir to be love.'

Storm did not pursue the topic, sensing how uncomfortable it made Remy. Instead she changed the topic. 'How is Azimuth progressing?'

'De Beast say she nearly OK.' Gambit flashed a grin back at Storm. 'He been doin' some exercises wit' her, buildin' up her strength. A couple more days and if her headaches are gone, de Beast let her out. I t'ink we bot' hangin' for dat day.'

'How did Sinister do it, Remy?' Storm asked. 'How did he make Azimuth's power do what it did? I can understand that he could turn it on, but you have told me she is beta-strength only, and her power should have been drained long before you rescued her. How did he make her do it?'

Storm watched as Gambit's face closed against her, suddenly still, revealing nothing. Then he leaned forward again, away from her. Silently she cursed herself, fearing she had turned her friend against her. But then, unexpectedly, his voice drifted back to her, reluctantly, hesitantly, but telling her the story.

'Azimuth's grip on her own reality pretty shaky, chere,' Gambit said. 'De first time I met her -- she was convinced she wasn' real, dat she was just a ghost in a world full of real people. It took me a long time to persuade her dat she was as real as I was, or Sinister, or any of de others. Even now, she has nightmares dat she not real, dat she can' touch de world, dat de world can' touch her. Her talent work on people's reality -- de stronger deir grasp on it, de harder she got to try to twist dem. Wit' someone like Sinister she can only just twist him and den her power drained. Wit' someone like herself, she can twist for days. So when Sinister turn her power against herself -- well, you saw what it did.'

Storm's mind made a leap, a sudden flash of insight. 'That's why she's so honest about herself, isn't it?' she asked. 'Not only because she knows her own reality, but because she needs to be. Otherwise, she'll slide away again.'

'Dat's some of it,' Gambit replied, his voice cryptic. 'Dat's why I tell you 'bout dis. Azimuth's so honest, she tell you if you ask. And she won' mind me tellin' you.'

'Why did she think she was unreal, Remy?' Storm asked, softly. 'What could drive any person into thinking that they don't exist? Especially when all she had to do was look in a mirror and she could see she was real, utterly real.'

Gambit shrugged, a non-committal roll of his shoulders that made Storm realise how truly tense he was. 'Parents can do wonderful t'ings to deir children, Stormy. Azimuth's daddy did everyt'ing he could to ensure she was totally fucked in de head. Don' say much for your homelife, does it, when runnin' away to Sinister is an improvement, neh?'

Sudden horror flashed through Storm at the possibilities of what had been done to Azimuth. Her voice cracked as she asked, 'What did he do to her, Remy? Was it -- physical, sexual?'

Gambit's laughter was strained, bitter. 'He never laid a finger on her, 'Ro. Dat was de problem. Azimuth's mere died when she was little, before she even remember her. Her papa, seem-like, never wanted her. Anyways, he treated her like she didn' exist. She spent seventeen, eighteen years at home wit' him and he never call her by her name, not since she was six. He never touch her, he never kiss her, he barely even notice she was alive. And if she was in de way, if he had friends over or a business meetin' or one of his women, den he would lock her in de basement and turn out all de lights. Azimuth spend too much time alone in de dark -- in de end she lost herself.' Gambit's voice ached with suppressed anger, rage boiling off his skin like a crackling storm as he whispered, 'She was jus' a little girl, Stormy. Jus' a little girl.'

Storm's hand reached out, involuntarily, to Gambit's back, but she drew it back before it could touch him. She knew, somehow, that her touch would not comfort him right now. Shakily, she said, 'Then he is truly a monster, Remy. Where is he now?'

'Just where he was before,' Gambit said. 'A successful businessman in his nice office at his national company. If Azimuth would let me, Gambit hunt him down and feed him his own heart. But she say she made her choices long ago and dat revenge make her no happier dan she has allowed herself to be. So I hold her in de dark after de nightmares and make her look in mirrors and I love her wit' my whole heart. It ain' nearly enough, but it all Gambit can give her.'

This time, Storm allowed her fingers to settle lightly on the back of Remy's head, the merest touch on his hair. 'If it makes her happy, Remy, if it keeps Azimuth from falling back into a place where she would seek out Sinister, then it is enough,' she said.

Gambit leaned back into Storm's hand, so she slid her arm around his neck and held him. 'I hope so, chere. I hope so.'

But he didn't say out loud the rest of the sentence that ran through his head. ~And I hope, if we run far enough and fast enough and hide well enough, Sinister won't come looking for us.~

Azimuth smiled up at the visitor who entered the infirmary.

'Storm,' she said, warmly. 'It's been quite a while since you've come to visit. I was starting to think you didn't like me.'

Storm smiled at Azimuth, her spirit suddenly lifting. It had been quite a few days since she had been in to the medi-lab and she was delighted to see how much better Azimuth was looking. The pallor had left her skin and the marks of strain had lifted from her face. Even the needle-tracks on her arms had faded away to nearly nothing.

'I am sorry,' she said. 'I should have been in to visit, but I have been a little -- pre-occupied, of late.'

Azimuth's smoke-grey eyes sharpened, until they seemed to pierce right through Storm's heart. 'You had a fight with Phoenix, about me and Remy,' she said. 'I apologise for that, for causing hurt to your friendship. If there had been any other way . .' Azimuth trailed off and shrugged.

'There was nothing you could do,' replied Storm as she pulled a chair close to Azimuth's bedside. 'And if we are not willing to help people in need, no matter our personal reservations, then Xavier's dream is truly dead. Besides,' she smiled at Azimuth, 'Jean and I have spoken since then and have -- mostly -- resolved our differences.'

'Good,' Azimuth said.

'Was I interrupting anything?' Storm asked.

'No, nothing terribly exciting,' said Azimuth and showed the book she was reading to Storm - Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. 'I'm stuck in bed, so I thought I'd try and catch up on some of the classics. Hank loaned it to me. And several others.' She nodded at the small pile of books that sat on the bedside table.

'I thought it was time I got to know you a little better,' said Storm. 'Though I thought Remy might be here.'

Azimuth shrugged. 'He had to go into Westchester, update the hire car rental. He'll be back in a while.'

Storm settled back into the chair. 'I'm sure you are aware that I have been speaking to Remy about you. I did not wish you to feel that I was going behind your back so I thought I would explain why I have been doing so.'

'You don't need to,' Azimuth said. 'LeBeau tells me what you talk about and I know that you mean me no harm. Don't concern yourself with it, Storm.'

'Please,' said Storm, 'call me Ororo.'

Azimuth shrugged again, an embarrassed smile on her face. 'Thank you, Ororo,' she said. 'Call me Azimuth.' She laughed at Storm's expression of confusion. 'I had my name changed by deed poll years ago. Azimuth is it. It comes from 'the paths' in Arabic, but nowadays it means the deviation of a star from the meridian. Considering my power, it seemed appropriate.'

'And you do not like your other name,' said Storm, shrewdly.

An expression of distaste flitted across Azimuth's face. 'Not like it?' she said. 'I barely remember it. Anyway, I am not *her* anymore.'

'Remy told me a little of your life as a child,' Storm confessed. 'I can see why you did not like what it made you.'

'Didn't like what it made me.' Azimuth's voice mused gently over the words. It hardened over the next sentence. 'I *despise* what it turned me into, Ororo. I lost myself. I didn't believe I was real. Gods, do you know what a betrayal that is? Remy thinks he's been a traitor in the past -- at least he never refused to believe he existed. You can't betray yourself any more than that. And once I failed myself so badly, nothing else mattered. Going to Sinister was the least of the crimes I committed against myself. I gave myself in to rape and degradation and misery because I couldn't see how it mattered. If it wasn't for LeBeau . . .' Azimuth's voice trailed into silence.

'He saved your life, didn't he?' asked Storm, softly.

'He saved my life. He saved my soul.' Azimuth glanced up at Storm. 'He taught me that I was real -- and he is still teaching me. He's tall, dark and handsome with the cutest accent. What more could any love-smitten young girl want?' An impudent grin danced on Azimuth's lips.

Storm couldn't help but smile in response. 'You are a remarkable woman, Azimuth,' she said, her voice warm. 'Your past is filled with anguish and yet you are so joyful. I wish that I could be so happy.'

Azimuth settled back on her pillows. 'I have chosen to be happy,' she replied. 'I *will not* be a victim any more. I let myself be less than what I could be, less than alive, because other people did what they wanted to me. Not any more, not now, Ororo. I was given a second chance at life and I am going to use it to be *happy*.' The last word was filled with emotion so fierce that Storm nearly flinched. Azimuth looked at her sharply and then reached out her hand and grasped Storm's. 'I'm sorry,' she said, contritely. 'I must sound like some harpy who's been to too much therapy. But when LeBeau made me stand in front of a mirror long enough that I *had* to read myself -- I saw I had the potential to be happy. If I tried hard enough, if I wanted it enough, I could do it. It took me a long time after that -- but I am happy now, 'Ro.' Her smile confirmed her words.

Storm tightened her fingers around Azimuth's. 'I'm glad,' she said. 'And I am glad that you are making Remy happy. I just wish -- I wish I knew what drove *him* into Sinister's arms. What made him participate in the Morlock massacre. I am still their leader and it tears me apart that Remy was involved.' She sighed heavily.

'He had his reasons,' replied Azimuth, her voice obscure, her hand slipping from Storm's.

Storm glanced up at Azimuth, her eyes narrowed. 'You know, don't you?' She barely waited for Azimuth's confirming nod. 'Can you tell me, Azimuth? Why he did it? What drove him to it?'

Azimuth's face drew down in frown. 'I can't, Storm. I'm sorry. Remy has had too much taken away from him -- I'm not going to take away his right to his own past. They are his secrets to tell, not mine. I'm sorry.'

'So am I,' replied Storm.

'Well, Gambit not,' came a voice from the doorway. Both women jumped, startled by the silent approach of Remy. He walked into the room. 'Gambit jus' glad he got one chere who can keep his secrets,' he said, grinning down at Storm to take the sting out of his words. He leaned down and kissed Azimuth on the forehead. 'Gambit startin' to t'ink he shouldn' leave you alone or we have all de X-Men trying to pry his secrets out of you, neh?'

'Not true,' smiled Azimuth. 'I haven't seen hide nor hair of the other X-Men. I'm starting to think they're afraid of me.'

'Or me,' added Storm, smiling.

'Dey're all jus' pissed at me,' said Remy. 'De less I see of dem, de better, I t'ink' His voice was resigned.

'Yes, well,' said Storm. 'Now that you're here, there was something I wanted to talk to Azimuth about, but I thought you might like to be involved as well.'

Two pairs of curious eyes turned on Storm, smoke-grey and red-on-black inspecting her thoroughly. Slightly abashed, Storm looked down at her hands until she heard Gambit settle onto the bed next to Azimuth. She looked up at Azimuth then and asked, 'How does your power work, Azimuth? No, wait,' she held up a hand as Azimuth opened her mouth to answer. 'Wrong question. How about -- if you twist someone, how long does it last?'

Azimuth's eyes reflected her puzzlement at the question, but she answered promptly nonetheless. 'Unless I untwist, it lasts forever. You can get around it sometimes, depending on what I did, but it doesn't wear off.'

'And can you tell -- if you meet someone, years later, that you twisted - could you tell that you had done it to them?' Storm leaned forward in her eagerness.

'Of course,' Azimuth replied. 'I can see it in them -- when I read them - the twist is still there. Sorry, I don't explain myself very well when it comes to my power.' Azimuth smiled apologetically at Storm.

'No, no, that's alright,' said Storm. 'How old were you when your power manifested?'

Azimuth's frown deepened. 'I don't know,' she said, candidly. 'I can never really remember not knowing what was real about people. But that's no guarantee that I manifested early. There's a lot I don't remember about my childhood.' Her lips wrinkled in involuntary disgust and then smoothed again.

'Why you askin', chere?' Gambit's brow was furrowed in perplexity.

Storm leaned back in her chair and looked down at her hands again. 'I just -- I don't know if I'm being naive or not, if I just can't believe someone could be such a monster, but I was thinking about your father.' She glanced up at Azimuth, expecting anger, but there was nothing but a questioning look on Azimuth's face. 'After Remy told me -- I started wondering. And I wondered if, perhaps, your power to twist manifested when you were still a child. It's just,' Storm stopped to take a deep breath. 'It's just that I know that children sometimes want their parents to ignore them. I thought, maybe, if you did that and you had your power and you unconsciously twisted your father, maybe that explains the way he acted.' Storm stuttered to a halt, realising her heart was pounding in her chest. She had a feeling she'd rather have faced Magneto in an iron smelter than discuss Azimuth's childhood traumas.

'Or maybe he jus' a heartless betard, non?' Gambit's voice was savage.

Storm looked up at Gambit to remonstrate with him, but her gaze was caught by the look on Azimuth's face. An expression of absolute, sick horror had settled on it and, even as Storm watched, the colour drained from it until Azimuth was a sickly white. Her eyes darkened until they looked like nothing more than two empty holes in her face. Storm didn't know why, but what she had said had driven Azimuth to an extremity of distress.

Gambit's gaze followed Storm's and within a second he had wrapped his arms around Azimuth and was holding her to his chest. Her face was hidden in his shirt-front but Storm knew, from the shaking of her shoulders, that Azimuth had begun to weep.

'You'd better go,' Gambit mouthed to Storm over Azimuth's head. Storm nodded and beat a hasty retreat from the room. Outside, she leaned against the corridor wall and drew several deep breaths, afraid and confused as to how she had frightened Azimuth so.

Back in the infirmary Gambit ran his hand soothingly over Azimuth's hair, making gentle shushing noises until her sobs eased. Finally, he held her back from him and brushed her tears from her cheeks.

'It'll be OK, chere,' he said softly. 'Your papa can' hurt you any more and Storm will be very sorry she made you cry. So hush your cryin', petite amie. Gambit not let anyone hurt you.'

'It's not that,' replied Azimuth, and her voice shook with the strain of containing her emotions. 'What if she's right, Remy? What if I did it? If I made my father ignore me, then everything that happened to me -- every evil thing that happened because I thought I wasn't real -- it's all my fault, Remy. It's all my fault.'

Tears welled again in her eyes and Remy held her close, cursing under his breath. He had promised to save Azimuth from hurt, but what could he do when the person who was hurting her was Azimuth herself?

Gambit wandered the corridors of the mansion, banished from the infirmary once again. The Beast wanted to give Azimuth a complete checkover and had sent Remy from the room. Normally, he would have gone outside, but the weather had turned suddenly nasty (Gambit wasn't sure if it was natural or an after-effect of Storm's fright the day before) and he was forced to slouch around the mansion instead.

He had been using his spatial-perception powers to avoid the other residents of the mansion, moving down side-corridors and ducking into rooms when someone came by. But gradually he noticed the pattern of where his movements were taking him and eventually realised, to his amusement, that he was being herded. Someone, definitely one person, was trying to force him to go somewhere. For a moment, Gambit considered thwarting their plans by ducking outside or running upstairs, but then decided to play along with what was going on. Whoever was doing this, he was sure they would reveal themselves when they had got him where they wanted him.

Finally he found himself in a room in the basement, a nondescript little room with no furnishings and only one door. He barely remembered it from his previous sojourn to the mansion and wondered why he had been driven there. And then the door opened and all thoughts about the room fled.


She was as beautiful as he remembered, a sudden, catch-your-breath kind of beauty. But her face was like stone and only anger gleamed in her emerald eyes.

'Rogue,' Gambit said and inclined his head slightly, suddenly unsure of what was going on and more than a little afraid that she was going to try and finish what she had started in Antarctica.

'Remy,' she replied and then stalked around him, her body bristling like a angry cat's. She left the door open, seemingly inviting him to flee if he so desired. For an instant Gambit considered running, but then he sighed and stayed where he was. This meeting had to occur sometime. Now was as good a time as any.

When she realised he wasn't going to run, Rogue's body relaxed slightly. She looked at him for a while and then said softly, 'Yah cut yah hair.'

Startled, Gambit's hand rose to the nape of his neck. His hair hadn't grown back fully from when he had had to cut it and he wasn't yet able to put it in a ponytail. 'I had to - for a job,' he replied.

'The Beast said - yah don't smoke anymore.' Rogue tried to make the question idle, but her body screamed her tension.

Gambit tried to remember the last time he had smoked. Just after agreeing to train Azimuth, he thought. He had gone to light up in her apartment and she'd given him a look that had shrivelled him. Somehow, he never had got around to starting up again.

'Azimuth doesn' like it,' he said, without thinking, and then cursed himself.

Rogue drew a sharp breath and her face became drawn. 'Ah didn't like it, either,' she said. 'That didn't stop yah.'

Remy didn't reply. There was no reply he could make.

Rogue drifted another quarter circle around him, but he refused to allow himself to turn to face her. Instead he stared at the wall.

Rogue's voice came from beside him. 'Why did yah lie to me, Remy?'

'I never lied to you.' Gambit's voice was harsh with suppressed emotion. 'Not once.'

'Yah did, Remy. Ah saw what was in yah head, ah know what yah did. Yah lied to me, Remy.' Anger edged Rogue's voice.

'You saw Gambit put on trial. You saw what was in my head. You saw de trut', de whole trut' and not'ing but de trut'. Is dat right, chere?' Gambit couldn't bear to look at Rogue, suddenly afraid of what he'd do.

'That's right. Ah saw the truth, Remy, and it was damned ugly.' Rogue walked back in front of Gambit, forced him to look at her.

His eyes boring into hers, Gambit said, 'So, if you saw de trut', chere, how come it never occur to you dat when I join de X-Men, Belladonna wasn' dead?'

She took it like a blow to the heart, colour draining from her face, her eyes widened by shock. 'But . . . but . . . Ah saw . . .' Rogue trailed off, devastation in her eyes.

'You saw me joinin' Sinister b'cause my Belle was dead, didn' you?' said Gambit.

Rogue nodded.

'And you seen Belle how many times since den? She don' look too dead, does she, non? Or what - you t'ink she jus' get better?'

He watched Rogue as the thoughts ran through her mind. No matter how many things she had learned since joining the X-Men, concealing her feelings had not been one of them. And so Gambit watched as horror, shock, doubt, suspicion and finally a hardness crept across Rogue's face. She looked up at him sharply. 'So if yah didn't join Sinister because of Belle, why did yah join him, Remy? Was it just for the fun? The sheer joy of slaughtering the innocents?'

'Merde, Rogue, dat's what you t'ink of Gambit? You watch me tear myself into little pieces in front of you, you watch me self-destruct, and you t'ink I t'ought bein' wit' Sinister was fun? Sometimes, dere are no choices left.' Gambit's voice shook with rage.

'Then tell me. Tell me why yah did it, Remy.' Rogue was shouting now.

'It don' work like dat,' he replied, his voice suddenly soft. 'Tellin' - it just ain't dat easy. Gods, Rogue, I tried, I tried so hard to get you to touch me, I wanted you to touch Gambit so you could see, really see what Gambit got inside his head. I t'ought it might be different, den. But even when you touch me - even den - all you got were de lies.' Gambit bowed his head, suddenly tired.

'Ah got what was inside yah head,' replied Rogue, her voice bewildered. 'How can that be lies, Remy? How can yah say Ah didn't get the truth?'

Remy's fragile self-control snapped. 'Because Sinister fuck wit' my head,' he shouted. 'Because Erik de Red fuck wit' your power. And you *wanted* to believe de lies.' Angry with himself for letting his control slip, Remy closed his mouth with an audible snap of teeth.

Rogue's eyes were wide, startled. Gambit swore so rarely that it took her a moment to get over her surprise at that and let the rest of his words sink in. When they did, she blurted out, 'What do yah mean, Erik - mess - with mah power? Ah felt yah, yah were there in mah head, Remy.'

'You got my power when you kiss me, Rogue, but whoever you got in your head, it wasn' me,' said Gambit. 'If you had absorbed me, I'd have passed out, non?'

Rogue seemed to be having difficulty catching her breath, short gasps panting between her lips. 'Ah . . . Ah . . . Ah don't know,' she gasped. 'Maybe . . . if yah had some kind of . . . immunity, maybe.'

Gambit laughed, a harsh, bitter bark. 'You know dat ain't true, chere. De las' time you kiss me, I be out for days. And Gambit ain't developed no new superpowers since den.'

'But . . . but . . .yah were there, in mah head,' said Rogue, her face crumpling in her distress. 'Ah heard yah, Remy. Ah heard yah telling me ta leave yah there.'

Anger rippled in Remy's voice. 'Gambit don' know who were in your head tellin' you dat, Rogue, but it weren' me. Did you really hear de voice, chere, or is it jus' you're way of gettin' out of havin' a dirty conscience?' Remy's face was clenched tight around the bitterness that was eating away at him.

'No . . .NO!' Rogue shouted her vehement denial. 'Yah voice was in mah head, Remy, and yah told me - yah told me to leave yah behind.'

'It wasn' my voice,' replied Gambit. 'It was jus' another lie, chere, jus' another lie. I haven' always told you de whole trut', Rogue, but Gambit never lie to you. If I'd known it was dat easy to make you believe, I t'ink I'd of taken it up.' Remy sighed heavily and his shoulders drooped with the resignation that coloured his next words. 'I t'ought maybe dat you get de trut' if you touch me, chere. I t'ought maybe we could move on wit'out de secrets dat lie between us. But somet'ing in here,' he touched his finger lightly to his temple, 'somet'ing been changed by Sinister. And somet'ing in dat "courtroom" was changed by Erik, and all you got was half-trut's and little, twisted pieces of lies. And you were too distressed by it all, and you were too damned eager to condemn me, and you couldn' even see t'rough de obvious untrut's. You tol' me dat you love me, Rogue, and when it put to de test - you don' even give me de benefit of de doubt.' There was no bitterness left in Gambit now, just an overwhelming weariness as he lifted his eyes to Rogue.

Rogue lived her life by absolutes. When Mystique had been her "mama" she had given her all to following Mystique's lead, despite her own misgivings. When she had changed sides, her whole heart had gone into the Professor's dream. When she had fallen in love with Gambit, it was absolute love. And when she had been convinced of Gambit's guilt, her condemnation of him had been complete.

So now, as Gambit's quiet words sank in and forced her to re-examine what she had done, to confront the fact she may have been wrong, her remorse was absolute.

As was her forgiveness.

Gambit watched the change in her face, her eyes, her body language, and thought that it was like watching someone being twisted by Azimuth. From distress and desperation, Rogue shifted into hope and yearning. Impassively, he watched as she stretched one hand out to him in an imploring gesture, her eyes shining with unshed tears.

'Remy, shugah, can yah forgive me?' she said. 'Ah didn't know . . . what Erik did to me . . . Ah'm so sorry.' A quiet plea threaded through her words.

Remy looked at her - at the woman who had once meant so much to him that he would have betrayed all his secrets, taken any blow, died a hundred times for the taste of her mouth - and tried to feel anything at all. He tried to feel love, but there was nothing there. He tried to feel hate, but there was nothing there. She had left him to die, and that fact left his heart as cold and barren as the icy plains he had had to trek across in Antarctica.

'No, Rogue,' he said, softly. 'Some t'ings can' be forgiven.'

Rogue hadn't been expecting that answer, and her face crumpled in shock, before she regathered herself and pulled back her hand. 'But Remy,' she said, 'Yah know what was going through mah head, yah said yahself that Erik did something to me, but yah won't forgive me?'

'You didn' even try to fight it,' said Remy. 'Whatever was done to you, you didn' even try.'

'Ah wasn't mahself,' pleaded Rogue. 'Someone was in mah head, telling me ta leave yah. Ah thought it was y'all, Remy. Surely yah can see why Ah did it. Surely yah can come back ta us. To the X-Men. We can explain - tell them Ah was wrong. We can try again, Remy. Maybe we can get it back, Remy, our relationship . . .'

'Relationship?' Gambit cut Rogue off. 'A relationship don' consist of findin' de wors' parts of each other and bangin' dem together to see what hurts de most. Dat's all we were doin' at de end, Rogue. We'd been killin' each other for months - do you really want to go back to dat?'

'No, of course not,' replied Rogue. 'But we don't have ta, Remy. If Ah can trust yah, trust yah despite the secrets then it could be better than it ever was. And Ah could, Remy, if yah just give me enough time, Ah could trust yah.'

Gambit forced himself not to turn away from Rogue, away from the bright, shining hope in her eyes. He almost wished she had tried to kill him, rather than this. At least, then, he wouldn't have had to look inside himself and see how truly dead his love for Rogue was. So it was with something more approaching pity than contempt that he looked into her eyes and drove his words through her hope like a sword. 'I don' want your trust,' he said. 'I don' want our relationship. I don' want you.'

Hope guttered in her eyes, fought and went out. Hurt welled in its place. Her voice was a raw whisper as she said, 'Yah wouldn't have said that after the cave.'

Gambit's breath hissed sharply out between his teeth and, turning his back on Rogue, he walked swiftly to the edge of the room and leaned palms and forehead against the wall.

The cave. He had already added that to his list of Things I Regret Doing In My Life, a list that was already far too long. Looking back on it, he had been so stupid then. He should have been planning an escape, thinking of how to fight his way out of their situation, trying to charm Spat and Grovel into releasing him. But something inside of him had broken, misery piling upon despair until he had been drowning in it. The Shi'ar dead, the loss of Bishop, the sight of Spat and her induced youth, the thought that the X-Men were about to find out his crimes and, he was sure, exile him - all of those things had piled up in his mind until he hadn't been able to think straight. And he knew that now, since the incident that had reversed Spat's aging, that Spat and Grovel no longer went for lesser commissions, but only for the high-price bounties, the ones the captives weren't expected to survive. All of that had driven him into drowning despair, until the only thing that had kept him from trying to murder himself was the thought of Rogue.

If Spat and Grovel hadn't been there, he would have lost himself in her, taken them both to a plane where thought didn't matter anymore, only the body, only the senses. But they had been there and so he had to content himself with the feel of her mouth beneath his, the taste of her, the smoothness of her skin beneath his, the silken glory of her hair. It had been enough, her loving response, to keep him from falling into the black pit that yawned in his mind, the pit that threatened to eat him alive.

The next day, she had pushed him in and walked away.

He didn't know what was harder to forgive, her leaving him to die, or his own idiocy. His voice strangled, he croaked out, 'I'm sorry, chere, I was stupid. I shouldn' have done what I did. I shouldn' have taken advantage like dat.'

'Don't insult me,' came Rogue's voice from behind him. 'Ah wanted it too, Remy, Ah wanted what yah did in the cave to happen. Don't say that what we did was y'all "taking advantage" of me. Ah am an adult. Ah can make mah own choices.'

Gambit snorted. 'When de voices in your head ain't tellin' you different, non?'

Rogue gasped behind him and Gambit levered himself off the wall and turned around. He suddenly felt uncomfortable with his back to Rogue. But as she looked at him, a soft smile appeared on her face. 'Yah said yah never lied to me, shugah. But yah have lied to me.'

'Never,' replied Remy.

'Yes, yah did,' smiled Rogue. 'In the cave, when yah told me yah didn't love me.'

Gambit closed his eyes and sighed internally. There was no way to make this easy. He opened his eyes and looked at Rogue. 'Dat was a lie,' he acknowledged and watched the hope bloom in her eyes. 'Den,' he continued, his voice flat and brutal, and watched Rogue slump. 'Now it's not'ing but de trut'.'

'It's because of her, isn't it?' said Rogue. 'Because of Azimuth.'

'Dis has not'ing to do wit' her,' replied Remy, sharply.

'Yes, it does,' Rogue's voice was harsh. 'Yah can touch her, all the time, not just in a cave with our powers dampened. Yah want her, like yah wanted me, but her yah can touch.'

Gambit didn't respond, biting a sharp retort back between his teeth. Now wasn't the time to pick a fight - he wanted to get out of the mansion without being the cause of major structural damage.

Rogue's face changed, softened. She turned and walked away from Remy. 'Do yah know what this room is?' she asked, moving her arm to indicate the whole space.

'Non,' said Remy and cautiously moved away from the wall towards the centre of the room.

'It's called the Z'noxx Chamber,' said Rogue. 'Yet more aliens, Remy. It's been inside the walls of this room as long as Ah remember, longer than Ah been here. Everyone kind of forgot about it. Even Bastion didn't find it, cause all the technology is built into the walls, covered over. Joseph found it before we went to the Homeworld. He found a way ta make it work for me, Remy.'

She lapsed into silence. Puzzled, Gambit tried to work out what Rogue was talking about, but finally gave up. 'What do you mean?' he asked.

'Inside this room, when Ah turn it on - like this,' said Rogue and placed her hand over a part of the wall, 'then everyone's mind in here is clothed.' She turned to Remy and he could see the obvious excitement in her face. 'Yah mind is covered up now, Remy.'

'What do you mean?' Gambit repeated, suddenly very uneasy.

Rogue walked to him and stopped before him. 'It means Ah can do this,' she said and, before he could even move, her bare hand had clasped around his chin. Remy gasped and tried to shrink backwards, but Rogue held tight, exerting just enough pressure to remind him that, if she wanted, she could crush his jaw. Remy waited for the dizzying feeling that came with Rogue's power working on him, but nothing happened.

'Joseph showed me,' whispered Rogue. 'Joseph kissed me. Now Ah can touch, Remy. Now Ah can kiss yah anytime Ah want.' And with that, her lips descended on his, warm, soft, inviting.

Gambit wanted to be sick. This was not his choice and, as long as Rogue held him, there was no escape for him, and that made it nothing more than a violation. But her fingers held him tightly, flexed warningly when he tried to pull away, and so he stood there, unmoving, unresponding as her mouth whispered over his.

Azimuth walked through the door.

For an instant Gambit wanted to rip himself away from Rogue, to throw himself at Azimuth and try and explain why he was kissing another woman, but then he realised there was no point. Azimuth could read both of them, could see the truth of what was going on, and so Gambit relaxed his body. Beneath his mouth he felt Rogue's lips curve upwards in a triumphant smile, even as the itch/buzz started in his mind.

And then Rogue jerked back from him, her eyes wide, her hand clasped to her mouth. 'Yah bit me,' Rogue exclaimed, her voice muffled by her hand. Gambit grinned at Azimuth, startled by her elegant solution to the problem. Rogue was feeling her bottom lip, obviously surprised to find it was not bleeding.

Gambit turned to look at Rogue, his eyes suddenly sorrowful. 'I'm happy you found a way to touch, Rogue,' he said softly. 'If Joseph give you de gift and you still feel for him de way you appear to when Gambit here, why not try it out on him, non?'

Azimuth was not as inclined to kindness as Remy and her eyes were stormy as she looked at Rogue. Her voice was harsh, angry, as she said, 'Gambit doesn't want you.' Rogue looked at Azimuth, her eyes wide. 'If you try that again, I will fight you,' Azimuth continued. 'And I will win.' Gambit felt the itch/buzz again in his mind, and suddenly Rogue's face twisted with fear and she ran from the room, her hand still clasped to her mouth.

'What did you do?' Gambit asked, cautiously, for Azimuth was obviously still angry.

'I twisted her so she's afraid of me,' said Azimuth, and her anger collapsed into a wicked grin. 'Easiest way to fight someone invulnerable.'

'You did good, chere. T'ank you,' Remy said, gratefully.

'That girl's got problems,' said Azimuth, her eyes thoughtful, ignoring Remy's remark. 'She was nearly as easy to twist as I am. She needs some help.'

'Not from me,' said Gambit, his voice suddenly sharp.

Azimuth looked at him then, through lowered lashes. 'I can see why you fell in love with her,' she said, softly. 'She's very beautiful. All the X-Women are very beautiful.'

'No more dan you, chere,' said Gambit.

'Don't lie to me, Remy,' Azimuth said, her voice full of self-doubt. 'I'm not beautiful and you know it. My nose is too big, and my jaw is too square and my mouth is too wide.' She looked mournfully down. 'I'm only a B-cup and everyone else here is at least a D-cup. And my hair,' she ran her fingers through her ultra-short cut, 'if I grow it any longer than this, I look like I'm in a permanent dandruff shampoo commercial.' She noticed Remy's puzzled look. 'You know all flyaway and fine and windblown.'

Azimuth's sudden attack of self-doubt startled Remy, now used to her casual self-confidence. But then he realised that she had never walked in on him kissing someone else before. There were no words he could say, he realised. The problem with having a girlfriend who saw the truth of everything was that he couldn't say she was more beautiful than Rogue or Storm or Jean, because it simply wasn't true.

So he answered her the only way he knew how. Stepping forward, he gathered her into the circle of his arms and leaned his forehead against hers. Then he let his empathy out, allowed it to wash over her, letting her know how utterly he loved her. He let her feel the fire of passion that burned in his veins when he thought of her, and beneath that the steady, comforting glow of the hearth-fire, for she was home to him. And then he felt her response, the sudden, inchoate rush of emotion, and he let himself drift in the warmth of her love.

Finally, shakily, Gambit withdrew his empathy behind his shields again, slipped himself apart from Azimuth's emotions.

'Thank you,' said Azimuth, softly. 'I never doubt you, LeBeau, but sometimes I doubt myself. It's nice to have someone who puts it all in perspective.'

Gambit smiled down at her and kissed her lightly on the forehead. 'What you doing up, chere?' he asked.

'Hank let me out,' Azimuth grinned in response. 'He said a couple more days of exercising and I can go. He said I should start with a walk, so I came looking for you. Just in time, by the looks of it.'

Gambit just grinned, a little, wicked smile. 'So Hank's not in de infirmary?' he asked.

'No-one is,' said Azimuth. 'Why?'

'Gambit got an sudden need to prove just exactly how much he love you.' Gambit wiggled his eyebrows in comic counterpoint.

Azimuth pressed the length of her body against his. 'Oh my,' she said. 'You do have a need, don't you?' Her smile was sultry. 'Well, Hank did say I should get some exercise. There's a lock on the door, too,' she continued.

'Bien,' replied Gambit. 'Shall we go?'

'Race you,' said Azimuth, and they ran, shrieking with laughter, back towards the infirmary.


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