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Chapter 1


Written by Lomas
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 1

The skies of New York City were clear and crisp, cast in a sharp cobalt blue. The outside temperature in the city was only a few degrees above freezing point, but this did not deter the people from scampering through the streets like busy little ants, on errands of greatest importance. They were wrapped up against the cold in snug winter clothing of varying shapes and sizes, turning the busy city-streets into a carnival of colour, with a distinctive festive air.

And why not? After all, Christmas was coming, and everyone was trying to get in their last minute shopping.

A snappy, brisk wind blew though the streets, cutting through thick coats and parkas, but this was not enough to spoil the infectious festive mood that all shoppers seemed to share.

Shop-keepers worked overtime as potential clients passed through their doors, some to spend their hard earned money; others leaving, their share of trading already done.

To Carl Conway, Christmas was always the most lucrative time of the year. He had been in business with his small gift and card store for over 10 years now, and as long as he could remember, the Christmas rush had not yet failed him. No matter how the media hyped up his other *Big Days* as he often referred to them, old St. Nick's Day has always been his 'chart topper'.

At Christmas, unknown faces always came and went, and that pleased Carl just fine. His cards left with them, but their money stayed behind, just the way he liked it. Even so, Carl could not help but notice the young woman that stood before him, a card of her choice placed on the counter. Being a happily married man for over 15 years, he had no eyes for any other woman besides his wife, but he knew a pretty girl when he saw one. This girl certainly was. You had to be blind not to notice. Even so, the first thing that Carl noticed was the snowy white streak that ran through the middle of her otherwise chestnut coloured hair. If she had caught him staring at that snowy streak, she gave him no notice as she favored him with a pleasant, sunny smile.

"How much does this one cost, sugah? There ain't no price tag on it, so Ah figured Ah'd just come ask," she inquired of him in a polite voice as she tapped the card with a gloved finger, emerald-green eyes sparkling.

Taking hold of the card in question with deft fingers, Carl saw that there was no price tag on it at all.

Someone had slipped up.

'No matter,' he thought to himself, 'anyone can make that kind of mistake.' Having been in business for a couple of years now, Carl had made a point of knowing the approximate price bracket of everything he sold.

"Normally, this kind of card would go for about five dollars, Miss, but since someone slipped up with the price tag, I'll give it to you for three. Does that sound like a fair enough offer to you?" he asked as he regarded her with a smile of his own. The answer to that question did not come from her as he had expected, but from the tall stranger standing behind her.

The stranger spoke in a rich, pleasantly accented voice. "Doan know 'bout you, chere, but dat seem like one fine deal t'me Almos' be like stealin' candy from a baby. Dis doan be fair to de shopkeeper at all, non?"

Her eyes sparkling, the young lady turned to the tall man. "Can it, swamp rat. This is mah business deal, an' it ain't got nothin' ta do with the likes o' you," she said to him in a stern voice, but try as she might, she could not keep the amusement out of her voice. The young man flinched playfully, as if hurt, and raised his hands in submission.

The young lady gave a sharp, dismissive nod before she returned her attention to Carl once more.

"Thank ya kindly fer yer offer, sugah. Ah gladly accept it," she said gaily as she pushed the card towards him, along with three dollars. He only smiled at her in acknowledgment, ringing up her purchase and placing the card in a plastic bag with a Christmas motif on it.

"Merry Christmas to ya, sugah," she said as she took the bag from him.

"And the same to you too, Miss," he answered politely.

With that, she turned, heading towards the doorway of the store.

"Still t'ink dat ya be short-changin' yourself, homme," Carl heard the young man say as he regarded what was clearly his girlfriend with very appreciative eyes.

Carl only smiled. "Business is business, my friend, and it is Christmas after all," he responded.

"Oui," he heard the stranger agree before following his girlfriend out. "Merry Christmas to you too, homme." With that, he was gone.

Carl afforded himself a small smile before he noticed the two crisp dollar bills that lay on the counter, obviously left there by the young man with the Cajun accent.

"Merry Christmas, to both of you," Carl said as he tucked the notes into his cash register, chuckling softly to himself.

"Why you got to have so many of dese packages when y'go shopping, chere?" Remy complained in jest as he carried three bags in his left hand, Rogue walking slightly ahead of him.

With a sweet grin on her face, Rogue dropped back to sling one arm around Remy's neck, whispering softly into his ear. "That's why Ah need a big strong man ta carry 'em fer me. That way, Ah know that everythin' is safe an' that nothin's gonna happens ta them."

Gambit only chuckled as he let her lead him through the streets of New York while he carried her purchases for her.

"Dat mean I get a kiss fer all my troubles, heh?" he asked her wickedly.

"In yer dreams, swamp rat," Rogue teased as she walked away from him, laughing.

Remy suddenly stood still, breathing a heavy, mock sigh. "A man can always dream," he said to no one in particular, his voice filled with playful sorrow.

"Ya got that right, Cajun," Rogue responded as she winked one green eye at him, smiling softly. "C'mon ya lazy-bones, we got one more stop an' then we're goin' home."

"Oh? An' what dat be, chere? A chew toy for Logan?" Remy asked in a very serious voice.

His comment earned him a playful blow on his shoulder, courtesy of Rogue's fist.

"Merry Christmas to ya," she said as her fist hit its mark, "an' no, Ah ain't buyin' Logan a chew toy. That's why you're in the team." With that, she danced away from Remy on quick, agile feet.

"Always wondered about dat," he replied with a grin. "Where we goin'?"

Remy did not miss how Rogue's smile faltered slightly, her smooth forehead wrinkled by a small frown. When she spoke, her voice was softer, serious. She was not playing games anymore.

"Ah been doin' this since Ah joined the X-Men. Every year at this time, Ah go ta one of the children's' charities in the city an' donate two-hundred dollars. Ah figured that since Ah got a second chance at makin' things right with the X-men, it's only right Ah try an' give somethin' back. Gawd knows how many lives Ah must've wrecked, how many children Ah put out on the streets back in mah days with the Brotherhood. Now, all Ah wanna do is make things right any way Ah can." Her head drooped slightly as she finished.

Quickening his pace slightly to catch up to her, Gambit looped his free hand gently across her shoulders, pulling her towards him. She came willingly, snuggling into him. He spoke to her in a soft whisper.

"Doan feel guilty, chere. All people be guilty o' some things in their lives they want to forget. Dat be all in de past, an' we can't change dat. Still, you be tryin' to fix it now, an' dat be one of de bravest things dat I ever heard of. I be proud of you, chere." He hugged her closer, feeling her arms slide around the small of his back as she hugged him in return.

She spoke to him softly, her voice a whisper. "Thank ya fer understandin', Remy. Ah just feel that it's the right thing fer me ta do."

With that, she broke away from him, jogging slightly ahead of him once more. As she looked over her shoulder, flashing him with a winning smile, she called out to him. "C'mon swamprat, or we're gonna be late."

Grinning back with a smile of his own, Remy followed her, carrying her packages dutifully.

They walked into the doorway of the charity Rogue chose together, hand in hand. The tiny reception area was decorated with a festive motif. A brunette sat behind the reception desk. She had a kind pleasant, motherly face, and she smiled at both of them winningly.

"Hello folks. Welcome to the Children's Sanctuary. How may I help you?"

"Ah would like ta make a donation 'o two hundred dollars please." Rogue answered as she approached the desk.

Remy could not help but notice the slightly nervous edge in Rogue's voice. It dawned on him that this had to be the first time that she allowed anyone to accompany her as she did this. He himself never knew of this little ritual she undergone every year, and he doubted if any of the other X-Men did. If so, they never gave any indication of it.

He looked at the woman he loved more than life itself. Her face was tense, but determined. She was going to see this through, o matter what. Remy felt a soft heat burn through his heart as he watched her. What she did here was so simple, but to him, it spoke volumes…

"Thank you very much ma'am," he heard the receptionist say as he saw her take in Rogue's donation, writing out a receipt for the money received. As Rogue headed back towards him, a happy smile on her face, the sound of many young and decidedly unhappy voices reached them from beyond the reception area.

"Ah wonder what that's all about?" Rogue asked as she reached him. "That's quite a few kids mighty unhappy about somethin', that's fer sure."

Remy only smiled absently as he strained his well-trained ears, trying to sort through the mixed, jumbled pitches and heaves of sound. Soon enough, he had the cause of all the trouble pinned down.

"Dem kids be unhappy cause Santa ain't comin' ta town. Dey just been tol' dat he can't make it dis year," he told her, sympathy for the children in his voice.

"You're right about that, sir," the receptionist said from behind her desk as she smiled at them apologetically. "Poor Sheila just broke the news to them. Every year we try and have a Christmas party for the kids with gifts for each child, depending on the donations we receive. This time the people we normally hire to play Santa Claus just canceled a short while ago. Sheila and I don't have husbands or boyfriends to fill in. Such a pity really. We had the costumes ready and everything."

"That's so sad. Ah wish there was somethin' we could do ta help ya," Rogue answered the receptionist, her voice tinged with unhappiness about the situation.

"And y'say dat you got de costume ready an' everyt'ing?" Remy mused, his eyes twinkling wickedly as an idea formed in the back of his head.

"Yes, why?" she asked, slightly taken aback.

"Chere," Remy asked as he spun on his heel to face Rogue, 'you be in a hurry to get back to de mansion?"

"Jean asked me ta help with dinner when we get back," Rogue answered, slightly puzzled.

"Call an' tell her you not gonna make it. Ask Stormy ta fill in for you."

"Why?" she asked, but the look on her face told Remy she knew what he was driving at.

"Cause Santa is gonna come to town anyway, cancellation or no, an' he can't do it without de prettiest elf he can find."

Sheila Cunningham, a short, vibrant little blue-eyed blonde, strode into the room filled with unhappy children purposefully. Almost immediately, she felt a few sets of sad little eyes fasten on her.

'If looks could kill, I guess I'd be six feet under already,' she thought to herself as she scanned over the room filled with children of various ages. Most of the children had their eyes locked on her. After all, she was the bearer of bad news just a short while ago. It was too much to hope for that they would have forgotten about that already. She also noted that most of the little ones were cluttered around the synthetic Christmas tree. Their eyes were filled with longing as they watched the few gifts gathered underneath with hawk-like, hoping eyes.

She put on her most charming smile as she spoke in a crystal clear voice that carried throughout the room.

"Kids, if I could just have your attention for a little bit, I think that there is some here to see --" She did not even finish her sentence as she saw the children's eyes grow in surprise, a few mouths falling open, even from the older children. The room was immediately filled with am excited buzz, as faces lit up happily everywhere.

"I tol' ya Sanna was gunna come," she heard a small, four year -old almost in front of her lecture one of the bigger kids, with steely conviction in her young voice.

Sheila could not help but smile.

It was then that a voice spoke right above her.

"Sorry we're a lil' late kids, Santa can be fergetful sometimes, but Ah made sure we got here."

What Sheila Cunningham saw then, she never forgot until her dying day. She knew that the young couple had offered to dress up into the old Santa suit and elf costume they used every year, but she had never expected anything like this.

A beautiful young woman with a fiery red pixie hat with a snowy white tuft on its end *flew* right overhead, with 'Santa Claus' gathered up in her arms, her face alight with a dazzling smile, eyes sparkling happily. She touched down near the Christmas tree, setting Santa gently down on his feet.

"I dunno about y'all, but Ah'm glad we finally got here. It was a long ways from the North Pole." She grinned at the children as excited sighs filled the room.

Her only answer was a huge roar as the room exploded with the happy uproar of excited voices.

"You a natural, chere. Dey love you." Rogue heard Remy whisper into her ear as they waited patiently for the bubbly excitement to die down. She turned her head slightly to face him where he stood. He looked decidedly silly in the old Santa suit, his face almost completely covered in the fake white hairpiece and beard. The fake potbelly, courtesy of some pillows provided by the receptionist at the last minute, was pushed slightly out of place. Still, there was no missing the playful twinkle in his eyes.

"Ah love ya, swamp rat." she whispered back, kissing Remy on the cheek, careful to make sure that the fake beard stood between her and his exposed skin.

The gesture was greeted by hooting `Ooooooh's' and 'Aaaaaaah's' from all around the room, along with a few excited whistles.

"Yer audience calls," Rogue grinned at Remy as she pulled away from him. Even so, Rogue did not miss the very soft, but sincere, "I love you too, chere."

"Now, who been good dis year?" Remy boomed across the room, only to have his question answered by an even louder chorus of "Me! Me! Meeee!!'

As Sheila watched the young couple hand out gifts, with Santa having three ecstatic little girls nestled happily on his lap, she afforded herself a happy little smile.

"I guess that miracles still happen when least expected."

She was positive that the young woman had to be a mutant. There was no other way that she could have flown into the room, but that didn't matter. All that mattered was the happy kids that were clustered in front of her, amongst clutters of torn apart gift paper, some already playing with their new toys.

'Merry Christmas, you two. May God bless you for many years to come for what you've done here today,' she wished upon the couple, just as another small boy's face lit up as he received his gift from 'Santa Claus.'

We have been through this a million times, oh Constant Reader, but I have to drag you along this path anyway. Sorry.

Remy and Rogue belong to Marvel Comics. Not to me. This story os written for your enjoyment only, and it's for free. I'm not making a blue penny with this… Not even a pink one for that matter.

This in all honesty, is nothing but a labour of love J

I hope that this will be to your enjoyment…

And now, to the people who made this possible…

Gruver - You were there for me again, weren't you? <smiles>

Always willing to beta for me, even a day or two before I want to post this, solid as a rock

Thank you, Gruver I am forever in your debt.

Roguestar - If Gruver is the safety-net that catches me from posting garbage, then 'Star is the superglue that holds my sorry excuses for sentences together. J

I can think of many things in life I would rather not do, and editing my fic drafts is one of them.

Armed with a fearless heart, and dictionary, Roguestar braved this Hellish task - and won…

Thank you.. Both of you.

And it is to you, oh Valiant Word Warriors, that I dedicate this story….

But most importantly, thank you Constant reader, for opening his file, and reading this far…

Read on!


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