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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6


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

Chapter 5

Every night I burn

Every night I call your name

Every night I burn

Every night I fall again

~ The Cure - "Burn"

Tajikistan. Their quest for Xavier led the four of them to the far northern end of the Himalayas. Remote. Cold. Desolate. A perilous high-alpine world perpetually entombed in cracked stone and harsh ice.

As she was ice. Cool, remote, solid - the perfect leader. Storm: first and foremost and always.

They found the hidden monastery, their goal, by fluke - Gambit's uncharacteristic foolishness in leaping onto Colossus's back at the edge of a precipice sending the two of them tumbling to certain doom if she and Rogue did not save them. Rogue opted to catch Piotr, leaving her to rescue Gambit with a flurry of hail that pounded the ice and snow into a soft landing place for him. She wondered if his foolishness was prompted by the fact that only he could feel the killing cold; she and Piotr and Rogue were all protected from it by their mutant powers. The cold a brutal reminder to him of Antarctica - but at least this time he was endowed with adequate survival gear and teammates determined to keep him alive.

But, despite her insight, her inner agony for his obvious discomfort, she could only watch the mental games continue between Rogue and Gambit as they pressed on toward their goal across the bottom of the deep crevasse Gambit's folly had brought them to. Watch the girl play with her penitent suitor, apparently craving the display, the conflict more than true emotion. Keep up. Suffer the cold alone. Come close to me on my terms. Watch your mouth, Cajun. Rogue appeared more and more to her view as an emotionally maimed child seeking validation and adoration with equal intent from a man burdened by the terrible consequences of past actions. No compassion or understanding remained in her. Gambit awkwardly pushed the girl away more than once, she saw, taking no joy in the observation. Rogue's bitterness increased with the distance he enforced - still seemingly oblivious to the cruel irony of their situation - and her jibes became more piercing, each blow landed with devastating skill. While Gambit's actions became dangerously flip, his words charm-less and cold. The heart of the team divided with their discontent, even to Piotr's disgust and her own hidden sense of loss.

She mourned silently. This was not like Remy; no longer the bright charmer, the honor-bound thief, the graceful acrobat she knew and loved. This was a clumsy, uncertain, broken man. Broken, perhaps, by the very attachment to Rogue that she had encouraged him to preserve. There was no time to think, to reconsider her past actions. Suddenly, they arrived at their goal. A sacred place carved laboriously from ancient glaciers and the remorseless rock of the Himalayas. A place once beautiful and serene yet now profaned by battle and death. For within the blue, gleaming ice halls of the reclusive Brotherhood of Ice's monastery, they found only the brutally mangled bodies of slain monks. Still they sought their goal, following the tracking device. Only to find no opposition, no evidence beyond the silent dead.

Finally, they were left standing before a gleaming, innocent mirror-like barrier at the far end of the great entry hall. A mysterious and seemingly impenetrable wall. But one that rippled like water under Piotr's cautious touch.

Sensing a trap, but still determined to find their mentor, they all agreed to pass through the wall. They had stepped through the looking glass together - Remy to her left, Piotr to her right, Rogue beyond the armored Russian - into a strange place of terror and fear. Cast adrift inside the impossible and terrible non-place - direction skewed, reality perverted - she still sensed him near. With her heart. And Remy was suffering terribly, seething visibly with pain and fear and despair, lost in memory. A strange green mist surrounded him; a mist he struggled against almost as if it were somehow alive and malign.

Only Rogue, with her experience with other minds, other states of reality, seemed relatively unaffected. The young Southerner caught Piotr easily, grounding him, releasing his immobility. Laughing with disturbing ease at the rest of them.

While she, the leader, fought against nausea and vertigo to reach her other teammate. Refusing to call him more. Using her contact with nature to summon a wind to bring her to Gambit's side - but something in the green mist surrounding him lashed out at her, forcing her harshly away, to the wall. She cried out in agony and reality resurged, allowing them to find each other briefly in the chaos.

"Storm! You all right, chère?" Gambit called to her, recovering swiftly and moving to her side. She rose to her feet, shaking off her pain and his hands to focus on the mission. Not looking at him, not daring to look to see if she caused him pain with her rejection. But as they spoke as a team, gathering impressions, making a guess as to their predicament, reality exploded viciously into chaos about them again.

She fell forward, into unimaginable pain and loss. Gambit beside her, curling into a ball of red and green flame again, his own power apparently consuming him along with the virulent green mist. She fought wildly against the sickeningly distorted sensations drowning her, her heart suffering more to see him endure such pain. Then came the unexpected pressure of his arm against hers in the chaos. She reached out desperately, grabbing him tight, drawing him close. And he responded, eagerly, frantically, his hands closing hard around her arms. They stared at each other, feeling reality return in the small circle of their contact, the longing and need that passed in their gazes. The Goddess to the Thief. The Thief to the Goddess. Heart to heart. The flames dying, the pain fading. Finding that together they were strong, whole, real. She stared into his red-on-black eyes, her own eyes white with power. And understood.

Then she cried out to the others, still the leader, only then seeing Rogue's astonished, devastated face illuminated with sudden clarity in the chaos beyond.

". . . our hearts will persevere! Open your hearts, X-Men! Your emotions are the key!"

And she leaned toward Remy, forgetting Rogue in her need, and kissed her love with all her heart and soul. His arms caught her to him, dragging her close, returning the caress as the last lingering green flames licking across his back, his hair, were driven off by the power of her embrace. Craving the feel of him against her, denied by his survival gear, but holding him close, close and savoring the heat of his mouth on hers, their breath mingled, their hearts in this moment beating as one.

The green fire burned away from him with a last, faint wailing cry that vanished inexplicably into the surrounding nightmare. A sound of despair echoed by Rogue as she watched them in dawning horror, her fist in her mouth, her eyes wide and crystalline with utter loss.

"No! No! NO!" the girl screamed and drove up into the air with all her fantastic strength, shattering non-reality around them all into cascading, vaporizing shards of mirror and ice and mist.

Then she and Remy broke apart. Elated and astonished and flushed. Rogue hovered above, glaring hatred and pain and anger at them both. But beyond, lay their goal. And ever the leader, she rallied them, moving them past the awkward moment; Piotr's horrified shock, Rogue's vitriolic hatred, Remy's guilty tension. Her own joy and relief she buried. He had sought her as eagerly as she him! On, they had to press on, to find the one responsible; the strange little girl Nina and her guardian Renee. Then there was a brief revelation by the strange child with the wide, liquid black eyes that the chaos had not been to stop them, but to prevent the entry of the Cerebro Alpha monster. A hideous perversion of their own technology unleashed upon them by Bastion.

The blue-glowing cybernetic creature burst upon them, intent on 'cataloging' them, on capturing Nina for her strange link to Charles Xavier. At her cry, the team functioned in battle as a whole, fighting desperately to save the girl. One by one they fell, first Rogue, reckless in her anger and frustration. Then Remy, still unsteady from the battle with chaos. The monster stood firm over the body of her love, limiting her effectiveness. Now Piotr - caught by the creature - attempted to slip from it's grasp by shifting his form from metal to flesh. But it somehow anticipated his move, wrapping implacable hands around his throat and slowly choking him to death.

Her little brother, her secret love, her rival - her entire team. Down. Defeated. She alone fought on, hearing Piotr's wheezing breaths over the creature's incessant recitation of it's 'program objectives'.

Then, incredibly, Rogue was revived and - flying at reckless speed in the close quarters of the destroyed monastery - severed the creature's arms, freeing Piotr.

Listening to the monster's talk told her too much and yet too little, that it sought the child Nina as if she were some portion of Charles Xavier himself. She watched the disabled creature warily, discussing with her teammates possible modes of attack and it's motivation for attacking them as it re-assembled its limbs, hunched menacingly over Gambit's still form. Then she blanched in shock.

". . .It is a mystery we will have to wait to solve - - by the Goddess! Gambit!"

The ice under Remy was glowing bright pink with the distinctive signature of his mutant power. He lay grinning devilishly beneath the creature, awake once more, hands pressed to the ice. The monster lunged down, somehow sensing the danger, where before it had only been intent on self-repair. Not her cry, she begged silently. Had she warned it?

"Gambit! Duck and roll!" she screamed, summoning forth with all the desperation and fear in her heart a great wind to sweep him out of the way. The charged ice exploded beneath the monster in a great heaving blast that rocked the cavern and sent the thing tumbling down into icy depths.

She landed beside him, their teammates and the little girl and her guardian all rushing over as well.

"Remy LeBeau! That was the most thick-headed, addle-brained stunt - -" she began, standing before him, hands fisted on her hips, her voice cracking with emotion. He sat splay-legged on the floor before her - shaken and weary, but alive. It took all her legendary control not to dive on top of him, hug him close and whisper prayers of thanks to the Goddess.

"Had t' put on a good show for de fillette wit' the pretty eyes, 'Ro. . ." he said with a trace of his old charm. The little girl Nina, clutching a bedraggled and worn stuffed rabbit by the ears, came up beside him and pointed a little mittened hand at him.

"You're crazy, mister," the child said with all seriousness. Remy leaned calmly forward, casting Storm a warning look. She collected herself firmly. Rogue smoldered behind them, standing beside Piotr who had laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. The woman Renee looked between them uneasily, sensing the tension and dissent but not understanding the reason after seeing them work smoothly together in battle only moments before.

"Maybe, but my friends call me Remy. You my friend, chère?" he asked, cupping the little girl's chin in his long clever hand and smiling gently at her. She melted instantly, smiling shyly back at him.

"Yeah. . ."

"Den tell me, mon petite amie . . . what makes our crazed computer t'ink dat you're da Prof?"


At Piotr's warning cry, they turned to see the monster clawing it's way up from the broken ice, it's incessant chatter preceding it. Rogue snatched up the child, Piotr the woman Renee, and she followed with a strong wind to speed them all, keeping a worried eye on the stumbling Gambit as they fled deeper into the monastery.

They ran, taking the twisting paths through the carved ice, oblivious of the beauty both man-made and natural around them. They needed cover. They needed time to understand why this girl registered on their portable tracker as Charles Xavier. They needed a way to escape, but the known way out was blocked by the monster.

They found a secluded room, finally, deep within the devastated monastery. A place to catch their breath, perhaps to plan. Her teammates secured the room, while she questioned the child, surprised by her intimate knowledge of them. Nina knew things that only Charles Xavier knew. But when she tried to scan the child with the portable tracker, Nina reacted badly - somehow making the small unit disappear in a flash of green light.

"Goddess!" she cried as she fell back, her hands tingling with the same feeling she had endured inside the ice-mirror. Unreality.

"Nina, no!" Renee shouted, lunging for the girl, hugging her tight.

"'Roro!" Gambit shouted as well, seeing her clumsy fall. The others turned; Rogue hovering above as she watched from her place near the ceiling, guarding the high vents cut through the ice for air circulation.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Nina cried, huddling in Renee's arms. "I just don't want him to get me. . . I'm scared."

Remy crouched beside her, a hand falling reassuringly on her shoulder. His touch warmed her, lifted her heart, her hopes.

"Y' okay, Stormy?" he asked her gently. She shot him a stern look. Piotr stood beyond, his arms crossed disapprovingly across his massive metal chest. Suddenly, from above came a high scream of pain and fear.

"Boshe moi! What is it doing to Rogue?" Colossus cried in shock, staring up. A glowing liquid - blue and shot with sparks and streaks of electricity - had surged through the air vents and enveloped the girl, covering her completely. She screamed and writhed in the air for an endless instant until the shrieks suddenly stopped.

And in the silence they heard Rogue's voice, eerily altered to sound like the monster, ". . . Registrant Rogue eliminated."

The child Nina began to sob in Renee's arms. She could only stare up in horror as their former teammate looked down at them, her body horribly altered to a living blue glow, metal growths arcing around her face. Remy swore under his breath beside her.

"Impossible," she gasped. "The Cerebro creature has somehow bonded itself to Rogue!"

Remy locked his hand on her shoulders and looked desperately into her eyes, then leaned over and kissed her hard. There was fear and the knowledge of possible death in his gaze.

"Take de child an' fly, Stormy!" he said, shoving her toward the frightened little girl. For an instant she froze - she was the leader, not him. He reached into his coat for cards, waving her away with his other hand.

"Colossus! You da only one who can stand up t' Rogue! Get ready!"

"Da, Gambit!"

"Cerebro Prime demands that you release the Xavier Manifest to me immediately. Comply. . . or all will be destroyed," the monster that had taken over Rogue bellowed down at them. Remy and Piotr spread out between the creature and her and the child.

"Run, Stormy!" Gambit shouted at her. "We got y' back!" She turned, knowing he spoke the truth, her heart heavy as she snatched Nina out of Renee's arms.

"Follow as you can," she said to Renee with quiet intensity, her own pain showing in her eyes. She would have to leave him behind to face the thing that had possessed Rogue. Renee swallowed hard and nodded.

"You cannot win X-Men . . . we know everything about you. Please do not make us destroy you." The creature's voice echoed ominously off the ice. She ran. The little girl clutched desperately to her chest, Renee running bravely behind her.

The creature screamed in outrage and she heard an echoing crash as the strength of Colossus sent an ice wall tumbling down atop their altered teammate.

But once she reached the open, she summoned wind and she and the child lifted into the air. Looking back at Renee, she could see that the other woman was crying in fear, tears streaming down her face, but she was waving them on as well. Urging them to leave her behind. For the child's sake.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, so softly that only Nina could hear. Then she flew on, racing through the icy hallways, searching for the sky and escape. Nina burrowed under her chin, shivering gently until she suddenly stiffened.

"Oh, Gambit!" Nina cried.

"No, Gambit is fine, child," she soothed, a desperate edge to her voice. He needed to be fine. "He and Piotr can take care of themselves."

"No, Storm-lady, I felt him. . . he's hurt. . ." The girl shivered hard in her arms, the battered rabbit hugged tightly to her little face. "The monster made his cards blow up too soon. . ."

'Oh, Goddess, not Remy,' she thought, but she flew on, flew away carrying the child to safety. It was her duty - to the child, to her fallen comrades, to Charles. But her heart, her heart was breaking.

"An' Gambit. . .he doesn't see. . . Oh! Nooooo!" The girl's head flew back as she screamed out a denial.

"What is it, child?!" she cried, staring down at the sobbing girl in her arms. Her strange liquid black eyes blinked heavy tears away.

"He's just like the monks, Storm. . . a whole lot of hurt. . . then . . . nothing. He's gone. . . he's gone."

"No!" she breathed. Tears welled in her own eyes, but she blinked them away and flew on, faster now. Knowing that if Remy had fallen, Piotr would be close behind. Rogue was too strong, and too fast, and Piotr would be reluctant to possibly harm Rogue. Nina stiffened again.

"Oh, the nice metal-man! Oh, an' Renee! Hurry, Storm-lady!"

"I cannot go any faster within these walls, child," she replied through gritted teeth. Pushing the winds, pushing herself. To dodge icy walls and low-hanging doors all the while coaxing the winds to speed and more speed. She was startled out of her fierce concentration when the child reached up and touched the tears streaming down her face.

"But Storm . . . Charley says, 'It's over.'"

She looked down at the little girl, eyes wide with shock and pain. "They are . . . gone?"

"No. . . it's just over."

Then she heard it, the high-pitched whistling scream of something approaching faster than her winds. She looked over her shoulder to see a brilliant flash of blue-white light, to hear the child shriek in her arms, then she was falling, falling into pain and blackness. Alone.

She woke to Kurt's quiet voice calling her name. But Kurt had gone to San Francisco with the other team. She sat bolt-upright in the medical bay of a strange jet, her heart thundering in her chest. She could feel the motion of the wind outside, telling her of their speed, their urgency.

"Remy! Nina!" she cried.

"Nein, Ororo, just the fuzzy-elf himself."

"Kurt, where are they? Why are you here?"

"They are, no doubt, in the hands of Cerebro even as we speak. And I came looking for your help - we were overrun in San Francisco as you were - but the Professor, Kitty, Logan. They are gone."

"No, Kitten!" she breathed out in horror, staring into Kurt's sorrowful face. Then she lifted herself off the medical bed, shaken, but determined. Her love and her friends might be gone, but they would be avenged. Cerebro would fall. She would see to it herself.

"Where are we?" she asked, her voice calm again, controlled. The pain would come later.

"On the way to New Jersey," Kurt said, leading her out into the narrow main cabin. A shaken and stiff Piotr sat beside Renee, smiling at her encouragingly. They moved on to the cockpit. A restored Rogue sat at the controls, her face tight with concentration. The monster had abandoned them all once it had achieved it's objective. All of them save the girl - and Gambit. He was gone. Kurt continued. "The tracking signals have converged in an old refinery there. We can only hope that . . . somehow they are still alive."

"Then we must plan our strategy, my friend," she said, staring at Rogue thoughtfully. "We will not be defeated again."

They all bailed out of the plane over the building, leaving Renee to fly it as best she could. Rogue blasted at her full speed through the roof of the building, taking Cerebro by surprise. It was compensating, climbing free of the pit she had driven it into when Colossus, dropped by her at the top of her arc, slammed into it again, driving it further into the ground and buying them a brief opportunity to strike back. She followed with a blast of lightning, making the creature roar in outrage. Then, seeing from the corner of her eye the distinctive flash of Kurt's teleportation on top of one of many strange pod-like cocoons suspended around the building, she prepared to strike again.

"Mein Gott! Inside is Kitty! And here, Logan! Storm, they are alive!"

Her heart surged in her chest. There was hope then. But duty first. "The Professor? Nina?"

"There!" Kurt called, teleporting closer to her. And they charged as a team, moving toward their teacher and mentor, determined to rescue him and the child and end this madness. Then in a flash, they were gone.

"Primary command set. . . executed. X-Men scanned . . . catalogued . . . defeated," the Cerebro monster gloated.

After all the pain, the fighting, and the searching the final battle occurred in the instant between one thought and the next. On an urgently whispered command, the child Nina reactivated the Professor's amazing talent. And Charles Xavier reached into the strangely sentient mind of his own computer program and simply . . . showed it what it wanted to see. As Cerebro believed it saw the X-Men fall, one by one, each a victim of the the infamous Xavier Protocols, little Nina walked about the chamber, her reality-altering gift opening one cocoon after another.

The X-Men of both teams emerged, ready to fight, but stood quietly by, waiting for a sign from their teacher. He sat in the middle of the floor, alone save for the child Nina, gaze intent on the gleaming construct slumped before him. With a thought, he let it see reality.

". . . Receiving conflicing data . . . your beloved X-Men are dead, and yet. . . you smile? Inconceivable."

"You wanted me to get my mental powers back, monster . . . well have them I do," Charles Xavier said with a cool smile. Nina stood beside him, clutching her rabbit once again. She stuck her tounge out at the glowing form. "Bet you feel stupid now, don't you doodie-head?" the tiny girl said fiercely.

"Well, dat's a rallyin' cry if ever I did hear one. . ." The amused words came from the far side of the room. Storm found her gaze drawn away from the strangely anti-climatctic battle of wills taking place before them to stare over into a solemn pair of red-on-black eyes. They gazed silently at each other for an endless moment until Xavier summoned all of them to destroy Cerebro's mobile units. Then they each whirled into action, separated by the flow of battle.

But in the end, the malicious plans of Bastion's independent Cerebro abomination were defeated by the simple diversity of humanity. By each unique mind. It was simly too much for Cerebro to comprehend.

She found ironic solace in that fact. Humanity had saved itself.

The professor found, the enemy destroyed - they all returned to Westchester and the mansion. Her strange, extended family. Each of them exhausted by battle and long struggle, and longing for a brief period of peace. They needed a small chance to recover their energies and spirits.

To their surprise, fate granted them that respite. The teams scattered about the mansion, each returning to mundane tasks interrupted by the urgency of their last mission. No crisis loomed. No villian threatened. They had time to breathe. She felt the need to feel the earth on her hands again. And to take time away from wild emotion: Rogue's blatant hostility, Piotr's puzzled concern, Remy's inexplicable absence.

So she returned to her pansies in the garden.

It was there he found her - serenely plucking the faded blossoms so the sturdy flowers would bloom again. He did not linger at the edge of the wood this time, but instead stalked up to her, eyes snapping, face set. He was dressed in combat garb, his dark eyes exposed, his posture tense.

"Hiding, henh?" he said, catching her arm and spinning her around, his expression uncharacteristically angry. "What's wrong wit' you, Stormy? Nastiest fighter in da world. Dozens of us willing t' follow y' t'rough fire an' back - an' we just did. Y' fight for da Dream, but why won' y' fight for love, mon amie?" He glared at her. She met his gaze with a façade of calm, struggling to re-discover the ice that had protected her before. But it had all melted away in chaos and green fire and his kiss, never to return. She had no real defense against the angry accusation in his eyes.

"You let me leave y' wit'out a word." He bit out each word like a curse.

"It was not right for me to interfere. . . " she began, fighting her irritation at his presumption, but rage flared in his eyes.

"So you let me go back t' her, to da one who messed me up in da first place? So's she could do it again?"

"To resolve your issues. To give you the chance to regain what you had lost."

"Got t' have it first t' lose it, chère," he growled at her, his accent thick and hard. She started violently. Had he heard her on that night so many long days ago? Her weakness? Her self-pitying words? "All dat was left 'tween Rogue an' me was habit an' baggage. Had t' learn dat for certain, s'pose, somewhere in all dat madness. But in da chaos, you found da answer wit' me! Even drove out my own personal ghost, y' did. But what 'bout you, henh? Not'ing for Stormy? No right t' love, t' care? Or are you jus' too afraid t' try?" His words were harsh, striking her like blows. She flinched, taking the pain silently, burying it as she had during that horrible day with Forge.

And he paused, sensing her pain, her withdrawal in the stillness of her face, the rigidity of her body under his hands. He cursed under his breath in French. Then he continued, relentlessly, "Get off da goddess pedestal, 'Roro, 'cause I got news for you - y' just a woman, chère. Human underneath like de rest of us. Time you learn dat."

Her eyes narrowed at him, her heart thundering in her chest. Hearing in his words only the echo of Forge's so long ago. Heralds of loss and pain. And in belated defense, her anger rose. "How dare you?" she said coldly.

"Dare? Do you hear y'self sometimes?" he snapped back. "You forget, chère - Remy's da one who saw a little girl who fought like a tiger 'gainst all odds wit'out control of her powers. Who ran wit' da girl-woman living life on da edge, for da thrill of it, enjoying it. An' den, few days ago, Remy saw dat same woman take a child in danger and run wit' her. Run to keep a little one safe an' t' hell wit' pride. Dat was da heart of da woman wit'out da goddess t' get in da way of caring, of loving. Let her go, 'Roro."

"I see no reason to change my ways, Gambit," she said stiffly, fear and insult and pain a maelstrom inside her. Not hope. There was no hope to be found in the angry gleam of his red-on-black eyes, the lush twist of his mouth, his nimble hands clenched tightly on her shoulders. Or was there?

"I got one," he vowed. Then he pulled her to him, his arms trapping her close. His mouth was on hers, his lips hot, seeking, demanding. She had no defense against his caress. Not when dreams and memories of his touch had tormented her for so long. She shuddered, surrendered, her arms winding around him in return. The kiss went on, filled with heat and desire, shattering the lingering chill in her soul. Until he pulled away, breathing hard, gaze intent and filled with longing and frustration and fear.

"Somebody told me once dat love's not a burden. She was right. Love's a gift. Can't steal it, can't buy it - can only give it." He stared into her dazed eyes, his own gaze softening, his hands gentling their harsh hold on her. He let a smile touch his mouth then, and slowly spread until it lit up his whole face with wonder and joy and hope.

"Dis here is my gift t' give - I love you, Ororo," he said gently, his heart glowing from his eyes. "An' I want y' t' be my wife."

"Remy," she breathed, staggered by his words, scarcely daring to believe them. With an impish smile, he reached into a pocket and drew out a ring. Reddish-gold, but the band rippled like the captured flow of water, a dark red stone in the center, bracketed by two small diamonds. He lifted her dirty, plant-stained left hand, kissing her fingertips tenderly before he slipped the ring onto her third finger. A perfect fit. She could only blink foolishly at him, in surprise and disbelief.

"Where you t'ink I been? Had t' get da perfect one. . ." he said quietly. Then he lifted his gaze to hers again. Something shown in his eyes, something warm and true.

"Be my wife, 'Roro," he whispered again, folding her hand against his chest. She could feel his heart pounding fast and hard under her hand. No daydream. No illusion. Reality. Then he reached into another pocket and pulled out a battered and folded piece of paper, waving it briefly under her startled nose before tucking it away. "Got da license here - so y' know I'm serious. Get married tomorrow, if y' like. No waiting."

"Married?" she gasped, then repeated with dazed wonder. "You would marry me tomorrow?"

"Absolutement," he smiled gently, wrapping his arm around her, drawing her close, keeping her left hand over his heart. Then he sobered. "One condition, chère."

Her heart dropped sickeningly in her chest, and she could feel the blood draining from her face. Fear spiked through her. He stared deeply into her eyes, searching, looking.

"Tell me y' still love me?" he asked meekly, uncertainty showing for the first time through the cocky charm. For a moment, she was speechless, frozen. Then joy flooded her.

"Bright Lady! Such a blatant ploy, my love!" she laughed, throwing her arms around his neck, feeling relief fill her as his arms closed tightly around her in return. "And I fell for it." His husky laughter joined hers, the mingled sounds swirling through the air around them making her giddy. She did not even realize her gift had carried them both into the air, over the mansion, and high up into the bright spring sunlight.

He gazed down into her eyes, a grin plastered across his handsome face, trusting her to keep them both safe, his duster billowing around them in the wind, her hair streaming behind like a banner, their legs entwined.

"Dat's a yes?" he grinned like a little boy who knew he should be scolded but wouldn't be. Scoundrel. Tease. Beloved.

"I should torment you longer for that," she smiled, her heart full at last, her eyes glittering with tears.

"Torture, more like, woman," he mock-growled, his own eyes gleaming in the bright sunshine. "Say da words 'gain, 'Roro. No more teasing. Do y' still love me?"

"Yes! Yes! And yes again, my love," she shouted - laughing, crying all at the same time. Joy overflowing in her heart, the wind swirling warm about them, the sky shimmering endless pale blue above.

"Love you, 'Roro," he said again. She wound her fingers through his silky hair, drawing him closer still and breathing her reply against his beautiful, smiling mouth.

"And, oh, how I love you, Remy LeBeau!"


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