Ashes to Ashes

Part 1 - Where's There's Smoke, There's Fire

"Frell."

"Frell..." Gambit repeated as he retrieved the basketball and passed it to her. "Frell? Chere, I t'ink maybe we should keep you away from de Sci-Fi channel for a while."

Rogue took another shot; this time it went in. "Keep me away? What about the guy who got me hooked on all this science-fiction nonsense, mister Star Trek?"

"Hey now, you don' see me goin' around speakin' Klingon, do you?"

The ball was already in back her possession, and she dribbled it a few times before shooting again. "Do you know any Klingon?"

Gambit caught the ball on the rebound and held it. "Dat's not de point..."

Rogue playfully shoved him. "You do, don't you? That's really sad, you know that?"

"You're d'one who said 'frell'."

"No, that's different...and you know it. They say it all the time on Farscape, and everyone can figure out what it means from context. To learn Klingon, you musta run out an' bought a book or somethin'."

"A dictionary," he admitted.

"An' you think ah'm obsessed? That's a load of dren."

"See, dere you go again..."

"Yeah, an' ya know what? If anyone else was listenin' to this, they'd know exactly what ah was sayin'...try spoutin' some a' that Klingon and see where it gets ya."

"Enough, enough...you win. I'm de bigger nerd." He walked over to the side of the basketball court and sat down. He and Rogue had barely been out there 20 minutes, and had done little in the way of exercising, yet he was covered in sweat. He was glad to be so far north...he could only imagine how much worse the heat and humidity was down south.

She wiped the perspiration from her forehead and joined him. "Of all the people here, you'd think we'd be able to take this kind a' weather the best, but the humidity is killin' me."

Gambit laid back on his arms, thinking that there were more fun ways of working up a sweat, several of which he'd never had the opportunity to try. He wondered if Rogue would be open to some of the more...interesting ones. Such thoughts were fruitless, though. Before they'd be able to get hot and heavy, her touch would knock him out cold. "Wanna go back inside to de air conditionin'?"

Rogue laid back on the cool grass next to him and sighed. "Not really. Ah wanted to come out here to get away from all the craziness in there. Sittin' here an' sweatin' like a pig is better than havin' to deal with all those people."

"All those people" were their friends...their teammates...their family. Neither Rogue nor Gambit had much in the way of blood relatives, and even their adoptive families left much to be desired. But the X-Men, they were something else. What had begun as a small, close-knit group had grown into a sprawling extended family. But a family nonetheless. And right now, that family was crammed into the mansion like a rainbow of crayons stuffed into a little box, where old grudges between members were long forgotten, and people who hadn't seen each other in ages desperately tried to catch up in a frantic dance that was officially designated a reunion.

"Not in a social mood?" he asked, looking at her with a touch of concern. She'd been somewhat withdrawn lately...not really enough to make a difference, but enough that he'd noticed.

Her eyes went out of focus, and for a moment, he could've sworn that the woman next to him wasn't Rogue. But the sensation lasted for less than a second, so he dismissed it quickly, blaming it on a combination of his overactive imagination and her recent behavior.

"Ah don't know...ah've been feelin' funny lately. Maybe ah'm comin' down with somethin'."

"Headache?" he asked reluctantly.

She smiled and rolled over onto her side, propping up her head with her arm. It didn't take a genius to guess what he was thinking. "Not the kind you're thinkin' of, sugah. Ah haven't had one a' those bad boys in a long time." He let out an inner sigh of relief as she continued. "Ah can't describe it. Ah'm not sick, but ah don't feel quite right either. Do ya know what ah mean?"

"Sure..like you're trapped between bein' sick and bein' well. Your body's probably tryin' to fight somethin' off...with all dese people comin' here from all over de world, I'm not surprised. It must be germ central in dere, 'specially with all dat re-circulated air."

Rogue was unconvinced, but she hid it well. "Yeah, you're probably right."

"Which means," he said, getting up, "what you need most is fresh air and exercise. Ready to go another round?"

"There's gotta be somethin' else we can do that doesn't involve runnin' around," she mumbled, dragging herself to a standing position.

"Well...dere's de pool...or d' lake."

"Ah don't have mah swimsuit on."

A wicked grin spread across the Cajun's face. "Me neither."

Rogue didn't mean to make the implication her companion was so eager to pick up on, though his reaction made her laugh. "Do all men only have one thing on their minds?"

"Can I plead de fifth on dis one?"

She shook her head and considered the idea for a moment. "Well, I guess if you can control yourself..."

Gambit's eyes widened. "You serious, chere?"

She shrugged. "Why not?" He started to say something clever, but she cut him off. "But no foolin' around...ah don't have to tell you what'll happen if you do."

He held up his right hand, with his index and middle fingers protruding from his fist. "Scout's honor." She glared at him and he added his ring finger to the sign. "Scout's honor?" She put her hands on her hips and waited. He took his index finger and crossed it over his chest. "Cross my heart, hope to die." Now she shifted her weight from one leg to the other...he decided he better get real serious, real fast, or nothing was going to come out of this afternoon. "I promise, no foolin' around."

She eyed him skeptically. "For real?"

"For real."

Her expression softened...she knew he wouldn't lie to her, especially when it came to something as important as this. "All right then...race ya to the lake." She took off as soon as the words escaped her lips, affording her a slight head start.

"Last one dere has to watch a whole day's worth of de winner's Sci-fi show of choice," he called after her, confident in his ability to run circles around her.

Even in a dead sprint, the two laughed all the way to the lake.

~

Later that evening, after they had made an appearance at that night's family bonding festivities, Gambit was standing in the bathroom, savoring the memory of the eyeful he had gotten earlier.

"Hey."

Gambit snapped to attention, and was faced with Rogue's reflection next to his own in the mirror.

"You almost done in here?"

"Yeah," he replied, picking up a razor and beginning work on his foam covered face. "Jus' give me a few minutes."

Rogue left him to shave in peace...it was a task he didn't perform often, which resulted in an ever present stubble, but he didn't want a full out beard, so it was one he had to tackle every once in a while. She wasn't sure if it was laziness that prompted his slightly disheveled appearance, or if he was actually aiming for that look. Either way, he never looked quite like himself right after he shaved. Sometimes she wondered if she'd appreciate his smooth face more if she could touch it...

"Done," he said, this time interrupting her thoughts.

"Thanks."

It wasn't long before they were settling in for the night - Rogue in all her pajama armor glory, complete with hooded top, long pants, elbow-length gloves, and knee socks, and Gambit in an indistinct pair of sweat pants and sweatshirt. Like most men, he preferred to sleep more simply in a t-shirt and boxers, if that. But with all the X-Men trying to squeeze into the mansion, members had been forced to double up...not that anyone had to ask Gambit or Rogue twice. But if she was sharing a bed with anyone, she had to be fully covered from head to toe, and the weather being what it was, they actually had to go out and buy an extra air conditioner for the room, in addition to the central air, in order to ensure her comfort. Of course, that made it way too cold for Gambit's liking, so he had to compromise one kind of comfort for another - he'd much rather be warm than comfortable. Besides, it was a small price to pay to get to sleep next to the one he loved.

"How you feelin', chere, any better?"

Rogue yawned. "Ah guess so."

"Maybe all you need is a good night's sleep."

She doubted it. "Maybe."

He paused as he drew her close. "It's good seein' everybody again...I don' t'ink I've seen some a' dose people for years."

She nuzzled her head on his chest. "It's nice havin' everyone under the same roof," she agreed. "But ah feel like ah have so many things to say so many different people...ah'm afraid ah won't have a chance to get it all out before we scatter to the winds again."

"Don' worry about it...we still have a week to go."

"An' the more ah think about it," she continued, ignoring his remark, "the more the idea disturbs me. It's almost like this is the last chance ah'll ever have to talk to them..."

He waited for her to say something more, but when she didn't, he ventured a response. "It's not like you're dyin'..."

"No," she sighed, sitting up. "Ah'm not." She got out of bed and made her way over to the door.

"Leavin' me already? I haven't even had a chance to make a pass at you."

As she opened the door, light flooded across her face and he could see the hint of a smile at the corner of her mouth. "You got all you'll be gettin' from me this afternoon, Louisiana." She began to step into the hall, but lingered in the doorway for a moment, her mood darkening. "Ah'm a stranger in mah own house; ah don't know these people...ah've never known these people." She looked had him with such profound sadness that he almost thought she was going to cry, but her eyes were dry and her voice steady. "Lately ah feel like ah don't even know you, Remy."

With that she left, closing the door softly behind her. Gambit was more dumbfounded than hurt by her words...she hadn't spoken them in anger, and obviously wasn't trying to be malicious. There was something else going on here. In spite of the absence of her trademark "headaches," he was beginning to think that her "feeling funny" was more than just a physical condition. He didn't want to jump to any conclusions, however, and decided to watch Rogue more closely for the next few days. If she continued to talk in riddles, he'd talk things over with the prof.

He lay awake waiting for her for over an hour. When she finally returned, he didn't say anything, he just pulled her body against his and held her close.

~

The next morning Gambit went to breakfast without her. He didn't bother trying to wake her, he simply left her sprawled across her side of the bed while he soundlessly got dressed and made his way downstairs. The crowd in the kitchen was large despite the early hour, and Gambit had the unexpected pleasure of trading stories and laughing along with friends he hadn't seen in months. But once he had leisurely eaten his fill, he excused himself, grabbed a bagel from a basket in the middle of the table, and headed back to his room.

One of his breakfast companions waited a few seconds before following him into the hall. He wanted to talk to Gambit, but not in front of the others. "Where's Rogue?" the gruff voice asked behind him.

"She was up late last night, I t'ought I'd let her sleep. 'Sides, she hasn't been feelin' well lately. What's it to you?"

Logan was taken aback by his defensive attitude. "Hey, she seemed upset last night, I just wanted to make sure she's ok."

Gambit stopped walking, but didn't turn around. "Honestly, mon ami, I don' know."

"You two didn't have a fight?"

"No." He turned around to face the other man. "So she was with you when she snuck out in de middle of d' night?"

"I was gettin' a beer from the fridge when she came in all worked up about somethin', but she refused to talk about it. All she would say is that she was too wired to sleep...so I made her some herbal tea, and we sat at the kitchen table for a while, but even though we talked, neither of us said much."

"How late you stayin' up dat you're drinkin' beer after 3?"

Logan shook his head. "It wasn't that late...closer to 11, I think."

Gambit's brow furrowed with concern. "Den I t'ink I got a mystery on my hands." He turned and started walking up the stairs.

"Why...what's goin' on?" Logan called after him.

"Wish I knew," Gambit replied. He kept going until he reached their room, carefully turning the knob so as not to make the slightest sound. It turned out that it didn't matter how much noise he made, Rogue was already awake. Still in bed, she gave him a sleepy smile as he sat next to her and handed the bagel over.

"Ah don't know why ah'm so tired," she said, gratefully accepting the cinnamon raison gift and beginning to pick at it, "ah didn't spend that much time with Logan last night."

"Maybe it's because you went out again later."

"What?"

"I woke up in de middle of de night, an' you weren't here."

"Don't be ridiculous," she scoffed. "Ah didn't go anywhere after ah fell asleep...you musta been dreamin'."

She devoured the bagel in a matter of minutes, then left him in search of coffee. He was troubled by her responses to his comments. She could deny it all she wanted, he had woken up around 3, and she was nowhere to be found. At the time, he wasn't the least bit concerned, and had gone back to sleep without giving it much thought, but now that he was fully awake, and the more he thought about it, the more it troubled him. To begin with, he was a light sleeper, and a trained thief besides...even if she had managed to sneak out of the room with the stealth of a cat, the mere action of her getting out of bed should have been enough to stir him from his slumber. The same thing went for her slinking back into bed. Yet he had witnessed neither her coming nor going, and only the vague sensation that something was missing had awakened him. And now Rogue claimed not to have any recollection of getting up at all, never mind knowing where she went or what she did. It was a conundrum.

Or was it? Was he overreacting? After all, maybe Rogue was coming down with something, maybe she got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and just didn't remember...maybe. It was possible that there was a simple explanation for all of her eccentric behavior, but Gambit couldn't shake the feeling that something just wasn't right. He wasn't the type to get all worked up over nothing...and he had a bad feeling about this.

Then again, it could all be in his head. The question was - should he try to do something, or wait this one out? He decided that he had no choice but do the latter, especially since he hadn't the faintest idea what he should be doing to help her. Of course, he could bring someone in on this, someone she was close to, like Logan or Ororo, or someone more experienced with troubles of the mind, like Professor X or Jean, but he was hesitant to do either. After all, he wasn't convinced there was something wrong, not yet anyway. In the end, he thought it best to do what came naturally and observe her as closely as possible without being obvious about it. Though he had been taught how to be a silent, invisible witness, he had an added innate talent that made him especially good at playing the role of the watcher. It was a skill he'd used often in battle, successfully sizing up many an opponent before engaging them in combat; he even found it to be a useful tool in picking up girls. Now he'd use it to put the love of his life under a magnifying glass. He hoped he wouldn't find anything out of the ordinary, though he feared he would.

 

Part 2