So Impossible

Part 11 - It's Been A While

"I'll be right back."

Belle leaned over and sealed her promise with a kiss before crossing the dance floor, her friends in tow, heading downstairs. Gambit sat back in his seat and sighed heavily. His eyes surveyed the dance floor, crammed with everything from already drunk preppie tourists to those devoted to what the politically correct referred to as "an alternate vampire lifestyle." The serious Goth girls were pale in crushed velvet gowns that laced up their fronts, hair dyed black and blue and purple...they writhed on the floor as if possessed by demons.

He didn't know what inspired him with the colossally stupid idea to come to the Dungeon...or so he tried to convince himself. But he knew exactly why he came - he was looking for Rogue. Even though he knew he wouldn't find her here, there was still some small chance that he might. It was the rationale of a man who'd lost all sense of reason. These girls were nothing like Rogue. They were just so...extreme. Although one or two seemed comfortable in their skins, he felt like the others were trying to be something they weren't...forcing themselves into a stereotype that didn't quite fit. Rogue wasn't like that. She knew who she was. Or, at least, she used to.

And then there was Belle and her small group of loyal girl friends. They looked more like biker chicks - some leaning towards hookers - in their attempts to dress appropriately for tonight's outing. If he wasn't so depressed, he would have laughed his ass off. He was surprised to discover that the hard core Goth-types, who he had always thought were very judgmental of people who weren't just like them, accepted them without as much as a second look.

The girls had gone to the bathroom to gossip, he was sure, so they wouldn't be back for a few minutes yet. But the heavy metal and hard rock blaring over the speakers had gotten to be too much for him, so he too descended the stairs in search of a quieter atmosphere. The music could still be heard downstairs, although it wasn't nearly as loud, drowned out by the jukebox that was blasting random songs over the DJ's selections. Even so, it was less chaotic down here. Gambit settled onto an empty barstool and waited patiently for the bartender to finish with another customer on the other side of the room before making her way over to him.

"What can I get ya?" she asked cheerfully, her mood in direct contrast to her black apparel and skull jewelry. She carelessly scratched the shock of magenta spiky hair on her head as she waited for his response.

"A shot of somethin'...not sure what I'm in the mood for..."

Her eyes, outlined in heavy black eyeliner and accentuated further by black mascara, bore into his with a mixture of curiosity and compassion. "Rough night?"

He nodded. "Seems like I've been havin' a string of dose..."

She smiled warmly...he wasn't a rarity in this profession. People either drank because they wanted to make a good time better, or a bad time worse. "How 'bout I surprise you with somethin' I've been workin' on...it's pretty strong. Interested?"

"De stronger de better."

"I'll be right back."

He'd been hearing those words a lot lately...he turned away from the bar and towards the hall that lead to the bathrooms so he could catch Belle and her girls before they went back upstairs. After a couple minutes, the bartender returned with his drink. "Here you are, sweetie."

"Thanks," he mumbled, turning back to the bar.

As he reached up to grab the glass, a hand fell upon his arm. Gentle, but firm, it prevented him from lifting the drink to his lips. "You've had enough," the soft voice said behind him.

~

It's been a while
Since I could hold my head up high,
And it's been a while
Since I first saw you.
It's been a while
Since I can stand on my own two feet again,
It's been a while
Since I could call you...
¹

~

Rogue sat on the floor of the X-Jet, knees under her chin, arms wrapped around her legs, mind miles away. After spending some time making amends and reestablishing bonds with her teammates, she left them behind once again to chase after the man she refused to let go. He had left because of her...she was fully aware of that. But from what Logan told her, he left to escape who he thought she was becoming, not who she was before...who she still was. So she decided to hunt Gambit down and bring him back home.

Logan was quick to offer his assistance, and was disappointed to discover that she only seemed to need a way to get down to Louisiana, determined to handle everything else on her own. Still, he obliged, and when she announced that she was ready to go, they boarded the jet, and were off.

"Just a few more minutes," he called back into the cabin, his words shattering her concentration.

"Ok...thanks."

Eight minutes later the jet set down in an empty field just outside New Orleans. After getting up and grabbing her bag, Rogue slid behind Logan, who was already sitting on his bike, ready to go. Seconds later the motorcycle sprang to life, and the two were headed for the outskirts of the French Quarter.

When they reached the corner of Espalade and North Rampart Streets, Rogue nearly jumped off the bike. Logan meant to leave right away, but couldn't help himself. "You sure you gonna be all right by yourself?"

"Yeah...ah spoke to Jean-Luc earlier...his people are supposed to meet me here at 11pm."

He glanced at his watch - she had about 10 minutes wait ahead of her - then looked at her. "You trust this guy?"

"Not particularly...but then again, he knows that Remy cares for me...and ah did help save his life that one time. Ah think he respects me enough not to try anythin'."

Logan didn't like this...he didn't like it at all. But Rogue was an adult now, she wasn't the same lost, confused young woman he met three years ago. He had to keep reminding himself of that fact. "This is how fathers must feel," he thought to himself as he reluctantly prepared to leave her on the dark streets of the Crescent City. "You got your communicator?"

"Yeah."

"An' you'll use it if you have to?"

"Quit worryin', ah'll be fine."

"Just in case I think I'll stick around a few hours," he said. When Rogue started to object, he added, "In the jet, I mean."

She knew if the situation had been reversed, she would've done the same thing, so she let it be. "Ah'll see you in a few days, Logan."

"Good luck."

"Thanks."

He decided that he had lingered long enough, so without another word he revved his bike a few times, then sped off into the night.

Rogue looked both ways down Espalade Street and sighed. She was just outside what was officially considered the French Quarter, and though crowds of drunken tourists were just a hop, skip, and jump away, this part of the city was deserted. The street lights were few and far between, allowing shadows to rule the better part of the sidewalks. As the seconds ticked by, she became more and more uncomfortable; she felt like she was being watched...

She spun around. Nothing but darkness. Nervously, she began to walk down North Rampart Street, hoping to shake her uneasiness, but it only seemed to make it worse. She tried to laugh it off - she was being silly, there was nobody there. Be that as it may, her instincts were telling her that something was wrong...and if Logan had taught her anything, it was that you should always listen to your gut. So she turned around and quickened her pace, intent on making her way deep into the heart of the Quarter, where she would be surrounded by people.

But she had made her decision too late. She barely reached the corner where Logan had dropped her off when a sweet smelling cloth was thrust over her face and mouth. Rogue tried to hold her breath and run away...but strong hands held her back, and after a couple minutes, her lungs screamed for air. She had no choice - she gave into the urge and took a deep breath...then the darkness that dwelled between the lights came for her, and swallowed her whole...

~

She was a fluffy white cloud floating in a sea of black...soft, warm, content. Comfortable. Without a care in the world. Barely conscious that there was a world to care about. But it was not long before distant voices intruded upon her mindless solitude, and she felt herself returning to a place that was not nearly as pleasant as her former situation. She morphed from a entity of little form or substance into a physical being with heavy limbs, jumbled thoughts, and a throbbing headache.

Angry whispers were exchanged with kinder, more patient words in a muddled conversation she couldn't decipher. The conversation became background noise to her reawakening as her brain began to form coherent trains of thought. She was in New Orleans...Logan had dropped her off...she was being stalked...and kidnapped...

"I still don' understand why you had to..."

"An' I still don' understand what makes you t'ink you have de right t' question me."

"She's not one of us! Why'd you bring her here?"

Rogue's eyes were lead shades - she had a difficult time forcing them open. When she finally managed that feat, she cautiously took in her surroundings. She had been laid out on a couch in some sort of large room. Flickering light from standing candelabras placed along the walls did little to clarify the situation...there was a red carpet that stretched from the couch all the way down to the other end of the room, where it ascended several stairs onto a sort of stage. Upon the stage sat a throne with candelabras on either side. One figure sat on the throne, while the other paced before him, but she could not make out the details of either one...the dimness concealed whatever else there was to see.

"I had to put her somewhere," the seated form explained calmly to his agitated companion. "Somewhere secret...safe."

"But dis is sacred ground," the other protested with vehemence. "Dat girl ain't gonna be nothin' but trouble. Look what's she's done already..."

Rogue inadvertently moaned as she sat up. Dizziness and nausea struck her like a tidal wave...she grabbed the arm of the couch to prevent herself from sinking back into the solace of its embrace. "Look at what ah've done?" she complained. "At least ah don't go around druggin' and kidnappin' people."

The men stopped speaking and stared at her for a few seconds before responding. The one who had been sitting got up and made his way down the velvet carpet, the other following a few steps behind. "Sorry for dat," he apologized, reaching for the pitcher and glass that were sitting on a small table behind the couch. He poured something into the glass and held it out to her. "I t'ought dis way would be de easiest."

"Like father, like son," she mumbled, accepting the glass from Jean-Luc. "This safe?"

"It's water."

After considering her options, Rogue decided to drink it. Her mouth was dry and crying out for something cold and wet. Besides, Jean-Luc wouldn't dare do her any harm...angry with her or not, Remy wouldn't stand for it. She took a long drink. "Got any aspirin? Mah head's killin' me."

"Not sure dat's a good idea p'tite...mixin' drugs might not be de best t'ing t' do."

"Fine," she mumbled, finishing off the water. She shook her head at his offer to pour her more, then reached back to place the glass back on the table. "An' who's your charming friend over there?" she asked, motioning to the other man who had chosen to linger in the shadows. "Seems like he's not too happy about me being here."

"As far as I'm concerned..." the man began, but Jean-Luc held up his hand to cut him off.

"Dis is my son, Henri," he explained, motioning for him to come closer.

Henri LeBeau stood an inch or two above his father. They had the same eyes and the same colored hair, but the younger man's was shorter and a bit tousled, the way Gambit wore his when he wasn't in uniform. He sported a goatee that seemingly combined the facial hairstyles of his brother and his father...he wore a chocolate brown sweater, jeans, brown boots, and an expression of indignation.

Rogue was a little taken aback. "Oh...ah...ah didn't know Remy had a brother. Hi...ah'm Rogue." She paused and held out her hand. "Ah'm Remy's...well...ah guess...ah was...ah mean, ah am..."

"I know who you are," Henri said, contempt dripping from his voice, "Your de one who's gone an' messed wit' my little brother's heart..."

"Henri," Jean-Luc warned quietly as Rogue lowered her hand in disbelief. "I'll not have you disrespectin' my guest."

"No, that's ok," Rogue assured him, shakily standing up to face the younger of the two. "An' just what do you know about it?"

"I know enough...you must'a done somet'in' awful t' have him come back here in de state he did. I've never seen him like dis - so despondent, so desperate for a kind word dat he'd blindly stumble into de clutches of..."

"Enough." Jean-Luc stepped between them as if to protect Rogue from his son's words. "You've said enough."

"No...he's got something to say." She put her hand on Jean-Luc's arm and caught his eye. "Ah can take it." Remy's father stepped aside, shaking his head in disapproval. He didn't want her to find out this way. But if he knew anything about the rogue, it was that she was stubborn. And tough.

Henri stood there without speaking, his eyes boring into hers in a silent game of chicken. But Rogue was not one to blink in the face of an adversary. "Well?" she finally asked, unwilling to give him the satisfaction of intimidating her. "Spit it out."

Impressed with her resolve, his expression softened ever so slightly. "He's been shackin' up wit' one of his old girlfriends..."

She knew without asking which one. "Bella Donna?"

"Yeah."

"Oh." She plopped down on the couch, defeated. "Oh."

Jean-Luc knelt beside her, not unlike the way Remy did when she found out about Irene and Mystique. "I didn' want t' tell you over de phone..."

"Oh." It was the only word she could get out. But really, what did she expect? Look at what she did to him - all she ever did was push him away, when all he ever tried to do was help her. He was so patient, so gentle, so caring...and she responded to him with anger and violence. By all accounts, she left him for another man, though her relationship with Pyro never ventured beyond friendship. And then, when he made one final play for her heart, she lashed out and slashed his arm...good God, she could've killed him. Why would he stay after that? How could he forgive her...?

"Look, I don' know what happened between you two, but I don' t'ink it's beyond mending," Jean-Luc said gently. "You seem to genuinely care for each ot'er...don' give up on dis wit'out a fight."

"This is mah fault," she confessed after a sizable pause. "Ah did this...and ah don't know if ah can fix it. Maybe things are better this way..."

"Come now, chil' t'ings are prob'ly not as bad as dey seem...why don' you tell me about it? Maybe we can come up wit' a solution together, no?"

Jean-Luc's kindness surprised her...she might be distraught, but she hadn't lost her head completely. She had reason to be wary, especially after some of the things Remy had told her about him, but she was also desperate to talk to someone who knew Gambit well. And though she realized that Jean-Luc never did anything without a reason, without expecting something in return, she decided that he was also the person in the best position to help her.

"It all started a couple months ago..." she began, "ah was alone in the mansion, and..." The story came pouring out - narrowly escaping the hands of death, the numbness that followed her recovery, running away, and the final betrayal of physically attacking the man she loved. Father and son listened without interruption, and the silence that followed was full of pregnant anticipation as Rogue waited for one of them to speak.

Both were moved by her tale...they knew what it was to be surrounded by violence and bloodshed, and their thoughts were similar to Remy's original conclusion, that the rogue needed to find her own way to deal with her near-death experience. They also knew, like Remy before them, that some people never recovered from such trauma, sporting permanent psychological scars for the rest of their lives. But there was more to this story than she realized, and a look exchanged between the men revealed that they had the same thought - this sounded like a Ripper hit.

"So...you and dis John guy never...?" Henri asked, his demeanor the opposite of what it had been minutes ago. Now that he understood the motivation behind the behavior his brother had described to him earlier that afternoon, he was willing to help her save Remy from himself.

"No way! Not even if ah could...ah mean, he was nice to have around an' all, but ah'm not crazy. Even if me an' Remy weren't...you know."

He nodded. "Y'know, Remy didn' tell me all dat stuff when I talked t' him, he jus' said dat..."

"You spoke to him?" she asked. "When? Is he ok? Ah mean, aside from his bein' back with Bella Donna?"

"You didn' tell me dis," Jean-Luc said, obviously annoyed.

"He didn' want me t' tell nobody, especially not you." He paused, then added. "Not right away, anyway. But now...now maybe he could use you. And de girl."

"You didn't answer me," Rogue interjected before the two started arguing again.

"He's fine...other den sufferin' from some serious heartache, dat is." She started to protest, but he held up his hand, "Dat's not a judgment, chere, it's an answer. But he's in trouble...now that he's fallen back into bad habits, he's stuck. Dere's no easy way t' leave the princess of the Rippers wit'out causin' a whole mess a' trouble. Dat's why he came t' me for help."

"I hope you don' plan on causin' problems de night before de Danse de les Voleurs," Jean-Luc warned. "You know I don' need dat..."

"Den why you'd go an' invite her down here now?" Henri protested. "You're de one tryin' t' convince her dat she should try 'n patch t'ings up wit' Remy, not me. You don' really expect her t' hang 'round here for a few days 'til all dis nonsense is done wit', do you?"

"Look, ah didn't come here to interfere with whatever it is you guys have planned," Rogue said carefully. "If you need me to stay outta sight for a few days while you take care of business, ah will. Ah don't like it much...but it's your territory down here."

"Actually," Henri began, "now dat you mention it, you jus' might have perfect timing." He glanced at Jean-Luc, who was clearly not happy with his son, then looked at Rogue. "I have a plan..."

~

It's been a while
Since I could look at myself straight,
It's been a while
Since I said I'm sorry.
It's been a while
Since I've seen the way the candles light your face,
It's been a while
But I can still remember just the way you taste...
²

~

Gambit studied the gloved hand on his arm with a fascination that can only be achieved by someone intoxicated. It was delicate and graceful - decidedly feminine, yet powerful. His eyes inched up the attached arm, gliding over a series of silver bands until he reached a pale bare shoulder. His gaze skipped over the strap of her outfit lightly, landing on a plain black choker, where he stopped. He dared not look at the face of the woman standing before him...it would inevitably disappoint him. He stared at the choker for the longest time, searching the thick, dark material for some kind of sign, but found none. Taking a deep breath, Remy forced himself to meet the eyes of the woman before him, ready for his hopes to shatter once again...and almost fell off the barstool when he was greeted with the familiar features of the one he sought.

"Rogue!"

For her part, Rogue said nothing. She didn't have to speak, her face said it all in a haunting mixture of regret and forgiveness. In his stupor, he reached up to touch her cheek, a move she tenderly rebuffed by taking his hand in both her own. "You look terrible," her gentle voice stated, somehow floating over the booming music.

"You look amazing," he slurred, finally taking in her form-fitting maroon dress, black stockings, and thigh high black boots. Her hair was mostly pulled back, her white streaks hanging loose, framing her face. She was not dressed nearly as extreme as some of the hard-core Goths, but fit in nonetheless. And yet, she still managed to stand out.

"Ah do mah best," she said, releasing his hand and looking around. "Where's your girlfriend?"

"Who?"

This was not the time for him to play stupid. "Bella Donna."

"Oh...Rogue, chere, I'm so..."

"This is neither the time nor the place," she interrupted. "We can talk about it later...right now, ah need to know where she is."

"Little girl's room," he replied, pointing in the general direction of the bathroom.

"Then maybe now's the best time to make our hasty exit."

"What about my drink?" he protested as she pulled him off his stool.

Without missing a beat, she grabbed the shot glass and downed its contents. "Let's go."

Impressed with her performance, he took a step back to admire her once again. "Wow, chere, never t'ought you were de drinkin' type..."

She didn't have time for this...not if she was trying to avoid a confrontation with Belle. "We can talk about it on the way," she promised, taking his hand in an attempt to lead him towards the exit.

"I still gotta pay..." he complained, standing his ground.

"No worries, hon," the pink haired bartender interrupted, retrieving the empty glass. "This one's on the house."

"You didn't see where we went," Rogue told her quietly, hoping the woman was as friendly as she seemed.

"I didn't see anything at all," she replied with a smile. The way she saw it, if this girl was enough bring a smile to her customer's face in the state he was in, she was just what he was looking for. No need to get anyone else involved.

"Thanks," Rogue said before putting Gambit's arm around her shoulder and helping him stumble to the door. "Now let's see if we can't get you outta here before your girlfriend gets back..."

"She's not my girlfriend...I mean, she was...and...well...maybe she kinda is again...but not anymore...not now that you're here..." He continued his rambling explanation as they made their way down the dark, narrow alley leading to the street. Rogue remained silent, too busy trying to keep him from falling flat on his face to respond.

As they turned onto Toulouse Street, they found Henri leaning lazily against the wall. "Look at de state you're in," he scolded, shaking his head at Remy. "Dat girl's nothin' but trouble, why you had t'go an'..."

"Can't this wait?" Rogue asked impatiently. "You mind givin' me a hand here?"

Henri smiled and put his brother's free arm over his shoulder. He was beginning to like this girl. "Now dis girl, she's altoget'er somethin' different."

"I know."

"And jus' where do you t'ink you're goin'?" a woman's voice asked behind them, dripping with venom. "Tryin' t' steal my boyfriend away?"

The trio paused mid-step, and Gambit broke away from the others to pacify her. "Aw, Belle, c'mon now...we had our fun, but it's time t' get goin'..."

"You should be leavin' wit' me, lover, not your brother and some harlot." She eyed Rogue with mild disinterest. "Henri, does your lovely wife know dat you're out gallivantin' wit' street trash?"

Rogue turned around, shifted her weight onto one leg, and purposefully put her hands on her hips. Her expression was one of mild annoyance, though her anger boiled furiously within her as she faced her opponent. Bella Donna was beautiful - long, blonde flowing hair, piercing blue eyes, a generously curvaceous figure - it killed her to think of all the things Remy must've done with her. She could just rip the girl's head off. But she held herself back out of respect for Jean-Luc. This was his home turf...it wasn't for her to start a fight.

Henri moved towards his brother. "I hope you're not tryin' t' start somet'in', chere," he began, his voice calm and cool. "Especially not tonight."

"An' jus' what is dat supposed to mean?"

Henri once again placed his brother's arm over his shoulder, and the two began to slowly walk away. "You gonna be de one t' break de truce? It's de night before de ball, Belle, you know better den dat."

His words made her pause, but when she spoke again, her voice was still strong and demanding. "I do as I please. Now give him back."

"Not even you can break de rules t'night...you may be daddy's precious little girl, but you an' I both know dat he won't allow dis. Not wit' all dat's at stake..."

The thieves had won...they knew it...and Bella Donna knew it as well. The shaky truce held between the Guilds during Carnival had not been broken since it was forged many years ago...she didn't dare cross the line. Not tonight. If her actions resulted in a dissolution of their temporary armistice, she would be excommunicated from the Rippers...the fact that she was the daughter of its leader would mean nothing. It was a move she couldn't afford to make. But she was unwilling to concede defeat. "You wan't him dat bad, take him...in dat condition, he's of no use t' me anyway." She turned to return to the club, where she had instructed her friends to wait for her. "An' make sure you take dat whore wit' you...I don' want de likes of her anywhere near me."

Remy and Henri had made it back to Rogue by then, and she was about to take Gambit's other arm...but Belle's last words were the final straw. She smiled sweetly at the men, held up her index finger so they would give her a minute, and walked towards the other woman.

Her heels clicked purposefully on the pavement as she approached Belle, who had stopped by the entrance to the alley and was waiting for her with a look of amusement on her face. Henri leaned Remy against the wall and waited in anticipation...praying that Rogue wouldn't do anything rash.

"First of all, before you go around callin' other girls hookers, you might wanna take a good look in the mirror," Rogue began, stopping a foot away and giving her an exaggerated once over. " 'Cause in a getup like that, ah have to wonder if the House of the Risin' Sun knows that they're missin' one of their employees."

Belle glared at her...she wasn't used to people talking to her like that. "You better watch yourself, petite. You don' know who you're dealin' wit'."

"And secondly, ah ain't Henri's girl..." She spun around and made her way back to the two men. Concealing a smile, Henri was once again supporting his brother - he was really starting to like this Rogue girl...he understood what Remy saw in her.

Rogue turned around once more before placing Gambit's other arm around her shoulder and finished her sentence. "...ah'm Remy's."

Remy burst out laughing as the trio disappeared around the corner onto Bourbon Street, leaving Belle fuming outside the Dungeon. If it was any other night, she would've killed them on the spot...made an example of them...showed others what happens to those foolish enough to cross Rippers royalty. But Henri's words weighed on her...she could not shake the importance of them. She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths of the cool winter air.

"Doesn' matter," she told herself, "dere's always t'morrow." Opening her eyes, she headed back inside. "Yes," she thought with a dark glee, "Let dem go for now...make dem pay later..."

 

1, 2 - Excerpts from It's Been A While, by Staind

 

...Part 12 Coming Soon...