Glass Slipper

He could've broken in if he wanted to...but he really wasn't at his best, so he reached for the key in his pocket instead. Why did they even bother to give him a key? Everyone knew he was the last person in the world who needed one. Perhaps it was a sign of acceptance, of welcome. He shook these thoughts off, he couldn't let his mind wander. He had to concentrate. It was difficult enough trying to get the key in the vicinity of the doorknob, forget lining it up so it would fit into the lock. But he was trained well from his youth, and was able to push aside all the alcohol in his blood and focus on the task just long enough. Click.

"Honey," he yelled into what he thought was an empty house, "I'm home!"

Sage was stretched out on the couch reading Dostoyevsky. While her teammates had scattered around Sydney to have some fun, she felt her time was best spent widening her horizons. Rather than diving into some thick, fact-filled nonfiction work, she persuaded herself to try something that came from the mind of man, instead of the real world. She chose Crime and Punishment. To her, this was "fun." Gambit's call registered, but she didn't respond to it. She knew it wasn't meant for her.

He stumbled up the stairs with great effort, and when he discovered that an attractive woman was, in fact, present, he leapt into action. "Hi, Sagey. What's a beautiful girl like you doin' all by yourself on a fine night like dis?"

"What does it look like I'm doing?"

"You t'ink too much...maybe Gambit needs to teach you how to have a good time."

"Maybe Gambit needs some coffee," she replied without looking up. "Maybe Gambit needs to learn when to tell the bartender to stop."

Gambit was insulted. "Bartender? I don' need no bartender...besides, can't afford to buy my poison."

"And what would that be?"

He plopped on the floor next to the couch. "Champagne, of course. What else would a Frenchman drink?"

She peered at him over her book. "I didn't think one could get drunk off champagne."

"Honey, you can get drunk off anything if you drink enough."

"How much?"

"A case."

"A case? That's impossible." Her brain worked quickly to determine the odds of his statement. "Even someone with your size and drinking experience would have passed out."

He scratched his head. "Maybe not a case...I lost track. Drank a lot. From the best houses in town...some of dose bottles were very expensive."

"And you're not French."

"Sure I am...I speak French, don' I? I love France, wonderful country. Paris is the city of love, you know." He leaned forward and continued in a low voice. "Dis Cajun crap...it's all a cover up. I'm really French."

"You're not making any sense," she told him, returning to her book. "Perhaps you should sleep it off."

"Never gonna sleep again," he said. "Sleep is trouble. It brings dreams that are nothin' more than lies...useless hopes..." He rubbed his eyes. "No more sleep for me."

Sage continued reading and left Gambit to his own devices. He just stared into space, not moving or speaking...she could only imagine what alcohol induced epiphanies where swirling around his head.

A few minutes later, the door below opened again, and two other male members of the team made their way upstairs. "Those girls really know how to party," Bishop commented as they walked into the living room, where Sage was still reading and Gambit still staring. "You should have come out, Sage, you would have had a great time."

"Thank you, no. I've had a pleasant night right here...except for him."

"What's wrong with him?" Neal asked, waving his hand in front of Gambit's eyes.

"Nothin', mon ami. I'm great...better dan great." He tried to jump up, but practically fell on top of Sage. It took him a minute to right himself, but once he was standing, he swayed only slightly. "Let's go prowlin'."

Bishop and Thunderbird exchanged glances - they may have come back a little early, but the girls weren't far behind. And letting Rogue see Gambit like this could be hazardous to his health. "And just what would we be prowling for?"

"Ladies, of course. What else?"

"Maybe we should get you in bed," Bishop suggested.

"Sage, you're a lady. Give Gambit a kiss?"

"I don't think so."

Thunderbird decided to take up the cause. "How about a shower...that might sober him up."

Gambit turned to Sage. "Is dat de problem? I smell zeerah? If I get cleaned up, den I get a kiss?"

"Do what you will, it makes little difference to me."

"I must away, gentlemen," he announced. "To the shower." He staggered out of the room and it wasn't long before they heard water running.

"Why didn't you do something?" Bishop demanded.

"It doesn't matter what I do," Sage said, finally putting down her book. "Coffee, showers...none of them are true remedies for drinking too much. They're all old wives tales. Getting sober takes time, or a stomach pump, and I don't have access to the latter. Besides, the probability of Rogue not finding out about this is nil. There's nothing we can do."

That's when the singing began...the word singing used loosely. It was the loud bellowing of an unnaturally happy man lathering up and rinsing off in the shower. The scene would have been comical if Storm and Rogue had not arrived just then. They could hear the racket from outside, and by the time they had made their way to their friends inside, Rogue knew.

"How much has he had?"

"He claims a case of champagne, but I think..."

Gambit wandered in dripping wet, with nothing more than a towel on...and even that was threatening to leave him. "Hiya, chere," he said to Rogue before turning to Sage. "So do I get a kiss now?"

"Perhaps another time," Sage replied, glancing over at Rogue, who didn't seem particularly upset by the scene.

"Dat ain't fair, you promised."

"I did no such thing," she said, getting annoyed. "Maybe it was one of your dreams that are lies."

"Maybe it was," he said sadly, looking at the floor. But the mood change was only temporary, he sprung back almost immediately. "You wouldn't say no to dis face, though, would you?"

"I can and will."

"Give me a break, Sage. Can't get kisses nowhere else..."

Sage saw Rogue stiffen next to Storm. The boy was already in a lot of trouble, why was he digging the hole deeper? And purposely too...as much as he may have had to drink, he was fully aware of Rogue's presence. Rogue still did nothing - the rest of the team was in a state of readiness in case she changed her mind - but his words had cut her deep. "Gambit..."

"Go ahead, give him a kiss," Rogue sighed. "He won't quit buggin' you 'til you do."

"See, chere's on my side," Gambit stated with a little boy grin.

Sage stood and kissed him on the cheek. "That's all you'll get from me."

"Dat wasn't so hard, was it? Next time maybe I get more den a little peck, neh?"

"Time for bed, charmer," Rogue said, walking up to Gambit and touching his arm. "Leave romance for another night."

Even in an alcoholic haze, he looked at her with such adoration, it was hard for the others to believe he had just been begging for kisses from another woman. "You don' waste no time, do you? You jus' got home an' already you're takin' me to bed. No argument here." But Rogue's plans were different from Gambit's, something he didn't understand until she had him tucked in and was walking out the door. "Where you goin'?"

She paused in the doorway, but couldn't bring herself to answer him. She closed the door behind her and the Cajun finally passed out.

~

The next morning was a hard one, but Gambit forced himself out of bed as soon as he woke up. He pulled on some clothes and a pair of sunglasses before he ventured out of his room. Neal was in the kitchen drinking coffee. "So the prodigal son is awake...how you feelin'?"

"My mouth feels like sandpaper an' my head feels like it went through a couple a' brick walls."

"Doesn't sound too bad, all things considering."

"All t'ings bein' what exactly?"

Neal paused to consider. "All things being that you got Sage to kiss you in front of Rogue and she didn't try to kill you."

Gambit groaned. "I was hopin' dat was part of a dream."

"Don't think so."

"Where is she?"

Thunderbird's eyebrows knit in thought. "I'm not sure...I think she left right after she got you in bed. Ask Sage, she might know."

He directed Gambit into the living room, where he indeed found Sage working on a laptop. "Hey, Sage, I..."

"Apology accepted. Although I'm not the one who's in need of one."

At the very least, he had to say that Sage was the coolest, most collected one of the bunch. It took more than a drunken pass to get her upset. "Speakin' of which..."

"She hasn't come home since she left last night. But I believe she spoke to Storm before her departure, so you may want to check with her."

Ororo was outside in the back, lounging in the sun, along with Heather and Davis Cameron. Though the brother and sister had not been present to witness the previous night's events, they had already heard about them from their teammates. "Gambit, you look awful," Heather remarked upon seeing him.

"Mais, at least now I know I look as good as I feel."

Storm sat up and glared at him. "You should feel worse than you look, after what you've done." She shook her head in disbelief, "I don't know how Rogue managed to keep herself calm, but if I were in her shoes, I would've kicked your butt from here to the moon."

"I don' need a lecture, Stormy, I need information. Do you know where she went?"

Ororo thought back to the night before - Rogue was so cool, seemingly unaffected by Gambit's behavior after she put the Cajun to sleep. She didn't really react at all, except to walk past everyone and out the door. Storm followed her outside.

"Ain't the first time he's done somethin' like this," Rogue said, her back to her friend.

"Why...?"

"Because a' me. It's all because a' me."

Rogue flew away into the darkness without another word. Storm debated whether or not she should follow, but decided that she would leave things alone.

"I have no idea," she said, coming back to the present.

"Den I search blind."

Once Gambit left, Heather spoke up. "I'll admit, I don't know either of them very well, so maybe I'm missing something, but I just don't get it. Why did Gambit go on a drinking binge? And why didn't Rogue lose her temper?"

"Guilt," Storm replied.

"Whose?"

This time she paused for a moment before responding. "Both of theirs."

~

He searched the city, but could find no trace of her. As the sun set, he headed home...this was pointless. Rogue could fly at super sonic speeds, she could be on the other side of the world. She could be on the other side of the galaxy for all he knew. If she didn't want to be found, she wouldn't be. He had to wait for her, he had no other choice. So he climbed onto the roof with a thermos full of coffee, determined to stay awake until her return.

His fellow X-Men left him alone to do his penance in solitude, approaching him only to provide food and more caffeine. But Gambit ate little. He also dozed off a few times despite his consumption of mass quantities of caffeine, but was plagued by twisted dreams that always woke him with a start. Day after day passed and not a sign of her. He began to wonder if she wasn't going to come back. On the sixth day, after a particularly fierce storm, when the clouds were parting to allow the stars to shine through, he heard a soft thud behind him. It was so quiet that if it not for his training, he wouldn't have noticed it, although the snikt that followed would have alerted him to her presence even if he had missed her landing.

"Come to fight?" he asked, not turning around.

"No," Rogue said in a low voice. She retracted the claws with some effort - she still didn't have complete control over what she had absorbed from others - and sat beside him. "You're wet."

He looked at her. "So are you."

"No," she shook her head and looked out over the city. "Ah'm not, ah'm nothing. A ghost, an apparition, a figment of your imagination."

"You're not nothin', chere."

"Might as well be. Maybe things would be easier if ah was nothin' more than a shadow. Somethin' intangible. Somethin' that couldn't be touched no matter what."

"Dat wouln't help...you've touched me in more ways den anyone, and dat's without touchin' me much at all."

She looked at him again. "Mah touch is poison."

"We've been t'rough all dis before..."

"Not just mah physical touch. You say ah've touched you, and where does that get you? It drives you to drink like a fish. Just knowin' me is destroyin' you."

"You t'ink you know everythin'? I can't go on a bender without it havin' somethin' to do with you? Did it ever occur to you dat maybe I just wanted to have a good time?"

She paused. "You've done this before. Ah know the world doesn't revolve around me, Remy, but ah also know how you deal with our...situation."

She had him there. "Sometimes I t'ink you know me better den I know myself."

"That's why ah'm going away."

"Now you're bein' silly."

"Far away. Just for a while."

Gambit sighed. "Runnin' away never solved anyt'in'."

"Ah'm not running away," she protested, "ah'm taking a break. Ah'm giving you a break."

The couple sat in silence for a few minutes before either of them spoke. "Chere, your leavin' would jus' make t'ings worse."

"The way ah figure, it can't get much worse. Maybe if ah'm not around, you can get on with your life."

"Can't do dat....not when you're such a big part of it."

Rogue closed her eyes. "Face it, we're stuck. We've been stuck for a long time. We can't go forward, and we can't stay where we are. We're goin' nowhere fast. You deserve better. And so do ah."

"You an' me were meant to be."

She laid on her back and looked up at the stars. "'Fraid not. Ah'm not meant to be with anyone." He started to argue, but she stopped him. "Ah've put a lot of thought into this. Ah am what ah am...Mystique was right, ah'm a rogue, destined to roam the Earth on my own."

Gambit felt like he'd had this conversation a million times, one of them always coming up with dozens of reasons why they shouldn't be together...but there was one detail that remained the same, that stood the test of time and outweighed any and all objections. "De only destiny I see is d'one we share."

"Ah'm tired of fightin', tired of talkin'...there's nothin' ah haven't heard already. Ah'm a constant reminder of what you can't have, a persistent torture that you must endure on a daily basis. Ah free you, Remy LeBeau, of any obligations you may feel you have to me. Go, live, enjoy your life. Forget me."

"Rogue..."

"You're right, ah know you better than you know yourself. An' ah know that you have needs that I can't possibly fulfill. Ah don't want to hold you back any more. Ah know what it's like to yearn for a kiss, a caresss...an' it's somethin' ah have to deal with. But you have a choice in the matter." Her eyes closed against the world she couldn't touch. "Choose a tactile life, where everything is substantial, concrete. Leave me to face mah own life."

Gambit was touched. There was a time her self-pity would have had the best of her, but now, though Rogue's sadness was profound, she thought only of him and his happiness. She had pushed him away before, and probably would again, but he would not leave her. Not now, not ever. "I have chosen, petite, I chose a long time ago."

"No," she whispered.

"I didn' mean to cause so much trouble, you know," he began, leaning back on his elbows, "jus' went out for a good time. But sometimes I get t'inkin' about t'ings and I get down. You're right, it's hard to hold back, not to act on my feelin's for you. An' on occasion, I t'ink maybe you're right, dat we should go our separate ways...den I see a pretty girl, an' dose t'oughts are runnin' around my head...but I can't forget you. I won't. Not for a thousand pretty girls. Dat's when de guilt rolls in, and de champagne starts to flow."

He rolled on his side, propping his head up with one hand, reaching over to stroke her hair with the other. "We were meant to be, cherie. Maybe I didn' know when we started, but I know now. A life without you wouldn't be much of a life for me. All dat physical stuff is jus' frills. Without de feelin' to go along with it, it's nothin' more den one a' dose spirits you keep talkin' about. I'll take what we have over any of dat."

Rogue bit her lip and opened her eyes, filled with tears she refused to cry. "Why did you have to ask Sage for a kiss? I was right there. Why did you do that to me?"

"It was cruel, an' I'm sorry. I wish I could blame it all on the champagne, but I can't. I knew you were dere, an' I did it anyway."

"That really hurt."

"It was a mistake."

"What other 'mistakes' have you made?"

"None...dat's why I drink." She tried to turn away, but he pulled her back. "Seriously, I drink because I feel guilty. Life's dealt you a difficult hand, an' you do your best with it...an' de few times my mind strays, I feel guilty that I let it go adrift over somethin' as small as a touch."

"Even the most devoted husband's mind strays...it's not that big of a deal. Looking is ok, as long as you don't touch."

Gambit looked away. "When lookin' s'all you got, lookin' around ain't such a nice t'ing to do."

By now the tears were gone, and as Rogue's vision cleared, she began to see the truth. Gambit was right, this wasn't about her...it was about him being too hard on himself. "You wanted me to leave."

"At de time...maybe a little."

She reached over and slugged him in the arm. "Ya know, you could save us all a lot of time an' talk to me instead of goin' out, gettin' drunk, an' makin' a fool of yourself."

"I t'ought if she kissed me, then you'd see..."

"See what, Bayou Boy, a cheat? You wanna look, that's fine with me. Look all you want. Ah know where your heart is, that's all that matters."

"I don' know..."

"You got more guilt than a confessional at the end of a session. You're willin' to have a completely celibate relationship, and still stay faithful...ah don't know anyone else who'd settle for that. Ah have no complaints. Lookin' ain't cheatin'. Not in mah book....an' as long as your with me, ah'm the only one you have to answer to."

"You're sure?"

"Of course ah'm sure. Can we drop this now?" She got up and stretched. "Ah haven't eaten in days...wanna go out and grab some food?"

"You buyin'?" he asked, getting up himself.

"Do ah have a choice?"

"Not unless you want me to steal us up somethin'."

"I'll buy," she said.

"I'm a lucky guy."

"Mah luck ain't so bad either, sugah."