The sun was diving for the horizon in slow motion. Perfect form, of course; just as it had always shown. Diving for the horizon, diving down into the sunset... leaving them all for a time of darkness and mystery.
The lingering rays sought out the figure of a man seated on a rooftop. There was nothing extraordinary about the man... no particular reason for the light to trickle down over him any more than any other man. He wore ordinary enough clothes. Wasn't excessively tall or bulky. He was only a man watching the sun over luxurious fields and trees.
And the sun reflected itself in the shades he wore as it plunged at a snail's pace down its inexorable path.
There was something about the way the man looked at him...
He was sure from the moment he first laid eyes on Scott Summers that the man didn't like him. Maybe it was something about the set of his mouth... perhaps it had to do with the stiff, muted body-language that Remy found so hard to read. These people were 'heroes,' or so Stormy had told him. Bona fide warriors for right who put their lives on the line so that others didn't have to. The good guys. The home team. The ones on the side of the angels.
That steady, hidden, unreadable gaze from their leader told him as plainly as words what he'd known from the moment Stormy'd brought him to them; he didn't belong there.
On the rooftop the man shifted his weight and dug into a pocket, pulling forth a small round emblem that the sun couldn't quite reach around his cupped hands. His shielded eyes dropped to look at the insignificantly-sized item, heedless of the tricky sun sneaking farther, tiptoeing quietly, skulking with brazen, surreptitious boldness for that shadowed haven below the groundline.
A ray sneaked by. Found the emblem and made it glow dimly; black lines crossing a red circle like bars over a ruby eye. A cage, it was. A prison holding redness in. Restraint painted over wildness, convincing the uncontrollable that it was controllable.
But paint fades over time. Bars always rust. It is the way of things.
"Gambit!" The shout had almost been enough to distract him -- the anger in the sharp voice was evident for any to read. And despite his natural aversion to obeying orders he'd found himself almost listening to the strong tone of command. "Hold back! Wait for Storm to--"
... Almost listening.
He leaped over the man in front, muscles burning at the effort but working nonetheless. His staff twirled, glistening silver, flashing in a distracting rotation as the wild-eyed man turned to him, whirled to him, targeted him. A hand snapped up, snakelike, exploding forth a bolt of neon energy that seared the protesting air with a crackle and a hiss. He barely ducked in time -- felt the sharp pain of singed flesh across his back and shoulders. It didn't matter; adrenaline surged through his blood like a live thing, carrying him past pain, past fear, past awareness of mortality. A shout escaped his lips -- he couldn't even make out the words, but they sounded confident, assured, at odds with the pounding in his chest and the wild exhilaration burning up his brain. Another ripping of energy through air. Another savage pain across flesh as he narrowly avoided the brunt of the blast.
That same voice-- "Gambit!" That same distraction, ignored with that same stubbornness. "Be careful, you idiotic..."
And then his bo crashed down. Hard. It found the head of the wild-eyed man and invited him to kiss the dirt with brutal graciousness. The others closed in, shouting rage and denial and death.
He fought like a wild thing, not knowing if it was enough, knowing only that to stop was to die and to die was to lose, and unwilling to do any of those things. His pulse was pounding a staccato drumbeat in his ears; his blood burned across nerves and sent reflexes into overdrive.
That voice was in the background of his awareness, shouting commands, shouting orders, shouting control.
And he ignored it.
The man's gaze snapped up to catch the creeping sun mid-leap; to hold it temporarily in its place and keep it from moving, from setting, from ending the day. It froze, motionless, watching him watch it in a single moment that seemed to last forever as the circle was formed and reformed and reformed between them. Surely this small human wouldn't challenge the sun itself. Surely he wouldn't seek to bar it from its destination. There was no paint strong enough to cage it within... no bars wide enough to ever constrain its motion.
But it sank an inch. Two inches. Three. And he watched it shrug off his gaze as if he was of no more consequence than the useless emblem he held.
"You're irresponsible," Scott had almost snarled, driven beyond calm words by his understated lack of repentance. "Do you have any idea how much risk you put yourself in? How dangerous that was?"
"It's my life, Scotty," he'd said with only partly feigned nonchalance. "My risk t' take."
"Your risk will kill you, and maybe the rest of us one day!"
He'd been rebelling against this sort of control for his whole life... fighting those who would try to dictate what sort of responsibility he'd accept on his shoulders. And now this man tried to tell him that he couldn't risk his life to save others? That he couldn't throw himself forward with the abandon that was as much his weapon as anything else, flinging caution to the winds that his closest friend here wielded and letting wild exuberance carry him through?
"Y' don' know," he said coldly, not letting his disgust show in his face, though it was there. "Y' don' know what my life is like, Scotty."
"Then tell me!" the leader shouted. "Give me some idea of why you expect me to let you be the loose cannon in every fight!"
"You don' know!" he finally shouted right back, thin composure snapping under the strain of the nerve-scraping battle and this conflict afterwards. "Y' t'ink y' know everyt'ing about livin', but y' don' know a t'ing 'bout makin' it count!"
The other man quieted the moment he'd raised his voice -- as if he'd been waiting for that, damn him, and hoping for the chance to demonstrate the difference in control between them. "Then tell me," he said, voice level and emotionless. "Tell me how to make it count."
"You wouldn' und'stan'," he said bitterly. "Not you. Y' couldn' let go enough t' und'stan'."
He felt his lip pull in a sneer. "I wouldn' waste my time."
The lightest brush against the horizon -- a lover seeking permission to deepen the kiss. The ground spread its arms to embrace the plump sphere, welcoming the tender intimacy as it did night after night after night. The roof stayed steadily supportive beneath the man who watched, waiting patiently for the poor creature to catch on to the fact that he'd lost the battle before it had ever begun.
But he watched. He waited. He fought, struggling to hold that orange disk just a breath above the ground, just a grasp away from its lover.
It sank. It faded. The sky darkened, letting early stars peek through its cloak to watch the furtive courtship. A line of them winked down at the man; silent, reassuring, promising dim light even after the greater had departed. If he took its comfort he gave no sign, fingers closing around the emblem in hand, flesh spotting red and white with tension.
And the sun sank, and the sky darkened, and the stars winked, and he held the caged red so tightly that his arm shook.
"You," he said with careful, exaggerated emphasis, "are too uptight."
Scott looked at him blankly for a moment, probably blinking beneath those impenetrable shades. There was a beer in his hand -- number six, if he was counting right. Six beers inside the leader. Six brewskies towards making the man breathe a little.
And all it had taken to get him to relax that iron control was his wife's near-death at the hands of a bigot today.
"I can relax," the man said slowly, cautiously, fighting visibly to keep his words from slurring. "I can... I can be... un-tight..."
"Yeah, an' all it takes is a bit a liquor, neh?"
"And seeing Jean almost die, yep." The voice was layered with laughter; with hysteria that wanted badly to become relieved-scared-fearful-grateful sobbing. But it didn't come out -- not the laughter and not the tears. "Who are you, LeBeau?"
"Jus' me, Scotty."
"How do you live--" and he gestured at the open, curious air with the beer bottle-- "so... carefree?"
He snorted. "Easy. I don' live like you."
"That's no answer."
"Isn' it?" He thrust his beer bottle out, out, over the edge of the roof towards the last glint of the setting sun. "What do y' see there?"
With effort, he chased his impatience down. "What do y' feel when y' look at it?"
Covered eyes had turned unhesitantly towards the sight. "A... an ending."
"An ending. The end of the day. The end of the sunlight." Only the slightest slurring of the level words. "An ending."
"Wrong," he answered with a derisive snort. "All wrong."
"Y're wrong." With a fierce, angry gesture he took in the diminishing sun. "Sunset, Scotty. You an' yours... y' always jus' lettin' the world turn. Lettin' it carry y' t' the sunset... but y' never reach it, do you? Y' never get that close."
The brow beneath the red-hued glasses furrowed in confusion. The man really was quite drunk. "You can't reach the sunset. It's impossible."
And he found himself leaning forward sharply, hardly aware of the half a dozen beers that sought to foul his balance or the edge of the roof lurking so invitingly close. "But y' can try," he said fervently, putting every ounce of his conviction in the words. "Y' gotta live y' life headin' right into that sunset. Runnin' f' it wit' everyt'ing y' got. No backin' off 'cause a fear or anyt'ing else... jus' full out, no holdin' back, everyt'ing goes livin'."
"The sunset," Scott echoed. "Head into the sunset..."
"Chase it. Y' gotta go f' that sunset, Scotty. Y'll nev' reach it if y' don' try."
"I'll never reach it if I do try."
"Ah, but y' won' know that 'til y' give it a whirl, neh?"
"It's not possible, Gambit."
"It ain' possible f' a man t' shoot force beams outta his eyes either, is it?"
"I have responsibilities."
"I can't... abandon myself like that."
"Will you stop agreeing with me?"
"... even when y're right? It's not like y're right all that often, Scotty..."
A reluctant-sounding chuckle. "Sometimes I wish I could, Gambit... I wish I could..."
"Go for the sunset. Like you do."
"Anyone can do it."
"Not anyone with people depending on him to guide them."
"... It wasn' y' fault today, Scott."
No answer. The sun slipped lower, deeper.
"Hand me another beer, Remy."
"... We're down t' Coors Light."
"Just hand me the beer."
Fading sunlight set the bottle alight as he passed it through achingly empty space into the waiting hand. Scott opened it without looking, tossing the cheap tin cap onto the rooftop beside them.
The silence grew, swelled, receded.
"Thanks," the leader said in a voice not like a leader at all.
"Don' mention it."
Not long now before the flaming circle would finish that graceful swan-dive into the ground. Not long before the star-patched darkness would enfold the weary warrior in its soft embrace. He'd barely moved in all this time, battling silently, losing without a cry. The emblem blazed in his hand -- caged rage and crumbling bars -- and his hand was turning purple from the tightness of his grip on it.
His feet scraped the roof as he slowly stood. Legs braced firmly, not as steady as they might have been. A last stand? A last effort?
The wind sighed lazily over the tableau, lurking in the not-so-distant treetops to watch and to wait and to learn.
Red. Red hair. Red sunset. Red blood all over the leader's hands, arms, torso. Like water, flowing so smoothly. Like a river rushing through a shattered dam. She'd had time to cry -- he knew she'd had time to cry.
And then death, descending like a blanket. Taking her away. Drying up the river. Bathing the world in red, but cutting off the source forever.
Scott didn't raise his head.
The world didn't stop turning.
The sunset crawled inexorably closer.
"An ending," the leader said hoarsely, and Remy shivered at the emptiness in that voice. "It's an ending."
He had no words to deny it.
He didn't even try.
The ground closed around the sun. Very little stayed above, staring at him, challenging him. Try, it said. Try, little man. Fight me. Lose to me. Try it.
He stood. He stared. He held the emblem.
You're a moment. You're a blink in time. You're an ant's heartbeat. You're a flower's dream.
If he was moved, intimidated, he gave no sign.
You can't hold back time. You can only move with it... or fling yourself forward against it. You can't stop it. You can't reverse it.
You can't paint bars on it.
He held the emblem up, up, in a gesture of defiance and triumph and loss.
The sun was silent... and it kept falling.
No command voice. Stormy was with the other half of the team.
No orders. Scott had told them to 'take them down,' and then he'd led them in doing so.
No holding back.
And he watched the leader abandon himself. He watched him forget responsibilities. He watched him lose sight of the people depending on him.
Running for the horizon; throwing himself against that barrier of time. Let the world turn itself, let the people turn with it.
Scott was going for the sunset.
The last edge of a giant eye was winking at him over the tree-studded expanse of ground. Temperature cooled considerately to sap some of the sun-birthed heat from his skin.
He stood motionless, a cage in his hand, a rage inside the cage. He may have closed his eyes behind the dark shades, though nothing could be seen through them to show.
"Y' dumb fuck."
His voice made the empty air shiver for a moment, then still.
"Y' had friends, Scotty. Nearest t'ing t' family. They t'ought y' were a god."
The sun and the stars and the night and the wind acknowledged no god. Temporary masters, at best.
Hoarse, now; bitter with thick remorse. "I... I was wrong..."
The air shuddered. The sky darkened.
"Wrong, Scotty. F' you. F' y' life. You shouldn' a lived that way. Y' shouldn' a tried." A sudden, out of place smile. A smile and tears. "Y' always said I'd be the death a you." Wind caressed saltwater; blew back his hair. "Shouldn' a listened t' me. Shouldn' a taken my advice."
Fading light. The pool of the horizon lapped up to conceal the diver.
His hand crackled; glowed in a way that a hand was not supposed to glow. In the deepening twilight his fist offered an eerie, violet-red illumination to his face -- a face which should have been handsome, but was so ragged and tired that it had forgotten how to be. The emblem, the cage, the rage in his hands took on the glow and made it its own.
Light bled out over the groundline as the sun gave its energy below. He drew his hand back and flung the emblem hard, far, strongly against the barely stirring wind, watching it trail a thin and snapping line of light behind it.
It exploded against the last dying rays; brief flashing brightness and then... nothing. Falling debris and nothing. No emblem, no cage, no rage.
Into the sunset.
"I jus' wan' know, Scotty," he whispered raggedly to the solemn night. "I jus' gotta know... Was it worth it? Was it really worth it?"
The world continued its lazy spin, seeking to get a head start on tomorrow's sun. It wouldn't catch the racer, but time would allow it to try and try again with futile stubbornness.
Time was lenient that way.
He sat down heavily on the roof, elbows on drawn-up knees, hands on down-turned face. Sympathetic, the wind caressed his neck and fluffed his hair lightly.
"Y' caught it, Scotty," he murmured, voice soft. "You lost y'self on the way, but y' caught it. I don' know whether I should be pityin' y' or envyin'..."
Growing moonlight kissed him; a light mist to the sun's earlier torrent. He pulled the shades slowly from his eyes and held them loosely in one hand, eyes closed.
Softer still-- "Y' owe me a beer, Scotty. An' one day I'm gon' catch up an' collect."
The sun wasn't there to laugh, to mock, to challenge. There was only the moon and the stars and the wind and himself. No rage, no cage, no emblem strong enough to trap him into duty. Just a man and a bruised, battered dream.
And a world that moved on tirelessly, dragging them all relentlessly towards the sunset.
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