Disclaimer: I do not own Gambit, the X-Men or any related references to said universe. Marvel owns them.
"Made it," a friendly Rogue called out as she breezed into the stables.
Storm looked over the withers of the dapple mount that she was currying, "No need to hurry, I just got here myself," she said with a smile.
"I swear Scott's breaking things all over the mansion just so he can make me and Remy fix 'em."
"I doubt he has really gone quite that far yet. It is a large house, things break."
Rogue snorted in response as she scanned the occupied stalls, sporting demin all the way down until her jeans snaked over her well worn brown cowboy boots.
"Where's Snipe?" Rogue asked referring to her favorite mount, a trick-playing sorrel that always kept the ride interesting.
"I believe he is out grazing with some of the others," Storm said trading her curry comb for a lighter brush, short horse hairs taking flight into the ever-floating dust of the barn.
"He always takes his sweet time coming in," Rogue grumbled. "I guess I'll take out Rebel. That means I'm depending on you for my entertainment."
"I will do my best," said Storm with a gentle laugh. "I would have kept Snipe in for you, but they'd all been put out before I got here." Rebel was not Rogue's favorite horse by far, his gentle personality was distinctly opposite of his name. The gelding had been at the Institute for years and was as placid as they came. The name immediately drew in the cockiest young riders, which given the horse's nature saved many a youth from broken bones.
"It's alright," Rogue said, determined to make the best of it. Unlocking the stall door and gripping Rebel's halter lightly she quickly cross-tied the laid back mount in the center of the aisle.
The two Saturday heroes continued grooming their mutual mounts, taking awhile for their over sixteen hand high horses, an almost necessary height to accommodate their long limbs.
Storm, whom had previously set up the tack for her horse, began fastening the few buckles and belts on the English saddle given to her by Charles years ago when she was more familiar riding camels than horses.
Rogue left briefly to grab the bridle and Western tack that she preferred having grown up with it, lifting the heavy weight onto Snipe's back without even a modicum of effort. Storm took a moment to make a few minor adjustments while and tried to gather her swirling thoughts. Rogue beat her to the punch however.
"We haven't been out riding in ages sugah," Rogue said with equal parts pleasure and suspicion.
"Yes I know. As busy as our lives get, I'm surprised the horses have not gone oft and left us altogether."
"That's what the exercise riders are for," Rogue said smoothing out the saddle blanket and placing the deeply tooled saddle over Rebel's back.
Bridles and bits in place the two women led their mounts out of the barn and stopped briefly to gaze over the paddock.
With her light blue eyes squinted against the bright morning sun Storm commented with a voice full of dread certainty, "Something monumental is going on between yourself and Remy."
"Well that was abrupt," Rogue said trying to laugh it off, "but I don't know what ya talking about."
"He has not broken your confidence Rogue," Storm swore. "But I know Remy. I can tell when he's up to something."
"Well it ain't nothing bad, or illegal," Rogue hastened to assure.
"With your involvement I did not think it would be," said Storm, "but I worried it might be dangerous to both of your welfares," she said, her blue eyes piercing.
"What do you mean by that?" hedged Rogue twisting the reins in her hands.
"Let us get away from the mansion before we have such a discussion," Storm advised.
"Good idea, sometimes it feels like this place is wired," Rogue said, easily swinging into the saddle, Storm following suit.
Their steeds matched trots until they lost sight of the Institute, the steady clip-clop of their hooves the only conversation between the two women. Rebel stumbled slightly over a loose stone and Rogue pulled him back to a walk, wanting to confirm that the slight impact hadn't injured him. Storm, regal astride her mount, slowed as well, and Rogue realized she couldn't put off their conversation forever.
Rogue cleared her voice a few times but didn't manage any farther.
"Rogue?" Ororo called out quietly. "I have been a friend to both you and Gambit for many years. If something is troubling you, I want to help. And if you are doing what I think you are doing, than you will need all the support you can get."
The southern mutant shot a half-panicked glance at Storm.
"It's not…what you think."
"Really? Rogue, neither Gambit nor yourself is known for doing half-way measures, and I do see why jumping full force into something could seem like the best way to go about it…however you do understand the repercussions of such a course of action."
"I ain't saying that we are," Rogue warned, "but if we were, don't you think it's about time?"
"Rogue, I've wished this for you since the day you became an X-Man, my reasons for it may have changed, but I do wish it for you. However, you must realize that the increasing tension between you and Gambit is unmistakable. Others will find out. Are you sure this is what you want to do?"
"God, Storm," Rogue said hating herself a little for tearing up, "More than anything in the world."
Ororo reached over with her left hand to grasp Rogue's gloved one and gave is a gentle squeeze. "Than best of luck to you Rogue, and…"
"I know, be careful. We are…I am…" Rogue stuttered, surprised that Storm wasn't immediately heading to Cyclops to stop her and Remy's activity. "It has only been a few times," Rogue admitted, glad to have an outside confidant. "Only for a few seconds, and Gambit seems alright afterwards, I mean, he's not passing out a long any more..."
"I'm glad, for you Rogue. Truly."
"What do ya say we give these horses a real workout?" Rogue asked nudging her horse into a canter feeling freer than she had in a long while.
Gambit leaning against the brick siding of the mansion, watched the returning females with a wistful smile. Their faces were bright from being wind-whipped racing on one of the many trails carved through the woods. Horses were not an animal he had gotten to like. Too big to bring into the house for any kind of companionship, and clean-up took hours. And as a smoker, hanging out in a barn never made him particularly comfortable either. Flame retardant wood or not, with all the sawdust and hay littering the floor it still looked like a giant tinderbox. If the barn ever did go up in flame he'd be the first they'd blame.
Remy had never bothered riding at the mansion, having only ridden once before. Somehow the parts of New Orleans he frequented were not all that over-populated with horses. Except for one family from Rhode Island either too dense or too brave to take the advice of a real estate agent knocked down some old buildings to put up a new home complete with a ten stall stable. Unluckily for them it was directly between Assassin and Thief territories.
Belle, his former wife, had also been his childhood sweetheart. She an Assassin and he a Thief they had been betrothed as teenagers to bring a permanent peace between the two Guilds. Even so, their time together was almost always supervised from an unseen individual whether Assassin or Thief. The joint property was too much to pass up and the couple found themselves at the Rhode Island house often.
The two native borne Cajuns quickly consolidated a friendship with the couple's only daughter. She was bright enough to know she was being used, but found her new accented friends too interesting to care.
Their house had a modestly sized barn in the back lot with a small outdoor arena. Belle was a natural, her slim grace lending itself easily to horseback. In some ways Storm was reminiscent of her, though decidedly less homicidal.
A daredevil youth, it did not take Gambit long to find himself astride a horse as well. Nervousness he could hide from the girls, but not the horse. His anxiety was easily translated to the horse which promptly bucked throwing the startled youth over his head.
A pulled tendon from a surprised landing was serious enough that he had to suppress a limp for a few days. He trained through his injury, being evasive to the cause, but it was in vain. The hoof shaped bruise that accompanied it probably hadn't helped his cause either. The house was soon off-limits to him, and a few weeks later the entire house burned to the ground. An electrical fire was the official cause, but a steady stream of rumors about Guild activity was what kept the house from being rebuilt.
The horses as far as he knew had made it out, but horse back riding was still an activity of non-participation from which he wouldn't budge.
Gambit's musings had taken him longer than he thought, surprised when a slightly dusty Rogue appeared at his elbow. "Rogue, nice time?"
"I spose as good as could be expected. I got Rebel."
"So sorry chere," said Gambit with a blank look.
"Don't ya ever pay attention to something besides the security around here?"
"I have t' memorize de names of de horses now?" he questioned, throwing an easy wave to Storm as she walked past toward the mansion to grab a necessary shower.
"Just trying to get ya interested."
"No worries bout dat chere, y' know y' got my full attention."
"Good. I just want to tell ya about the chat I had with Storm."
"I hope it wasn' anyt'ing like de one I had wit' Jean."
"Well she was just as suspicious, but I managed to calm her down a bit. I told her we were working with my powers. She gave us her blessing, said she wouldn't tell Cyclops or anyone else."
"Well dat is good news, but I thought y' didn' want anyone to know?"
"Honestly she wasn't far from guessing herself; I guess you're not as sneaky as ya think Mr. LeBeau."
"I am sneaky, y' de one dat ain't."
"Either way," said Rogue pointedly, "we're still on for next week."
"You bet chere," smirked Gambit.
Rogue smiled thinking on the first time they had set up on the opposite side of Breakstone Lake. She had been terrified for Gambit and herself. Once she'd mustered the courage to touch her hand to his arm, she'd felt a rush of memories and she let go instantly. Gambit had gotten a little woozy, but thankfully nothing too serious had occurred. She hadn't told what memories she'd received, and he hadn't asked, yet. But she was on an emotional high from her talk with Storm and felt she could maybe go another round.
"Do you remember the whole give and take idea we had going…"
"What are you talking about?" Remy asked folding his arms across his chest as wariness enveloped his lanky frame.
"Well, I did my part. I went first, shared."
Gambit looked puzzled for a moment. "You mean de t'ing in de park?"
"Yes the 'thing' in the park!" Rogue shouted, her green eyes alighting in a way no emerald could ever imagine. "Don't pretend like ya don't remember, or act like this is such an imposition to ya. You promised. This was supposed to be a fifty-fifty deal, and I think I have been more than generous with ya. This can't be one-sided. I'm trusting ya Remy, please trust me."
"What do you want to know?" Gambit asked cautiously, willing to give a little. Remy was starting to really realize how big of a task they had set for themselves. But even so, whatever discomfort it was, it was worth it to see Rogue with a positive outlook on her powers. She was less shy, around him at least, and there was an exuberance to her that made her glow. Rogue had been more than great, and by focusing on her powers he had admittedly avoided paying the piper. His lady love looked up tucking away a loose whisp of her ponytail, the guilty flash of her eyes giving him her answer.
"Dis is about Belle?" he asked half with disgust, half with disbelief. It was like she had pulled his image of Belle right from his very thoughts. And maybe, a few days prior, she had. "I thought y' would have enough 'bout her by now."
"That's not fair Cajun. Ya were married to the woman."
"For all of an hour," he muttered scuffing the ground with his boot heel.
"Don't downplay this. Ya knew her for years right? Besides, I told ya about Cody, and he was my first everything. I'm willing to bet that she was yours too. Equal trade."
"Dats how we be doin' dis? Story for story?"
"Why not? Sounds as good as anything else," the Mississippi borne mutant said.
"If we did dat we would still be in contract negotiation," Gambit returned.
"Please don't make me ask again," Rogue said quietly, the momentary jocularity fleeing.
Gambit took a deep breath, there were things Rogue could never know, partly because of Guild laws and partly because she'd never understand them. Not that Rogue was unintelligent by any means, just that she hadn't shared the closeness he had been able to have with Belle. At least before the wedding, Julian, and the disaster he'd strewn over his life.
"We met when we was young—"
"After Jean Luc picked me up," Gambit said knowing Rogue was a little more familiar with that part of his past.
"We was both in training at de same time, but she had a few years head start. Kicked my ass a couple o' times," he said grinning with remembrance.
"I can't imagine ya taking defeat gracefully."
"I didn'," Gambit smirked, mind's eye roving back to simpler times when his future appeared to be all laid out for him already. All he had to do was not fail, and his father, brother, Belle, and the rest of his family would be at his side. If they had stayed together the entire underground of New Orleans would have changed. At their fingertips the joint power of the best, if not the biggest, Guilds in the United States.
Everyone had the idea that thieves were constantly looking over their shoulder, but if they were talented enough they could be careless in ways he could never dream of being now. With the X-Men he spent so much of his time lying down fine lines of morality, constantly making sure he did not take a pace in the wrong direction.
It was a certain kind of freedom being a thief. He and Belle would have had a difficult time unifying the Guilds, but they would have been happy. But Rogue made him happy too, the thought rekindling the fading corners of his smile.
Rogue noticed the dimming and brightening of a gentle smile she did not often see on the Cajun-bred mutant, "You look peaceful Remy," she said, "Why don't ya talk about ya family or her more often?"
"I don' t'ink y'd like t' hear 'bout my ex all day long. An' cuz it makes me sad too chere, knowing I can never go back."
"Do you…do you still love her?"
Gambit ran a hand through his hair before hesitantly meeting Rogue's eyes, "Y' ain't gonna like de answer to this one chere…I do love her, but to me it's like she died. The woman she was died."
"You love her?"
"What if she got her memory back?" asked Rogue.
"It won' ever happen," said Remy with a distant look to his darkened eyes.
"Do you…" started Rogue, unable to finish her sentence. The couple shared a look of joined consternation. So much they had done together and so much they were allowing themselves to finally open up. But three little words stuck in her throat, and hopefully his too. If it did not then it meant he didn't say it for a different reason, and that was something she could not handle.
"What was she like? I mean really like, without all the armor and stuff?"
"She really was like dat. She was tough, adventurous. I remember one time when…"
A/N: I know this chapter is a little rough, but I'm MIA until about the second week of January, and I wanted to at least get this posted for you guys. Happy Holidays.
Major thanks to my reviewers: BJ2, BlkDiamond, calliopeia, Chica De Los Ojos Cafe, coldqueen, Golden Elanor, Kira, ishandahalf, IvyZoe, Jen, Kitsu Lebeau, MJK, NuTTy, Pincher, Roguechere, samson28, Siarra, Streetwise Girl, Sweety8587, and Tammy.