Disclaimer: Gambit and Psylocke belong to Marvel, not me, sadly. I'm just playing.
This story is set just before X-treme X-men #1
The Last Waltz
Vargas: "She fought bravely"
Gambit: "She kissed better. And loved to waltz. Now you'll never know."
X-treme X-men #4
"Of all the nightclubs in all the world…"
"Ain't I heard dat before somewhere?"
"Maybe." Betsy smiled and slid into the seat next to Remy's. "I never claimed to be original."
"Betts, anyone can see you're one of a kind."
"I'll drink to that." They touched their glasses together, the faint ring of crystal carrying despite the loud jazz coming from the band. Remy took a sip of the champagne and looked at his friend over the rim of his glass. Slim, lithe and stunning, Elisabeth Braddock was the stuff of most men's fantasies. Her striking purple hair and devil-may-care attitude made her a prize by anyone's standards. The fact that she was also a trained Ninja warrior didn't detract from her beauty and elegance, although watching her now, in these sophisticated surroundings and in her finest evening wear of flowing black suit with sparkling diamonds at her throat and wrists, it was hard to imagine her as anything but a society belle, out for a night on the town.
Then again, most people wouldn't have realised he was one of the finest thieves in the world, an accolade he accepted without arrogance or false modesty, knowing it was as much of a mistake to under estimate yourself as it was to over estimate. He had just concluded a successful and lucrative deal and had been looking forward to a relaxing evening out on the town, away from the X-men and the mansion and saving the world for a while. Even with Betsy here, he saw no reason why that shouldn't still be the case.
She drained her glass and set it down between them.
"So, Remy LeBeau, what are you doing in a place like this on a night like this?"
"Might ask you the same question."
"Don't mean I'd get an answer though."
"Nope." She grinned. "Want to dance?"
"Why not?" He finished his own drink and stood up, offering her his hand. They moved onto the floor and danced in silence for a while, enjoying the music and the company. When the foxtrot finished and the band began to play a slower tune, Remy made to the leave the floor, but Betsy held him back.
"I prefer waltzing anyway. Please?"
Something in her voice made him stop. There was a sadness in her face and eyes that held him more firmly than her hands and made him slip his arm round her waist again. As they moved together, she leant her head on his shoulder, letting him take control. Their steps slowed, barely moving at all, just enough to qualify as dancing. At the end of the song this time, she lifted her head and turned away, but not before he saw the tears in her eyes. Gently, he put an arm round her and led her back to the table, signalling for more drinks from the waiter. He didn't speak until they arrived, letting Betsy compose herself again. After a few sips, she laughed self-consciously.
"You must think me an idiot."
"Making a fool of myself like this."
"That all depends on if you got something t'cry about, don't it?"
She looked up at him, surprised and defensive.
"Warren and me. We're finished. Or rather, he's finished with me."
"Ah." Remy took a mouthful of champagne, wondering what the appropriate response would be. Before he could formulate one, Betsy said,
"You don't have to feel sorry for me. I don't. It's just I never thought it would be like this."
"'Scuse me for sayin' so, chère, but you ain't exactly made it easy on him lately."
"You mean with Neal?" She smiled, the sadness creeping in again. "I know. Warren and I were on the outs anyway. I guess I just thought I'd see what he would do. Plus I've never been able to stop myself from flirting."
"You did with me." There was no resentment in his tone, just a touch of curiosity.
"You never looked twice at me. And Rogue would have scratched my eyes out."
"Yeah." It was Remy's turn to be self-conscious now, hiding behind his wine glass. Betsy nodded.
"You guys still….?"
"We're still. She's a bit confused right now, gon' take her a while t'sort it all through. I'll be there when she needs me."
"That's an awful risk, isn't it? Just to wait and see."
"I know her. There's no risk in that."
"What did you give her for Christmas?"
Remy smiled. "Nice try. Go ask her, why don't you?"
"I did. She said to ask you."
"That's my girl."
Betsy sighed and flicked her hair from her shoulder. "Well if you're not going to talk, we may as well dance some more."
So they did. Tangos and Foxtrots and yet more waltzing, flowing round the floor in perfect synchronisation with each other and the music. When the band finally took a break, Remy looked down at Betsy.
"You wanna call it a night?"
"Remy, are you trying to ditch me?"
"Pas de tout, cherie." He glanced over her head. "Well, maybe only for the next five minutes. Gotta see a homme about a chien, you know?"
She smiled. "You know, it doesn't sound any more convincing in French. Go play. I'll probably be here when you get back. Then again, maybe I won't."
"Sounds interestin'. I'll be back just to see." He kissed her hand and made his way first to the bar, then a secluded corner, away from prying eyes.
The man waiting for him was the very essence of non-descript. Even in a tuxedo, his brown eyes and hair, average build and looks made him fade into the background. In short, he was the perfect Thief.
"David." Remy put the glass down in front of his friend and took a seat at the table. "Been a long time, mon ami."
"Too long, Remy." David took the drink and raised it. "To the Guilds?"
"To the Guilds." They drank the obligatory toast. After a moment, Remy asked, "So, this a complete coincidence? Or does the New York Guild's third-in-command-"
"Really? Congratulations. Does the second-in-command always hang out here on a Saturday night?"
"I'd heard that you liked it here."
"So not a coincidence."
"Sorry. Business always comes first. You know that."
"Don't I just. But why come to me? Ain't you got enough man power of your own?"
"Not for this job. It's the Madripoor set. Someone's got hold of two stones. That's two too many."
Remy's voice grew hard.
"When and where?"
"It's all in here." David slipped an envelope across the table. "There's a third stone in Spain that'll need taking care of too."
"Spain, huh? That'll do nicely. As for these ones," Gambit put the envelope in his own pocket, "consider it done."
"Merci, mon ami."
Remy winced. "Y'know, your accent's even worse than mine."
"Not possible." The friends grinned at each other and exchanged another toast. "Nice girl, by the way."
Betsy had gathered a small crowd of men by this point, and was thoroughly enjoying herself. Remy nodded.
"You want I should, you know, chaperone her while you're busy?"
"Chaperone? So that's what they're calling it these days? I think the lady's quite capable of looking after herself. X-men generally can."
"X-men? Pity." David finished his drink and stood up. "Good to see you, Remy. Take care and good luck."
"Merci." Remy watched his friend slip away into the crowd, blending into the background sea of faces, even a little jealous of David's effortless ability to be inconspicuous. It was much harder when you were tall, attractive, auburn haired and, oh yes, had coal black and red eyes. Or purple hair.
Remy rejoined Betsy, who shooed away the last of her admirers and gave him a questioning look.
"Sorry, 'Lisbeth, got to cut tonight short."
"Can I come?"
"Oh." She looked down, disappointed. "It's just-" She broke off.
"I'm really sorry. You won't be abandoned for long, I'm sure."
"It's not that. It's just," she looked up at him, mischief in her smile, "how are you going to stop me coming?"
Half an hour later, Gambit was glad he hadn't been able to think of a way. Psylocke was fast, silent and well able to keep up with him as he moved between roof tops. Once she had shed the diamonds, her black silk suit blended perfectly into the shadows. His own usual choice of a dinner suit in negative – black shirt and pants with a white jacket on top – no longer covered his new X-men uniform. He wasn't quite comfortable in it yet, although the fabric was cool to wear and, he was promised, almost indestructible. Maybe he needed to wear it for this job to break it in a bit.
Together, they perched on the edge of a skyscraper, looking down on the target apartment. It was a penthouse, plush and sprawling, covering most of the top floor of the next building. Gambit had always liked penthouses. They were so much easier to get into than normal apartments.
Psylocke was watching him, waiting for the next move, which he made by ducking back under the parapet and pulling her down next to him, their faces close together.
"Right, there's one, non, two things we got to get straight first. One, no powers. The guy who owns the apartment is going to be well set up against thieves, mutant and human, and we don't want to give him any help in finding us. Two, you gotta trust me. Completely. You do what I say, when I say, and you do only what I say, alright? Oh, and three, no real names. We get caught on camera, we don't want to give them too much help, 'kay?"
"This ain't a game, girl. We go wrong down there, we could get a whole lot more than just arrested. Comprends?"
"I get it." Psylocke's face resolved itself into a more serious expression. "No teke, no thinking for myself."
"You got it. Now, ma petite," he grinned at her, "watch and learn."
Getting down onto the block's roof was fairly simple, courtesy of the nylon rope from a pouch at Gambit's belt. Once on the roof, he began to trace a rather eccentric path towards a service door on the other side of the building. Psylocke followed close behind, wondering what he could see that she couldn't. As far as she could tell, this was a perfectly normal New York roof. Clearly to Gambit's eyes, it held a hidden trap. As she copied his somersaulting leap from one innocuous looking piece of asphalt to another, she speculated that maybe his unique eye structure helped him see things that were hidden from her, maybe in the infra red spectrum. Then again, maybe it was just training that meant the lumps and bumps of the surface meant more to him than they did to her.
At last they reached the small door, which put up little resistance to Gambit's lock picks. They were at the top of a dark, dank staircase, lit only by the streetlamps of the city behind them. Then it was lit by a flashlight, which Gambit shone into all the corners of the stairwell, looking for something. He had apparently found it, because the light went out, and from a different pocket he produced a small leather bag. At her curious look, he smiled, tipped some of its contents into his hand, and threw it down the stairs. A fine cloud of powder began to drift downwards and as it fell, red lines appeared across the stairs. The light of the lasers began to fade after a moment, so Gambit threw another handful of the dust across them.
As that too faded, he asked,
"Did you get it?"
"Chère, chère, chère. You're slipping. Wait here."
He slipped the bag back into its holder and turned to face her. Before she could ask what he was doing, he had thrown himself backwards, landing in a perfect handstand on the fifth step down. From there, he bent his legs, curling them up, before pushing them out again to spring down another two steps. He landed in a crouch, turned and jumped forwards, reaching the bottom of the flight in another handstand. This time, he simply folded his body in half and stood upright again.
Looking down on him, Psylocke let go of the breath she had been holding. She'd always heard that enhanced agility was part of Gambit's powers and the demonstration had been more impressive than she'd expected. He was fiddling with something on the wall, muttering to himself in what might have been French. Then again it might have been fluent swearing, because after a moment, he looked up at her in frustration.
"I don't got the right tool for this here lock. Think you can get yourself down here?"
"I think I might manage." She judged the distance carefully, then turned and prepared to jump.
She would have to admit to herself that her performance was less than textbook, although it was considerably faster than Gambit's had been as she tried to get to the bottom without breaking any laser beams. She had shown definite signs of wobbling in the first handstand, and the last jump was taken in desperate haste before she fell and set off any alarms. Gambit steadied her at the bottom, helping her regain her balance.
"Not bad, for a beginner." Before she could think of a comeback, he pushed open the door to the apartment. "Shall we?"
The room they entered was richly furnished in creams and silvers, demonstrating both good taste and money to burn. They had taken barely half a step into the room when Gambit put his hand out to stop her, pointing up to a corner where a small black ball was nestling against the cornice.
"Now this one, I have the tool for." He pulled what looked like a small black matchbox from yet another pocket and pointed it at the camera like it was a remote control. "That gives us about ten minutes. Should be plenty of time."
"Didn't I say? Sorry." He began prowling the room while he talked. "It's two jewels, about yay big," he held up his hands, indicating something about the size of an orange. "Shouldn't be too hard to find."
"Right. Jewels." Psylocke moved into what turned out to be the bedroom, careful to check it for cameras first. She doubted the apartment's owner would have been recording in his own bedroom, but then again, you never knew. There was nothing there, not under the bed, in the bathroom nor behind any of the works of art on the walls.
In the main room, Gambit wasn't having any more success. There were no safes behind paintings, hidden chambers in the desk or compartments in the kitchen cupboards. After a few minutes, and seeing Psylocke was having no more success than he was, he threw himself down on the sofa and tried to think. If he was trying to hide two of the most precious gems in the world from someone like him, where would he put them? A thought occurred to him, almost too ridiculous to contemplate. Still, stranger things had happened
When Psylocke emerged from the bedroom, she found Gambit in the kitchen on his hands and knees, shoulder deep in the freezer. There was a clunk, a muffled cry and then he pulled himself out again, shivering and triumphant. The appliance was an upright affair, with five drawers to put the food in. The bottom drawer was only half the depth of the others and behind it, where the cooling unit would usually be, there was a small compartment. And in the compartment were two small blood red stones. Gambit pulled them out and handed them to her, still shivering as he replaced the drawer. To Psylocke's surprise, the gems were actually a little warmer than room temperature. Some of her surprise must have shown because, closing the freezer door, Gambit explained,
"They were right up against the motor that keeps this thing cold, well insulated from the rest of the deep freeze. Neat trick."
"Very." She handed them back to him and he put one in each of the spare pouches on his belt. They were making their way back out again, when Gambit froze.
"What?" Psylocke whispered, then, in the silence, she heard the all too familiar sound of a key turning in a lock. Looking up at Gambit, she wondered if he felt the same panic that was flooding through her. She was used to being in physical danger and occasionally on the wrong side of the law. This feeling of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, knowing that she was doing something wrong, was an entirely new one. Before she could do anything silly, Gambit swung her round and shook his head at her.
"Stay behind me and stay quiet, ok?"
She nodded in mute agreement and peered over his shoulder as he turned to face the living room door. The apartment's owner was a large, good looking man with an easy smile, which froze on seeing a stranger standing in his kitchen doorway. From behind him, a woman's voice, high and shrill carried through into the living room.
"What is it, Marcus? Oh!" The woman was tall and slim, dressed in a stunning black gown and looking a million dollars, which is probably what her haircut had cost.
"Come in, Marcus, madamoiselle. Come in nice and quietly." Gambit's voice was light and confident as he gestured for them to sit on the sofa. Ignoring the request, the man closed the door, took the woman's coat and put his hand on her shoulder.
"Maddie, I want you to go in the bedroom and close the door." When she started to protest, he held up a hand. "Don't argue, just go."
Once the lock had clicked shut, he turned to the two intruders, his genial smile gone and his eyes hard and cold.
"What do you want?"
"Already got it." Gambit tapped the stones in his belt pockets. "So if you don't mind, we'll just be going now."
"What's to stop me stopping you?"
"You're welcome to try." Psylocke felt the atmosphere in the room thicken, as the two men locked gazes. Unused to a role as a bystander, she shifted a bit, trying to see over Gambit's shoulder. The apartment's owner had fixed Gambit with a piercing glare, apparently trying to stare the Thief out.
"I wondered who they'd send." He said at last.
"Only de best for you, mon ami."
"That's what I thought. Do you really think you can just walk out of here with them?"
"I know I can."
The man laughed. "You're awfully cocky for a man about five minutes away from being dead."
For answer, Gambit reached behind him and pulled out his bo-staff, shaking it to its fullest extent. "We're both going to walk out of here. An' you're not going to stop us"
Before the word was out, 'Marcus' had leapt at Gambit, trying to bear him to the ground. The Thief sidestepped, swinging his staff to trip the bigger man up. It worked, but as he fell, Marcus wrapped his hand around the staff, bearing them both to the ground. There was a brief struggle, during which Psylocke recognised swearing it at least three languages, before Marcus's greater weight gave him the upper hand and he was sitting on top of Gambit, staff pressed against the Cajun's throat. Psylocke had formed her katana and was ready to strike when she caught Gambit's eye and the minute shake of his head.
"Who sent you? How did you know to come here? Who sent you!" Marcus was red in the face now, leaning hard on the staff. Gambit held up his hands in mute surrender.
"'kay, 'kay," he managed, "need some air here."
When he got his breathing space he put his head back and relaxed, seemingly at ease with his predicament. "Don't see no reason why we can't be friends here. After all, not your fault you got landed with a dud, is it?"
"Well, a pair of duds, really." Seeing his puzzled face, Gambit made an attempt to sit up. "D'you mind?"
"Huh? Oh, right." The confused man stood up and handed the staff back to its owner. Psylocke had seen that look on the faces of the concussed, although as far as she knew, Gambit hadn't landed more than a light punch to the jaw.
"What we got here, mon ami, is a classic piece of misunderstanding." Gambit dusted himself down and gestured for her to come out of the kitchen. "You think these stones belong to you. I know they don't. Whoever gave them to you told you they were yours. They were wrong. They're mine."
"They're yours?" Marcus looked as though he'd been slapped. "I had no idea."
"S'okay, pas de problem. I got them back now. You need to go talk to whoever gave them to you, find out where they got them from in de first place."
"I'll do that." From the fervour in his voice, Psylocke didn't doubt that he would.
"Well, me an' my friend got to be goin' now. D'you mind?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah, right." After a moment's fumbling, the big man produced a key and followed Gambit to the door to the roof. "You need anything else?"
"Non, this should do nicely." Gambit patted the man on the shoulder. "You might not want to mention our visit to anyone else, you understand?"
"I get it." Harold put the key in the lock and the background hum of the lasers cut out. "Come back any time."
"We will. Be sure and lock up after us."
"I will. Bye."
Once up in the cool night air, Psylocke began to ask a question but Gambit pressed a finger to her lips.
He wouldn't say anything while they were retrieving their things, nor while he was transferring the contents of his pouches back into his jacket pockets, nor while he was attaching the small bags together to make a fairly convincing briefcase. Only once they were back at street level, in street clothes, making their way back towards the lights of midtown did he let her ask.
"Remy, what the hell just happened? I thought we were done for sure."
"D'you think that's never happened before, chère?"
"Hardly! But I thought you said no powers?"
"What makes you think I was using my powers? I din't see nothing blow up."
"That tiger did not turn into a pussy cat just because you smiled at him."
"Not entirely true. It's easy to make people think what you want them to, so long as you go about it the right way."
They had reached the top of Times Square, looking down into the bustle of billboards, cars and tourists beyond. The lights were brighter here, enough that when Remy stopped and pulled her against him, she could see the expression on his face. For a moment she found herself lost and drowning, falling into his burning red eyes. She reached up and put a hand on his cheek, feeling herself drawn to the intensity of his fire. Gently, he leant and kissed her, with a tenderness that both surprised and melted her. When they drew apart, the spell was broken and his usual boyish grin had returned.
"See, chère? It ain't real. It's fun, and it's useful, but it ain't real."
"No. This is, though." She caught his lapels and pulled him down into another kiss. Once he recovered from the shock, she felt his free hand go round her waist, drawing her closer and returning every ounce of her passion. This time when they broke for air, his smile was gentle and teasing.
"Feel better now?"
"Much, thank you."
"C'mon." Keeping his arm round her, he began to walk down towards the lights of the city. "Let's go get another drink. We earned it."
Betsy let Remy choose the bar, a quiet place on a backstreet, where the doorman recognised him, as did half the pretty young waitresses inside. There was a small dance floor and a four piece band, three of whom gave Remy a nod of greeting.
"Your usual?" Betsy asked with a sly smile.
"How can you tell?" He escorted her to a table and went to the bar for drinks. When he came back, the briefcase had magically vanished, replaced by two glasses of champagne.
"To us." Betsy drank, enjoying the bubbly taste and watching her companion. If Remy sensed her scrutiny, he showed no signs of it, leaning back in his chair and watching the few couples on the dance floor. He looked at ease with the world and himself, lounging back apparently without a care. Yet there was an air of coiled tension about him, even now, as though she had come across a panther that was resting at the moment and so wasn't particularly interested in her. Yet. The conflict of the playboy front he presented and the professional that lay underneath both confused and fascinated her. Not for the first time, she regretted that he wasn't going to be coming with their team.
"What you thinking, chère?" He was studying her right back, challenging her to be honest.
"I was wondering what you're going to do with yourself when we're gone."
"I'll think of something. There's always more penthouses."
"And more jewels."
"You got it. But what you're really asking is what I'm going to do without Rogue, right?"
Uncharacteristically, she blushed. "I wasn't going to put it quite like that."
"I'm sure you weren't. I might ask you what you're going to do without Warren."
"You might. But you forget, I've already moved on, according to him."
"Neal's a good kid. You play nice with him."
"I intend to. Warren may have been the love of my life, but I don't have time for regrets."
"Love of your life, eh? That why you make it so easy on him to finish it?"
"What do they say? 'If you love someone, you've got to let them go?'"
"Yeah, I heard that one. Always figured it was a load of rubbish."
"You did?" Betsy couldn't keep the surprise from her voice.
"Pretty much." He took another mouthful of his drink and looked away, seeing something that was beyond her vision. "I mean, if you love something, it's worth fighting for, right? If you can't be bothered to fight for it, maybe you never wanted it that much in the first place."
"You're one to talk." Her voice was sharper than she'd intended, earning her a scornful look.
"You think that's what I'm doing? Not fighting for her?"
"You're just going to let her go. In two days, we'll be gone and who knows when or if we'll be back. I call that not fighting."
"Then you don't know nothin'." Both the playboy and the thief had gone now, all pretence had vanished and Betsy realised she was getting a rare glimpse of the man behind the mask. "Do you really think I'm just going to let her walk out of my life like that? Do you really think that just because I'm doing what she wants and staying out of sight that means I love her any less? Do you really think there's anywhere on this planet she could go that I wouldn't follow her?" He sat back again, recovering his calm façade. "She wants space. I'm giving her space. Don't mean I'm not going to be around and it don't mean she don't want me no more."
"That's an awful risk, isn't it? Just standing and waiting?"
"You expect a guy called Gambit to do anything else?"
"I guess not." She paused, turning the conversation over in her mind. "So what you're saying is, if I really loved Warren, I wouldn't have just stood there and let him walk – fly – out of my life?"
"You tell me."
"I wish I could." There was silence between them for a moment, both lost in their own thoughts. Then the band began a new song, a gentle, lilting melody that seemed to surround, penetrate and uplift them. Betsy stood and held out her hand. "One last waltz?"
"This place goes all night. You want to keep waltzing, they'll keep playing." He stood and let her lead him to the dance floor.
"I know. But I figure this has to end at some time. And I want it on my terms, not anyone else's. So, one last waltz?"
"Whatever you want."
There were eight or nine couples up and dancing now, holding each other close and enjoying the music, the atmosphere, each other's company. The pair that had the most attention were tall and slim, he with a gymnast's build of broad shoulders and a narrow waist, auburn hair framing a handsome face, eyes closed as he held the girl close. Her violet hair hung down her back and over both shoulders and she moved with the same lithe grace as him, her hand in his and her head against his shoulder. They seemed to know what the other was thinking, no need to speak or look at each other. Those watching would have picked them out as a couple very much in love, enjoying the night together. Grasping one last fleeting moment of peace before having to face the stark reality outside the club again. When the dance ended, the heat from the kiss they exchanged could be felt on the other side of the room. As they left, some of the sparkle seemed to have gone from the night, as though their presence had, for a brief moment, made this place more than just a dance hall and bar. The waltzing would end soon, everyone returning to their real homes and real lives.
There was some speculation among the staff as to who exactly the gorgeous couple had been. The guy behind the bar, who had watched the man come and go through the years, was convinced they were a gangster and his girl. The waitress who had cleared their table was sure that they were married and came out on nights like this to spice up their relationship. The head waiter, who had quietly collected a briefcase from behind the bar, didn't like to speculate and told the others to shut up and go home. He also filed away the information for future use.
As for the couple themselves, they drifted out into to the night, picked up Remy's bike and headed north, back to Westchester. Betsy held on tight, pressing herself against his back. The speed of the bike wasn't quite the same as flying, but if she closed her eyes and concentrated, she could make believe that it was. As she did so, she could smell the smoky atmosphere of the club, the taste of champagne and cigarettes that lingered on her tongue and, if she listened hard enough, she could hear the band playing that last waltz.