Title: The Ante
Chapter 1: One Card Short of a Deck
Fandom: X-Men: Evolution
Summary: When Gambit left Rogue on the shores of Blood Moon Bayou, he slipped a playing card into her hand. More than a conciliatory gesture, it signaled the start of something that carried the understanding: Never bet more than you are willing to lose.
Chapter I: One Card Short of a Deck
"Within the furthest reaches of our heart
Lie those desires whose name one dares not speak.
So seductive, so intoxicating, so indulgent,
Our most private passions burn at the molten core of our being,
Luring us to the very heights of ecstasy and depths of despair…
Abandon yourself, if you dare."
Lake Pontchartrain gleamed; its surface a shimmering mass of grey reflecting the Louisiana sun in broken patterns. It made him squint if he looked long and hard enough.
He kept his focus ahead of him at the bumper of the car a few yards away, ignoring the brief flashes of the sun's reflection out of the corner of his eye. Distracted, he shook his head, unable to keep the hair out of his face when the wind picked up. It was growing out, some, mostly out of neglect.
Not that Remy was thinking of what his barber would say; he had something else on his mind entirely:
If fortune favored him, he'd be blown clear off the bridge and into the murky depths below; the commandeered motorcycle, the trench coat folded into the seat behind him, his half-battered pride, fancy hair, and all.
Remy LeBeau was a lucky man, but perhaps not that lucky. Not today at least.
Mulling this over, he concluded: He needed a cigarette.
Glancing at the speedometer of his bike, and pressing his mouth into a grim line, he urged the throttle a little harder.
Behind him, though perhaps not quickly enough, New Orleans was receding beyond the bay; the spires of the business district fading in the grey haze of pollution. It threw the city's skyline into a lazy blush, coquettish and yet somehow, beneath that touch of rose, still just as debauched as ever from what he glimpsed of her by glancing into the rear-view.
"Au revoir," he murmured, his voice torn away from him by the cool wind that whipped around the bridge. It made the skin on his arms ripple with gooseflesh despite the heavy humidity, displaced the instant he'd roared off from the plantation's gravel drive.
Jean Luc really needed to tighten the security around that place, Remy thought, smirking. Or maybe, Jean Luc really just needed to tighten the security on him if he'd expected him to hang around any longer than he already had.
He'd overstayed his welcome, and he knew it. Moreover, he didn't need the hospitality, the strained smiles and subtle looks shared between the elder members of the Guild. They no longer wanted him - hadn't wanted him for the better part of a year, truly - and that was just fine by him. Sometimes, it was best to collect your winnings and get clear of the table as quickly as possible.
The bike was his fee for tolerating Jean Luc's sly scheming for the better part of a year while living cloistered beneath the hand of the very family that had forced him out to begin with.
Remy gunned the engine, cutting off a sedan in the right lane with ease though the driver blared his horn, and coaxed the Harley faster, as if the increased speed would lend a little more ease to his flight.
Mindful of the settled weight in his chest when he looked back at his home, he put himself to his task of watching for the turn off that would take him north through St. Tammany parish.
Still, she called to him, that blossom on the horizon with her worn cobbled streets and her heady perfume. The city, laced with the scent of bougainvillea and creeping myrtle, coming to life when the sun faded and her lights winked on for the evening. She was a nocturnal creature, dissolute and sultry; his first love and his mentor. She'd weaned him amongst her streets and back alleys, made him hard by running her rooftop gauntlets, and heated his limbs while learning the taste of her. He'd miss her for the short time he'd be gone, but like a loyal mistress, the Crescent would welcome him back into her embrace if… when… he returned.
This time, at least, his departure didn't stink of the same shame that he'd experienced when he was eighteen. This time, the city had forgiven him his trespasses, if only by half.
Releasing the handlebar beneath his left hand, he pressed his fingers against the back pocket of his denims; taking a small comfort. The square corners of a pack of cards angled beneath his touch, and with practiced ease, he slid the weathered burden into his palm. Flipping the worn package open with a thumb, still keeping an eye on the road, he pulled the first card from the top half out with his index finger.
He chuckled to himself.
The deck was short one card. Its absence was irritating, yet, at the same time, it provided an unusual comfort. He could guess easily where she would have kept it.
"Feeling a lil' lonely, mon gars?" he chuckled, peering down at the solitary King of Hearts that he'd extracted from the deck. "Remy thinks it's about time t' take care of that old ache, ein? S' burnin' something fierce."
It was the perfect excuse, though he didn't need one.
With a snap, the King found its place back in the deck, the blare of car horns shadowing Remy's reckless driving as the front tire bit into the interstate.
The path before him was clear.
"Oh come on, Rogue! We are so going to be late!"
She punctuated the last seven words with a rap against the doorframe; each knock serving to grind Rogue's teeth together one notch more.
"Ah'm on it like white on rice," she muttered.
"Nothing," she snapped. "Kit, Ah swear, if ya didn't hog the darn bathroom every mornin' -"
"Just hurry up. Scott said he'd drive us to class if we got out of here at, like, a reasonable hour."
"It's only a quarter to - besides, Kurt could just 'port you into a back alley if you're so concerned about missing home ec. Ah'm short a rather crucial accessory at the moment, if ya hadn't noticed."
Jerkily, as if her five fingers could convey every ounce of scathing disdain she felt at that instant, Rogue waved her bare hand at her roommate.
"Don't you have to take those off anyway when you're cooking?" Kitty asked.
Rogue dug into the top drawer of her dresser, and tossing a wadded ball of socks over her shoulder, her fingers touched leather. Finally. "Must have forgot the last time you had me 'helping out'," she said beneath her breath, "your upside down cake tasted like a catcher's mitt."
"Hey!" Kitty simpered with mock offense. "Kurt says my baking skills have improved… a lot."
"Ah'll remember that the next time Kurt ends up in the med bay after eating your 'special' brownies," she returned flatly, tugging out a glove that was conspicuously missing its match.
"The milk had gone bad," Kitty muttered in her defense.
Rogue, too frustrated at that particular moment to muster the venom, tried another tack: "Kit, there ain't any milk in brownies," she huffed, recommencing the search for her missing glove. If she couldn't find it, she couldn't leave the Institute. Not that that was the worst thing that could possibly happen to her that morning, but honestly, the last item on Rogue's list of things to do that day involved dish detail for the rest of the students as punishment for involuntarily cutting class. Add one more detention for unexplained absenteeism, and she wouldn't see the outside of the Danger Room until graduation... if she'd actually be able to graduate this year.
Rogue frowned to herself, momentarily back-sliding into the Realm of Dwelling On It.
She had to find that stupid glove.
Kitty, mercifully, didn't respond. She was probably pouting, Rogue thought with a grim sense of self-satisfaction, gleaned only by the immediate gratification of being able to shut the Valley girl up for a few minutes with a quick quip.
Lordy, she hated Mondays.
"Kitty?" she called over her shoulder. "Have you seen my spare pair? The lace ones? They don't cover as great, but Ah can't find the second to this set -"
Rogue's fingers brushed against the side of something sharp, and just as quickly, she withdrew her hand from the drawer with a gasp.
A thin, barely-there sliver lanced into the fleshy part of her finger. Cautiously, she pressed the fine cut, and a little well of blood pooled in the edge.
"No, Jean was on laundry detail yesterday." Kitty sniffed from the doorway. "Maybe you should ask her. She, like, doesn't screw things up so easily, you know?"
Rogue sighed, forcibly repressing a reflexive roll of her eyes. "Ya know Ah didn't mean that -" she began, half-turning to face her roommate, her finger still holding her attention. For a moment, Rogue couldn't remember the last time she'd gotten a paper cut...
"Whatever." With a frustrated huff, Kitty phased through the floor and out of sight before Rogue could apologize.
"Darn it," she muttered, turning back to the task at hand. She'd deal with Kitty later. It wasn't the first time one of their early morning exchanges had turned sour. Frankly, Rogue thought it best not to think on it too long. The further away she kept her roommate, the more comfortable she'd be with their living arrangements.
She winced at the thin cut on her finger. That was a rarity, she thought. Being covered from head to toe all of the time usually prevented the little injuries.
Peeking into her drawer, her search for her missing glove forgotten, she hunted for the offending item.
At the very bottom, squeezed in between a rumpled ball of underwear and a pair of pajamas, the corner of a small, mostly-battered playing card peeked out on an angle. Gingerly, Rogue pulled it from the confines of her drawer, holding it carefully by its sides as if it would suddenly explode in her exposed hands.
Its edges were frayed in places, the corner was bent, and the face of the stoic Queen of Hearts was smeared with dirt. Despite being welted by swamp water and handled more times than she could count, finding the card made her breath catch.
"I always save her for last."
Rogue shivered as the revenant of his voice returned to her with almost haunting accuracy. The slight softening of the consonants, the languid cadence, the slow roll of his tongue as he pronounced words that she could only understand after he'd traced a finger against her cheek and she'd absorbed him.
"My lucky lady. She's gotten me outta a whole lotta jams."
"Couldn't get ya outta the one you're in now, Ah'd reckon," she said to the Queen of Hearts, surprised by the unexpected bitterness in her voice. Rogue hesitated, her finger still welling blood, furious all of sudden that such a tiny piece of paper was the cause of so much trouble. She frowned only a moment before crushing the playing card with one decisive movement. Her sliced finger twinged vengefully, and with a yelp, Rogue dropped the Queen back into her sock drawer.
That damned Cajun was miles away and yet he still managed to hurt her.
She appraised the wadded card with a frown, and after a moment's scrutiny, banged the drawer shut, giving up on her search for the missing glove altogether.
It wasn't worth it. It was a small, forgivable sacrifice if it meant getting away from that thing, and all it stood for, quicker.
In three strides, she'd snatched her book bag from the spot against the foot of her bed where she'd thrown it on Friday night, and stomped into the hall, her heavy-heeled boots marking her exit. She didn't forget to slam the door behind her, though Rogue did note with some malevolence that she wouldn't hesitate to give anyone a pat on the back with her bare hand that day if they irritated her.
She'd throw out Remy's stupid Queen of Hearts when she got home.
Au revoir: Goodbye
Mon gars: My man