Written for Marvel 2000 (.com) as Gambit volume two, number one. In their continuity Gambit leads The Thieves Guild after the death of his father at the hands of Bullseye. He hasn't been an X-Man for years. Hope you enjoy it!
GAMBIT: CHARGED AND DANGEROUS
The woman reminded Gambit of Lara Croft. The long ponytail, not a hair out of place, sort of a hybrid between goddess and woman -- a hybrid between Angelina Jolie (who wasn't as great of a kisser as you'd think) and the videogame version of the character.
She'd commissioned The Thieves Guild three weeks ago to the day, giving them a hefty sum of five thousand dollars to steal three small boxes from Ridge Tech, Inc. Gambit hadn't asked what was inside -- her urgency, her desperation, kept his questions at bay.
Well, that and her briefcase full of cash. LeBeau prided himself in judge of character. In his experience, corporations like Ridge Tech probably weren't the most honest of businesses... any information gathered on what it was they actually produced led to dead end after dead end. It was shady enough for Gambit, she was beautiful enough for Gambit, and the money was good enough for The Guild. Good enough to get them off of his back.
He didn't ask how she knew about The Guild. Most of their business was local -- or personal -- and they didn't receive much traffic from beautiful British women with no connections to New Orleans.
"I'd say I don't possibly know how I can thank you," she loaded the last of the small, black, locked boxes into the back of her Mercedes, "but I did give you quite a bit of money."
"De pleasure was all mine," Gambit pulled a freshly-lit cigarette to his lips. "Jus' don't end up bein' some kinda supervillain. I'd hate to regret givin' you de last piece a'somethin' you needed to rule de world."
"I'll do my best," the Jane Doe replied. She moved closer to him. "Aren't you going to try and kiss me?"
"Don' even know your name, chere," Gambit backed away, gripping the suitcase and holding it over his shoulder. "'Sides," he grinned, "kissin' de customer, in my personal experience, is always bad for business."
"Theresa," she extended her hand. LeBeau tossed his cigarette aside, grabbed her hand with his free one and turned it. His lips fell on her fingers.
His stomach sank as he turned and walked away.
"De woman was trouble," LeBeau pushed the safe door closed, the briefcase inside. "De last t'ing I need right now is--"
"--t'get laid, Remy?" Henri Thordeaux arched an eyebrow. Henri was probably his closest friend in the Guild... which, these days, meant that he hated him the least. "De woman was beautiful."
"All of 'em are beautiful," Gambit took a seat at his desk. "We did de job, I got de money. Didn't need t'complicate it beyond dat."
"A beautiful woman gives you five t'ousand dollars, practically begs you for a kiss an' you walk away? You need a vacation."
Henri took a seat opposite LeBeau. He was very large -- a frame two times the size of Gambit's. LeBeau wondered how long the chair would support him. He wasn't fat, just big boned, and his own ponytail rivaled Heather's.
"It is hard," LeBeau laughed to himself, "stealin' from de rich, givin' to de poor..."
"Somet'in which, you keep doin', de guild ain't gonna have no money whatsoever."
"De guild is fine," LeBeau scoffed. He pulled a cigarette from his trench coat and lit it quickly. "I don' recall anyone starvin', bein' wit'out work, sleepin' on de streets."
"...okay, fine. Unless dey wanna sleep on de streets," Gambit corrected himself.
"...is dead, Henri," Gambit stood. "Has been. I ain't Jean-Luc."
"I know dat," Henri mirrored LeBeau, the two men standing on opposite sides of the desk. "And I ain't got a problem wit dat... it's everybody else. De rituals, de rights of passage..."
"Are outdated," Remy puffed. "Dis is a business, mon ami. And it's runnin' smoothly wit'out all of de mumbo-jumbo."
"Dis is New Orleans, Remy," Henri grinned. "De mumbo-jumbo is all dat gets dese folks through night an' day. Maybe you ran wit de X-Men for too long, non? De books, de prophecies... all dat used t'mean somethin' t'you."
"I ain't run wit de X-Men for a long time, Henri," Gambit slammed his cigarette into an ashtray. He'd smoked that fast. "I'm just tryin' t'be logical. Immortals, deals wit' people like Candra, red-eyed saviors, all dat's in de past... rivalries wit de Assassins. We ain't got no need for dat."
"Speakin' of Assassins," Henri leaned against the desk, "you talked to Bella Donna? Word on de street is she's lookin' for you."
Gambit lit another cigarette.
Bella Donna slammed the trunk of the Mercedes closed, smiling to herself as she walked to the front of the car. She pulled the door open, casually wiping a bit of blood from the seat before she sat down, and drove away from two members of her Assassins Guild who were "doing away wit" the corpse of the woman so hell bent on stealing from Ridge Tech, Inc.
The leader of the Assassins made a sharp right a few minutes later, pulling into an empty lot and parking the car beside a navy-colored SUV. The door clicked open a second later, Bella Donna making her way to the back, popping the trunk and turning to meet a man clad in a business suit.
"Everything is taken care of, then?"
"Not 'til I get de money," she closed the trunk again. Her eyes ran from his broad shoulders to his narrow waist and then up again. "De Assassins don' work for free, mon ami."
He was handsome -- of the tall, dark variety, but Bella Donna never had much use for a man who wore sunglasses after sundown. If the eyes were a window to the soul, sunglasses were curtains... and curtains, for an Assassin, are never good.
"Mister Eugair extends his gratitude," he pulled a silver suitcase from the car behind him. "All five thousand dollars of it."
"Good," Bella Donna grabbed it, tossing the keys in his direction. He caught them and unlocked the trunk, grabbing at the boxes and placing them into his backseat.
Then he turned back, smiled, and tossed the keys back to her.
"A gift. For your services."
Bella Donna watched the man drive away as she leaned back against her new car. It was going to be a good night.
CHURCH OF THE LOST THIEVES
"Empty, empty," Gambit smiled to himself as he made his way down the candlelit pulpit. "De t'ieves, dey ain't got less t'be sorry for, I know dat. Looks like they just less inclined to apologize dese days, non?"
Remy listened to the echo of his voice as he took a seat in an empty pew. He ran his hands through his hair. "Guess dere's plenty I could apologize for... but I ain't here for dat," he tried to convince himself.
Gambit leaned back, his eyes focused on the stained glass above him to his right. He looked through it more than at it, his mind wandering back to the first time he'd ever entered the church.
Though it wasn't this church, was it? It had been rebuilt years ago after an explosion Gambit tended to ignore he had anything to do with. He'd come to New Orleans to save Bella Donna, to give her the Elixir of Life, and he'd faced off against the Assassins in this "holy" place.
It seemed so long ago -- but he preferred it that way. It was ironic... all of the fighting, the rivalries, the tithes, the immortality... all it ever led to was death. Even the death of his father.
Perhaps if he and Bella Donna had just been allowed to live out their lives together, none of it would've happened. "Tch," Remy spat. What a horrible thought.
He never would've left, never would've met Ororo, never would've joined the X-Men... but then again, look how that turned out. Here he was, all these years later, trapped in New Orleans.
And in the end, Henri loved pointing out, it was he and Bella Donna who brought unity to the guilds... a prophecy fulfilled. "If you don' believe in any of de prophecies, de old ways, Remy, just t'ink about you and Bel," he'd said on more than one occasion.
Gambit shook his head, clearing his thoughts. He wished she'd hurry up. His patience began to wane, LeBeau tracing his name in the dust atop the Bible beside him.
"Looks like sacrilege t'me," a man's voice called from the darkness. Gambit stood quickly. The voice was eerily familiar but also forgotten.
"Better show yourself," Remy called, a card sliding down his sleeve and into his fingers. "Church or not, mon ami, Gambit don' like bein' snuck up on."
There was no response. Gambit's eyes narrowed, sifting through the candlelight as best as they could. He moved forward through the room but found no one.
Then he felt it. Behind him. LeBeau turned quickly, extending his staff -- but at the end of it wasn't a man... but a woman -- the woman he'd been expecting since his arrival.
"You look spooked, Remy," Bella Donna smiled. "I know you don' spend a lot of time in de church... but it was you dat said we should meet here."
"Like we agreed," she arched an eyebrow. "You been drinkin'?"
Gambit didn't answer, looking past her with determination. That voice... why was it so familiar?
"Remy," she grabbed his shoulders. "What's goin' on?"
LeBeau shook his head. "I heard someone... a man. You sure you weren' followed?"
"As sure as you are cryptic," Bella Donna smiled. She couldn't help but smile when she was around him... it reminded her of when they'd first met. "You and dis phantom man, you have a good time while you were waitin'?"
"Forget it," Gambit pushed her away. He wasn't even sure if he'd meant to. "You got de money, den?"
"Five thousand," Bella Donna moved to the pew with the briefcase. "An' you?"
"Same," Gambit said with a sigh. The two took a seat in unison, leaning against the back of the pew until Gambit broke the silence again. He'd noticed the blood on her sleeve.
"You made it quick, didn' you, Bel? She wasn't a bad woman."
Bella Donna stared blankly ahead, her thoughts returning to the woman she'd taken out for the five thousand dollars. The woman who'd just given Remy the same amount.
"S'good we met in a church, Remy," she turned. She could taste his guilt. "We got a lot t'be sorry for."
The walk back from the church was hard and the silver suitcase was heavy. Gambit mused that he should've learned to stop questioning his integrity a long time ago... but if he didn't have a conscience, what kind of man would he be?
Hell, what kind of man was he now? He and Bella Donna had a deal: it was simple, sure, but only on paper. They would play clients off of one another -- someone would hire the Thieves for a job, they would do it, and in turn the Assassins would inevitably be hired by those missing whatever had been taken from them. Or variations thereof.
It kept both Guilds in money -- the lump sums rotating between the two, and it kept both Guilds in work. It also provided Remy, the man in charge, with the money to help those who really needed it. Villains didn't always attack New Orleans and there were other ways to be a hero. It fed the hungry, provided shelter for the homeless. Bel had agreed not to actually kill if she could "help it," and only the two of them knew of their arrangement. But only Gambit felt the swell of regret in his gut.
Ever so often, though, Bella Donna surprised him with her uncertainty, leading Gambit to believe that maybe she wasn't the woman she once was. That maybe she was more.
She'd looked so beautiful tonight. Her blonde hair falling loosely across her porcelain skin. Her soft, perfect skin... he still felt her hand on his cheek.
LeBeau forced her from his mind but not the situation. He thought of that poor woman, Theresa. Was this peace? This is why he didn't believe in the prophecy -- but he couldn't tell Henri. There was a level of dishonesty even the Thieves would frown upon... not that they smiled on him much, anyway.
This wasn't peace. Just because the Guilds weren't at war with one another didn't mean that he and Bel had brought peace to New Orleans. Did it matter that he'd use half of the money for good? It was tainted. It was blood.
And it was on his hands.
Just like the Morlocks, just like the Grey King. He thought about Cyclops and how easily he'd come to him to do what he couldn't. No, that was different. The man was a monster.
Gambit stopped under a lamp post, staring into a closed candy store window. Was he a monster?
"Hey," Gambit heard a small girl call. He turned, hoping he wasn't imagining a second voice that night.
He was relieved to find the voice was real -- and coming from, as he'd guessed, a little girl. She was wearing an olive hoodie and blue jeans, her brown ponytail pulled back and away from her face.
"...h'lo," Remy smiled down at her. "S'awfully late for you t'be wanderin' de streets, non?"
Gambit arched an eyebrow. The girl looked up at him, puzzled.
"It... is... aw-full-y late," Gambit stressed, "for you to be out here on de streets all by yourself. An' to be pickin' on me, too."
"Would you rather I pick on you durin' the day?" she smiled up at him.
"De name is Remy, Petite," Gambit extended his hand, "an' you shouldn' talk to strangers... 'specially wit' dat sass. Not everyone's as nice as ol' Remy here."
The little girl grabbed his hand, pulling it toward her. "Why do you have holes in your gloves? Aren't your fingers cold?"
"It's more for effect, I s'pose," Gambit smiled. There was something about her that was refreshing. He was trying to watch his accent, rarely considered one in these parts, and wondered why she didn't have one. Or why she was so bold.
Or why he cared what she thought about the way he spoke.
"I was bored at home," she sighed. "I wanted some candy."
LeBeau turned back to the candy store, taking a few steps away from the girl and toward the door. It had been picked -- sloppily, Gambit noted as he pulled a bobby-pin from the keyhole, but picked.
"How old are you?" he turned back. But she was gone.
"Mon Dieu," Remy said aloud, running his hands through his auburn hair again. "Maybe I do need a vacation."
It had been two weeks since he'd seen Bella Donna. LeBeau had pushed her from his mind, pushed the child from his mind, and had even forgotten about the mysterious voice.
He had a horrible habit these days -- out of sight, out of mind... at least until things got quiet. Which, in reality, was all too often. Friends were scarce in New Orleans, even after all this time, and not many people cared to strike up a friendly conversation without some sort of ulterior motive.
Luckily, though -- depending on Gambit's mood and perception (varying by the day), there was Henri.
"Rumors, s'all m'sayin'," Henri stood atop Remy in the gym, convinced LeBeau would drop the barbell at any moment.
Gambit slammed the weights back into the air. "Rumors is as rumors does," he grunted. "Stupid."
"Dat don' even make no sense, Remy," Henri glared down at him. "Bella Donna's drivin' a nice new car, same care as dat woman was drivin' who hired you. It all looks a bit fishy. How deep does dis alliance wit dem go?"
Gambit shelved the barbell, sitting up from the bench and wiping the sweat from his brow. He grabbed his tanktop from another bench and pulled it over his head. "How do you even know what dat woman was drivin'?"
"Don' speculate," Remy moved toward the exit. "You just sound stupid." And with that, he was gone.
Henri took a seat on the bench. "An' 'rumors is as rumors does' is smart?"
Perhaps it was Remy's biased opinion, but the base of The Assassins was nowhere near as nice as that of his Thieves. Bella Donna definitely had a woman's touch, of that he was sure, but it was a touch seldom used for decorating.
Gambit moved to the base's entrance without much trouble. It was the middle of the day and, like his Thieves, most of their work was done at night. They were sleeping. Alliance or not, when Remy LeBeau showed up at the home of Bella Donna... someone was bound to have a problem.
Like the guy who opened the door Remy was in the middle of picking. LeBeau stammered to his feet, pulling his favorite lock-pick ("Rosemarie") from the door and sticking it back into his coat pocket. "H'lo."
The man reached out, his massive fists gripping Gambit's collar and pulling the mutant toward him. "Man o'little words, eh?"
"What is it you're wantin', T'ief?"
"A word wit' your boss," LeBeau grabbed at the man's wrists. His own hands didn't quite fit around them. "I don't t'ink she'll mind you lettin' me down. In fact, I recommend you doin' it right now, Mister..?"
"Goatreaux," he tightened his grip, pulling Gambit even closer.
"Word to de wise," Gambit said, bringing his knee into Goatreaux's stomach. The mammoth of a man barely doubled over -- but doubled over enough, LeBeau slamming his forehead into the Assassin's. "Brush!"
Goatreaux reeled back, thankfully, releasing LeBeau with just enough time for him to avoid the exploding watch on the man's wrist. The Assassin screamed, charging forward, his fists at the ready.
Gambit leapt over him with ease, his palms on the man's back, using his bodyweight to propel him farther away. He moved inside, Goatreaux turning to pursue as the screen door slammed shut between them.
"Mutant freak!" Goatreaux ripped at the screen door with his good hand, LeBeau extending his staff, eager to deal with the oncoming assault... but before he could, a plasma blast flew over Gambit's shoulder and into the man. He stumbled back, dazed but relatively unharmed.
"Watch your filthy tongue, Assassin!" Bella Donna stood at the base of the main staircase.
"My apologies, Bel," the man lowered his head. Gambit arched an eyebrow. "He was tryin' t'break in."
"He don' try to break in nowhere," Bella Donna took a few steps toward Gambit. "De leader of de T'ieves gets in wherever he pleases... and, as per our alliance, is welcome here whenever he please."
Goatreaux nodded, moving inside. His shoulder slammed into LeBeau as he walked past, Remy pulling a card from his sleeve and beginning to charge it. Bella Donna grabbed his wrist, Remy releasing the charge and pushing her away.
"Been a long time since you tried t'sneak up t'my room, Remy LeBeau."
"'Bout as long as it's been since I wanted to, Bel," Gambit adjusted his coat. "We need to talk."
Gambit had never driven a Mercedes. He preferred smaller cars; cars you could live with seeing destroyed or demolished. Or the Black Bird. Still, he had to admit, it wasn't a bad ride... but it wasn't a ride he wanted to take. It was one he had to.
It had taken some convincing, a bit of his Cajun Charm, but Bella Donna had agreed to let him have it. It wasn't so much the car that they'd argued over... it was more the termination of their arrangement.
"No more blood, Bel," he'd finally said. "I'm a T'ief, you an Assassin. Just 'cause we ain't at war wit' one another doesn' mean de lines have to get so blurry."
It would mean a pay cut for his Guild, something he'd deal with later, but it was something that had to be done. Their methods -- Bella Donna's methods -- were not his own. Not anymore.
The registration had been in the car... and as it turned out, the woman did have a connection in New Orleans: about thirty miles north. LeBeau pulled into the driveway uneasily. It was late... and perhaps whoever "Opal Hechten" was wasn't even home.
But the porch light, buzzing to life as he put the car in park, told him otherwise. Gambit watched from the driver's seat at the old woman made her way into the light, moved down the staircase and met him beside the car as he finally stepped out.
"Who are you?" she asked urgently. "Where's Terry?"
"Theresa," Gambit remembered the woman's name. "She's... she asked me to give you dis."
The woman's eyes squinted as LeBeau pulled a silver suitcase from the car. "A suitcase? Where is my granddaughter? And I won't ask you again, stranger. Who are you?"
"I knew Theresa," Gambit looked down at the woman. He had no idea what to say next. "Listen... your granddaughter..."
"...finally got involved with the wrong group of people, didn't she?" Opal stared up at him. "I told her, activism is one thing... stand up for what you believe in... but you start dealin' in shadows, you'll disappear in one."
Gambit had no idea what to say -- and from the look of it, the old woman knew it. She grabbed Remy's arm and took him inside. The two took a seat in the empty living room as the lonely old woman explained how her husband had been gone for years, her own children -- Theresa's parents -- had moved to London, and her granddaughter had moved back only three years ago.
She showed him pictures, told him stories -- and Gambit simply listened. He'd felt awkward at first; guilty. But he hadn't lied to the woman, not necessarily, and she seemed all too comfortable with death... all too comfortable with strangers... all too comfortable with all of it.
She was just happy to have someone to talk to... and truth be told, so was Gambit.
He'd watched her set the briefcase on the couch when they'd walked inside, the keys to the car atop it. If she suspected there was ten thousand dollars inside, Remy suspected she wouldn't have cared.
As he listened to the stories of her life, of her husband, her children, of Theresa -- he envied her.
Briefcases full of money were irrelevant -- and she was right: if you start dealing in shadows, you'll disappear in one.
And Gambit was ready to step back into the light.
CAJUN CORNER -- Author's Note
The fact that it was 1999 when I wrote Gambit 1 for M2K the LAST time makes me feel old. I turn 24 two days from now as I'm writing this... so that would've made me... uh... okay, I'm bad at math. I was an English major, okay? It would've made me younger.
I'm excited about Gambit's return to the solo-books and I'm even more excited about my return to M2K. I'll do my best to maintain the quality of writing everyone's upheld here... and my best to catch up, too! I'd like to thank Dave, Josh, Cory and Bryan for all of their help and particularly Dave and Bryan for answering my questions... there were A LOT of them. There will probably be a lot more, too, so thanks in advance. Heh.
Let me know what you thought about the debut of Gambit's second volume... and I'll see you in thirty for part one of "Fatherly Sins"!