Format for use with submitting fanfic. Surrender – Part 1 by paxnirvana
Rating: R
Fandom: X-Men: The Movie
Characters: Storm and ensemble movie cast, but introducing… Gambit
Archive: Ask me, I don't bite. Unless you don't ask…

Author's Note: I had to try my hand at putting Remy into movieverse. The way I'd like to see it done. Because it doesn't look like Singer is going to give it a try. Darn it. 11/17/01

Disclaimer: 20th Century Fox has the movie rights, Marvel the rest. I'm not making any money here, just burning my own time and creativity.

* * * * *

The first indication he'd had of something not quite right with the hastily contracted job had been the sign out front of the target: 'Xavier's School for Gifted Children'. He'd noted it when he passed by the location earlier that evening, careful to ride past at a reasonable speed and not slow down. The contact hadn't mentioned anything about a school – or children – just a genetic research lab. In the basement of an old estate. A private lab run by an extremely wealthy and eccentric professor. The security and design specifications he'd received for the lab itself were daunting. Well, daunting for someone of less than his skill, of course.

Despite his misgivings about the sign, he'd entered the grounds anyway. It was the job. And maybe the old professor was eccentric, but possibly just smart enough to angle the property as an educational institution for tax purposes. Or cover.

It was late at night, of course. The mansion lit only by soft lights in the main entry hall. Probably left on all night, every night. The lush, well-tended grounds were unlit away from the front gate and driveway. External security was lax in that regard. He followed the memorized diagram to an outbuilding beyond the basketball court. There it indicated, in the foundation of the shed, was the outflow for a substantial ventilation system. Which was also a way in.

He made his way silently to the shed, opened the sturdy but practically useless padlock with ease, and slipped inside.

There, his eyes took only seconds to adjust to the darkness. He saw the heavy grating in the floor immediately. It looked like a drain in the center of the sloped floor, for rinsing off the concrete. But spinning the grating, according to his briefing, separated a hatch that lifted up to allow access below. The rest of the shed was littered with garden tools, potting soil, neatly stacked pots and other gardening supplies. The only odd feature was a trio of indicator lights over the door. It currently glowed green, but he saw yellow and red as well. Some kind of staged alarm? He saw no sensors, no obvious system to indicate the lights purpose. To be certain, he carefully checked the grate before lifting it out of the way. It was clear of all save an access sensor, which he swiftly and easily bypassed in order to convince any monitoring system that it was still closed. Below yawned a ventilation shaft complete with rungs imbedded in the concrete walls. Faint light glowed at the bottom of the shaft.

He scrambled quickly down, after carefully closing the hatch behind him. The shaft was long, 40 feet easily, but finally ended in a small concrete room, a bank of high-powered fans covering at least 8 feet of the lowest section of wall. The light came faintly through the fans, but he couldn't see into the room beyond. Whatever they ventilated from down here, it would be dangerous to be caught in the shaft when the system activated. He opened the pressure-sealed maintenance door in the wall and slipped out into a narrow service corridor. Electrical systems, water systems and other liquids-carrying systems lined the walls. He read the warning label on one pipe with astonishment. Jet fuel? What would a genetics lab need with jet fuel?

The door at the far end of the service corridor led into what was marked as a storage chamber on the plans he had memorized. The last semi-private area before entering the more public portions of the lab complex beyond. He entered the dark room, moving gracefully and silently through the shelves and boxes to reach the main door. Which was a round door that operated on a fairly noisy hydraulic system. No way to avoid making sounds when he opened the door. He crouched down beside it and listened carefully. He had been warned that security was heavy. That no other had ever made it even this far before without being discovered. But so far he hadn't encountered any of the marked detectors: no lasers, no motion sensors, no electric eyes. They simply weren't there. So why had the others failed?

The main hallway beyond sounded to be empty. No voices, no footsteps. So much for security patrols. His uneasiness grew.

The job was to retrieve data. He had several specially designed devices for just that purpose. Flash recorders with more gigabytes of storage space than most computer systems. Guaranteed to download to capacity in thirty seconds.

By a dim reddish light, he readied this equipment. Pulling the urgent items from the small pack on his back and moving them to the holders integrated in the belt at his waist, on the left. On the right side he kept his other equipment. Strapped to his thighs were the readily accessible lengths of a collapsible staff. He was skilled at assembling it in a hurry if he needed it to defend himself.

He never carried a gun. The point was not to need it, to not need to fight. To get in and out with his prize so quickly and so silently that hopefully the inhabitants would never even realize he had been there. But he was well able to defend himself, if need be.

After listening closely for at least ten minutes, he finally activated the door. It slip open with a soft, yet distinctive, hiss. He glanced out into the hall, visually confirming that the hallway was empty. There weren't even any cameras on the walls, another discrepancy in the plans. A bare, echoing corridor that led to similar round doorways at either end and set at various points along the hall. A wider area in the center sported benches and what looked like lockers.

He slipped out into the hall and closed the door behind him.

Moving with cautious grace, he counted doors. Searching for the one he wanted. Which was a door at the far end from where he had entered. There would be an elevator shaft before he reached it. He had just opened the target door when he heard the unmistakable sound of the elevator descending.

No way to make it back to the storage room in time. He slipped inside the dimly lit room and closed the door behind him. Concealing himself behind a console. Indicator panels on the various machines glowed, but otherwise the room was dark.

He held still, listening over the sound of his own pounding heartbeat for the approach of whoever it was.

Surprised to hear the sharp clicking of high heels. Then the door of the room slid open again and the lights came up. He ducked his head, grateful for the lenses that mostly protected his eyes from abrupt changes in lighting, but it still stung. He blinked carefully.

A tall, beautiful woman with red hair elegantly drawn back from her face in an elaborate twist and a pair of sensible glasses on her nose had come in. She was wearing a long, sleeveless silk evening gown in dusty black and rhinestone-studded strappy sandals on her feet that clicked on the metal floor as she strode purposefully toward the bank of machines he crouched behind.

She was muttering to herself, a thoughtful frown marring her forehead, a clipboard filled with papers held in her slender hands.

"If I re-code the nucleotide segments, it should…" she broke off her absent-minded muttering suddenly. Her head lifted and she looked curiously around. Head cocked as if listening.

He knew had hadn't made a sound, though his body had tightened in appreciation of her beauty and he'd pursed his lips in a silent wolf whistle. Never one to pass up the opportunity to admire beauty. Then he felt it. Something he'd rarely felt before. Something was actively touching his mental shields.

And with a sinking sense of fatalism, he understood why no one else had ever made it this far.

She was a mutant. Like him.

He watched the woman, his gaze narrowed warily, breath all but held. She dropped the clipboard on the console above him, turned around, and folded her arms over her chest, hands rubbing her bare upper arms as if suddenly chilled. Or apprehensive.

"Is someone here?" she called, looking at the dim far corners of the room. "Logan?"

He remained still, deliberately making his mental shields as soft and non-threatening as he could, yet keeping them strong. The woman shuddered. Then she moved toward the door. It opened before she could get there, and another woman entered. He had to bite his lip to stifle his sigh of appreciation and dismay. Now two lovely ladies. Two lovely ladies between him and the door.

But the new entry gave him pause. The first thing he noticed was her hair. Shockingly white and gathered up in a soft fall over her graceful neck. Wound with a glittering cascade of delicate amber beads. Despite the color of her hair, her skin was smooth and fresh and cocoa warm, her eyes a deep chocolate brown. She was dressed in a rich amber-colored evening gown, the sleek silk draped lovingly over her generous curves and parting to show flashes of smooth thigh as she walked.

"What's the matter, Jean?" this vision said in a husky voice.

The red-head shivered again as she stepped up beside her friend.

"I don't know," the woman named Jean said, lowering her glasses to glance around the room in puzzled confusion. "I thought I felt someone in here with me…" The woman with white hair frowned around the apparently empty room as well.

"I came down to convince you to go to bed rather than work," the amber goddess said, her voice a low husky purr, "but if you're jumping at shadows down here, you've probably realized how tired you are. The show did run long, and the kids do get up awfully early even on Saturday."

The watcher frowned. Kids? Was it really a school then? Or did these beauties have children of their own? The thought gave him a brief pang of regret. Not as strong for the red-head, but the other…

The red-head's hand shot out and wrapped around the other woman's arm. She backed away, dragging at her friend.

"Someone is in here, 'Ro," she hissed. "And I can't get a lock on them!"

"Call the others," the amber goddess said, her expression firming. Then she backed out of the room with her friend. Neither woman looked scared, in fact they looked very cool. Just justifiably wary. The door slid closed behind them.

He wouldn't hurt them, but of course they had no way of knowing that. He swore silently to himself. She'd detected him, somehow. Recalling the layout to mind, he dodged from hiding and ran for the back of the room. Found the machine he needed and plugged one card into it. Yanking it free as soon as the indicator changed to indicate it was full in the promised thirty seconds. Then slid it back into his pouch. The contract had asked for six data cards. One would have to do.

He leaped nimbly up on top of a stack of machines and tugged one glove off, shoving it in his belt. Then he reached up and traced a glowing pink line around the edge of the grill in the air duct overhead. Turned his face away as the small, muffled explosion blew the grill free. He caught it before it could fall to the floor with a clatter and set the grill carefully down. Then he leaped into the duct, letting his thick Kevlar-reinforced working suit protect him from the sharp edges as he wormed his way inside.

Crawling as fast as the limited space allowed, he followed the ducting toward the storage room. The ventilation shaft was the only other exit aside from the elevators.

//Who are you?// came a whisper in his mind. //Why are you here?// He froze, struggling with his shields. His mind a blank, panicked blur. Not again. Not in his mind.

//Your shields are impressive – I can do little more than speak to you. I read nothing from you. I would greatly like to discuss them with you.//

//Non!// he shot back, adding a sting of outrage to it. He had the brief satisfaction of feeling the other mind – it felt male – wince away. Then he resumed his crawl toward the storage room. If this one had been male, and not the woman, then there was more than one mutant here.

The idea made him distinctly uneasy. He'd only encountered a few other mutants before, that he remembered. And most of them hadn't been pleasant encounters. And one in particular… he quickly slammed a mental door on the memories that threatened to boil free. He had to concentrate on escape. He moved on.

He was nearly to the storage room, approaching the grate, when the duct in front of him was suddenly pierced by three blades. They slid through the sturdy sheet metal like butter, yielding with a tortured shriek. He froze, ears ringing.

A low growling sound came from outside the duct, through the slices.

"Gotcha, thief," came a low, male voice.

"Logan, how can you be sure? I'm still not sensing anyone," the red-head said from below, her voice wary but firm.

"He's stopped movin' but he's there. I hear 'im breathing."

With as much silence as he could muster, he twisted enough to reach his belt. Pulled out his deck of cards. Slid one free. The Joker. It immediately began to glow a faint pink. Then he flicked it through the rend in the duct, following it a half-second later with another.

"What the hell is that?"

Then the first card exploded with a bang. More noise than damage. He hadn't put much charge in it. There was a hoarse growl of rage, a woman's cry; stumbling, scrambling motion away and he moved. The second card exploded. Over the slices in the duct to the grating. A quick charge blew the grill away and he dropped through into the now brightly-lit storage room.

A man with dark hair and a savage expression on his face was shaking his head wildly, clawing at his ears over near the door. Three silver blades protruded from one clenched fist – some kind of weapon. The red-head in the black evening gown was leaning against the round door to the hall where the man had obviously thrown her to get her away from his cards. She was staring at him in shock. He felt something tug at him, like a pull on his legs, but he leaped swiftly away deeper into the room. Her startled gasp followed him, then the dark-haired man charged after him with a snarl.

He reached the door to the service corridor, yanked it open and slammed it closed behind him, giving the inside doorknob a quick charge. Ran for the far end, the fan room. The man behind discovered the glowing knob, dove away with a shout as the knob exploded. He heard a grunt of pain and felt a brief sense of regret.

He hated to hurt anyone on the job. It was the sign of a sloppy thief.

Or the consequence of a set-up. Slow anger began to burn.

He dove through the fan room door, leaping several feet up the ladder to get a head start before scrambling away up the shaft. Gloveless hand torn by the rough metal rungs.

He reached the hatch at the top, heard a howl of rage from below. Didn't look to see, but spun it open and threw the hatch wide with a clang. Rolled out with acrobatic grace and burst through the door of the shed. Ran flat out over the elegant grounds. Toward the wall and his motorcycle beyond.

The wind had picked up and was whipping wildly through the trees. Leaves and dirt flew up to blind him. He plunged on. Until a flash of light, a lightning strike, right in front of him blinded him despite the goggles on his face and his contact lenses and sent him spinning away, hands over his eyes, a curse on his lips. Thunder cracked immediately, the shock pounding him.

"Stop and I will not harm you!" a woman called.

The amber goddess. He recognized her husky voice. Turned toward it. Vision strobing painfully. Furiously trying to blink the glare blindness from his eyes. Helpless until his vision cleared.

"No more!" he cried, falling to his knees, hands in the air.

He could see her faintly through the lingering glare, his watering eyes. She stood near the trees, prudently out of reach, white hair flying, amber dress blowing in the wind that came, somehow from behind her.

"Why are you here?" she demanded. He crouched in front of her, slowly lowered his hands to his thighs, and gazed at her as best he could.

"So beautiful," he said, voice thick with admiration. He palmed one of the rods on his thigh. She seemed flustered a moment, then her lips tightened.

"Who sent you? What were you after?"

He heard someone else approach then, glanced over to see a slender man with brown hair and a strange black mask over his eyes. He was wearing most of a tuxedo, the white shirt, the pants. He held his hand at the side of his head, touching the mask.

"Answer her," the man said sharply.

"I do so hate to disappoint a beautiful lady, but… no," he replied, glancing away from the man and back toward his goddess. She was frowning, her arms crossed over her glorious chest again. He smiled at her, forgetting that his face was covered by a mask. Then he heard the sound of running feet behind him through the wind; he rose to one knee, drawing the staff free of the thigh loops and flicking it out. Too late.

"I got 'im," came a harsh snarl, then something hard hit the back of his head and he knew no more.

* * * * *

He woke to painful light, head turning sharply away. He had been stripped down to his underwear, the thin material little protection from the chill of the room.

"Oh, I'm sorry," said a female voice. "Too bright?" The light dimmed.

"Thanks," he said faintly. And blinked away the lingering glare to see the beautiful red-headed woman again now dressed in a forest green sweater dress covered by a white lab coat. The glasses were back on her nose. She smiled at him.

"Your eyes, they are quite interesting. How far into the infra-red range can you see?"

He tested his limbs. He was strapped to the table. The back of his head ached, but his right hand had been bandaged where he had torn the skin climbing the ladder.

"If I tell you, will you let me go?" he grinned at her. Then gave her a teasing wink. She blinked at him in surprise.

"No," came a gruff voice. He turned his head to see the dark-haired man with the bad attitude glaring at him. Arms folded over his brawny chest.

"C'est ca," he breathed softly. No pity in that one. No room for charm either.

"Logan," the woman said in a reproving tone. "I'm sorry. I'm Doctor Jean Grey, and this is Logan. We mean you no harm, but we do need to know why you broke into our home. And why you downloaded the school's medical files."

"School?" He stared at her, feeling the sinking coldness again. Set up, a little voice inside sang nastily. You've been set up again, fool.

"Yes, school," came another, cultured voice. He turned his head to see an older man, bald and confined to an electric wheelchair, approach. The brown haired man walked beside him, red sunglasses had replaced the black mask over his eyes. He had a stern expression on his face. The man in the wheelchair smiled reassuringly. "I am Professor Charles Xavier. This is Scott Summers. And you, young man, are a mutant. As are all of us here."

"I don't know what you're talking about," he replied stubbornly. Staring unblinkingly into the cool gray eyes of the professor.

"Really?" the old man said, raising a brow in patent disbelief. Then he folded his hands together in front of him. "As Jean said, your eyes are quite interesting. Is it painful for you to be without your contact lenses? We thought it best to remove them while you were unconscious. Is it too bright in here?"

"Non," he said shortly, looking around at the four of them. "Just want to go."

He felt the brushing on his mental shields again and stiffened, head whipping around to glare at the old man. Certain suddenly.

"It's you."

"Yes. You have formidable shields, young man," the professor said quietly. "I assure you we have no intention of harming you. But neither can we allow data on our students to fall into outside hands."

"Dere really kids here?" he found himself asking. The professor glanced around at the others in mild surprise.

"Yes, of course," the old gentleman said. And the man seemed far from eccentric, though he dared not lower his shields to be certain. "The sign on the gate isn't just for show. I have over fifty students boarded here at this time."

"Shit. It was a set-up." He glared angrily at the ceiling. "You took the data cards?"

"Yes. And these as well."

His deck of playing cards thumped down on his chest. He smiled grimly at it. So close, yet so far.

"How did you make them explode?," the older man asked with genuine curiosity. "They seem like ordinary cards. Even Logan can detect nothing about them to indicate they have been treated in any way."

He ignored the question and fixed this Professor Xavier with a sharp gaze. "You let me go, I tell the ones who hired me to back off. They set me up, broke the contract. I can make certain no other independents come after you."

"So you weren't sent by the government," the Professor said, leaning back slightly. "That is some relief at least."

He heard the hiss of a door opening. Then the clicking of high heels. His amber goddess approached, stopping to look down at him with a hard expression from the other side of the table. He watched her with helpless fascination. Her elegant gown was gone, replaced with a plain scooped neck tee shirt and a pair of tightly fitting jeans. She was still stunning.

"Ah, ma plus belle femme," he breathed. She raised a snowy brow at him, her expression briefly astonished as she looked into his eyes, then it hardened again. A faint flush touched her cheeks. He smiled tenderly at her, bewitched.

"Still no answers from him?" she said, glancing at the Professor.

"Very few." A deep sigh.

"Let me have a few minutes with him and I'll get him to talk," the dark haired man, Logan, growled. The brown-haired man stirred, frowning, but remained silent.

"What's your name, chère?" he ignored the threat to ask his amber goddess. "Maybe I share with you." Her dark gaze snapped back to him in surprise. Logan growled warningly.

She glanced at the Professor, the brown-haired man, then back down at him. His smile warmed with every ounce of honest pleasure he could put into it without lowering his shields.

"I am Ororo Monroe," she said cautiously.

"Remy LeBeau, at your service, chère," he said with a quirk of his lips. His most charming grin. "And for you, anything."

The red-haired doctor, Jean Grey, snorted. He shot her the grin as well. She all but rolled her eyes at him, recognizing the scoundrel in him. Amused by it.

"You let me go, I promise to behave for M'selle Monroe," he said softly, earnestly. She met his look steadily. It impressed him. Most people found it difficult to look him in the eyes when he wasn't wearing his contacts.

"Professor?" the doctor said, glancing from the old man to the man in red shades beside him and back. So far this man had said nothing, but Remy had the impression his decision would be important. The professor sighed deeply, then nodded. Logan growled, lowering his arms warily. Ready for him to misbehave, of course. Dr. Grey stepped forward to unbuckle the straps on his right arm. His amber goddess lowered her hands and worked on the ones on the other side. He watched her avidly, gaze flickering up to hers as her slender fingers brushed against his chest, the bare skin of his arm.

"Some other time, I let you tie me up again maybe, chère," he said in a low, husky tone just for her ears. She flushed and stepped away as soon as the last buckle was undone. The other side fell away and he sat up, catching the pack of cards as it slid down his nearly bare chest, hands going immediately to the restraints on his ankles. Slipping them free. He hated to be confined, but letting them know that would give them a definite advantage.

He spun nimbly on the table, facing his goddess. She had backed further away as he moved. He gave her a reassuring smile, hands spread wide to show his good intentions. The pack of cards still held in one hand.

"See? Best behavior," he said with a wry grin. She smiled and shook her head at him.

"Mr. LeBeau," the professor said, drawing his attention. "Would you like a tour of the school now? Perhaps meet some of the students so that you understand my concerns regarding their safety?"

"Non, ready to go now," Remy said, flicking glances between them all. Logan was still glaring suspiciously at him. The doctor had moved to the professor's side, the brown-haired man beside her. His goddess had stepped back too. Out of reach. "Can I have my things?"

"What were you told about our facility?" the man in shades asked suddenly. His voice cool, controlled. Remy couldn't see his eyes behind the glasses and that unnerved him since he couldn't risk lowering his shields to sense his intent.

"Dat it was a private genetics lab, doin' illegal experiments," he said with a shrug, not seeing any need to lie, or any further reason to evade. They'd let him go. The ones who'd hired him had broken the rules first. "And the contractor wanted the data as proof for legal action." He'd been set up good and resented it. No warning about mutant telepaths lying in wait. He didn't even consider that his source hadn't known – they'd asked for genetic information. They'd definitely known what he was going to face and hadn't warned him.

A dark eyebrow rose from behind the streamlined lenses as the other man, Scott Summers was his name, watched him in return.

"Genetics lab? Professor?" he said, looking down at the man in the chair. Something buzzed in his head then and he shook it slightly. The Professor shot him a curious glance.

"There is indeed something quite interesting about you, Mr. LeBeau," the old man said aloud.

"Non, just a poor thief tryin' to make a living in de information age," Remy said, shaking his head.

"Yeah, with enough fancy gear here to put Tom Cruise to shame," Logan growled, frowning at him. "Thievin' pay well?"

"Well enough, mon brave," he replied with a tight grin, fiddling with his cards. "Dey the finest tools of de trade. I've never failed a contract in my life. Don't intend to start now." While he spoke he pulled a single card out, walked it through his fingers. His goddess was watching him closely. He grinned at her again, then turned the card face-out. The Queen of Hearts. He presented it to her with a flourish.

"Pour toi, ma belle," he murmured, gaze caressing her appreciatively. She took the card with an amused, indulgent quirk of her lips, but her eyes were wary, surprised.

"Quit flirtin' with Storm and answer the Prof's questions, thief," Logan growled. "Tell us who you're workin' for." Remy raised a brow at the man, glancing back at his goddess with sudden comprehension.

"Storm? Ah, for the lightning and the wind. Dat was you, chère?" he said with a rueful shake of his head, ignoring the other man. "Never made a place in my plans for a Goddess of the Wind before, no wonder I failed. Ah, a painful blow to my reputation, but for you, chère, I sacrifice even that."

She flushed brightly under her honey skin, glancing around at the others with an almost guilty desperation. They were watching her with varying measures of amused astonishment.

"Please stop," she murmured, glancing at him from the side of her eyes. He softened his grin at her discomfort, but kept his now tragically sad gaze on her.

"Can you stop your beauty from blinding me, ma femme?" he replied quietly. She laughed a little desperately and shook her head. As if his blatant masculine attention was something she had scant experience with. A shame, if so.

"A charmer, aren't you?" she said a trifle breathlessly. He brightened again and slipped off the table, on her side, bowing to her gracefully.

"For you and no other," he said.

On the far side of the table, Logan gave a snort of disgust. Summers moved, lowering his arms to his sides, a hard look on his face. He didn't seem to appreciate his flirting with the beautiful Ms. Monroe either.

"There are quite a few mutant children here, Mr. LeBeau, most just learning to deal with their mutations. Privacy and a safe haven from those who don't understand them, even fear and hate them are just some of the things we can give them here," he said, his tone steady, but he meant the words. "Would you expose them just for the sake of your reputation?" Remy shot him a sharp look, drawing himself up tall and straight, bristling with indignation.

"It is well known that Gambit doesn't take jobs that harm children," he said stiffly. "They have already broken the contract. I owe them nothing." His amber goddess sucked in a shocked breath. He glanced from a thoughtful Summers to her, noting her awed surprise.

"Gambit? I've heard of you then," she said, dark eyes shining with wary confusion. "Interpol has you named as person of interest in several major art thefts across Europe. Thefts rumored to restore art treasures pilfered during wartime to their rightful owners."

He gave her another short bow of acknowledgement.

"Then we could just turn you over to the cops and maybe even collect a reward," Logan growled, annoyed. Remy coolly raised a brow at him in reply, silently daring the other man to try.

The Professor had stayed quiet, watching these exchanges in silence, his gray eyes intent. Summers glanced at him briefly, then finally shook his head, a slight frown on his face.

"No, he's free to go," Summers said. Logan whirled on him in shocked anger.

"What the hell! Cyke, you can't…" he began, face dark.

"He won't tell anyone about us," Summers said, interrupting sharply. "And we won't turn him in. But we're wise to him now. Am I understood, Mr. LeBeau?"

"Oui," Remy said, inclining his head to Summers. Obviously, he hadn't been wrong in his assessment. Summers was in charge, though he clearly deferred to the Professor's wisdom and advice. There was a bond there, of love and respect. Remy could feel it even with his shields in place. "I leave you alone, you leave me alone. C'est tout."

Then he shot a heated look at Ororo Monroe. Storm, they called her. It suited her, somehow. Beautiful but wild. Strong and challenging. It would be difficult to keep his distance from her.

"Shame, dat," he said, wryly. "But Gambit leave you be."

* * * * *

Ororo Monroe stood in the balcony window of her attic room in the sprawling mansion, staring out over the night-shrouded grounds. Stars twinkled above, warm breezes stirred her flowing hair, fluttered her long robe.

It had been a lovely day. Spent outside with the students, relaxing from studies on a lazy Sunday. Just playing and swimming and shrieking and horsing around, with the added bonus of mutant power inspired pranks to keep them all on their toes. Ice in awkward places, fireworks that went off unexpectedly, high leaps, feats of strength, energy discharges. All in all another typical weekend had passed at Mutant High.

Broken only by the strange excitement of Friday night.

She should really be working on the coming week's lesson plans. Grading papers. Reviewing quizzes. There was always work to be done. But instead, she stood in the window of her room, holding a silly playing card in her hand, gazing longingly out into the soft summer night.

The way he had watched her. She shivered. The open, frank appreciation. Even with Jean right there, he'd scarcely been able to tear his attention away to anyone else.

Those fascinating eyes. Red iris on black sclera. So odd at first, she'd swiftly grown accustomed to them. But she could wholly understand why he chose to wear eye-concealing contact lenses, even if the dull brown color he'd chosen seemed so very wrong.

He was tall, lean, sleekly muscular with long silky auburn hair drawn back in a tight tail on his neck. Handsome in a smooth, yet masculine way. At ease and composed despite being dressed in nothing but long underwear when he was questioned by the Professor and the entire team.

So at ease even with most of that wonderful body on display... she shied away from the memory, blushing.

He was so charming. His smile, like silk. The flash of white teeth against tanned skin. The intensity with which he would watch her, yet still be aware of all that went on around him. The odd, husky accent that came and went in his speech, interspersed with soft French phrases. Charm like that had to be used, practiced. Yet he'd turned it on no one but her.

She shivered again, wrapping her arms around herself, turning her head toward the brush of the playing card in the hand against her shoulder. Gazing at it.

The Queen of Hearts. What did it mean?

Remy LeBeau. Gambit. A thief. Yet perhaps a man of honor.

He had vanished from the mansion as silently as he had come, flashing a last bright smile in the face of Logan's dark prediction of disaster as they led him upstairs. Showed him the classrooms, the dining hall, the rec room, the offices. He'd absorbed it all with a grim sense of purpose. Then smashed all of the data cards himself in a show of good faith to the Professor and Scott before fading away into the night.

The Professor had almost immediately expressed his regret over letting the man go.

"I would dearly like the chance to study his mutation," he had said, a puzzled frown on his face. "Learn how he has managed to build such substantial psychic shields. I think I would be hard-pressed to find him even with Cerebro. He was hiding so much from us." Jean had echoed his sentiments. The limited data she had been able to collect had suggested that Gambit was some kind of energy converter, like Scott, yet he had other odd quirks in his genetic make-up as well.

Scott had been strangely silent, a thoughtful look on his face.

She had cornered him later, wanting to know why. He'd shaken his head, wry smile on his lips. The small one that most people missed because they didn't know him well.

"I'm certain we'll see LeBeau again someday. Maybe even soon," he had said, watching her steadily from behind his red shades. She had felt the weight of his gaze and flushed. The card the man had given her all but burning a hole in her pocket.

She had made a lame excuse and fled. But Scott wouldn't tease, she knew, unless she relaxed. He was careful that way.

More careful than she was, it seemed.

It was just… she couldn't even complete the thought. But then she forced herself to, with a sigh. Why pretend? She was so lonely. Scott and Jean had each other. Logan was a gruff loner only tentatively integrated into their small group since his return, locked into a war of wills with Scott most of the time and the rest of the time distracted by his reluctant, protective concern for Rogue. The Professor was her respected mentor. A teacher turned friend, but busy with his dream for the future.

That left her often alone. With her plants and her students. Hungry for the attention of adults, longing for affection. So much so that when the first man came along who actually looked at her, she mooned over him?

Ororo sighed deeply. Feeling rather pathetic. Lowered the hand that held the card, staring at the faintly smug face of the queen.

Then she turned away from the night. Walked to her bedside and set the card carefully inside the drawer of her nightstand. Then slowly closed the drawer and turned away to crawl into her solitary bed.

There to dream her lonely dreams.

- - to be continued - -