The Devil's Own
Disclaimer: all known and recognisable characters, locales, names etc. property of Marvel. I'm just playing with them for no profit except my enjoyment. Any unrecognisable characters, locales, names etc. are mine.
A/N: This story is an A.U. situation. It is based in the X-Men continuity of the mid-late nineties. Think post Onslaught, pre-Bastion/Operation Zero Tolerance, but will diverge from canon quite a bit. In this story, most particularly, half the X-men team did not get sent to Shi'ar space to fight the Phalanx and thus do not end up in Antarctica. The story can also be taken as a loose sequel to my other story 'King of Secrets' but it is not necessary to have read that one to read this one.
Prologue: Strange bedfellows
The woman had not set foot in D.C. for a while, months even. It felt strange to be walking these streets again, winding her way through the capital, so close to so many government buildings filled with government operatives, many of whom had tried to kill her more than once.
It seemed stranger still that the person she was here to meet had insisted on carrying out this rendezvous in the café of the Smithsonian. Far too public she had thought. What if they were seen? But then she had realised there was a beautiful and bizarre logic to it all.
What better place for two mutants to meet, one a former government employee gone rogue and the other a mutant who had spent his life on the wrong side of the law, then in sight of the Capitol in the very heart of the nation? Trust a thief to think of it. It was the perfect camouflage as no one would ever think two X-men would be so overt or foolhardy.
Shaking a tendril of green hair from her face Lorna Dane, the mutant known as Polaris, walked into the Smithsonian and ignored the looks she received for her height, her athletically muscular build and more particularly, her vividly green hair. She was used to being stared at and she didn't really care if anyone recognised her. Somehow she doubted the government would field a team to take her on in the Smithsonian; they wouldn't want to deal with the property damages.
The man she had agreed to meet was already seated at one of the tables in the restaurant; long and lanky with a sweep of dark hair falling artfully over his eyes and designer stubble on his sharp chin and angled jaw, Lorna couldn't help a slight smile of wry appreciation. The man at the table absently flipping a single playing card through his fingers looked as relaxed and insolently casual as could be.
Lorna had the feeling he had already spotted her approach but he didn't react as she walked directly to his table and sat down in the chair opposite him. He looked at her through dark glasses.
'Bonjour Polaris, 'ppreciate you comin' to meet me like dis.' He nodded to her with a certain ironic politeness.
'I'd say you were welcome Gambit, but considering the reason behind this meeting you can understand why I really wish I was anywhere but here.' Lorna folded her hands together over the table top. The man smiled slyly.
'Fair 'nuff, not gon argue wit dat.' He shrugged casually and to Lorna's surprise reached across the table to offer her his hand. 'T'ink, if we gon talk about dis, we should be better acquainted: Remy LeBeau, pleasure to meet you.'
Charmed despite her misgivings Lorna took his hand, smiling faintly, 'Lorna Dane; we have been introduced before you know. The first time when Charles was shot and Scott and Jean were taken to the moon and I think a couple of social dos at the mansion.'
The smile grew wider in a quick flash of teeth, 'Non, dat ain't an introduction dat's jus' de roll call an' anyway, we ain't X-men here. Dis talk ain't about any of dat.'
Lorna's smile wilted and she withdrew her hand. 'I know, Gambit how do you know about – '
He cut her off with a wave of his hand, the one that still held the card neatly lodged between his fingers. Lorna knew what kind of damage he was capable of doing with just one card and she watched his hand warily. She didn't really know Gambit from Adam but she didn't think he had asked her here simply to try and kill her; after all he didn't have motive for that. She was as much a stranger to him as he was to her.
In fact Lorna was pretty sure this was the longest conversation she had ever had with the man. Beyond any of that however and the reason she had agreed to meet him, despite her misgivings, was the simple fact that he was an X-man. Had been an X-man almost three years now, and even if as the gossip went, he was not the most popular member of the team, being part of the team suggested he was at least unlikely to go berserk in the middle of the Smithsonian.
'Remy, sil vous plait, not Gambit. I call you Polaris if you prefer, but for dis, I t'ink we be as we are not as we wish to be, no?' He flashed her that smile again; the one that was there and gone in a moment leaving his face cold.
Lorna tensed slightly and tried not to show it. That strangely cold smile twitched the edge of Gambit's lips and she knew that he had caught her reaction. Lorna reminded herself that in a knockdown drag out powers fight she was more than a match for him. Unfortunately she suspected that Gambit would make sure that it wouldn't come to a powers fight and neutralise any advantage she thought she had.
'You tense, Madame Dane?' Gambit purred an unmistakable edge in his voice as he deliberately leaned back in his chair and smiled at her. With his arms hanging back over the chair and his head tilted down so his chin almost rested on his chest he looked over the rim of his shades, red eyes almost playful. The flirtatious slant to his body language was completely at odds with the cold whisper of threat in his words.
'I didn't come here to play games, Monsieur Lebeau.' She snapped, getting ready to leave. 'Either say what you want to say or I'm leaving.'
'You speak French?' He sat up straight and crossed his arms demurely over the table top, the model of propriety. He looked up at her with a much more open smile.
'What?' confused by his sudden change in mood Lorna sat back down.
'Do you speak French? De way you say 'monsieur', de accent sound right. Most people, they mangle the word, lose the flavour of it. Even if they know the words, with a bad accent, it just don't matter.'
He shrugged his shoulders, elbows on the table so he could cup his chin in his palms as he watched her through those dark glasses. Lorna frowned as she realised his accent had almost completely faded. What was he playing at?
'I took French in high school, but no, I don't speak French.' Lorna found herself wishing she knew more about the man so as to better judge his actions for possible threats, 'Speaking of accents what's up with yours? One moment it's thick as molasses the next you sound almost normal.'
The slightest twitch of his lips belied his amusement, 'I take offence to de normal crack, mademoiselle.' He shrugged again, a very Gallic gesture, 'As to de accent; been livin' up north so long it gets to a body, no? Plus, like I say, today isn't about de acts we put on but about de people we are underneath.'
Lorna arched an eyebrow, moving her hands to her lap so that he wouldn't be able to see her nervously plucking fingers. 'I don't know what scam you're pulling Gambit, but I'm not putting on any act.'
He shook his head, tapping the edge of the card in his hand against the table top. She noticed that it was the ace of spades. Vaguely Lorna found herself wondering if that was an omen of something. 'You keep callin' me 'Gambit' an' I t'ink I asked you not to, oui?'
'Why don't you want me calling you Gambit? It's your codename isn't it?'
Lorna was really wondering why she didn't just get up and leave. Gambit was sending out so many mixed messages in body language, tone, attitude, that she was, although she would never admit it, nervous to be around the man. She really knew nothing about him and he already seemed to know far too much about her.
He sighed and to her surprise took off his glasses so he could rub his thumbs into his closed eyes. In doing so he dropped the card onto the table top alongside the shades.
'Gambit be de role I play for de X-men, for my Stormy and, once upon a time, for Rogue.' He dropped his hand from his eyes and met her gaze dead on with his eerie, but undoubtedly fascinating, red on black eyes.
'Gambit is de smartass, two-bit t'ief and drifter from de Louisiana backwoods dat mooch off de charity of de Professeur and Summers'. De shady no account redneck de X-men keep around to show de worl' dat dey don' discriminate 'gainst white trash, oui?'
Lorna Dane blinked and wondered what to say to that, or if she should say anything at all. Despite the words he didn't sound bitter. Instead he sounded as if he was stating facts simply as they were; or perhaps, merely, as he liked them to appear?
Lorna said nothing as she studied the man across the table from her, who was currently disinterestedly looking over the menu on the table. Who are you really, Gambit? She wondered silently, do the X-men even know, I wonder?
On the one occasion that she and Jean had actually spoken about Gambit, it had been Christmas, the first Christmas Lorna had spent as a member of X-Factor and, she remembered, it would have been Gambit's first Christmas as part of the X-Men. Except that he'd bailed on the X-Men Christmas extravaganza to the displeasure of most of the team and most especially Rogue. It had been Rogue's monstrous sulking that had drawn the conversation between Lorna and Jean to Gambit. Hearing Gambit's words now reminded Lorna forcibly of Jean's words then.
'Gambit is one of the most contrary men I've ever met, Lorna. I can't read him, the Professor can't read him, and Logan tells me that his scent never matches the façade he puts on. He's pursued Rogue from almost the moment he came here and now, for no reason, announces that he's taking off for a few days right before Christmas.'
Jean had sounded thoroughly disapproving and Lorna remembered her curiosity being piqued. Jean rarely let her temper get to her but when it did it was rather fun to see - so long as Lorna wasn't on the receiving end of it, that is.
'Perhaps he just doesn't like Christmas? He wouldn't be the first X-man who didn't.' Lorna had suggested at the time, mostly to keep the conversation going and see how annoyed her friend would get.
Jean's green eyes had almost flashed, 'Then he should have said. No one would have forced him to participate. But leaving with barely a word is just plain rude.' Jean's lovely mouth had pursed into a thin line; Lorna had been intrigued.
'You don't like him much, do you?'
Lorna remembered how frustrated Jean had sounded when she had answered and recalled that she'd been surprised. Jean had a tendency to take the Den Mother thing too far sometimes but that usually meant that she over did it when it came to trying to 'understand' her less sociable teammates. Jean hadn't sounded particularly understanding about Gambit however.
'Like him? Lorna I don't know him. It's not just his shields either; I can accept that he wants to keep his privacy. It's the fact that he doesn't stay the same person from one day to the next. He's unpredictable. I swear Lorna, living with him and Rogue is like living in a house with a caged tornado. One of them is going to go off at some point in the day but no one knows which it will be or what will set them off.'
Lorna had laughed at the description, 'Sounds like fun; actually it sounds like me and Alex on a bad day.'
Jean, who had already been feeling the pressure of hosting an X-Christmas event, had rolled her eyes in exasperation. 'You and Alex have nothing on those two, trust me.' She had sighed then and tried to shake the tension from her shoulders. Her voice became more reasonable in tone and less strident, Lorna recalled.
'I'd be more comfortable with Gambit if it was a matter of him being just another hair-trigger like Rogue or even Logan, but that's the thing that really get's me about the man, Lorna; I don't think he is. I think he's putting on an act to keep us at arms length and the whole thing drives me crazy. He's been here almost a year; I don't understand why he keeps playing these games with us.'
Lorna had chewed on that for a moment. At the time she'd thought that it was a shame Gambit wasn't around for this shindig as he'd sounded like the sort that would liven up a dull Christmas gathering.
'Do you think he's hiding something?' she had asked finally, worried at the time that Jean might have caught that last thought and been offended. It wasn't Jean's fault that Lorna wasn't a big fan of large social gatherings either……or Christmas for that matter.
Jean had smiled caustically in response, 'He's a former professional thief. It's pretty much a given that he's hiding a fair bit. Most of it's probably in off-shore accounts, too.'
Lorna's brows had sky-rocketed. Jean had shaken her head with dark amusement, brushing long red waves behind her ear, 'Logan and Scott have a theory. They think that Gambit's on the run from something. Logan thinks he's with the X-men for protection. Scott doesn't think that's it, he thinks Gambit's here because of a guilty conscience and because he's on the run.'
'So the two men in your life don't like him?' Lorna had teased; she enjoyed teasing both Scott and Jean about Logan's long standing unrequited crush on Jean. Jean had given Lorna the requisite long-suffering sigh and mock glare before answering.
'I'm not going to dignify that comment with response. As to Gambit, well, he and Logan seem to have come to a kind of understanding; they don't like each other but they'll pretend just to keep the peace. Plus they have too many things in common. They like to drink copious amounts of alcohol, stay out all night, ride motorcycles and play poker.'
Jean had shrugged then as if to dismiss the silliness of the masculine mind and she and Lorna had laughed.
'As for Scott,' Jean had flapped a hand airily, 'well, as long as Gambit does what he's told in the field more or less when he's told Scott's not too concerned about what he does the rest of the time. Plus Gambit can programme the digital set-top box and the VCR, and you know Scott's useless with technology.'
'Mademoiselle Dane? Lorna…..you still dere, cherie?'
Lorna snapped to when Gambit leaned across the table to click his fingers in front of her face. Without thinking she batted his hand away with her own, frowning. Gambit sat back in his chair looking amused.
'You okay dere? Thought you fell into a coma or so'ting, me.' he smirked at her and she noticed, beyond her own embarrassment, that his accent had grown more pronounced. She wondered how much control he had over it.
Lorna gathered her thoughts while she watched the man across the table from her. 'How did you know I'd been having dreams about……' she could not finish then she forced herself to speak the name, 'About Sinister?'
Gambit's expression was a strange mix of sympathy and something almost like shared pain. 'Din't know for sure, but I figured it was a safe guess you would be. De clock's been tickin' in my head for weeks.'
Lorna shivered and didn't try to hide it. 'The clock…..'
She had been dreaming of a clock, like an old fashioned Grandfather clock in the back of her mind counting down in her dreams, for weeks now herself. Her dreams, which were more like nightmares, or harbingers of doom to come.
In her dreams she saw herself before a full length mirror with that awful clock at her back, and her reflection wore Malice's bloodstained colours. Except it wasn't Malice in the mirror. It wasn't that sadistic stranger's eyes she stared into in the mirror. No, the real horror of the dream was that the face that looked back at her in the mirror was her own. Malice was gone, but Lorna knew that wouldn't save her from Sinister, at least not in the dreams.
A thought occurred to her and she speared the man across from her with her gaze, 'You hear the clock too? You have the same dreams?' she demanded and he nodded solemnly. Lorna stared at him. 'But how can that be? You were never a…' she stopped again, the look in his naked eyes silencing her words.
Gambit smiled at her sadly, bitterly. 'A marauder?' he asked softly, 'Wish to hell dat were true; bet you do too, non? But I hear de clock tickin' an' I know what it means.'
Lorna's blood ran cold as ice and her stomach clenched in fear. The fact that Gambit had just admitted to being a Marauder, despite the fact that she had no recollection of him from her time as Malice came second in her consideration to the more immediate terror of what the dreams truly portended.
'Oh god no. No, that nightmare is over. Malice was the marauder not me.'
'Den why is de clock tickin' for you too, chere?' Gambit asked her, voice soft and compassionate yet somehow relentless, 'Why'd you come t'meet me, if you truly believe you not one of de Devil's own, eh?'
'The Devil's own?' Lorna whispered her hands balled into fists but she couldn't stop the tremor as they curled on the table top.
Gambit reached out and placed his own cool hand over her clenched fist. His red eyes were bleeding a shared fear; she knew then that he was not lying. He too knew what it felt like to be under the thumb of Sinister.
'Oui, de Devil's own. Don't matter dat we never 'ad any choice in de matter. All dat matter is dat he comin' to collect his due.' Gambit fixed his eyes on hers unwaveringly and his hand tightened over her own. 'He's coming for us, Lorna.'
The words sounded a death knell; she wanted to drop to her knees and scream. She wanted to rip the building apart one metal component after the other. All she could do was swallow hard as her vision misted with panic and tears.
'God no, not again, please. I can't….I won't let him control me again.' She looked down at Gambit's hand over hers and then up into his eyes that watched her keenly.
'Den you gon help me, Mademoiselle? Devil's own we may be, non? But I don't intend to go down to hell wit'out a fight.' He smiled and there was something strangely shy, almost nervous in it. Lorna wondered if it was perhaps the first real smile he had given her. Gambit gave her a strangely naked look, meeting her eyes dead on.
'I'm hopin' dat you not de sort of femme to go down easy neither, oui?'
Lorna stared at this man, this stranger who she did not know. A man she had no reason to trust or believe. She knew him to be a divisive and secretive member of the X-men who could count very few of that group among his friends and who was universally viewed with various degrees of suspicion by everyone who knew him. She did not know what connection he had to Sinister, for all she knew he worked for Sinister and was trying to trap her into service once more……and yet, looking into his face, she found that she did believe him. It was in his eyes; that pain, that fear.
It was like looking into a mirror; her fear, her own pain, looking back at her from someone else's eyes.
The fear of the Devil; only one who had known real evil like Sinister could recognise the scar in another. Lorna saw it in Gambit and knew he could see the same bleeding wound in her. She turned her hand under his; her fingers wound through his and she squeezed.
'Your right G – Remy,'she amended quickly and saw the flash of acknowledgement and gratitude in his eyes. A surge of inexplicable but fierce hope filled her.
For weeks she had kept her dreams and her fears secret from everyone and the slow burning panic had gnawed at her soul like acid erosion. Now, suddenly, she felt like she had a chance to fight back. She held Remy LeBeau's hand, he who was not a friend or even a teammate, and squeezed tightly.
'Tell me your plan.' She said firmly, fiercely. 'I'm ready to fight.'
The man who sometimes called himself Gambit smiled; a real smile, broad but faltering; scared but trying nevertheless, 'D'accord. Den dis is what we gon do…..'
Clasping hands over the table in the Smithsonian restaurant, looking like a young couple very much in love, heads almost touching as they whispered, Lorna Dane and Remy LeBeau, strangers to each other, came together to plot the downfall of the Devil himself.