Great thanks to Merr2 for helping me figure out how I wanted to get from point A to point B. Thank you to Heavenmetal, who stepped in to beta this. She is awesome. Special thanks to xenokattz's amazing D'ancanto [see her livejournal] for getting this baby's muse back up and running.

angel897 (Well, this ain't soon, but I hope you like the chapter anyway.), ALLREMS (I'm so glad you've been enjoying this and so sorry I haven't gotten to your other reviews. I'm still behind on replies. And sorry also for confusing naming tactics. It's tough to number a concurrent, subordinate minific.), VioletMidnight (Sometimes I read you lovely reviewers analysis of the characters and I realize the fic has taken off and gone beyond me. I try to put everything I can into them by just letting them be and do, but I don't analyze while I'm writing. To be honest, sensitive and precious had not occurred(sp?) to me as part of Gambit in this fic, but jaded and hurt, oh, yes. He's been that and she's been that and neither knows how to deal with each other offering to not hurt. Love the review.), weebird (I've missed your wee reviews. Little wonder with my more than wee breaks between posts. Sorry about that. It's likely to get worse.), SparklesInTheSun (You are awesome and I thank you for your flattery. They are sultry and sexy and that's part of what I love about Rogue and Gambit: their passion. But they can be sweet, tender, caring. It's just tough to get it out of them.), Lucky's Girl (Ah, yes. To get that girl to weigh her feelings. She goes far too long without really looking those emotions in the face. But then, so does Gambit. And boy does he have it bad! I have to agree. :winks: ), EmeraldGreyClouds (I'm soooooooo sorry I kept you waiting, but I'm glad you've been enjoying the fic. I hope you like this next chapter.), ColorCoated (I love your speechless. :grins: This is the one fic where I wanted to go from physical to real intimacy, instead of the other way around. Somebody said in a review that this one fic [can't remember the name, but it's in my favs] was like It Takes Two, To Practice for the comic canon, and I thought, someone should write one for the movieverse. Since then, it's taken on a life of its own.), ILoveAnime89 (Thanks for loving. I do wish it was soon, but alas! Soon is relative.), S2T (Missed you, girl. Hope this clears things up. Some.),

Chica De Los Ojos Cafe (Ah, Chica, you are awesomeness itself. To address the primary points: Of course, you inspire me! And this fic. Reviewers put me in the right frame of mind for writing fanfic. Trust me, you're a big part of Carnal. They do manage to ask the right questions, but I think both Rogue and Gambit aren't doing so good at providing the right answers. I think Gambit analyzes everything, but he doesn't actually want to, so if he doesn't like the answer, he tries to ignore the results. Which as I read on in your review is a long way of saying what you did. :forehead slap: And Rogue's copout on "Nothing you don't want to do"? It's half cowardice, yes, but it's also having been burned because somebody :coughs: Bobby :coughs: says they want one thing when they really want another. Remy feels, quite justifiably, like she is his. Nailed it in one. And in denial. Serious denial. She thought she was just bringing up now-time stuff with Gambit and wasn't too happy when it became about her :coughs: failed :coughs: previous relationship. Go figure. This girl has issues. "See that tells me that he doesn't realize it was dear old daddy Wolvie who put those there." :cracks up: "Oh Bobby you did not just ask that." And these quotes are part of why I love you. Also, for the record, Rogue's got a lot of personal relationships with the guys around here. Angel really does wish she'd stop looking for a beating. More on that further in the fic. I hope. Hopefully, the whole Gambit bit at the end of last chapter comes clearer in this one. He did not actually sleep with the girl. Promise. And I've got enough angst in this fic without throwing in too much more drama, but you're the reason there's a fight here. Thought they needed to clear the air a bit. So true. I loved this review. And you!),

AngelwithDirtyThoughts (Thank you! I blame all the awesome reading I do.), Laceylou76 (Harsh, yes. I can't help it. They're a whole lot more jaded in this fic and keep making themselves vulnerable to each other when they've got the knives out. And interesting...oh, yes, it should get that. No finer compliment can be given than comparing me with someone like Lizzieturbo. She is awesome.), V Rogue (Thanks, sweetie. Not soon, but hope you like.), bologna121 (I like Gambit rough too. I don't know what it is about that kind of guy, but I do like it.), Sassyx22x ("It's dark and complicated without being overly so. And I love how you're giving us glimpses into Rogue's and Gambit's pasts instead of presenting everything at once." Yay. Two major things I was going for. :hugs: ), xoAmortentia (I could hug your review. I love the complex, hardened, passionate characters Gambit and Rogue can be, depending on their circumstances. It was only fair to give them at least one story that way.), Ladyhaemi (Thank you so much! :blushes: You're the sweetest. :air kisses: ), alexmonalisa (Naughty's okay 'cause you like my fic. :hugs review: ), AKYRE Southern latina (Gambit in this story is intimidating, but that is really built into his potential character. Sure, he's charming and can do lighthearted easy and even be lighthearted, but anyone that grew into a Master Thief in the world of the Assassins and Thieves is hiding a lot beneath that exterior. But I promise you now, physical is where they started. It's not where they're headed.), Chellerbelle (Yes, the hobby imparted to her by Dear Daddy Wolvie. But I love her for it. She's hurt, Gambit's hurt, and somehow they've got to meet in the middle.), courtneykutie (Rogue and Angel coming soon to a chapter near you. Just not this one.), Fostersb (I promise, they will eventually see the light. Eventually.), dUlCe InVieRnO (Thank you!), Indecisively Yours (Very stubborn. Southern level stubborn. I love them for it. :cheeky grin: Unfortunately, I'm on a new hiatus. Probably indefinitely. But this baby was practically done, so I dusted her off and here she is.), coup fatal (I love you, girl! You know I write this fic for you. And Remy hasn't the foggiest what Rogue's powers are. Rogue, on the other hand, knows her time is limited. It's going to be an interesting ride.)

Hugs to all. Enjoy the fic.

The Gambit's Waiting

- 6 -

She's waiting for him when he walks in the room and flings his coat onto a chair. The way he moves, like a predator, always aware of everything around him and with a dangerous sort of measured grace, makes her shift uncomfortably where she stands, but those devil eyes barely flicker over her before he turns and empties his pockets onto the dresser.

She crosses her arms as she studies his back. Not really tense. Not really like he cares that she's there at all. "I talked to Storm."

A Swiss army knife, a full key ring, and a deck of cards scatter across the wood surface. His wallet. Some spare change. A pack of cigarettes. No surprise there.

The detritus should tell something about him, but he's still the same mystery he's always been. She wonders how he could ever have been so close to Storm.

"I would trust him with my life. Why do you ask?"

The two women eyed each other warily. It had been far too long since either had understood—or really trusted—the other.

"What are you two?" she asks. "Lovers?"

His head jerks up and his eyes burn into hers through the mirror image. "Stormy? You got to be kidding me." He stares at her, then shakes his head as he looks away.

The silence stretches.

His lips move slightly, and she strains to hear him mutter, "You ruined me."

She blinks. Breath tightens.

He unbuttons his shirt and slides out of it, still treating her as if she isn't even there.

She ruined him? He doesn't look at her, doesn't even speak to her unless she forces the issue. The tightness inside her coils into the simmering glow of anger. "Where were you?" she demands.

A harsh laugh bubbles out of him. He kicks off his shoes. "Stopping myself from making a mistake." Then he pulls the white undershirt over his head and she's staring at his bare chest.

Exasperation overflows the anger. "Are you intending on stripping the whole way, Gambit?"

He stops, eyebrow raised, finally looking at her and an amused smirk turns up the corner of his mouth. "The thought had occurred to me." He drops the clothes into the open hamper in the closet, then leans against his desk, crossing his own arms in reply. "You had something you wanted to talk about."

She narrows a glare at him. "We are partners, or did you forget that?"

He shrugs. "Haven't been debriefed yet, but got the feeling this ain't that kind of mission."

"What kind?"

"The kind we have to do tonight." He tilts his head and appraises her, starting at her combat boots and then slowly traveling up the entire leather bodysuit, lingering overlong on the curves.

Her face burns under his scrutiny.

He smirks again, less amused this time. "By all means, chérie: debrief moi."

She wants to snap at him to keep his head in the game and off of sex, but by now, she has a feeling he knows the game far better than her. The thought leaves a bad taste at the edges of her mind, and she turns away from him. The keen gaze is easier to take peripherally, but she does not let him fully out of her sight. He's the kind to take advantage.

Her fingers play over the window sill.

"They said he likes brunettes," she finally says—bitterly. Storm may not see the use for her attitude, but she certainly doesn't mind using her talents.

"I don't like you doing this," Logan warned her when she first started flirting with strangers in clubs and bars that fell outside of her agreement.

She shrugged. "I don't go in the bad ones," she said, still not admitting that it was Gambit that forced her to stick with tamer men and environments.

He frowned intensely, hating what she did to herself. The only Cured human on the team, always proving herself, acquiring skills she had no business acquiring.

"Don't do this, Rogue. Just..." He stared at her until she finally looked up at him, sullenly, from her vodka. "Just don't."

He stares at her the same way, dark untrusting in his eyes. He looks at her like a woman ought to be looked at when she pushes herself over the edge of reason just to keep her place. And then he wonders why she won't turn and look at him.

"Why does that matter?" he asks lightly, tone casual. But he's not doing anything. Just standing there, staring at her, and she resists the shiver that wants to crawl up her spine.

She lifts her chin at last. "Take one look at me and you tell me why."

He looks.

The once-over is as brusque and dismissive as her words were earlier. "Never had a preference, me." And all too casual.

She won't admit it stings.

"Oh?" She too can keep her tone light, even if his pointed glance at her skittering fingers gives away how transparent he finds her.

"First woman I loved had blonde hair," he says. His head cants away from her, and it's her turn to force the connection. "The second was brunette."

Love. It seems a word too strong for him. Love? He's a flirt and a charmer, a seducer and a dangerous man. Nothing about him equates to love in her eyes, marriage, settling down. She doubts a woman could tame him.

But she asks anyway. "And the third?"

He stares at her intensely. "The third woman I care about has white."

She catches her breath, then shakes her head hard. "I doubt that," she mutters harshly.

He recoils, shoulders tensing as if he didn't expect her to answer that particular challenge. Then his eyes narrow and the red in them pulses dangerously. "What would you know about it?"

She tastes the acrid flavor of the words before retorting, "You ain't the type, cher." She exaggerates the word, emphasizing how meaningless such endearments are when offered to strangers. Like her.

But then he's right there in front of her and she finds herself pinned against the wall.

"What?" he demands. "The type to care?" Real anger colors the words.

She sucks in her breath and opens her mouth to answer, but he cuts her off deliberately.

"You never let me care about you, Dieu. You pull me close just to push me away. You think I ain't capable of caring?"

"Don't accuse me of leading you on, Cajun," she bites out. "You're the one who came to me."

"And you're the one who made this deal, non?" He backs up, eyes still narrowed. They're glowing on the black, like all the fires of hell. "You want to feel it when I'm angry? I ain't going to be your abuser, chère."

She stares at him.

"Where did you get those bruises?"

"The Danger Room, you idiot! I don't take some sick pleasure from pain."

He looms over her, grip tightening once more on her arms. "Then why do you like this?"

It hits something inside her and she yells back at him, flinging the words with all the pain behind them. "Because you're honest! Because for once in my life, I don't have to worrry about everything crashing down around me when I find out that this isn't what I think it is!"

She expects some relief, some silence at those words, but he gives her none, just pushes her away in disgust.

"What is this?"

She squirms out of his grasp abruptly. "I asked you for honesty! What more do you need to know?"

She's yelling, breathing ragged as her throat grows raw, but he doesn't give, just yells right back.

"Why won't you give me the same thing?"

"You didn't ask for it!"

"What do you think I asked for?"

This time, they do fall silent. She tries to breathe and finds it painful.

He stares at her intently for a long moment before he turns and walks away.

- xx -

She wants to bang on the walls, to hurt him, to hurt something, but the slickness of blood from the Danger Room and her raw, aching breath has outlasted the violent impulse.

She just can't take—

"You never let me care about you, Dieu."

She paces like a tiger in a cage, wanting to leave, wanting to pound on the door and drag him out for another round. Finally, she slams her palms against the window pane and stares out at the mansion grounds. When did this become personal? His fascination with her had seemed so physical and now she can't shake the feeling that she's in way over her head.

- xx -

"You can have me. All of me." Heart quickening under her touch.

He wanted that. Badly.

So why is he still waiting for it?

He goes into the bathroom to wash his face, clear his head; wash his body, clear away the last traces of the bar whore.

He stripped her carelessly, not his usual style, but he really didn't want to think. Every time he let his thoughts go, they returned to dark hair with a white streak, flashing emerald eyes...

He stared down at the blonde, waiting for him to discard his own clothing.

And couldn't do it.

He stares into the mirror.

The eyes that haunt him now are not the azure blue of a summer sky.

- xx -

He keeps her waiting a long time, long enough to wash away his anger and leave him with an empty weariness too familiar for comfort. Belladonna left him feeling like this after his rage from the exile had finally vanished away.

She's probably out there waiting for him—"We are partners, or did you forget that?"—but he can't quite bring himself to care. It's not a pleasant thing to face: he doesn't want this to be about the X-Men, any more than he had wanted his bride to be about Guild peace.

There's always something else.

"What is this?"

Dieu, she's driving him crazy. He slams off the water and yanks his towel off the rack. He just can't quite bring himself to stay away.

- xx -

When he comes out, she is standing at the window, staring through it, arms crossed, hands digging tightly into her flesh. She's frowning.

He studies her, lets whatever this feeling is run its course before he goes over to her, pulls her against him, and he's almost surprised when she startles but doesn't resist. It makes him gentle.

Her body is still but she doesn't stiffen, and something inside of him relaxes as she lets him hold her.

Finally, he speaks.

"I don't want you for your body." He kisses her softly on the top of her head and she shudders in his embrace. "Or your strength." He feathers another kiss on the smooth curve of her jaw. "Or because you're beautiful." Her neck. She swallows.

Slowly, she turns in his arms and he watches the flurry of emotions flickering through her emerald gaze. She stares at him, almost defiant. "Then why do you want me?"

He stares back.

And everything she is floods through him, frightens him a little, but he wants it more badly than she can imagine. He slides one hand into her silken hair, lets it fall over his fingers.

"Because you're innocent," he says. "And because you're not."

Turmoil. A small frown puckers her mouth. He leans over to kiss her.

She responds, warm mouth opening to take him in. Her hands slide over his shoulders and her body presses against his.

"I don't understand you," she murmurs against his mouth.

He doesn't really answer.

- xx -

She runs her hands over the strength in his arms. She knows what this is. Physical, warm, safe. Their deal's back on familiar ground, a de facto truce to fall back on the physical.

Maybe she's crazy for letting him touch her; she isn't really sure of why she lets him. She curses softly—he doesn't ask her why—because she does know why she lets him. And that reason isn't about to change.

She follows his lead, kissing him until she can barely think before resting her head against his chin. He can draw her in with a glance.

She tilts her head speculatively, looks at him. "Teach me how to seduce." It's a soft request, not a demand.

He stares at her intensely for a long time, face expressionless. Finally, she starts to squirm. She's about to retract the request when he answers.

"Got your attention, don't I?"

She gets it then and studies the gesture. "Yes," she finally says.

He flicks his gaze from here to there on her body. "Only look when you don't have an audience."

Her face starts to burn. "You look anywhere?"

He chuckles. "That bother you, chère?" Then he's staring only into her eyes, and she finds she can't read his.

He's still the same, irritating mystery.

She changes the subject. "His name is Janson. Storm said they know you at Town's End." She searches his face for recognition and does not find it.

He nods. "They ought to." It's a simple answer with a wealth of potential interpretations.

"I'm supposed to flirt him up and get him to talk about whatever he knows about the missing mutants."

His eyes glow red, burning into her as if they are actually on fire. "And does that bother you, chére?" he repeats, this time more emphatically.

She meets him, eye for eye. "No."