TITLE: Stolen Tarts
FANDOM: X-Men 616 Comicverse AU
CHARACTERS: Andrew Raven (Male!Rogue), Riley LeBeau (Female!Gambit), Omorede Munroe (Male!Storm), Scarlett Summers (Female!Cyclops), John Grey (Male!Jean), Charlene Xavier (Female!Professor), and Wilhelmina Wilson (Female!Deadpool). Cameos and mentions of others.
RATING: High Teen/Adult [Language, sexual content/innuendo. Rating likely a little high, but safety first kids.]
SUMMARY: Andrew Raven, more commonly known as Rogue, is a tough nut to crack. Riley LeBeau, who goes by Gambit when it's convenient, is nothing if not persistent. Presenting the Queen and Knave of Hearts, everyone.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I HAVE NO CLUE WHERE THIS CAME FROM. One minute I'm listening to Elbow's "An Audience With The Pope", the next I'm plotting a genderswapped Rogue/Remy. Then everyone pulls a chromosome switch, and there is this.
Really. That's...that's about it.
Thanks to everyone who got fan-giddy with me over this, putting up with me fighting with the muses and even volunteering to help. I swear, everyone got so excited for this, was so supportive and excited...you all rock so incredibly hard. I BLAME YOU ALL IN THE BEST OF WAYS. YOU ARE ALL WONDERFUL.
Special mention, however, goes to xenokattz, who created the soundtrack for this before even reading it, made some photo-manips, and was a generally evil enabler.
fulguratus gets super-props for casting the entire universe, never mind just the characters who appear in this fic, and writing fic for the 'verse before this piece was finished.
Then there's kelly1_watxm, who did up the cover for this story and deserves bow-coo love for it, as it has all but ensured there's going to be more written in this universe.
As to the setting for this here piece? Go back to Gambit's initial introduction. As in his running into kiddy-Storm, his rescue of her from Nanny, and the two of them playing Robin Hood and Marian for a while. You know that point where her memory returns? Yeah. We're there.
Now flip the genders.
The queen of hearts, she made some tarts all on a summer's day.
The knave of hearts, he stole those tarts and took them clean away.
A smile describable only as divine graced the face of the small, soaking child. Unsettling didn't even begin to cover it, but given what had just happened, Omorede 's smile was the least of the issues at hand.
"Tell me, Gambit - have you ever heard of a band of mutant heroes called the X-Men?"
The woman standing opposite Omorede cocked an eyebrow as she squeezed water out of her trench coat.
"My particular line of work, petit, it'd be more remarkable if I hadn't. Y'should know at least that much about me by now."
"What have you heard?"
"Rumours," she said casually, running a hand through a set of sopping auburn curls in a fruitless attempt to adjust them. "But rumours with stock enough."
Omorede rolled his eyes affectionately as he began to lead the way from the swamp they'd just dragged themselves out of.
"I think you enjoy being vague far too much for your own good, my friend."
"And I think you may be part of these X-Men."
"Indeed. And I think you would enjoy meeting them."
Gambit smiled, following.
"If they're anything like you, Stormy, I just might."
"Is it at all strange that's not the oddest thing that's happened to us this month?" Scarlett asked once having heard the whole sordid tale, pinching the bridge of her nose just below where her glasses sat.
The redheaded man next to her just grinned as he squeezed Scarlett's shoulder reassuringly.
"Odd is a relative term, darling," he said. "Plus, you shouldn't say things like that. There's still a week and a half left."
"The voice of reason as always, John," Scarlett replied dryly, though appearing visibly more relaxed for the words and the contact.
Omorede, once again an adult, posed his initial question once more.
"Is Gambit then permitted to stay here?"
Scarlett looked to John.
I can't get a clear psychic fix, but I'm not picking up anything malevolent either. Your call, fearless leader.
"Until further notice, at least," Scarlett said, offering a hand to Gambit, who had spent the conversation silent and sitting on edge of the office desk. "Welcome to the Mansion."
Gambit accepted Scarlett's handshake graciously with the slightest incline of her head.
"Much obliged, Miss Summers."
"Andrew?" Omorede called, knocking on a door. "Andrew, are you there?"
"Come on in," came a voice from the other side.
They walked in, and Gambit quickly began to observe and catalogue the bedroom now before her. All in all, there was nothing particularly extraordinary about the room or its contents, save for perhaps the pair of black gloves that sat on the nightstand. Considering it was the height of summer, the necessity of gloves escaped Gambit. And as such out of place things often did, captured her curiosity.
The room's resident was a man around the same age as Gambit and Omorede. Fairly well built, and more than conventionally handsome, his most arresting features were a set of eerily green eyes and snow white bangs that stood out against his otherwise brown hair.
He had been reading, it appeared, being seated on the bed with a paperback in hand and propped up against the headboard by pillows.
It would have taken a sharper eye than either man possessed to catch the swift flash of an almost predatory expression on Riley's face. If either had noticed her gaze panning Andrew from head to toe either, neither said. Omorede just proceeded with an introduction.
"Gambit, this is Andrew. He goes by the codename Rogue. Andrew, this is Gambit. She has saved my life more than once recently, and will be staying at the Mansion for now."
Andrew didn't offer a hand to shake. He just set his book aside and reached for the gloves.
"Good to meet you, Gambit."
"Pleasure's mine," Gambit replied. "And please. When I'm not workin', it's Riley."
"Riley then," Andrew repeated, like he was tasting the name. He nodded while pulling his gloves on. "It's good to meet you."
Finally, an extended hand. Gambit placed her own in his.
The smile she wore was of the kind that the Serpent might have sported back in Eden.
Andrew rather liked the roof of the Mansion. People didn't tend to come up there at all, allowing him to enjoy summer evenings like the current one alone, doing nothing more than drinking in the sunset. Quiet, calm. It was a chance to let down his guard a little; an opportunity to take off his gloves, roll up his sleeves, and not have to worry for a while. He could really only describe it as therapeutic, and some days even found it as helpful as his sessions with the Professor.
Eyes closed, he leaned back on his hands. The feel of the rough, aged tiles against his palms and fingers was soothing. Any texture other than the spandex blend of his gloves was, truth be told. Sitting there just taking in the feel of the tiles and the last warmth of the sun, he was content. Moments like these were exactly why he escaped up here.
"My apologies," came a voice, snapping his eyes open and pulling his attention behind him to see Riley standing at the apex of the roof. "Didn't realize this seat was taken."
First instinct had him yanking on the gloves that up until now had been resting in his lap, and pulling down his sleeves. So much for solitude.
"More than enough room for two of us," he replied, the words borderline testy, waving his hand to indicate the roof's wide expanse. He wasn't thrilled with being disturbed, but knew well enough to play nice with the newcomer. Some secret part of him hoped she would just walk to the other side of the roof and leave him be, but also knew well enough that his luck wasn't that good.
"Y'wouldn't mind me joining you then?"
Carefully chosen words, those ones. They weren't completely honest, but as he watched her walk down the roof to join him, he began to realize that they weren't exactly a lie either.
She sat down on his right, bare feet dangling off the ledge.
Unconsciously, Andrew shifted half a foot to the left.
Riley, who noticed, said nothing.
"Little warm for the full body-gear, ain't it?" she asked, gesturing towards Andrew's clothing. While Riley was wearing a beater and fitted denim capris, he was in a long sleeved tee, full length pants, and those ever-present gloves.
"A little," he conceded, fingering the sleeves of his shirt and ensuring they came down over the wrists of his gloves.
"Now, if I was a gambling woman - which I am," Riley began after a moment, producing a deck of cards and beginning to shuffle them with the absent ease of breath, "I'd say you got yourself a thing about human contact. That 'bout right?"
More than you know, he thought bitterly to himself. "No-one's told you about my powers then?"
Andrew sighed, his hands forming fists. She had to be told about his power. That much was an obligation. 'Obligation' didn't translate to 'any easier to do' though. He'd spent less than five minutes around her, and already he was going to have to push her away. Andrew tried and determine if he was glad about this or not. Sure, one less person to worry about, but so quickly?
He looked at her carefully, observing how the haze of sunset set her hair alight and how the quickly developing shadows set off the wicked curve of her mouth that much more, and something like regret settled uncomfortably in his stomach.
"When I touch people, I take something from them. Their essence, their being – whatever it is that makes them them."
Riley looked genuinely intrigued, not missing a beat with the cards. She even performed a small flourish, spreading her hands apart and having the deck fly card by card from one hand to the other with a swift, clicking woosh noise.
"I touch them, and all of a sudden I have their memories, their thoughts, and even their powers if they're a mutant. They end up unconscious on the floor."
Andrew let the explanation end there. He could barely talk about Caroline or the whole Mister Marvel incident with the Professor, never mind this stranger who Omorede had just dragged in today.
Riley brought her cards all back together, tucking them back away wherever they'd come from.
"So you can look, but not touch."
"In a nutshell."
"Shame." She stood up, stretching lazily towards the sun. "Never did like solitaire, me."
Andrew suspected she'd intentionally positioned herself in that stretch to allow her figure to be perfectly silhouetted by the soft evening light. No voice of complaint arose within him at this. No voice came from him either; he wasn't a stupid man. He knew a gorgeous woman when he saw one, and recognized flirting when he heard it. No point in not enjoying it while it lasted, even if there was no way that anything would (could) come if it. Still, it was nice to pretend, even if for just a little while.
Riley disappeared as quickly as she'd come, leaving him alone with his thoughts on the roof.
Left behind where she'd sat was a single playing card, face down. Andrew flipped it over. Looking back at him were the two mirrored faces of the Jack of Hearts.
Andrew took to using the card as a bookmark for a while, which likely wasn't one of the wisest things he'd ever done. He found himself spending more time over-analyzing what Riley had meant by leaving the card than he did actually reading. The extent of what he'd determined was that it was some weird extension of her flirtation, specially calculated to mess with his head.
Talking with Scarlett was an option he toyed with for a while. It had made sense at the time, seeing as Scarlett was female and Riley was female. But that would have involved revealing the whole situation to Scarlett, and while Andrew knew she meant well, Scarlett would probably end up trying to throttle the truth out of Riley. As good a leader as she was, Scarlett was not especially good at subtle outside of infiltration missions. Plus, he imagined the 'you're a girl and she's a girl so you must know' logic would go over like a lead balloon.
He also considered asking for John's advice. His psychic powers might have been able to shed some light on the matter. However, John had mentioned that Riley seemed to be almost telepath-proof. Whatever mental defences Riley had, natural or added, kept psychics from getting into her mind. There'd hardly be a point. Talking to John would also result in Scarlett knowing, and that would end with the throttling he was trying to avoid. Another dead end.
Finally, he thought about maybe asking Omorede what he knew about Riley, but knew as soon as he began weighing the choice that he wouldn't. In fact, he wouldn't pursue any of these courses of action. It was probably male pride, or maybe just his unhealthy tendency to internalize everything, but he knew better than to discount the power of either of those forces.
He finally ended up coming to the conclusion that whatever riddle Riley had set before him, it was for him to answer, not anyone else.
Whatever the reason – male pride or pathological internalization - he kept the card to himself, trying to read whatever coded message she'd hidden in it.
As Riley herself had said, he could look but not touch. He would do what he did best then: look.
When Andrew took to actively watching her, Riley couldn't help but want to laugh. It was about damn time. He must have thought he was being so furtive too with all those peripheral glances, measuring looks, and being around convenient corners.
Of course, given her background – the family, the years of training, and the mean streets of New Orleans – she was much more observant and aware than anyone in the Mansion appeared to be giving her credit for.
(Except maybe Omorede. Maybe. She wondered about that man sometimes.)
She worked through all this as she leaned over the ledge of her open bedroom window, enjoying a contemplative cigarette. Maybe he was actually stealthy and her bar was set unnaturally high by virtue of where and what she'd come from.
Whatever the answer to that question, she still felt like the cat that got the cream over the fact that she'd managed to hook Andrew so easily.
Questions naturally arose from that. Specifically, why Andrew? Out of all the guys in the mansion – and god knew there were decent pickings there – why him? All the other men of the Mansion aside, even, why Andrew at all?
Okay, yeah. Sure. He most definitely good looking. That didn't hurt. That couldn't have been all there was to it though. Good looking guys were a dime a dozen, and it wasn't as though it was especially difficult for Riley to get them to eat right out of the palm of her hand. A little charm, a little décolletage, and a well-timed wink or smile had a funny way of getting her exactly what or who she wanted.
But then there were his powers. It was a downright shame someone like Andrew wasn't able to make any sort of skin-to-skin contact. So maybe, she considered, it was that challenge. What bigger score was there than getting under the skin that couldn't be touched?
Maybe that threat was just it. If she pulled it off, it would be a heist gone completely right. If not, he'd absorb her, leaving two options:
One, he'd be scared off by what he saw, allowing her to make a clean break and disappear from the Mansion and life there completely without any further word. She'd made a fine art of vanishing acts, and knew her cue to perform one.
Two, he'd see it, get it, and there'd be some kind of absolution there. She'd never been good at admitting anything aloud, and Andrew's skin had the potential to be the confessor she needed – all of the soul-baring and no words necessary.
Regardless of the outcome then, she walked away breaking even or better. You couldn't ask for better odds than that.
She blew out one last smoke ring before charging the butt of her cigarette into a tiny crimson flame until it was nothing but ash falling like gray snow onto the grass outside.
Too much thinking. Too many options. Too much past.
Brushing those particular thoughts aside, she decided to return her focus to the task at hand.
Chase the boy by leading him on. An old game, but effective nonetheless. All that remained was to be patient and let everything take its course. Patience being one of her stronger suits, this didn't worry her at all. As Mama might have said, the thrill was never in the pinch itself. It was all in the getting away with it.
"Mornin'," Riley said as she sauntered into the kitchen one Saturday morning.
The only other person there to watch her pour a cup of coffee and come over to the table was Andrew. Andrew, who had silently determined that the baggy sweatpants with 'Tulane' printed down one leg and the tank-top that were assumedly her sleepwear actually managed to work on her despite the dishevelled just-fell-out-of-bed look. This may have had something to do with the kind of swish-swish thing her hips did when she walked. It was nice. More than nice, actually. The sweats rested just below her hipbones, and the tank-top fell just short of covering them. He watched the slim line of revealed skin and the way her hipbones shifted as she moved, taking it in almost covetously.
He caught himself quickly. Eyeing Riley like that was a Bad Idea, right up there with shark-swimming and jumping out of a plane without a parachute. He, of all people, should have known better. And yet...
The Jack of Hearts, tucked in the front cover of the book he was enjoying over breakfast, smiled knowingly at him.
"Morning," he answered, pushing the Jack further down in his book so neither of its faces could look at him. She took a seat in the chair to his left, leaned back, and after a sip inquired.
"Where's everyone at?"
Andrew put his book down on the table and watched carefully as she returned to her coffee before giving an answer. He prayed silently that the delay would go unnoticed.
"Running a mission. Nothing major; just dealing with a mercenary we keep having problems with. They should be back for dinner at the latest."
"And you're not with them?"
"Someone has to hold down the fort."
"An' keep an eye on me, I'm guessing."
To his shocked look at Riley having hit the nail on the head, she just smiled over the ridge of her mug.
"You don't leave the stray alone in the house, cher. That's just common sense. I'd've made the same call." She rolled her neck easily, either ignoring or revelling in Andrew's growing discomfort. Both these options were equally disconcerting. "I'm just surprised Scarlett decided you get to be my warden for the day."
"Warden?" he scoffed as lightly as he could. "Since when is this prison?"
"I say it was a bad thing?" Riley fired back, far from unkindly. She left her mug on the table as she went to go grab a bowl and some cereal, and Andrew couldn't help but notice the faint pink tint where her lips had been on it. The steam off the coffee wafted over to him, carrying a faint, but distinct smell beneath that of the coffee itself– cherry. Cherry goddamn chapstick.
Oh, hell. Now this was just getting absurd.
And yet here he sat, smelling her chapstick and wanting, wanting, wanting. He tried to remember that he knew better than this, but it wasn't coming. The chap stick, her smile, and that Jack hidden in his book all managed to do an admirable job of blotting out the basic knowledge that what he wanted was an impossibility.
Why her? Why the hell was it her?
Because she's a beautiful woman, he answered himself, and is actually showing interest in you. Because something like that hasn't happened since Caroline back in Caldecott. Because she doesn't seem intimidated by your powers even though that's a damn fool tack to take. Because you're soaking this up like desert rain.
She sat back down and poured her cereal, and this time Andrew was all but certain she was keenly aware of the attention he was paying her.
"So, Warden, you have a schedule for us, or do we got ourselves some free time?"
Andrew did his best to ignore the implications her question and the tone she'd asked it in held, though his best wasn't especially good today.
"Nothing scheduled," he replied. "You have something in mind?"
She looked thoughtful for a moment, balancing her spoon horizontally over her index finger. With a quick turn of her wrist, the spoon was suddenly weaving itself through her fingers, under and over, under and over with a surprising speed and steady rhythm. She continued this almost hypnotic action as she spoke.
"I'll list the facts, you tell me if I'm off base. We can't leave the Mansion, seeing as you're point man and all. That's gonna mean you have to stay close to a communications system of some sort, even if the X-Men are off doin', and I quote 'nothing major', since 'nothing major' can become real major real fast, and there's gotta be some sort of return protocol you follow even if the mission goes like clockwork. You're supposed to keep tabs on me, so I'm gonna assume you're gonna want me to stick close. You gotta keep me occupied, seeing as I don't have an X like the rest of y'all and can't be butting in on X-Men business, and you need to be near where all the communications stuff is. The lounge is right next to the elevator that goes to the subbasement where you can't go 'less you got clearance – a passcode and swipe card, by the looks of it. I'm gonna take a flyin' guess and say the comm centre's down there. There's a pile of classic movies pulled out on the coffee table in front of the lounge TV. This means you do got a plan. You, Andrew, are plannin' to distract me with Humphrey Boggart, Lauren Bacall, and James Dean until Mom and Dad get home."
Stilling her spoon and returning it to a normal eating position, she took another bite of her cereal.
"How can you know all that?" he asked in all honesty, with more than a little disbelief mixed in. "Have you-"
She held up a hand.
"Andrew, lemme stop you right there. If I had really wanted to see what you guys got hidden down there, I could've been and back in the first afternoon. I'm a guest in this house. Long as I'm here, I'm not gonna go where I ain't been invited."
He eyed her carefully. The display of deductive prowess, the latent threat of some dangerous level of ability that she'd just alluded to; all of it was strange. Was out of character the best way to describe it? Andrew was hardly in a position to say, seeing as he barely had a grip on her character as it was, but it just seemed strange that she would be so abrupt and so candid.
"Who are you?"
"Other than a good judge o'character with an eye for details? Girl's gotta have some secrets, Andrew," she answered, giving him a winning smile. Any questions he had were silenced in light of this more pertinent fact. "Ask nice, and I might tell you someday."
Later that day, the two of them sat there on the lounge couch, "To Have and Have Not" playing out on the big screen.
This happened to be one of Riley's favourite movies. She knew it well enough to say the lines right along with the actors, which meant she could watch and enjoy with half a mind, and put the rest to her usual pursuits of planning and execution. She'd learned from her and Andrew's initial encounter on the roof that he was pretty much programmed to keep distance. She, fortunately, had been programmed to close distance. Over the course of the movie, she engaged in a little experimentation: oh so slowly, she moved closer to him, shifting by almost infinitesimal increments every so often. The careful control of space and timing appeared effective. By moving like molasses in January, she was able to fly under Andrew's radar. She was pleased to discover this, especially once she finally made it within what she'd gauged as his near-impenetrable one-foot bubble.
As she performed this experiment, continued to push her luck, and enjoyed the film, she also thought. It was arguable that she'd said a little too much earlier. Maybe she hadn't been as careful and as calculated as she'd thought with that one. It had just all come out, part of the natural patter that just rolled on off her tongue. It had all been true too; she had no intention of going where she wasn't invited. Still, hitting that hard and that fast might have been a misstep. Nothing she couldn't recover from, naturally, but it still might have been a bit much. As she took an especially deep breath that could have been a response to the movie, she pushed the boundaries a little more as she exhaled and moved an almost negligible distance closer to him. Slow and steady-like, that was the trick. The well-greased wheels of her mind continued to turn as her eyes took in Boggart and Bacall.
Who are you? he'd asked. Her answer to that question at least had been perfect – flippant enough to distract from its lack of substance while promising the potential of something more later. Truth without truth. Giving answers, or even just talking, like that was a distinct talent of hers.
The slight weight to her stomach suggested she was feeling some sort of guilt, but it was only a passing knowledge. Why should she feel bad? What was so wrong about starting this game with every intent to win it? That's how you were supposed to play; that's how she played, and as she'd already determined, the game was hers. It was just a matter of continuing to read Andrew's tells carefully, and playing the whole thing out.
Banishing the ideas starting to work their way up from her stomach to her throat like bile, Riley forced herself to refocus. It was time to shift her weight just that little bit more in Andrew's direction.
Andrew is fifteen. He is walking in an anonymous park. The pretty little brunette girl walking next to him, fifteen years old, laughs. Her name is Caroline, and Andrew adores her with all the ardency of adolecense.
He is fifteen too, and he takes her hand, pauses, intends to kiss her.
Suddenly it's not Caroline.
Standing before him is Riley. He is not fifteen now, he is his own age, and Riley looks him over with those eyes of hers and gives him an approving smile.
He's still going in for the kiss though, and Riley looks like she's going to reciprocate.
Andrew, a voice calls from somewhere beyond seeing. Older, female. Andrew, I'm going to pull you out now.
Noyesnoyes, he thinks, torn between where he is and where he'll go. This isn't how it works, but it's how he wants it to be.
With his next thought, he found himself in a tastefully decorated office that did an admirable job of hiding the old money behind it. A familiar place – the Professor's office. He had been drawn right out of the landscape of his mind and put back into his body. He shivered.
"You're distracted today, Andrew," Professor Xavier observed. "Would you prefer to put this session off for a little while? Allow you to clear your thoughts a little more?"
He shook his head vehemently.
"No. Now is fine. Let's try again."
The Professor looked at Andrew askance.
"So long as you are sure. Though I will pull you out again if need be."
"Close your eyes then, Andrew."
He stands behind a man in yellow and black. Andrew knows this man – it is Mister Marvel. He also knows how this all goes, even if it is a poor ending. He knows what he must do. Andrew steels his will. The story plays on.
He reaches out, hands gloveless, and Mister Marvel turns. It's not Mister Marvel now, though. It's Riley. She looks at him in only vague surprise, lips quirking as his hands come down on her face and won't let go, oh GOD he can't let go-
It was with a violent gasp Andrew opened his eyes again to the office.
"Forgive me for pulling you so roughly," the Professor said. "But you were beginning to panic and I needed to get you out quickly."
He gave an assenting murmur, leaning back in the chair he sat in and looking towards the ceiling. The Professor had introduced the exercise of going through these key memories and moments relating to his powers as a way to try and pinpoint information that might help lead to control. Andrew had been game from the start – one of the reasons he'd initially come to the Mansion was the fact that the Professor would actually do something to help him – even if the process was a difficult one.
"I don't think we will make any further headway today. Not with your mind so fixed. I come back to the Mansion next week; we can try delving in again at that time."
"Should I continue practicing those deep breathing techniques?"
"By all means."
"Then thank you, Professor. I'll see you next week."
He made to rise, but the Professor stopped him.
"Please, stay. Let's try and accomplish something today."
Andrew was suddenly confused and slightly suspicious as he sat back down.
"What can we do?"
The Professor wheeled her chair next to him, and placed a friendly hand on his shoulder.
"I think we should talk about Riley."
"I'd rather not," he replied, trying to mask the tension he suddenly felt.
"When she replaces two of the most prominent figures in your mind's eye, it behoves us to not just note that it happened, but to examine the why behind it."
She was right, of course. That didn't mean Andrew had to like it. He slouched a little, and the Professor took back her hand to settle it with the other on her lap.
"Why does she occupy your thoughts this way, Andrew?"
Andrew knew the answer, but couldn't bring himself to say it aloud. Emotional vulnerability was tricky territory for him to navigate, even in this safe space. The Professor tilted her head slightly to the side.
"You are attracted to her."
"Yes," he admitted. "More than I should be."
"I take it you mean given your unique situation."
That was certainly a delicate way of putting it.
"She's not scared," he said. "Or at least, doesn't seem it. Which makes this weird. Maybe a good weird."
"So what now?" the Professor asked gently.
"I could grow a pair and say something," he said. This elicited a smile from the Professor.
"Borrowing turns of phrase from Wolverine now, are we?"
Andrew could only smile back weakly as he shrugged and stood up with the intention to really leave this time.
"She's got a way with words. It'd be a shame to drop the ball while she's away." He gave what was as close to a sigh as he could muster. "Though really, I'm pretty sure you know better than anyone what the chances of me stepping up here are. What are those terms you've got in your file on me? Stunted psychological development? Intimacy issues?"
"Regardless, I wish you the best of luck, however you proceed," she replied as he began to close the office door behind him. He bobbed his head in recognition as the slightest of smiles ghosted his face.
At three the next morning, Riley woke clammy and visibly shaken, biting down hard on her tongue. She'd trained herself long ago not scream at nightmares. It was only a response though; knowing how to handle nightmares afterwards didn't prevent them from coming.
They had been coming with increasingly less frequency as of late, which was a double edged sword: she didn't have to deal with nightmares as often, but when they came it just hurt all the more for the imagined distance.
It was always one specific nightmare - without fail, a predictable stream of faces. First was always Emmeline. Little Emmeline, who she had tried so hard to save. She would dream of dragging Emmeline's body ashore, of bringing Emmeline back before the family while wearing a haunted, unreadable face, all her tears already shed on a beach somewhere and washed away with the tide. Jimmy would come next. He had probably honest-to-goodness loved her, and yet she'd let him take a literal fall for her. She would always smell his blood on the pavement as she stood there on the street, prize in hand and his body before her. The dreams would end with Bernard, who she'd left at the altar with his sister's corpse, dead by Riley's own hand. The look of disappointment on his face had been almost worse than the one on her own mama's.
Sitting upright, her breathing finally under control, Andrew's face decided to join the others in her guilt parade. She figured she knew why too. What she'd originally thought of as a means to an end, and possibly just a good time was slowly becoming human to her. Meaning something. If this was still a game, she didn't feel like she was in charge of it anymore – a new and uncomfortable sensation. She fell back from her seated position, arms spread wide as she hit the mattress and allowed the air to be pressed out of her lungs.
"Buck up, woman," she muttered to the dark. "No time for this now."
She found herself trying to get her game face back on, solidifying her plan to press forward with Andrew. It was time to raise the stakes and play the game a little differently now. It would have to go faster, or else this would all just get worse. The plan remained: it was going to be the score, the scare, or the sanctification. She was either going to win and be made whole again, or she was going to get the hell out of dodge in her current pieces. This was how it had to be.
She liked Andrew, sure. He had great taste in movies, was really goddamn good looking, and any other place or time she'd have already jumped his bones, but he was a means. To look at him any other way would just end badly, his face joining the others, and she didn't want to do that to herself, or to him. She might deserve it, but he didn't.
So a means, nothing more. He had to be.
Break it down, she told herself firmly. Work this like any other job. The people didn't matter. This was her game and she was going to take it back from the invisible dealer who was stacking the deck. Once Riley was in control again, everything else would fall into place.
So who was she?
A thief. A coward. A user. A woman terrible at lying to herself.
She rolled over, curling in on herself, already knowing she wasn't going to fall asleep.
That settled it.
Rolling out of the bed, she pulled on a pair of tight jeans and a tee-shirt. Mansion rules involved a curfew. Mansion rules involved not sneaking out at night. Riley did not care about these rules at that moment.
Her motorcycle was waiting in the garage, there was a decent liquor store about twenty minutes ride into town if she pushed it, and some decent bourbon (Scarlett had great taste in scotch, but that, cooking sherry, and some cheap beer was the extent of the alcohol in the Mansion) would probably do her good.
The next mission the X-Men ran – that friggin' Deadpool was apparently incapable of leaving well enough alone, and had brought along friends - it was Omorede that stayed behind. When the rest of the team got back to the Mansion, everyone was moody on top of the usual hot, sweaty wrecks they usually were once the adrenaline was gone and it was time to go home.
Upon arrival, Andrew headed straight for his room, sat down on his bed and undid the top of his uniform. Allowing his skin to breathe as he leaned over, elbows braced against his knees and head hanging to look at the floor, he tried to gauge just how tired he was. Late-night missions were the worst, especially the ones that involved getting woken up at two in the morning with a call to the War Room. You got your energy drink on during the mission briefing, ran the gig, and then would come back physically ready to crash but absolutely wired mentally. Not a pleasant sensation.
His open window and the cool early morning air against his skin felt wonderful though, and Andrew tried to steady himself enough to decide if he'd be able to sleep or if he ought to just go take a shower, put on a pot of coffee, and push through the day with a deep sleep guaranteed at the end if only due to sheer exhaustion.
"Knock knock," came Riley's voice from his door, accompanied by the sound of knuckles rapping lightly against the doorframe.
Apparently, the backwards kick he'd given his door as he'd come in had not been as effective in closing it as he'd thought.
Andrew blinked, sitting up straight and yanking the top of his uniform back on as quickly as he physically could.
"What're you doing here?"
She grinned appreciatively, walking in and leaning against his dresser.
"Enjoyin' the show, even if it got cut a bit short for my taste. Do the X-Ladies know what they're missing out on here?" she asked, gesturing towards him. He regarded her warily for both the question and to keep anything else out of his expression.
"If I knew what the hell you were talking about, maybe I could answer."
"I don' know if you've noticed, Andrew, but you're built like a brick shithouse. Kinda hard not to appreciate."
If that wasn't a sledgehammer answer that was not helping matters at all, Andrew didn't know what could be.
"How frank," was all he managed to get out. All he got in return was a loose shrug.
He gave a distinctly stiffer shrug back, trying to keep his face impassive and probably failing.
"Side effect of the job, I guess."
"I'm gonna take your attempted derailing of the conversation as a nope, none of the X-Ladies know what lies beneath the spandex."
"Why does it matter so much to you?"
"Call it curiosity. It's the simpler answer."
Crossing the room like it was her own, she took a casual seat on the bed next to him.
"Curiosity killed-" he began.
"-the cat? They also got nine lives to spare. And again with the derailin'."
The conclusion of her words gave way to the realization that the seat she'd taken was unnervingly close. He moved a little to the left out of what he knew was a deep-seated protective instinct, even though he really, really didn't want to. When he spoke again, his voice was significantly softer.
"Circumstances given, is it that shocking that women don't get to, as you put it, 'know what lies beneath the spandex'?"
Riley's eyes went wide.
"Y'mean you've never-" In that brief pause, Andrew shot her a withering look.
"My first girlfriend ended up in a coma because I kissed her. I haven't touched anyone without hurting them since I was fifteen. What do you think, Riley?"
As Andrew plumbed the significance of his sort-of outburst, she took the opportunity to give an easy laugh, brushing a finger along his arm. He did a poor job of ignoring the goosebumps this managed to raise, even through his uniform. They at least served to force him to not think about Caroline. Riley smiled warmly.
"Oh, Andrew. I think we got a lot of catching up for you to do."
Andrew opened his mouth to point out that she was crazy, that he was fully capable of taking care of himself, as it were, and she couldn't really be suggesting what he thought she was suggesting, but it would all have come out kind of half-hearted. Thankfully, he was beaten to the punch.
"Look, but don't touch. I remember." Riley smiled, a Queen of Hearts now in her hand as though it had always been there. Before he could say a word she was straddling his lap. Holding the card to his mouth, she pressed a kiss into it before somehow getting it into his hand. This was followed by her apparently now patented disappearing act, the whole situation leaving him more frustrated - in more ways than one; how the hell did she manage that? - than ever. He looked at the card, seeing the slight stain of her chapstick (goddamn cherry, he could smell it) across the Queen's robes. He stood up and placed it on his dresser, face down.
Well, he thought, heading for the showers as quickly as possible. At least I'll be saving hot water.
Three or four days later, Riley was stalking the halls of the Mansion after dinner. She found herself walking along the corridor that overlooked the main entrance. She wouldn't have stopped had she not heard footsteps accompanying the voices of both Scarlett and John moving towards the front door. Peering over, she noted that they were dressed up to go out; this must have been one of their date nights that Omorede had told her about. They were not especially common due to Scarlett and John's job descriptions, but they made a point of going out for 'them-time' when they could.
World must be safe for tonight, Riley thought to herself wryly.
Her ears picked up the use of Andrew's name, and Riley shifted completely into stealth mode – a familiar setting. Fading into the shadow pooled at the far right of the balcony-like structure the corridor formed over the foyer, she watched and listened as the conversation grew closer and clearer.
"He's distant and preoccupied by nature, Scarlett."
"Yeah, but try and tell me it hasn't been especially apparent lately."
"You mean since Riley's shown up."
"Well, I can't help it if there's a correlation."
"Which doesn't imply causation, and you know it."
"But it does mean further investigation is called for. Which is why I went and talked with him this afternoon."
"What's your hypothesis then?"
"He's got a thing for Riley. And the jury's out on if that's a good thing or not."
"Body language. Evasion. Word choice. And if we could stop trying to apply the scientific method to my best friend, that'd be nice."
"Fair enough. Could we drop this though? I'm trying to take you out dancing, and if you're going to be all torqued up over this, you know that neither of us is going to have a good time."
"Alright, alright. Subject dropped."
"And the unspoken 'for now' was heard echoing throughout the room."
Scarlett punched John's shoulder lightly before linking arms with him as they exited the front door. Riley retained her position in the shadows and quickly processed what she'd just heard.
Well, well, well. This was interesting news indeed. Perhaps she'd underestimated Scarlett – a mistake she wouldn't make again. And perhaps, she thought, it was time to play her next hand.
Taking the scenic route through the Mansion, she looked for Andrew. The best bets for his location, based on the recon (that was a good sign – she was using the proper terms again. Maybe she wasn't completely beyond hope after all) she'd done, were the lounge, the games room, or his bedroom.
The games room turned out to be the winner, where Andrew stood with a pool cue in hand, examining a billiards table he looked to be working.
Grabbing a cue of her own off the wall, she scanned the table quickly.
"Eight ball, corner pocket," she said.
Bending over her cue and setting up, her mind was again divided between what she was doing and what she was thinking. She would make the shot easily; she'd been hustling pool since she'd been tall enough to reach over a table. What she was focused on was the angle of her lean. She was watching Andrew's face from the corner of her eye as a way to measure when she'd reached the point just before it became obvious she was trying to show off her cleavage. Thank god she'd worn the right kind of shirt for this tonight. Andrew's lips appeared on the edge of pursing, and she knew she'd hit the mark.
She sank the ball exactly as she'd called it, and Andrew looked thoughtful for a moment.
"You know that sinking the eight ball ends a game, right?"
Riley stifled a giggle. The boy was testing the waters, testing her, by trying to casually lace an innocuous statement with double meaning. He would determine his next move by her response.
Oh, cher, she thought, reprimanding herself instantly for making him more than a means again through the use of an endearment she'd actually meant. She tried to save face by recalling that the best lies were the ones based in truth. Oh, cher, good try, but I invented that play.
"Sure I do," Riley said, straightening up and looking across the table at him. "But nothing says you can't start another after."
Oh, lordy. The boy was making this too easy.
"You're frustrated with this one, and I'm gettin' bored of it. I'd say it's time for something different."
"Did you have something in mind?"
He was fighting to remain as neutral as possible, Riley observed. The stiffness to his posture, the grip on his cue, and his too-even speech were all tells. This was good. This was what she'd been aiming for.
"Gentleman's choice," she said. "What do you want?"
He didn't answer, which Riley had half-expected. He was wavering though. The time had come for one last little bit of pressure.
"What do you want, Andrew?" she asked again, voice calling for an answer. He looked at her, a combination of helplessness and assurance that probably wouldn't have made a whole lot of sense coming from anyone else. Riley could read it and understood. Andrew knew what he wanted. He was convicted in it, even, but was all but certain he could never have it. She wanted to hear the words though. He had to say it.
And with that fold from Andrew, Riley collected her chips. It was time to cash in.
The next few days were strange ones.
After the 'confrontation' - he had no other word for it - in the games room, Riley had just nodded and left. She'd remained a presence in the Mansion, but aloof from him in particular.
He'd begun to accept that he'd probably scared her off by his admission. She'd flirted like crazy with him, obviously, but when his own attraction had been put on the table, it must have become too real and too much. He didn't blame her for backing out. If their positions had been reversed, he figured he probably would have too. Andrew wasn't exactly happy about it, but he had come to the conclusion that he should have expected it, and that the way things looked to be going was probably best for all concerned.
That was why when Riley burst into his room and flicked off the lightswitch, a bag in hand, he was more than a little confused.
"Riley? What are you doing here?"
She locked the door behind her, which was just serving to create more conflicting signals. Wasn't it over?
She scanned the room, eyes settling on his bedside table. The Jack she'd left for him on her first day at the Mansion sat there, kept company by the Queen she'd kissed him through.
Okay, so he clearly hadn't accepted the supposed end of the Riley Affair as much as he liked to pretend he had. But that was probably the least of his concerns.
While Andrew readied himself to launch into a dismissive explanation, Riley just smiled.
"Knew I'd left an impression on you," she laughed, gesturing towards the cards.
A defensive question came out almost automatically.
"Mind explaining what's going on?"
The question had been the right one, judging by Riley's reaction.
"What do you want, Andrew?" she asked, her inflection perfectly matching the way in which she'd asked that question the first time.
The answer hadn't changed, and he was pretty sure both of them knew it. It was the circumstances that had shifted.
"So why the distance lately? Why have you been avoiding me?"
"This is an awful lot of questions coming from a man about to get laid."
And that was when what grip Andrew had on his composure managed to slip from his admittedly tentative grasp.
"You're certifiable," he said, surprisingly calm for feeling on the verge of hysterics. "I can't-"
"Easy, Andrew. I'm not talking straight-up sex. I ain't got a death wish. Trust me though; there's more than one way to have a good time."
She opened the bag and dumped its contents on the bed: a box of surgical gloves, a bottle of massage oil, and what he thought he recognized from high school sex ed as a dental dam.
Andrew was silent. She leaned against his dresser, taking him in. Arms crossed, she cocked her head slightly to the left.
"I can't read your mind, cher. Talk to me."
He stared blankly for a moment, taking it all in and desperately trying to determine which head he ought to be listening to. He knew better than this (as went his internal chorus), but there was that damning and yet again.
"It's twisted enough that—"
She waited. He wasn't quite sure he was in possession of his full faculties at that particular moment, but was sure that he failed to care. "—it just might work."
The two shared coy smiles, and Riley walked over to sit next to him. She pulled on a pair of the gloves before reaching over and touching his cheek gently.
"So how do we do this?" he asked, allowing his hand to rest over hers. God, he could get used to that.
"Very carefully," she answered, that smile of her turning ever so slightly devious. "Now you wanna help a girl get her shirt off?"
Something had changed.
Riley couldn't name it, but she could feel it as her eyes opened to a brand new day, willing herself to move and finding that her physical self didn't seem especially inclined to.
Morning afters usually involved her not being there. So why, precisely, was she still lying in Andrew's bed long after she should have been out her own window, bag in tow and catching the next plane back to New Orleans? This was not how it was supposed to work. Attachment had never, ever been part of The Plan. It was never part of any plan. Never.
It was either going to be the score, the push away, or the forgiveness. That was the plan. This was the none of the above, abort mission NOW option. This was her actually considering maybe staying at the Mansion for a little longer, maybe even toying with the idea of some kind of commitment, and that scared the ever living shit out of her. Attachment made everything more complicated – other people especially. She looked up at the white ceiling and bit back profanities.
This was not how it worked. Intimacy was supposed to make it easier to walk away. It always had. That was the whole game. Her game. Play them into bed, and they'd lose by default simply because they'd fallen into the trap. Her body was as much a tool in her arsenal as her lock picks, and Riley had never had any qualms about using it. Every resource at your disposal, right?
So why now? Why Andrew?
Turning to look beside her revealed an otherwise empty bed. She refused to admit to the real reason for the sting this caused her, choosing instead to believe it was simply the next stage in her process of self-recrimination. Sitting up to investigate this further revealed that Andrew had taken a pillow and slept on the floor.
The sting intensified as she tried to remind herself that he was just a means. She'd made the score. Her plan had worked. It was time to disappear.
She got up and out of the bed and went to the door. She would leave. She had to.
Then she made the mistake of looking back at Andrew, still asleep. The enormity of the moment – that exact moment – hung over her.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, she thought, and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveller...
This was where she had to make the call. It was either now or it would be too late. She could be packed and gone in five minutes, or she could stay and maybe see where this went.
Riley's hand was on the doorknob, but she was still facing Andrew.
Sorry I could not travel both...
She let out a small sigh as her hand dropped from the knob. This was probably her putting the final bow on the hand basket she was off to hell in, but hey. Wasn't like she wasn't on her way there anyhow. Might as well ensure her transportation was thoroughly decorated.
She walked back and lay down on the floor next to Andrew. Carefully positioning herself so her ear rested over his chest, she listened quietly to his heart's slow, steady beat through the flimsy cotton of his shirt.
Scarlett ended up cornering Riley in the kitchen shortly thereafter. When the fridge door closed after Riley had pulled out a drink, Scarlett was waiting behind it.
"I'm waffling between trying to broach this delicately and beating you over the head with it. I'm kind of liking beating over the head right now, but that's just me. Any suggestions?"
Scarlett hated to admit it, but to Riley's credit, the woman had kept a perfect poker-face in response to the ambush.
"Can't tell you before you define your 'it', can I?"
Straight to the point. Again, Scarlett could respect that. However, it was looking more and more the case that the matter at hand was going to require blunt words. Maybe a blunt instrument...but that might have just been wishful thinking.
"What, exactly, is going on with you and Andrew?"
"Why, 'zactly, does it matter to you?"
"Because I'm not only in charge here, but Andrew's friend too."
"If you're trying to make a point here-"
"I'll use nice, small words so you get it," Scarlett said, using the warning sort of tone she liked to employ dealing with S.H.I.E.L.D. when they were being assholes. "Andrew is my friend. Anyone who screws with him deals with me."
"No screwing. Promise. Girl Scout's honour and everything." She finished off by raising her right hand and holding down her pinky with her thumb, leaving the rest to stand straight. This failed to amuse or impress Scarlett.
"I know. I have a telepath for a boyfriend, if you'll recall. John can't touch your head, but he sure as hell could hear Andrew's last night."
"Well then, obviously you know what's going on. John must've also explained to you that Andrew was jus' fine. Better than, even."
Any pretence at delicacy that Scarlett had walked into this with (which, to be fair, was probably close to none) was gone. Blunt instrument it was then.
"Hurt him, and I'll break you."
The expression Scarlett wore would have been qualified as a comedic deadpan had the ultimatum had not been an honest one. She watched Riley coolly, and for a second thought she saw something waver in the other woman's face. When Riley ended up breaking into a shit-eating grin, Scarlett dismissed her observation in favour of reminding herself not to seethe openly.
"Uh-huh," Riley said as she sauntered toward the kitchen door. "Y'have yourself a nice day, now."
And so the conversation was ended. In what was probably perfect timing, John walked in just as Riley walked out. He looked over his shoulder at Riley before looking to Scarlett.
"That felt like it went over well."
"When the opportunity presents itself, remind me to drop a truck on her," Scarlett sighed wistfully, rubbing at her forehead in an attempt to work out the tension that the conversation with Riley had induced.
"Cyclops," John admonished. A near imperceptible smile started to play at Scarlett's features.
"A big truck."
"Cyclops!" If John's chiding was genuine or just teasing, it was difficult to tell. What was now obvious was Scarlett's vague amusement. It probably wasn't healthy that this was cheering her up, but if she knew anything, it was that you snatched your patches of sunshine where you could.
"A really big truck."
One Thursday night, Andrew and Riley were in her room for a change. They were just conversing, sprawled out on her bed together, but both knew the planned end for the night. They'd established a routine of sorts for this sort of thing. He'd be lying if he were to say he wasn't looking forward to it, but he'd also be lying if he said that the conversation and company weren't deeply appreciated.
"How long do you think you're actually gonna stay around the Mansion for?" he asked after one particularly long moment of peaceful silence.
Andrew wouldn't get an answer or the time to register the shadow on Riley's face, as the window to the room was kicked in as a figure dressed head to toe in red and black landed on the carpet.
"Well," the figure said, rising and scratching her head. "Remind me to kick Weasel's ass later. For a supposedly unoccupied room, this looks pretty occupied."
"Deadpool," Andrew hissed, all but jumping off the bed. "What the hell are you doing here?"
Drawing two swords from sheaths across her back, she shifted to a fighting stance.
"I was breaking and entering, but now I'm looking to do some gratuitous violence. Thanks for asking, by the way. Real polite of you."
"Pity I can't say say the same," chimed in Riley, who now stood next to Andrew, fingers reaching for her pocket and pulling out a deck of cards. She pulled a few from the pack and her hands changed them to a blazing fury. Deadpool just laughed.
"A new recruit, huh? Always fun to get to know the team."
She then charged forward, blades ready to strike. The cards flew from Riley's hand, taking Deadpool in the chest. Hitting a wall, she slumped to the ground.
"That was easy enough," Riley said, mildly surprised. "This the Deadpool that y'all keep having trouble with?"
Andrew was already regretting not explaining more about Deadpool to Riley, even though policy dictated that he had to limit what he shared given that Riley wasn't a roster X-Man. All he'd told her – all he'd been allowed to tell her – was that the team had been dealing with a psychotic mercenary named Deadpool as of late. As he opened his mouth to warn Riley about the collapsed woman's healing factor, it was too late.
"See, now that was just poor hospitality," Deadpool said, standing up and sheathing one of her swords. Jumping up to the window ledge, she launched herself off it at towards Riley.
What happened next went quickly. Riley dodged effectively, leaving Deadpool to hit another wall. Before Andrew could intervene, Riley was reaching for her cards again, and Deadpool had clocked Riley in the side of the head with the handle of her weapon, rendering her unconscious on the floor.
"I'm gonna kill you last," Deadpool told Riley's body. "You're fun."
That was it. That was just it. Andrew yanked off a glove, which only seemed to amuse Deadpool.
"Lemme guess. You got a line prepped for this and everything – like, 'the gloves are off now, sugar', or something. Am I close?"
Unfortunately, Andrew was beyond hearing her now; any engagement with an opponent led to a very typical response in him. His fight or flight instinct was set almost without exception to 'fight', meaning he developed a sort of tunnel vision in almost any sort of conflict. There was only him, the enemy, and any resources nearby. Thinking stopped. It was acting now, and hardly aware that he was doing it, Andrew placed a hand to Riley's face and let his body do the rest.
The typical change occurred. While it was clearly him thinking and controlling, there was a new awareness and intelligence that Andrew now brought to the table, having drawn it from Riley. Echoes started sounding in the back of his head. Riley's voice speaking faint words.
(Something about home. Something about a family, Guilds.)
Snatching up Riley's cards, Andrew spread a handful into a perfect fan and charged them as hard as his mind would allow.
"Whooo-ee," Deadpool grinned, a swift flick of her wrist whirling her katana about her hand. "Pretty sure I've seen this trick before. It's almost like déjà vu. But not."
When he actually threw the cards, it was Riley's instinct guiding them towards their intended target with a pinpoint accuracy.
(Breathe, Emmeline! Breathe! Don't you dare die on me girl! You ain't allowed! Just breathe!)
Deadpool had learned her lesson. As well aimed as the cards had been, an elegantly executed backflip got her right out of harm's way.
"Swing and a miss, Rogue," she said as she came at him, sword swinging. "Come on. Playing card fireworks? I'm considering being insulted."
(Jimmy, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't have any other choice. The family had to come first.)
Hesitation wasn't an option. He followed suit, heading straight for her. Deadpool didn't even break stride.
"A little mano a womano, huh? Nice."
Using his own powers now, Andrew lifted off from the floor and slammed Deadpool through the remains of the window. Clutching the squirming Deadpool tightly, he picked up as much speed as he could in the two storey distance between them and the ground and slammed her into the grass.
"You got any idea how hard grass stains are to get out of this outfit?" Deadpool mumbled, pulling herself to her feet as Andrew came swooping back around to grab her again.
(Bernard, I know you understand. I know you can' t forgive, but you gotta know it wasn't supposed to end like that.)
"Hey!" a voice came from above. Both Andrew and Deadpool looked up.
Riley, conscious once more, jumped from her windowsill and landed with a neat tuck and roll. When she rose to her full height, Andrew saw that she held the curtain rod from her bedroom in her left hand.
"Deadpool, you gotta do a lot better than that if you want me down and out."
Deadpool yanked a handgun from a holster at her hip, and pointed it directly at Riley's chest.
"I still think you're fun, but I may have to take back that whole killing you last thing."
"No!" Andrew screamed, already flying in to throw Deadpool around again and protect Riley. He quickly discovered that he needn't worry.
The curtain rod suddenly became an extension of Riley' arm, and with a spiralling motion, used one end of the rod to strike an upwards blow at Deadpool's jaw that came around and took out her arm, the handgun falling uselessly to the ground.
Bojutsu, Andrew recognized. He knew this because Riley did.
A firm kick to Deadpool's chest had the mercenary sprawled on the ground away from her gun and Riley's foot on her throat.
"I don't know what your deal is, but I know this ends now. You get the hell off the school grounds and you stay off, or you and I get to tango some more. The problem there, o'course, being I know your steps now and you best believe I can keep up. We clear?"
Deadpool, silenced due to Riley's foot, nodded.
"Good," Riley said, lifting her foot. Deadpool rose cautiously, reaching for her handgun. Riley brandished her curtain rod again.
"Leave the gun."
Deadpool just laughed, putting her hands up as she took a few steps backwards before turning and running.
"And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for..." she called out, voice fading as got closer and closer to the low wall around Xavier's. Her silhouette vaulted it and was gone.
"You guys got to get some decent security set up," Riley finally said, throwing the curtain rod aside and collapsing to a seat on the ground. She looked absolutely wiped. It was as Andrew approached her that he realized she'd barely been able to stand as she'd done what she had – the after-effects of both being knocked out and absorbed. To be able to handle herself like that even after both physical and psychic trauma? He wondered if perhaps he should talk to Scarlett about getting Riley on the roster.
He reached out his one gloved hand to help her up as her psyche spoke up once more.
(Andrew, you can't be more than a means to an end. I can't let you. It's a job, and I have to run it like any other heist.)
He blinked, stepping back as the thoughts came into focus. They were stronger, fresh. They hurt.
"A heist?" he asked, shell-shocked. "I was a heist?"
"What'chu talking about?" she asked, speech a little fuzzy presumably due to the fact she looked to be on the verge of passing out. That wasn't important right now though. What was important was this rather significant development Andrew had stumbled across. Had it all been a lie?
"I trusted you. I can't-" his sentence trailed off, not to be finished. His head buzzed with Riley's voice.
"You absorbed me." Her voice sharpened with the realization, and the noise in his head just grew louder. More and more of Riley's thoughts came flooding in. As he tried to hear them all, he kept finding pieces that served to show just how Riley had seen him.
"It was a game? I was just a game to you?"
"You don't get it."
"Oh no, I do get it. You were playing. You were seeing me as just another hand to build up and play down. You-"
"You don't get it!" she roared. "It had to be! You're the one who's walking around my head, you of all people should understand! As long as it was all a game, then I could do it. I wouldn't get hurt. I'd stay okay."
"And what about me? You just did a damn fine job of hurting me."
She breathed as though to collect herself, the shaking gave away just how upset she really was.
"I'd planned to be gone after that first night we spent together. I'm still here. What's that tell you, Andrew?"
Andrew just walked away, reeling.
(Guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt.)
In an almost sad reflection, or maybe even parody, of their first meeting, Andrew found her sitting on the roof taking in the sunset a few days later.
"There room enough for two here?" he called. She didn't start or react at all save to answer.
Riley had been deep in thought, still wondering about the repercussions of everything that had happened on the lawn those few days ago. She'd avoided pretty much everyone since then, knowing that they would know or find out about what happened, and as the 'outsider' it would be her hung out to dry. She doubted even Omorede would step up to defend her if Andrew had shared his side of the story. Andrew approaching her this way was the first contact she'd had with any other Mansion resident since the 'incident'.
"Look," he said, sitting down. "I've had a chance to organize your thoughts in my head."
She just raised an eyebrow, wanting to approach the conversation carefully. She would let him lead this if only because it would be easier for her to just follow. It wasn't necessarily a conversation she wanted to have, but she wasn't going to push him away. Not when he was the one coming to her, and not when it looked like he was willing to reach across the divide that had been constructed recently.
Andrew moved around awkwardly. His confession was hard enough to make as it was, never mind with Riley looking at him with that uncomfortable expectancy.
"I get overwhelmed sometimes when I absorb people. Once I sort through everything, I see a lot more clearly. And I think I owe you an apology."
"For not listening to you when you were trying to explain. I went through your thoughts, cleaning up my head, and-" He forced it out. "You were right. Whatever your reasons were at the start, whatever the stupid coping device, you stayed. You're still here. Whatever it means, you are."
"I owe you one too," she said, her apology just as strained as his, if not more. "I should've been more upfront. Or honest. Or both. I'm not especially good at it, but...y'know. Should be. You deserved that. Deserve it."
She shook her head, amazed at how brilliantly she, the girl with the golden tongue, was screwing up. "Shit. I suck at this."
Andrew contented himself with what she offered, and the silence between them didn't feel as heavy as it could have been. Though neither said it to the other, this was a relief. One small step of progress was being made.
Riley made the decision to finally break the silence and ask her one major question.
"How much do you know?"
"Your psyche is bouncing around here," he said, tapping at his head. "She's screaming for me to not tell you, to lie. You sure you want to know?"
Riley took a little time to seriously consider her answer. Everything had been laid bare. There was no room to wiggle, and that was unfamiliar territory. Truth, the whole truth and nothing but, she decided, seeing as Andrew had an especially specific kind of insight right now.
"If you lie, that'd make it okay for a while. But I'm not sure-"
"-if you want 'a while', or could use something more than a bandaid answer for once."
The two of them looked at each other for a moment. His eyes were still black and red, though Andrew knew they would be gone soon, just like Riley's powers already were. All that would stay would be the flickers of memories and a vague sense of her in the back of his mind – another ghost in his machine. Riley stared at her own eyes looking back at her, and repressed a shudder. She would normally have credited being read so easily as a failing on her part, but this was a whole new game. As far as she understood, he wasn't reading her thoughts so much as he was actually thinking them. Riley dug a deck of cards out from her pocket, enjoying the small comfort of the box in her hands. It was good to have something solid in this very not-solid situation.
"So we both thieves then, cher?" she asked, beginning to shuffle her cards in what Andrew now knew to be a nervous tic. "Was supposed to be my gig."
"I told you I was one when we met."
"Knowing is different from actually being taken."
"Considering your original master plan, do you really think I wasn't thinking along the same lines?"
"Touché." A pause. "Wasn't? Past tense?"
Andrew laid back, tiles of the roof pressing into his spine.
"You get inside someone's head, some kind of understanding usually follows."
"What, meaning you're gonna forgive and forget?"
"No. Meaning I get where you came from now, and things make a little more sense because of it."
And so the conversation was brought back to Riley's earlier question. She seized upon it again, hoping that she really did want the answer.
"So tell me. How much do you know?"
"I know you've lived through and done some horrible things. I know you're looking for something that's gonna make it all right again. I know you thought that could be me."
She nodded, taking this in.
"You hate me or something, then?"
Riley wouldn't have held it against him if the answer was yes. He had talked about understanding, but you could still hate someone you understood.
"I'm pretty sure you're doing enough self-flagellating for the both of us." She looked ready to protest, but if Andrew were any judge, seeing her own eyes looking back at her must have served as more than ample reminder that he would know. "Besides, you're not the only one looking for someone to say it's okay."
She had nothing she could say to this. Andrew pressed on.
"I can't be your saviour," he said gently. "I won't be able to fix you."
"I'm not going to be able to honestly tell you it's okay," she replied. "I'm a thief. We're liars by trade."
They each weighed these words, the only sound her cards click-click-clicking.
"So where does that leave us?" she eventually asked.
"At the beginning, I think."
She shifted her cards into her left hand, continuing to shuffle with the one hand as she offered her right.
"Well then, good evening sir. My name's Riley LeBeau."
He sat up to take her hand in one of his, and they shook.
"A pleasure, Miss LeBeau. I'm Andrew Raven."
The two of them smiled at this as Riley finally stopped shuffling, dealing out the top two cards as though setting up a hand of blackjack. She turned them over only to have the Jack and Queen of Hearts look back at her.
"Clever," she snorted. Andrew shrugged as mirrored eyes met.
"Kismet," he supplied.