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Risk and Reward

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“Gambit, Rogue, you’re Team A.” Storm pointed at the two outlier X-men that stood slightly separate from the rest of the team. “I want you to take the east entrance. Quietly. The rest of us will be Team B. We will run interference over at the southwestern gate while you sneak in, get the information, and get out before they realise our true purpose.”

“Oui, mon capitaine.” Gambit winked saucily and gave Storm an impertinent grin.

The others on the team shifted in place, slightly uncomfortable with their newest teammate and his infernal cheek. Then again, he mused, they never knew Stormy as the brazen young thief like he had. The only one not to cast him a wary sidelong glance was Rogue. Instead, she wrapped her arms tightly across her middle and tucked her hands safely under her arms. Everything about her screamed ‘keep away,’ which only made him want to draw closer and figure her out.

Stormy cast him that look of hers that could bring the whole team of bickering superheroes to a standstill. Lesser mortals would quake in their boots at that look, but not Gambit. He continued to grin, because he recognized the ghost of an amused grin tugging at the corner of Storm’s lips. With a subtle shake of her head, she kept Gambit in place long enough to finish giving her orders. “Team A, we will give you a ten minute head start. Remember, quickly and quietly.”

For a moment Gambit stood half confused and possibly a slight bit offended. Never in his life had he needed to be reminded to be stealthy. While his mutant powers might be rather explosive, he was still first and foremost a thief.

Then, he caught sight of his partner. Rogue was already making her way towards the east gate mere feet off the ground in a low flight. Ahh...that’s what Stormy had meant. Rogue was flying low enough that no one would probably notice, but if you were caught strolling through places you didn’t belong, it was a lot easier to explain that you simply got lost on a jog than why you could fly. Still, she cut a mighty fine figure as she skimmed above the ground.

His gaze lingered on the close fitting green and yellow uniform that emphasised her curves and the leather bomber jacket that served as another layer of protection from the world. He wanted to run his fingers through her mane of wild chestnut curls and get lost in that white streak of hers. And, though he couldn’t see her face from this angle, he could picture the snap of her green eyes if he dared come close enough to try.

Gambit shook his head, forcing his mind back onto the job at hand. The job, as Stormy had described it, was easy enough. Break in, get the disks, and leave without being detected. This was the kind of job he’d been raised on. He could practically do it blindfolded—as long as he didn’t allow himself to be distracted. And, with Rogue as his partner, that would be the more difficult task.

The job required stealth—and a certain propensity for thieving. Both were a skill set he possessed in spades, so of course he was the best option. While the homme might leave the Thieves’ Guild, it didn’t mean the Thieves’ Guild left the homme. But why assign Rogue as his backup? She wasn’t exactly known for being stealthy. Rather, as far as he’d observed, her abilities tended more towards the brute strength side of things. Since he’d joined up with the X-men, he and Rogue had been on a few group missions together, but he hadn’t been able to figure her out yet. She kept everyone at arm’s length—figuratively and literally. For the first time in ages, he’d met someone who didn’t melt under his charm.

Of course, he had been warned. Don’t make skin contact with Rogue. Rogue was dangerous. The warning was practically part of the school tour.

Here’s the swimming pool and the basketball court. We park the jet beneath the court, so be careful. And here’s the den. When we’re not on mission, we have game nights on Thursdays. The dorms are up here. Don’t enter someone else’s room without their permission. Oh, Rogue, don’t touch her skin. Now, follow this hallway down to the kitchen. Help yourself to anything not labeled in the ‘fridge and if you drink the last of the coffee, make certain you turn off the hotplate….

He believed them when they warned him about Rogue’s touch. To lie about that would have been too cruel a trick to play on that belle femme. She was made to be touched and underneath that hard exterior, Gambit was certain she longed to be touched.

Well, the thought settled in the back of his brain, if no one else was going to touch her, he would find a way. The femme deserved to have someone who wasn’t afraid of her. Someone who wanted to touch her. Besides, what did he really have to lose?

Stormy cleared her throat, reminding him about the mission on hand. With a wink to his only definite friend on the team, Gambit pivoted and sprinted across the lawn with footsteps so light they scarcely left prints in the dewy grass. Even with his delayed start, he managed to keep pace with his partner. Rogue reached the gate only a moment before he did. Once she landed, she watched him with the same intensity he had studied her. Her brow furrowed and she bit her full lower lip as she tried to keep her expression neutral. She definitely didn’t know what to make of him. If that was the case, he would just have clear things up.

“Dat was mighty fine flyin’, chère. What else can you do?” He smiled all cheek and charm.

“Ah’m here to watch your back while you work the lock, Cajun.” As if to prove her point, she turned away from him and shoved her hands deep into the pockets of her jacket. Before she could complete her turn, Gambit caught the flicker of a smile on her lips. Good, apparently the ol’ charm was still working. One of these days he’d figure a way past her defences.

“Right you are. Be two ticks and we’ll be in.” Retrieving his lock picks from an inner pocket of his duster, he worked the lock with a deft touch. It was a fiendish lock to be sure. But nothing he couldn’t handle.

The wind caught hold of her unbound hair and blew tendrils of her long locks in his direction. His fingers stilled as his mind wandered from the task at hand. Despite the importance of the mission, he wanted to catch those loose locks and twist them up and out of the way so he might study her flawless skin and commit it to memory. He caught the scent of her sweet shampoo. Sweets for the sweet, he was certain. Gambit groaned. Didn’t Stormy know he had a weakness for strong, feisty femmes like Rogue? He wasn’t bound to get any work done with Rogue so close, yet so far away.

Mon dieu, Stormy what were you thinkin’ pairin’ dis Cajun up with her?

Forbidden fruit, that’s what she was. And that intrigued him all the more. Not only was she the prettiest femme he’d ever seen, that Southern drawl of hers melted him to the quick. Could he break through her protective shell? He wanted to know what she kept so well guarded. Even if he studied her for the rest of his life, he wasn’t certain he could ever figure out what made her tick. Of course, that didn’t mean he didn’t want to try. A lopsided smirk settled on his face as he considered what it would take to break through her protective shell.

He had a feeling that getting to know her would be one of the greatest risks of his life. But, if he was successful, it would also be one of the greatest rewards he’d ever chanced.

“Swamp rat, you about done with that lock yet? We’ve about done eat up those ten minutes Storm gave us.” Rogue turned enough to catch him staring.

“Be but a moment, chère.” He turned his attention back from where it never should have strayed in the first place. He was tempted to send a small charge through the lock and hurry things up, until he spied the wiring that would set of the alarm if he made the wrong move.

She moved a half step closer and peered over his shoulder. “Sugah, don’ mean to rush ya, but there’s a hullabaloo goin’ on around front and Ah’m pretty sure Storm doesn’ want her distraction to be for nothin’.”

A shit-eating grin quirked his lips as the tumblers inside the lock shifted slightly at his touch. All it would take was a little more pressure, an expert twist, a light touch…and there. The lock opened with a satisfying click. Though she watched him work with a keen eye, it was obvious she didn’t know the first thing about lock picking. He could work with that.

“A kiss for luck, chère.” He leaned into her nearness, his face tilted just above hers. The next move was up to her.

“No.” She jerked away with a violent tug. Her gloved hand shot out and shoved against his sternum. “Besides, since when did you need luck?”

“Can’ blame a homme for tryin’.” With a shrug, Gambit stepped aside and pushed the gate open enough for the two X-men to slip in. “After you, petite.”

“Took ya long enough,” she muttered, slipping into the open yard between the building and the gate. It was about a thirty meter dash across open ground to reach the building, but no one was paying attention to the two interlopers at the back.

“Non, took jus’ the right amount o’ time. Can’ rush art.” Gambit gave her a wolfish grin and followed after her like they were taking a stroll in the park.

Rogue scoffed. “You’re an artist now?”

“Oui.” Gambit tested the back door. It was also locked, but unlike the gate, it was a simple deadbolt that took less time to open than respond to Rogue’s question.

Both fell into silence as they made their way down the hall towards where the labs were marked on the blueprints. Turning the corner, Gambit stopped suddenly in his tracks. Rogue, who’d been following him, swore under her breath as she ran into him. Her gloved hands pressed at his jacket covered back.

“What’s happenin’?” she whispered, once more withdrawing and keeping herself to herself.

“Merde.” Gambit swore. Instead of a room filled with the boffin-y types he expected, the lab seemed to be a gathering point for the more muscle-bound guard type.

“There goes the plan,” Rogue muttered under her breath as she peered around him.

“Non.” Gambit retraced his steps towards the break room they passed on their way in. He shrugged out of his duster, filching a deck of playing cards from a pocket as he did so. “Dat was plan A. Plan B is certain to work.”

Rogue arched an eyebrow in disbelief. “Well, sugah, unless Storm gave you different plans than she did me, Ah don’ know of a plan B.”

“There’s always a plan B. Sometimes its C or D down on de list, but dere’s always a plan B.” He plucked a lab coat from the back of a chair and slipped it on over his uniform. Handing a second coat to his partner, he gestured for her to do the same.

“And what is plan B?” The lab coat was much to big for her, but it stuck out much less than the yellow and green she wore underneath.

“We improvise, chère.”

She twisted her hair back into a knot and threaded a pencil through it to keep the impromptu bun in place. For half a moment he imagined, plucking the pencil out of her hair and watching as it tumbled down so he could run his fingers through her long locks. With a shake of his head, he reminded himself this was neither the time nor the place for such thoughts. Besides she wasn’t ready for that level of intimacy yet. He’d scare her away if he tried. Patience.

“Ah’ll distract the guards. You get the disks.” A light burned in her bright green eyes.

“Dat’s de spirit.” He couldn’t do much to hide his distinctive eyes, but he grabbed a clipboard. If he kept his head down and acted like he belonged, it was unlikely anyone would question his reason for being there. That was the power of a clipboard.

Rogue shrugged, grabbed a coffee mug from the counter and headed back towards the lab. He listened as she talked to the guards, their voices growing fainter as she led them away from the door. Taking that as his cue, Gambit headed for the lab and ducked inside without anyone being none the wiser.

 

Like Stormy had said, quickly and quietly. Once inside the lab, it hadn’t taken Gambit long to find where the disks were located and pocket the prize. He was out of the lab before any of the scientists could question what he was up to. Then again, they all appeared a might more concerned by the blaring alarms than the stranger in their lab.

Back in the hallway, Gambit headed back to where he left his coat. He frowned. Rogue wasn’t anywhere in sight. He hoped she hadn’t run in any trouble while she distracted the guards. She was more than capable of taking care of herself, still….

In the break room, a chair creaked. Gambit rolled to the balls of his feet and silently crept forward. There was a flicker of shadow within the room as the chair creaked again. Before entering, he withdrew a straight of playing cards from the deck and infused them with the fuchsia glow of energy.

“What took ya so long, swamp rat?” With hands behind her head and her feet propped on the table, Rogue lounged in one of the break room chairs. She was back in her bomber jacket, the lab coat nowhere to be seen.

Gambit diffused the energy running through the cards in a small poof of energy an ash. Fishing the disks from his pocket, Gambit splayed them out like he was holding a hand of cards. “Now, chère, what did I tell you about rushing.”

“If you’re done showin’ off, let’s get goin’. Storm and the others will be waitin’ for us.” In one fell swoop, Rogue stood and tossed him his duster.

Properly chastised, Gambit grinned. He loved that fire in her. Her passion stirred a fire within him. One that he was pretty certain that only getting to know her would quench. Or, flame the fire brighter. Either way, he was game.

Rogue planted a fist on her hip and cocked her head to the side. A lock of white hair fell into her face. “Well, ya comin’ or do ya plan to spend the whole night starin’ at me?”

If he had his druthers, he’d choose to spend the whole night with her, but he didn’t think she’d go for it. Instead, he reached towards her face. Instinctually she jerked away, placing her gloved arm up as a barrier. In the instant, the teasing was replaced by the wariness that wrapped around her like a shield.

He froze his raised hand in place. The soft croon of his Cajun patois was a gentle caress all in itself. “S’kay, chère, just wanted to tuck your hair behind your ear. D’accord?”

Though she relented, dropping her protective arm, she remained as skittish as a newborn foal. With his glove covered fingers, he ever so gently pushed the loose strand behind her ear, never once brushing her skin. His fingers lingered in her hair, entangling among the locks for as long as he dared before letting go.

Her eyes flicked open and she started at the sudden loss of contact. It was only then that he realised how much she’d been enjoying his subtle touch. A crack in her armour.

Placing the same hand on her arm in a featherlight touch, he waited to see what she’d do. It was a crazy dance to lean in close while keeping a respectable distance. He didn’t want to scare her off. A smile gingerly tugged at her lips, and for a brief moment indecision flickered in her green eyes as she met his red ones. She blinked and her resolve was back in place.

“We should head for the rendezvous,” she said, not pulling away.

“Oui,” he agreed. His hand traveled down the length of her arm, and when he reached her hand, she tentatively allowed their hands to remain lightly clasped.

Other than giving her hand a light squeeze, he didn’t draw attention to the fact she was allowing him to touch her. And, when she dropped his hand before they exited the building, he didn’t say anything.

While it wasn’t the kiss that he’d asked for, this was almost more intimate.

Besides, any thief worth his salt knew that you didn’t force a lock. You listened. You worked the puzzle. And, if you were good—and Gambit was the best—the tumblers would click into place and the door would open, just like you belonged there.