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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24

Between the Darkness and the Light - REVIEW THIS STORY

Written by Amanda Sichter
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 2

To: storm@ xmen.com

Subject: {blank}

Do you ever miss the life of a thief, Stormy?

I know, despite the fact that you're one of the better thieves I've ever seen, that you don't have the same passion for the thieving that I do. But does your breath ever quicken at the sight of a building with ultra-security, just at the thought of what it would take to get inside - even if all you do at the end is rearrange the furniture?

Half the time I spent on the roof at Xavier's mansion was spent planning heists. The X-Men always had a tendency to burst into places at full strength and take everything down. God, the hours I spent working on a way to make a heist from one of Magneto's bases. Can you imagine the precautions you'd have to take to thieve from a man who can sense your presence from the iron in your blood? But planning was all I ever got to do. I don't think Cyclops approved of using my talents and skills to further the cause of the X-Men. Actually, I think Cyclops just disapproved of me on general principles - being a thief for the X-Men would only have made it worse. Blowing things up and hitting people was about the limits of his imagination.

But now - now the blood sings in my veins and everything tastes copper-bright and fresh and I have the urge to burst into exultant laughter. I used my brain, Stormy chere, my nasty, thieving, stealing, devious, wicked Cajun brain and I pulled it off. I pulled off a theft that only I could make and I did it with style. You would have loved it, 'Ro, and I wish you'd been there to see. Actually, that probably wouldn't have been a good idea - 36 hours in an air-conditioning duct and even I started to understand your claustrophobia. I'll give you the details one day and you can tell me if you could have done it better. <g>

And now I'm on another contract, working on the recce at the moment. Met an old friend, too - Azimuth. You'd like her, Storm, even if she was a part of my dark and evil past. She is neither dark nor evil but a woman once trapped by circumstances - a mutant with a power that was both too powerful and not powerful enough. Now she wants to work with me. Seeing my last apprentice grew up rather precipitously it might be time to take on another.

Take care, 'Ro. I still miss you.


Getting to the air-conditioning duct had been the easy part. He'd disabled three alarm systems and picked six locks but none had been particularly difficult. Gambit hadn't expected them to be - the Montessoris didn't rely on physical security systems to protect themselves. He had been pretty sure from the blueprints that it was around about the duct that he would find the true source of the Montessoris' invulnerability.

He had been right.

He felt the first taste of it when he scraped into the duct. He had brushed the very edge of his empathy against something that made his skin crawl and knew he was reaching the place where his thieving abilities were going to be tested to the limit. Gambit crouched down upon his haunches, settled his shoulders against the wall and dropped his head back so it rested on the back of the duct. Then he closed his eyes and, with absolute care, sent the tendrils of his empathic power into the dark.

The boundary was no more than half-way across the duct. The tendril touched a blackness and then broke through and suddenly Gambit was drowning in a vileness so complete that his heart shrivelled in fear. It was a malignancy, a rot that ate into his mind and caused his breath to catch in his throat. It was unintelligent and yet aware, broodingly alive and ferociously protective. It was the Montessori oversoul.

They carried it within them, the taint of this shivering evil, so that every time Gambit met a Montessori his empathy went haywire. He always felt as if slugs were crawling over his skin and even his strongest psychic shields couldn't stop him from getting goosebumps. And yet that feeling was only a pale echo of what now screamed into his mind, an evil so intense it threatened to stifle him. He had to fight with every inch of his being to prevent his body from fleeing the way he had come. Slowly, ever so slowly, he pushed the revulsion away and regained the focus he needed.

This was where other thieves had always failed and died. Those who were unaware of the need for psychic shields died easily, their minds shredded by the oversoul. Those who had shields clamped them down as tight as they could and were found and died too. Against the oversoul there was no defence.

Except one.

To be a Montessori.

For a fleeting moment Gambit allowed himself to feel pity for the children of the Montessoris. Born into this house, raised in the oversoul, they had no choice but to be evil. Any identity, any spark of compassion or honour or goodness could not survive the all-pervading darkness they grew up in. But he put away the pity and began to plumb the oversoul.

The tendrils of his empathy that he sent into the blackness were minute and fleeting, so tiny that the oversoul did not notice they were there. With a mind-touch as delicate as snow-flakes Gambit reached into the memory banks of the oversoul and began to tease out the information he needed - memories it held of the Montessoris, primal recognisances of what a Montessori was. And then he brought each tiny fragment of a Montessori back into his mind and, like creating a mosaic, placed the fragment onto the surface of his psychic shields.

It took a day and a half in total, a day and a half Gambit never noticed. His body had gone into a kind of suspended animation, utterly still, his breathing and heartbeat shallow and slow. His mind was so focused that the passage of time meant nothing. But when he finally opened his eyes he had created what he needed to finish the theft.

His mind was utterly camouflaged. Under his psychic shields he was still Gambit, but the oversoul would only see what he had painted onto the surface of his mind and that was solely Montessori. He gathered himself from the floor, his body unfolding smoothly, and stepped into the oversoul.

It came down on him like the fall of a building, the complete focus of the oversoul onto his presence. For an instant, Gambit physically staggered but his mental shields were so strong that they didn't flinch. And then he felt the oversoul running over the mosaic he had created and it felt like the tongues of a denizen of hell running over his body. Something inside Gambit cringed back from the sensation, but he held still and suddenly it was gone. The oversoul still brooded around him but it did not attack. He had passed its test.

After that it was easy. Now he was accepted as Montessori the oversoul did not question any moves he made and he simply moved from the duct into the pre-dawn darkness, made his way silently to the hall where the paintings were displayed and took them down from the walls. He didn't even meet a person in his time in the house and was able to get the paintings back to the duct, where he dismantled them and their frames, placed them into his backpack and went out the same way he went in. He thought of leaving a calling card to infuriate the Montessoris, perhaps an Ace of Spades, but decided the mere fact that someone had got in would be enough. As far as he knew there had never been a successful theft from the Montessori mansion.

Until now.

That thought was enough to keep him smiling as he made his way home.

He came to in the shower, his crossed forearms against the tiled wall, his forehead resting on them. He remembered coming home and getting into the shower but had no idea how long he had rested unconscious against the wall. However long it was, he still felt dirty, unclean. The taint of the Montessori was still in his mind and no matter how long he scrubbed his body he could not remove the stain.

Gambit turned around and leaned into the stream of water so that it beat against his head. Using the rhythmic pounding as a focus he reached into his own mind and gathered together every part of the mosaic of thoughts that coated his psychic shields and slowly let them drain out of his mind. He could feel the taint slip down and away and could almost imagine he could see the darkness swirl and slide down the plughole, until his shields were as clean as they had ever been.

And he stood there and wished that the taint of the mind inside those shields could be as easily lost, to swirl the darkness of his own soul away until he was as pure and as white as the tiles that surrounded him. Until he could be clean.

He was shaking with weariness as he made his way into Lynch's office. He had ridden his new Harley in, an act that normally exhilarated him but this time it had only added to his exhaustion. He had ignored the receptionist completely and simply strode into Lynch's office. Lynch had taken one look at him and dismissed the person who was already there.

'Sit down,' Lynch said.

Gambit sank gratefully into the chair and then placed his backpack on top of Lynch's desk. He barely watched as Lynch opened the pack and exclaimed at the beauty of the paintings within.

'Wonderful job, Gambit,' breathed Lynch. 'Only you could ever do it. How you broke into the Montessori house I'll never know.'

'Ain't dat de truth,' Gambit replied. 'Just get dem back to the New York family and out of my sight, Lynch. I want anyt'ing touched by a Montessori as far away from me as possible.'

Lynch almost made a comment, but stopped as he looked at Gambit. There were dark circles beneath his eyes that were visible even under the sunglasses. His face, always angular, now seemed like an axe-blade, made gaunt with tiredness. He looked almost fragile with weariness. Lynch had given Gambit some difficult contracts in the past, but none had ever made him look like this.

'Go home,' Lynch said softly. 'I'll organise the transfer of funds into your account. I'll find you another contract if you want. But for now, go home and get some sleep. I'll get someone to drive you if you want.'

'Non,' replied Gambit sharply. 'I don' want you knowing where I live. I be fine to make it home.' Gambit stood and made his way out of the room. Lynch pondered sending someone after him for a moment, to make sure he made it home safely, but realised that Gambit could lose the tail without even trying. He just hoped the Cajun made it, because he didn't want to lose the services of the best thief he had ever seen.

Gazing down at his desk and the beautiful paintings that covered it, Lynch felt a surge of jubilation. He reached down and made the first of many phone calls.

Gambit slept for twenty-four hours straight and woke to euphoria. It was as if the knowledge of what he had done, what he had pulled off, had percolated through his veins in his sleep and finally engulfed his brain in an adrenalin and endorphin high just as he woke up.

Revelling in the feeling, and the fact that the apartment block would be empty at this time of mid-morning, Gambit turned his CD player onto maximum and screamed his exultation at his ceiling. And then he put on his best clothes and went out and hit the town.

Gambit was feeling distinctly seedy as he sat in Lynch's office three days later. He had partied so hard he thought he might have hurt himself, but finally the crazed adrenalin rush of the successful heist had worn off and he decided to take on another job. He had a feeling he should have waited for the hangover to dissipate completely before visiting Lynch, though. He felt in desperate need of a glass of water and a Tylenol.

Lynch couldn't tell though because the desperate, bone-deep weariness no longer pulled at Gambit's mind and he had slipped his poker face back on.

'I've got the transfer completed,' Lynch was saying. 'Fifteen-eight all up. Value plus a bonus from the family for the speed - they were most impressed.'

'Good,' said Gambit, his voice non-committal. 'Now have you got me another contract?'

Lynch looked at him carefully, unsure what to make of the casual indifference of Gambit's tone. He asked, his voice gentle, 'What do you think of drugs, Gambit?'

Gambit didn't bother to respond. It was either the stupidest question Lynch had ever asked him or was leading elsewhere. Either way, he wasn't going to waste breath on a reply.

Lynch seemed to realise this, because he quickly broke the pause with, 'I thought so. There's a man who agrees with you - a man with an awful lot of money and a passion to rid the world of wrongs. He has found out the details of a drug deal that will be happening soon and wants the drugs stolen for him.'

Gambit snorted. 'What make you t'ink he not take dem for himself - make a nice little profit on de deal and make you look like a fool, Lynch?'

Lynch smiled. 'Because he'll pay the full value of the drugs - and let you burn them to cinders in front of him. So long as he gets to watch.' Lynch paused, and then said softly, 'His daughter died of a heroin overdose, Gambit. He really does mean this.'

Gambit nodded slowly. 'OK, I'll do it,' he said. 'What's de deal?'

Lynch looked nervous suddenly. 'Six million in heroin,' he replied.

Gambit grinned. 'I'll give you half. T'ree million, Lynch. Just to make up for last time. Now, how long have I got to prepare?'

Lynch took a moment to recover from his surprise at the payment arrangement, but eventually a wide smile bloomed on his face. 'The deal goes down in a week, Gambit,' he said. 'Nicholas Smith is the dealer. He's got his offices above Chevon's, our trendiest bar, nightclub, pick-up joint, drug haven etc etc. The most likely buyer is Sorin Mackler, though there seems to be a bit of an auction going on at the moment for purchase rights. The drugs will be on premises for only a couple of hours, so you'd better start on the surveillance pretty soon. We've only got basic blue-prints for the place here.'

'Well, give dem to me,' said Gambit, impatiently. 'I want to get started.'

Lynch quickly organised all of the necessary paperwork for Gambit and passed it over. Gambit didn't even look at it. 'I be lookin' at dese at home,' he told Lynch. 'Is de client's phone number in dere?'

Lynch nodded.

'Good,' replied Gambit. 'Den I be callin' him when I got de drugs and let him come watch dem make some lovely little bangs. I get your money back to you after dat.'

Lynch began to reply, but Gambit had already left the room. Lynch sat back in his chair and pondered what the matter was with the Cajun - he wasn't normally so highly-strung. But figuring there was little he could do about it, he set back to work.


That was what Sabretooth called humans. Normally Gambit didn't agree with his description, but tonight the word seemed appropriate.

He was surrounded by the beautiful people of Chicago, faces and bodies that made the breath stop with envy, clothed with an elegance that bespoke casual wealth, and all he could feel was the desperate fragility of their humanity. There was a mad, frantic hunger to the activity that surrounded him, a mindless quest for satisfaction that would rend any obstacle in its path, human or otherwise - an aching need for fulfilment. It didn't surprise him that this was one of the biggest drug joints in Chicago because these people would do anything, say anything, take anything that would cover the aching emptiness inside.

~Damn,~ thought Gambit. ~Why do I feel so much that I fit in?~

It was all going so wrong inside of him. He didn't know whether it was still the taint of the Montessori or his own darkness, but the joy of his heist had been transmuted into something other, a frenetic need for action, for sensation, that drove him onwards. He swung between impatience and towering anger and tried to fill the void between them with frantic, driven activity. It was all he could do to sit still on the bar-stool and prevent himself from drinking, from dancing, from taking some willing woman home and fucking until he burned his neurons away and could fall into oblivion again.

He had to concentrate on sitting there, nursing his drink and trying to focus on crowd movement and determine points of egress. The only thing that made it possible was the pinpoints of calm in the crowd, the people who walked serenely through the madness, who wanted nothing and didn't pluck at the emptiness inside of him.

There was one coming up behind him now, a presence calm and peaceful, who signalled the barman from beside him and stood just out of his peripheral vision. Gambit twisted slightly in his chair and found himself admiring, almost absently, the sleek figure of the woman who stood beside him. She was wearing a black cloak, edged in white, with a hood that obscured her face. But the cloak was pushed back onto her shoulders revealing a tall and trimly athletic figure in a tight, black silk dress. The silk shimmered down from spaghetti straps on pale, strong shoulders, skimmed over small but beautiful breasts, touched gently on a trim stomach and hips and whispered over long, lithe legs.

Gambit was just speculating as to whether the face behind the hood would be as striking as her body when a soft, low voice with an amused tone drifted from behind the hood. 'If you like me, LeBeau, you can buy me and take me home.'

'Azimuth?' said Gambit, incredulously, but he knew the voice was the one he remembered so well. And then she turned to him and dropped the hood back and he gazed on a face he had not see for a long time.

She was just as he remembered; short, blonde hair, wide, smoke-gray eyes, a face that danced devilishly close to beauty, while always having features just a little too strong. Her mouth was just a touch too wide and generous, her nose a shade too large, her jaw and cheekbones too square. But they came together into a fascinating whole that Gambit was desperately glad to see. And underneath those laughing eyes, the serenity and acceptance Gambit had seen too rarely in this woman but that she wore so well.

Suddenly it was all too much for Gambit. Azimuth had once been home to him, an island of peace when his life had been at its hellish worst. The unexpected sight of this woman, whom he trusted completely and who accepted him utterly, stripped him of all defences.

'Azimuth,' he whispered and knew that she saw the depths of his pain.

Suddenly her hands were cupped around his face, her smoke-gray eyes inches from his, deep with concern. 'What have they done to you, Remy?' she asked softly, as her thumbs soothed over his cheekbones, almost as if she wiped away the tears he could not cry.

'Ah, Azimuth,' said Gambit, as he leaned his right cheek into her hand. He took a deep breath and slipped his poker face back on. 'Let me buy you a drink and tell you a tale.'

'No,' Azimuth shook her head. 'Let me take you home and you can tell me a tale.' She smiled softly at Gambit.

Gambit nodded. 'Yes,' he said. 'I'd like that.'

'Spectacular apartment, chere,' Gambit said, his voice clearly impressed. 'What exactly have you been doing since you got away?'

Azimuth's voice dropped an octave and she struck an imperious pose in the doorway. 'I decided to use my powers only for good, Obi-wan Kenobi.' She grinned as Gambit turned and raised an eyebrow at her. 'I joined a small computer firm as sales manager. It's amazing how the ability to twist perceptions of reality can assist when you're a vendor. I'm now a million-dollar-a-year-plus executive and the firm is now Kytek. Good firm, great product, right time and place and a CEO who had the good sense to realise I was the reason for their success. So now I can afford *this*.'

*This* was a penthouse apartment that covered the entire top floor of the building and had the most phenomenal views of Chicago at night. It was like standing amongst stars as the lights of the city twinkled around them.

Gambit was staring, fascinated, at the view when he felt Azimuth walk up behind him and lay a hand on his shoulder. He turned and found his gaze drawn into hers and the concern etched into her face.

'And what have you been doing since I got away?' Azimuth asked, her voice soft. 'You are an open wound inside, Remy. I've never seen you like this before. What have they done to you?'

Gambit smiled, though it was nothing more than a baring of teeth. 'How about we sit down for dis, chere?' he said. 'It's a long story and remembering it all tends to make me weak at the knees.'

Azimuth allowed herself to be drawn to the couch and sat down.

He hadn't realised how good it would feel to tell someone, how much the tumble of words would be a catharsis of pain. It helped that it was Azimuth. He could leave out parts of the story, knowing she could fill in the gaps from prior knowledge or from reading him with her talent. It helped that she did not say a word, just listened with all of her attention. It helped that he could not lie to her, could not dissemble at all, could only tell her the plain, unvarnished truth.

And most of all, it helped when he finished talking and she reached out to him and pulled him into her arms and held him while tears of desolate loss and bitter sorrow tracked down his cheeks and onto her bare shoulder.

Finally he pulled back from her and settled back into the couch. 'T'ank you,' he said. 'It sounds so inadequate, but t'ank you. I needed dat. I don' know how I repay you for being you, Azimuth. I t'ink I still owe you big time from b'fore let alone helping me now.' Gambit couldn't believe how *cleansed* he felt.

'I know how you can pay me back,' said Azimuth softly, looking down at her hands.

Gambit looked at her, startled. 'Anyt'ing, chere, and you know it.' His voice was sincere.

'I resigned from my job a week ago, Remy,' Azimuth said, and finally raised her eyes to his. 'I was bored. But now that you're here I want -,' her voice shook and she cleared her throat, '- I want to be a thief. I want you to teach me how to be a thief.'

'A t'ief,' repeated Gambit, incredulous. 'I t'ought you done with a life of crime.'

'Only the sort I committed in the past. But you are a thief and you are a good person.' Azimuth reached out and touched Gambit's chest. 'I see what you do, what you are and it appeals to me. I am tired of safety, of using my power to sell baubles, of toeing the corporate line. I want the chance to try something different. And I'd like to do it with you. You know I can do it, Remy, you've seen me in action. Will you take me on as an apprentice?' Azimuth's eyes were dark with longing.

Gambit looked down at her, and suddenly all of the good humour he thought he had been losing since the Montessori heist bubbled back into him - along with a sudden, wicked idea. He chuckled and said, his voice full of glee, 'Tell me, chere, have you ever started a gang war?'


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