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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 3

To: storm@ xmen.com

Subject: {blank}

So you want to know about Azimuth and her power. Wouldn't be a little jealous of my new apprentice, would you chere? <g> Or are you just being a good servant of Xavier's and finding out enough to keep Cerebro happy? Or whatever system it is that you have these days after Bastion got through with the mansion.

Azimuth finds it difficult enough to describe her power, so I don't know what luck I'll have but I'll try for you. The easy part is that she can twist a person's perception of reality. Really twist it, I mean, so that what she puts in a person's mind is utterly what they believe to be real. She could, if she wanted to, have you convinced that you couldn't fly. No matter what anyone told you, if they showed you photos of you flying, if Azimuth had been there, *you would not be able to fly*. It's a powerful talent - she killed a man once by changing his perception so he thought that he was dying, would die, did die - but it isn't Alpha level because of her limits. She can only work her power on one to five people at a time, maximum. She says the number depends on the strength of a person's mind and their grasp on reality.

The other part of her power is the difficult part. Azimuth isn't a telepath but she can look at a person and tell what is real about them - and what they perceive to be real. She says it is like everyone is layered - the outside them, the inside them and the real them. I don't think this is necessarily a good thing to see - people can be atrocious inside and Azimuth sees everyone unvarnished. I've seen her pass a person in the street, an ordinary pedestrian, and she has turned pale and shivered and I know she's seen the monster that lurks.

Her talent has shaped her personality, I think. She tends to be impatient with people, particularly those with petty gripes and grievances, because she sees the little-mindedness that it all springs from. And she's the most honest person I've ever met - dangerous to your sanity kind of honest, mostly because she sees others without camouflage. It can be very disconcerting to have your nasty motives for doing something explained to you! But I only trust two people in the world, and she is one of them.

She uses her power well. I learned a lot about strength through subtlety from Azimuth. I've seen her control a hundred people by twisting the minds of the four or five that matter. And now we have to see if she can turn that ability to thieving. Personally, I don't think it will be a problem.

Take care of yourself, 'Ro. I've got to go. I'll talk to you soon.


It was one of her most horrifying memories.

She had been no more than seventeen or eighteen when she had killed the man. She was never after sure of what had sent her down those streets so late at night by herself. Whether it was naivety or stupidity, an errant belief she wouldn't be noticed or even a subconscious suicide wish she didn't know. All she knew was that, in time, the man was before her with the knife and the threats, just as he was, had been, always *going* to be there.

She hadn't even been afraid - there wasn't enough of her left to feel fear. But when his hands had torn her dress half from her, when his breath was hot on her neck, his voice whispering harsh, cruel syllables in her ear, she had discovered that the instinct for self-preservation was still strong in her. She turned to the only weapon she had - dipping her hand into her purse and pulling out the little gun her father had given her. It was the tiniest gun she had ever seen and, even as she fired, she knew that it could not kill this man, that the most the little bullets would do would

cause him little wounds. She had not even shot him somewhere incapacitating, she saw, merely shot him through the upper arm, the one without the knife. She didn't know if she could outrun him, even as he gasped and let her go and put his hand to his arm.

And so she reached out with her power and *twisted*. She changed his reality, turned it until she was carrying a much larger gun and she had fired and hit him in the chest, and he was dying, his lungs filling with fluid, his heart labouring, panic-stricken neurons in his brain firing the last desperate messages of his life away. The man twisted in on himself, clutched at a chest he *knew* was covered in blood, his shattered ribs gouging painful trails in his skin, even as he collapsed at Azimuth's feet.

He would die, she knew he would die, would breathe his last on that street unless she changed his reality again so he could live. And she looked down on him, his groaning getting weaker, and hitched her dress back onto her shoulders and kicked off her heels and picked them up and ran and ran and ran.

She discovered the next day that he had died, a baffling paradox for doctors who could not understand how a man could die of a flesh wound. She locked the memory away inside in the dark places and never told her father.

It was a bad enough memory, the near-rape, the threats, the killing. But the worst part of all - the most horrifying thing - was how much better it was than all of the memories that came after.

'Aaaahhhh, Remy,' said Azimuth, sprawled back into the lounge. 'You still make the best coffee I've ever tasted.'

Gambit grinned. 'Why you sound so surprised, chere?' he asked. 'You t'ink memories taint it, maybe.'

Azimuth frowned at him. 'Behave,' she said. Then her face brightened and she sat up. 'What's in my parcel? Do I get to look now, please?' She fluttered her eyelashes exaggeratedly at Remy.

'You are far too impatient, petite, you know dat,' Gambit replied even as he picked up the large bag he had brought with him. Opening it, he handed Azimuth a folded piece of clothing. 'Dere's your armour,' he said. 'Now go and put it on.'

Azimuth positively ran to her bedroom in her excitement. Leaving the door open, so Gambit could hear her comments, she pulled off her jeans and jumper and began to put on her armour. All Gambit got an earful of was a chorus of 'Oofs', 'Aarghs' and grunts as she struggled into the skin-tight colours. Then there was silence, which he decided was her trying to work out how to fasten it all up, then another chorus of groans. Gambit couldn't help but smile - he could remember the first time he had tried his armour on.

'How the hell,' Azimuth's voice finally drifted from the bedroom, 'do you do anything with this much spandex on? How do you breathe, for a start?'

'You get used to it,' Gambit's voice was filled with suppressed laughter. 'B'sides, it isn't spandex. It's body armour, keeps de bullets from hitting too hard, keeps out some of de punches, absorbs projectile energy.'

'Kind of slinky kevlar, then?' Azimuth's voice was definitely dubious.

'If you want. When you coming out, chere, to show me?'

'When I've worked out how to walk in this thing. If it was any tighter I'd never be able to have children. I think I may possibly just be able to slide a molecule between it and my skin.'

'Well, Lynch's tailor did have an awful lot of fun measuring you up for it. De most fun he's had in years, by de look of his face.' He couldn't stop a chuckle slipping out.

'Yes, well,' Azimuth sounded darkly offended. 'If he'd measured my inside leg one more time I was going to brain him.' The sound of her voice had been getting closer as she spoke and finally she appeared in the doorway. 'How do I look?' she asked.

Her armour was similar to his in style, fitting tightly over her body and made of the same material. But the patterning was different, with light navy blue stripes that jagged in crazily across the black rather than his neat lines, but both equally effective at breaking up the outline of their bodies. Her gloves were fully-fingered rather than his partial cut-offs and she did not have the same half-hood that he did. Azimuth's blonde hair was so short that she didn't need it held back, so her armour ended high on her neck instead.

'You look like a t'ief,' replied Gambit, and a sudden blush stained Azimuth's cheeks.

'You think?' she said, shyly and blushed more when he nodded. She looked down at her armour. 'He's given me abs, Remy. I don't have abs.'

Gambit grew suddenly serious. 'You will have by the time I've finished wit' you. You ain't fit enough yet to be even half a t'ief.'

'Yes, but did you really have to tell Lynch I'd let myself run to flab?' Azimuth glowered at Remy who shrugged wryly. 'Anyway, that workout you gave me today was murderous. Six hours straight - you're a harsh master, that's all I can say.'

'And we're goin' to do it every day, Azimuth, until you're as fit as you are ever goin' to be. And you're going to be doing it all in dat armour, until you move in it like it's you're own skin. And dat don' include de other t'ings you got to learn. Just be t'ankful you don' get sore muscles or you'd really be cursing me.'

Azimuth nodded. 'I know,' she said, and suddenly smiled again. 'Now, what's in the rest of that parcel? There's more than just the armour.'

Gambit rolled his eyes and went and got the parcel and began to unpack. It took him some time to take out everything and arrange it to his satisfaction on Azimuth's floor, but finally he sat back and found that Azimuth had been watching him intently.

'Well,' she said, 'what is it all?'

'Dis, chere,' Gambit replied, 'is your t'ief's kit.'

'All that!' Azimuth's face reflected her astonishment. 'How do you get all of that to wherever you're going to break into?'

'You don'. Some of it goes wit' you always, but most of it you pick and choose depending on de job.' Gambit settled back and explained some of the devices laid out to Azimuth - the lock picks, the jammers, the tiny little explosives, the corrosives, the clippers, the mirrors. He even had the best pair of night-goggles Azimuth had ever seen.

'You need dese,' he had explained as he tossed them to her. 'I don'. I can see as well in de night as I can in de day. And I can see lasers as well. You need dose to do de same. Dey look just like sunglasses, but dey've got full IR and UV capacity. Just don't wear dem to nightclubs or you go blind.' He grinned at her.

Azimuth tried them on, but quickly discovered they weren't exactly effective in her well-lit lounge room. Putting them aside she asked, 'What about all of the locks? What are they for?'

'First lesson in t'ieving, chere,' replied Gambit. 'You got eight locks here, ranging from easy to hard to pick. We're goin' to sit here until you've picked dem all.' He picked up one of the locks from the floor - one that was plainly a door handle - and handed it to Azimuth. 'Dis is de easiest,' he said and, retrieving one of the lock picks from the floor, had it in two pieces in her hands before she could blink. He rejoined the pieces and twisted it back into the locked position. Handing the lock pick to her, Gambit settled back on the lounge and said, 'Your turn.'

Azimuth was slumped on her belly on the floor, her head on the ground, the lock held in her hands. 'It's been two hours, Remy,' she half-wailed. 'I haven't even got the first lock open. I'm going to fail as a thief before I even get started.'

Gambit sighed. 'Patience, chere,' he counselled. 'You're fightin' de lock all the time. You got to be gentle wit' it. Use de pick to persuade it apart. You got to soothe a lock into parting, seduce it into two pieces.'

Azimuth peered up at him from the floor, her face a mask of suspicion. 'What is this?' she asked. 'Some kind of phallic thing?'

A sudden smile wreathed Gambit's face. 'You can talk dirty to it, if it help,' he said.

Azimuth muttered something darkly, something Gambit pretended not to hear, and bent her head back over the lock. After several seconds, he could hear her low voice, 'Ooh, baby, yeah, give it to me, baby. Don't that feel so good, baby, c'mon, do it for me, honey-cakes.'

Gambit's lips were twitching wildly as he held back his laughter, but he could see Azimuth's hands were - finally - relaxed around the lock and he had a feeling that she would be successful. But he had to struggle even harder to stop laughing, as Azimuth's feet began to twine about each other, rubbing over her calves in a movement he recognised as a classic seduction technique.

Azimuth's voice was getting louder. 'Oh, god, yes, yes, that's good, go on baby, do it for me, you're amazing, ooh, don't stop, yes, honey, honey, that feels so goooood.' The last was a long, drawn-out moan, that ended unexpectedly as the lock popped open in Azimuth's hands. For an instant Azimuth looked down in astonishment at the two pieces in her hand and then she turned a face flushed with sudden triumph to Gambit. 'I did it,' she said and then laughed. 'God, that does feel *so* good.'

'Just a matter of technique, Azimuth,' said Gambit, smiling. 'Though I want to know how come you know how to talk dirty so good. How many porno movies you watch in dis apartment by yourself?'

Azimuth flashed him a dirty look, though she didn't stop smiling. 'Just pass me the next lock, LeBeau. And keep your mind out of the gutter.'

She wasn't talking dirty any more, but there was a low hum resonating from her throat, as she unpicked the last lock, and her legs still twined around each other. Gambit wasn't sure how long he had sat and watched Azimuth unpick all eight locks, but he knew that it was the longest he had gone without sliding into the blackness since he had left the X-Men. He hadn't realised how soothing it was to train someone, how you could slip all of your own cares away in the delight of passing on knowledge.

The last lock fell open in Azimuth's hands and the joy she felt was palpable as she turned to Gambit. 'All done,' she said. 'All eight locks opened and it's only,' her face paled as she looked at the clock on the wall, 'four o'clock in the morning. Oh, lord, I didn't realise.'

'And up at six for another workout.' Gambit smiled. 'A good t'ief gets used to gettin' by wit' no sleep.'

'And so do high-powered corporate executives,' Azimuth replied. 'Don't worry, I'll be ready to go at six tomorrow . . . today. But what about you? Will you be alright to get home and back? You can sleep here if you want.'

Gambit's face lit with a wide and definitely lustful grin. 'Chere, I t'ought you'd never ask,' he said. 'I'm quite happy to stay here, if dat's what you want.'

'No problems,' replied Azimuth and pointed to a door behind him. 'Spare bedroom's behind you. See you in a couple of hours,' and walking to her bedroom Azimuth firmly closed the door.

Gambit stared in disappointment for a moment and then poked out his tongue at the door.

'I saw that,' Azimuth's voice came from beyond the door. Gambit smiled and went to his own room.

They were back in The Revels, Gambit in his best suit, Azimuth in a shimmery blue dress with a silver and turquoise torc about her throat that made her gray eyes look almost blue. They fitted easily into the crowd of beautiful people, barely drawing attention as they sat at one of the tables. But their attention was fixed entirely outwards, discussing points of egress, crowd flow, hiding places, everything they needed to know for contingency plans A, B, C and D, as Gambit called them.

Gambit watched a particularly raucous crowd of people walk past them and turned back to Azimuth to find her pale and wincing. 'What's wrong?' he asked, concerned.

Azimuth shook her head, and smiled wanly. 'Nothing,' she said and nodded in the direction of the group that had passed them. 'It's just - they weren't very nice, Remy. Him, particularly. He was - unpleasant - inside.'

'You don' like crowds, do you?' Gambit said.

Azimuth shook her head. 'Not ones like this, Remy. This place attracts the - the empty ones and the ones who feed on the emptiness. The hungry pain me, the feeding repulse me. It's like watching the crowd in Poe's Masque of the Red Death - driven and mad and desperate, doomed to die horribly. It is quite - painful - to be here.'

'Den why were you here, b'fore?' Gambit was puzzled. 'When I met you.'

'That was my farewell party from Kytek,' Azimuth said, colour coming back into her face. 'They brought me here and took a private room, which helped. They were the people I said goodbye to, before I left with you.' She smiled suddenly. 'They figured I got lucky.'

'Little did dey know,' responded Gambit, with an exaggerated pout.

Azimuth only laughed and stood up. 'I need to go to the ladies,' she said and weaved off into the crowd.

Gambit's eyes followed her and then stayed on the crowd as Azimuth disappeared into the press of bodies. He could sense what she meant about the people in the club - just as before, he could feel the ravening hunger of the mob, the emptiness that craved. Now he was alone, it tugged at him, slipped in through his empathy and met itself within his mind.

~I'm just like them,~ he thought. ~Just as empty, just as hungry for release. I wonder how much it hurts to let everything go?~

His eyes were bruised with longing, his mind hovering on the edge of the slide into blackness when he felt Azimuth's hand on his elbow and her low voice said in his ear, 'Don't go there.'

She slipped from behind him to take her place back in her seat facing him. Her face was etched with concern as she looked at him. 'Don't go into the emptiness, Remy,' she said, softly. 'I've been there and done that and nothing good ever comes of it. The only place I went when I followed those paths was straight to Sinister. *Don't* give in to the darkness.'

Gambit's eyes were fixed on hers, his face suddenly, heart-achingly, vulnerable. 'Maybe it would take away my dreams,' he said, his voice no more than a whisper.

'It does,' replied Azimuth, her voice gentle. 'And it gives you only nightmares in return.'

'If Gambit was lost in de darkness, chere, would you come wit' me? Would you walk beside me, lead me to safety?'

'No, I wouldn't,' Azimuth's voice was firm. 'I went into the darkness once, Remy, and I will *not* go there again. But I would wait for you on the other side - if you came out. I would be there for you.'

Gambit's eyes were haunted as he looked at her. 'It's so hard,' he said, 'in dis place, wit' dese people. Dey devour me with deir hunger, dey feed de emptiness inside of me. Dis place takes me away from myself, Azimuth.'

She reached forward and took his hand between hers. 'Don't leave me,' she whispered, her eyes locked on his. 'What kind of apprentice would I be if my master leaves me?'

For a long minute Gambit looked at her until finally a slow shudder ran through him. He lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed her palm in a gesture both courtly and regal. 'Come, 'prentice,' he said, his voice suddenly wry. 'Your master wants de pleasure of a dance, to stop him acting like a fool, and den we can continue wit' our lessons. Because we still have a job to do.'

He even managed a smile as Azimuth rose to be escorted to the dance floor.

The plan Gambit had devised to steal the drugs was as simple as he could make it, a strategy he always found effective. Having Azimuth there with her talent had simply allowed him to make it even simpler - and add some flair to it.

They were back in The Revels again, and it was no longer surveillance, but the night that the drugs were being delivered, the night of the heist.

Azimuth, her body already taking on the honed look of an athlete after all her hard workouts, was dressed in a startlingly red dress that did nothing for her looks. But she knew she couldn't twist the minds of everyone in the club and all she wanted was people to remember she had been wearing red. Gambit was wearing a dinner jacket and modified contact lenses that disguised his eyes. He had even cut his hair short on the nape of his neck to further the confusion he planned to cause.

'You ready?' he asked Azimuth as they walked into the club. 'If we've timed this right, we've got about 15 minutes before Mackler arrives to cut the deal.'

She nodded once, and curled her arm possessively around his, leaning close so they looked like a devoted couple. Together, they walked up the stairs to the door they had scouted out previously as the one leading to Smith's offices. As expected, there was a rather large man in a dinner suit at the top of the stairs, with dark glasses and several ominous-looking bulges under his suit. He looked so much the stereotypical heavy that Azimuth almost giggled. But then he stepped in front of the door, his arms crossed, and she sobered instantly.

'No-one comes through this door without the boss's permission,' the bodyguard said, his jaw set firm. Just as he was about to reach out and grasp their arms to escort them back down the stairs, Azimuth reached out and *twisted*.

'Fool,' she said, and her voice was cold. 'Don't you recognise Anton Montessori when you see him?'

The bodyguard stuttered to a halt on the stair, then his hands dropped quickly to his side. 'I'm sorry, Mr Montessori,' he gasped. 'I didn't recognise you - the light must have blinded me or something.'

Gambit inclined his head graciously. 'Dat's alright,' he said, though his tone carried an obvious warning. 'Dis was an unexpected visit. But Serena wanted to come out and play and I t'ought it would be an excellent chance to see Nicky again. Make sure he not doin' not'ing I don't approve of, neh?'

'Of course not, sir,' the bodyguard said, his tone ingratiating. 'Mr Smith is not available at the moment, but he'll be back in ten minutes or so. If you'd like to go to the bar, drinks would be free, of course.'

'Non,' Gambit's voice was suddenly harsh. 'We will wait in his office.'

'I'm sorry, sir,' replied the bodyguard, 'but I can't leave my post.'

'That's alright,' purred Azimuth suddenly as she reached out and patted his cheek. 'Anton and I can make our own way in.' Before the heavy could even begin to react, she reached past him and opened the door. Even as he began to protest, she laid her finger upon his lips. 'Shush,' she said, and *twisted* again. 'It'll be OK. Nicky will be glad to see us.'

The bodyguard stepped back from the door. 'Of course, Miss Serena,' he said. 'Please forgive my suspicious mind.'

'Of course,' soothed Azimuth and then slipped quickly past him, closely followed by Gambit. She sighed with relief as the door shut behind them. 'Phase 1 accomplished,' she whispered. 'Your turn.'

Gambit was looking up the hallway, inspecting the ceiling and walls closely. 'Dere,' he said, pointing. 'And dere. Cameras. Stay here.'

He moved noiselessly down the hall to the first of the minute devices. The glow of his charge was faint in the semi-darkness of the hall and the noise of the explosion as he blew a single wire was so low that Azimuth barely heard it. He repeated the action on the second camera and then beckoned Azimuth to him. She ran to his side and they slipped in through the door that they had determined from the blueprints would be Smith's office.

The bodyguard standing inside the door hadn't got his gun more than halfway out of his holster before Gambit's round-house kick planted into his jaw and he went down instantly. Gambit leaned down and checked he was thoroughly unconscious before beckoning Azimuth to his side. 'We're looking for a suitcase,' he said. 'We've got about two minutes b'fore de people monitoring de cameras get here.'

Azimuth nodded and began a thorough search in Smith's office as Gambit leapt onto the desk and began to remove the ceiling tiles.

'Got it,' Gambit turned to find Azimuth holding a large black leather briefcase. She slid a knife into the leather and confirmed the bag contained the heroin. Gambit beckoned her to pass him the briefcase, which he slid into the space above the ceiling tiles. Then he pulled her up onto the desk and, cupping his hand beneath her foot, catapulted her into the space. Jack-knifing his own body up he joined her and slid the ceiling tile back into place just as the door to the office burst open.

They could hear the cursing as the men turned over the unconscious bodyguard and then began to search. Gambit signalled to Azimuth to move and silently they picked their way through the wires and ducts that filled the ceiling. Gambit counted out the distance in his head and finally signalled Azimuth again to stop. She sat on a joist and curled her arms around the briefcase as Gambit, with infinite care, lifted another tile.

Searching with a combination of both his empathy and his spatial perception he could sense exactly where the one man left in the room stood. Securing his hands tightly around the joist beside the gap, he lifted his body so he balanced on his hands, bent at the waist so his toes stood on emptiness an inch from his fingers. Then he dropped his body down through the gap and, with uncanny precision, lashed out with his feet directly into the base of the guard's skull. He let go of the beam and landed neatly next to the unconscious man.

'Azimuth,' he called softly and when she poked her head out through the hole in the ceiling, he waved her down. She dropped out of the ceiling to land silently beside him, the briefcase still clutched tightly to her.

'The tile,' said Gambit and, as Azimuth replaced the tile in the ceiling, he checked out the monitors in front of him. Quickly he determined on which ones he and Azimuth would be taped, from their time in the hallway and Smith's office, and ejected the tapes. The little explosions they made as he blew them into their component atoms turned Azimuth's attention to him.

'Done?' she said and as he nodded she indicated that she had replaced the ceiling tile. Azimuth ran to the door and half-opened it. 'Camera?' she asked.

Gambit checked the bank of monitors in front of him, but none showed a half-opened door. 'Non,' he replied and quickly joined Azimuth at the door. They checked into the short corridor they were in, but there were, as yet, no guards there. The short walk to the door leading out was swiftly accomplished and then the two of them stood on a metal gantry that hung over the ladies toilets and behind a bank of lights. It was dark there and gave both of them an opportunity for a quick dust down of their clothes. Then Azimuth handed Gambit the briefcase and leapt up over the railing, dropping lightly to the floor in front of the ladies. She held up her hands and Gambit dropped the briefcase to her, before she turned and entered the ladies. Gambit checked no-one was watching and then dropped over the railing as well. He was waiting, leaning against the wall, when Azimuth re-emerged from the ladies. She was now dressed in black and had a large black tote-bag over her shoulder. She nodded at Gambit, and then gripped his arm tightly as they swept through the crowd to eddy out of the door with a laughing group of patrons.

Azimuth felt Gambit's arm stiffen beneath hers. 'What's up?' she asked, and Gambit nodded at a man just emerging from a limousine.

'That's Mackler,' he murmured. Azimuth grinned suddenly and reached out and *twisted*. Mackler half-turned, convinced he had seen Anton and Serena Montessori, and then Azimuth and Gambit swirled away into the crowd and down the street.

They walked five blocks before they relaxed their vigilance, certain for now that no-one was chasing them. Finally, Azimuth turned to Gambit, her smile wide across her face. 'That was *fantastic*,' she said, and before he could reply her mouth captured his. But before his arms even tightened in reflex, she was gone again, her excitement whirling her away from him. 'We did it,' she said, her voice a quiet crowing of triumph.

'We did,' replied Gambit, 'and you were amazing, chere. How do you convince de guard he see Montessori, when you never meet dem? How you make dem real?'

Azimuth shrugged. 'How come your arm doesn't blow up everytime you release a charge?' she replied. 'It just happens. And now Smith and Mackler will both think it is a Montessori who stole their drugs. The Chicago underworld has just got a great deal more interesting.' Azimuth made it sound as if she'd known about the complex tapestry of guilds, families and societies that made up the underworld for more than a week.

'Indeed,' grinned Gambit and had a sudden, fervent desire to kiss Azimuth again. Squelching it firmly, he continued, 'Now, let's get to a phone and ring de man who's paying for all dis and let him watch me make dese drugs go bang.'

Azimuth smiled and held her arm out to Gambit again.

The businessman stood in the dark lot and watched with a haunted delight in his eyes as Gambit took each packet of heroin from the tote-bag and blew it to smithereens. It was certainly one of the more satisfying uses of his powers, Gambit considered.

The last packet vanished into drifting atoms and the businessman turned to Gambit. 'I have your money,' he said, and his voice was soft. 'I brought it in unmarked bills, just as Lynch said. Six million all up.'

Gambit looked at the man and sighed inwardly. 'Keep it,' he said and shook his head, unable to believe he was doing this.

'But . . Lynch said . . I thought. . .,' the man was definitely stunned.

'Keep it,' repeated Gambit. 'Keep it for somet'ing useful. Build a drug rehab centre or somet'ing, drug education, whatever. None of it will bring your daughter back, but it better dan it going to pay off some t'ief in the night, neh?' His smile was a flash of teeth in the dark.

For a short minute the businessman looked as if he was going to argue, but the darkness in the lot, combined with the eerie glow of Gambit's eyes had already unnerved him. Nodding quickly, he backed away into the dark and then was gone.

'Thank you.' His voice drifted back on the night breeze. 'Thank you so much.'

It was only when the car engine had started and then faded away into the night that Azimuth emerged from her hiding place. 'How are you going to pay Lynch?' she asked, quietly.

Gambit shrugged, still staring after where the businessman had gone. 'Use my own money,' he said. 'Not like I need all I got.'

Azimuth's hand slipped into his and he turned to face her. Her face was serious as she said, 'This is a good thing that you do, LeBeau. Never tell yourself that being a thief is all bad. Never tell yourself that *you* are all bad.'

Gambit looked at her solemnly. 'Still want to be a t'ief, Azimuth? After dis good night's work?'

'Very much so,' she replied.

Gambit's smile was sudden and broad. 'Maybe not tomorrow,' he said. 'Tomorrow you do an eight-hour workout, neh?'

Gambit's laughter twined with Azimuth's groans and drifted into the night.


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