Disclaimer: Characters and Premise are borrowed from the Marvel, I'm not making any money.
The New Orleans' night air was warm, thick with the smell of vegetation and heavy with moisture. The sounds of music drifted out into the streets blending with the noise of traffic and people in a glorious cacophony. To Remy Lebeau it was the most welcoming setting imaginable.
This was the city he always called home, even though he'd lived there for less than six years, not even half his life. He had no fond memories of Baton Rouge; the house he'd shared with his parents had never been a home. Essex's base, the part he'd stayed in on and off between missions for the two plus years he'd been with the genetist had always reminded him of a particularly forbidding hospital. After leaving Essex he'd been on the move, living on the streets, never remaining more than a few months in any one city and that had been before Essex's henchmen had picked up his trail. Westchester was the only other place Remy had even considered thinking of as home.
Remy found himself thinking back to his arrival at Jean-Luc's home the day before. He'd started getting nervous as the car turned into the gates of a house that tickled the edges of his memories.
Three people had been waiting for him; His cousin Henri, he was in his mid-twenties with brown hair and a mustache that contained only a hint of the reddish tinge that Remy was starting to recognize as a family trait. His finacee Mercy Renault was blonde, stunning and dressed to show it off. And Mattie Baptiste a dark, heavy set older woman who couldn't stop grinning.
"Tante?" Remy asked hesitantly.
"Oui Remy," she replied. "Yo' grew up real well, chile. Yo' 'member your cousin Henri and his fiancée Mercy?"
"Welcome home Remy," Henri said, greeting him with a warm hug. Remy stiffened with surprise, unused to being the recipient of openly affectionate gestures. Sure Logan and Scott tended to annoy him by ruffling his hair and so forth, but that was different. They didn't blatantly invade his personal space and he knew them. Henri remembered him, but Remy only had the vaguest recollections of an older boy who could have been a younger Henri lifting him up to sit on his shoulders. But even if the boy had been Henri, Remy was certain that he wasn't the excited, happy child from the scrape of a memory, at least not anymore, and not since so long ago that he couldn't even begin to identify with that child.
Feeling Remy's reaction Henri quickly let him go. "Je desole, jus' missed mon petite cuz. We used to spend a lot of time together."
" 'Cause I t'ought yo' were cute," Merci interjected. "Still do."
"Why t'ank yo' chere," Remy began, "But..." Remy trailed off staring at the woman coming down the stairs, tall and willowy with long russet hair, hazel eyes and features more delicate than Remy's own, but the similarities were uncanny.
Their eyes met across the room. Remy opened his mouth to say something, he wasn't sure what. Before he could Josette broke eye contact and continued on her way as if Remy weren't there.
"Josy," Jean-Luc said, his voice dripping with disapproval.
"Don' hold up dinner on m' account. 'M planning on eating in town," Josette said, blithely disregarding the source of her brother's ire.
Jean-Luc followed her out of the room, a dark scowl on his face.
"Bitch," Remy muttered softly. "Hate yo'. A'ways did, a'ways will."
"Come on Rem, I'll show yo' to your room, den give yo' de grand tour," Henri said awkwardly. "Mebbe introduce yo' to some de nice members of your family," he added under his breath.
Remy shook his head at the memory. Josette's reaction to him had been unpleasant, but not unexpected. What had caught him by surprise had been the bevy of cousins of one variety or another who had happily welcomed him into their family.
And now, wandering the streets of New Orleans, soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of the city he truly began to feel like he'd come home.
****** ****** ******
Jean-Luc watched as Mattie took charge of the new adoptees the Benefactress had sent to the Guilds. Once they were clear he nodded to Marius Boudreaux, his opposite in the Assassins' Guild. Tonight it was vital that they present a unified front.
The stout, dark haired man returned the gesture and together they stepped forward and set matching chests on the table before the Benefactress' representative. The cadaverous man raised a questioning eyebrow.
"As a gesture of our continued respect and desire to maintain a relationship wid your Mistress we offer de blood dat bonds us to her as we have since times immemorial," Marius said. "Mais we are not our ancestors."
"We t'ink de pact wid her be a tad one-sided," Jean-Luc said. "In times past de medicines an' trainin' she gave to our healers were ample payment for de services we rendered an' de price in coin dat we paid her."
"Now we could get de same from any hospital," Marius continued. "An' de payment she demands in de lives of our people was nevah acceptable."
"Nor will we tolerate her interference in our personal lives any longer," Jean-Luc said. "We will do jobs for your Mistress, but like any other client, she will present us wid an objective an' we will decide how to accomplish it."
"I will inform the Benefactress of your disrespect," the tithe collector said ominously. "You may await her response with dread in your hearts."
Jean-Luc rolled his eyes, "De Benefactress be a mutant, like m' nephew an' mebbe two dozen other guild members. Mayhap she be long- lived 'nough to believe dis Goddess talk. Mais if dat be de case we ain't totally opposed to continuin' some of de pomp an' ceremony."
"Dieu, 'bout half of us rather worship her dan de church anyways," Marius said with a shrug. "De Benefactress don' have no commandments dat contradict our family businesses. We jus' prefer dat our Goddess be a little less proactive in our lives."
****** ****** ******
Remy scanned the streets around him, feeling like he was being watched. Seeing no one he picked up his pace a little, concerned by the possibility of being tailed by someone good enough to escape detection.
He moved determinedly toward the club where he was supposed to be meeting up with Lapin and several other cousins. A knife blade buried itself in a window shutter, passing within inches of his head.
Remy turned back, trying to lose his shadow in the maze of back streets. When that proved a waste of effort Remy stopped in a small square. "Come out an' fight, less yo' be a coward," he yelled, throwing some of his charm into the challenge.
A masked, dark clad figure dropped from the roof above him. Remy rolled clear, coming back to his feet with his bo in hand.
His assailant swept a cloak aside, revealing a slim, feminine form as she threw a second knife at him.
The hilt collided painfully with Remy's hand. He yelped, letting his guard drop fractionally and the dark clad girl knocked his feet our from under him.
In moments she was kneeling over him, her knees pinning his arms to the ground, yet another knife at his throat.
"Why yo' 'ttackin' me yo' crazy femme?" Remy demanded.
The girl didn't answer but Remy could feel her speculative gaze through the mask.
He concentrated on the knife blade caressing his throat. Before Xavier's interference it would have been simple to charge anything near him, but now it took real effort to channel his power except through the touch of his hands. Still the knife provided ample motivation and in seconds it was glowing pink.
"Oh my!" the girl exclaimed tossing it away from her in surprise.
Remy used the moments' distraction to reverse their positions. "Now why yo' pesterin' Remy?" he asked authoritatively.
"Mebbe I like yo'," the girl laughed, writhing against him in a way that didn't seem aimed at escape.
Remy's grip loosened and the girl slipped free. "Be seein' yo' T'ief," she called back as she fled.
"Crazy femme," Remy muttered watching her vanish into the night. "Bettah get goin' if I want to catch de others."
Remy headed off his own way, still wondering about the girl and her bizarre attack.
Upon entering the club the first thing Remy spotted was Lapin's, coppery hair. The stocky boy had tried to explain the tangle of blood, marriage and adoption that made them family only to end up confusing himself as much as Remy. Then with a shrug, Lapin had said, "Call me a cousin, it's easier and it gets de point 'cross a whole lot faster."
Remy never knew how good having a family could feel before, but the unhesitating way in which these people claimed him was a balm to injuries that had been festering so long he'd almost forgotten where the pain came from.
Remy headed across the room to join Lapin. "How yo' been?" he asked.
"Cava-cava," Lapin replied with a shrug. "See anyt'ing yo' 'membered?"
"Rien wort' mentionin'," Remy said. "Met a girl dough."
"Do tell?" Lapin asked curiously.
"Ain't dey all?"
"Not like dis one," Remy replied. "De femme t'ink she be a mugger or somet'ing, wasn't 'xactly bad wid a knife neither."
"Assassins," one of the boys with Lapin hissed.
"Quoi?" Remy asked. "Dat some kind of gang?"
A quick glance passed around the little circle, reminding Remy that even thought he'd been welcomed he was still an outsider here.
"Somet'ing like dat," Lapin said. "Dis girl, she serious 'bout usin' de knife?"
Remy frowned, not liking being left out of the loop.
"Dis be important!" Lapin snapped and Remy felt his intensity.
"Non, dat be de weird part," Remy replied shrugging. "If it had of been someone I knew, would of t'ought we were sparrin'."
The little group relaxed and Remy heard someone sigh, "De truce still holdin'."
"Guess it weren't such a big deal after all," Lapin said too casually. "Come on, let's enjoy de party."
Remy nodded, his expression utterly neutral.
A while later Remy noticed a girl with a head full of golden braids and a predatory smile on her pretty face, approaching them. She moved with a grace that Remy knew came from being a trained fighter. He wondered if she were somehow tied to his family, since that sort of grace seemed uncommonly common among his relations.
Beside Remy, Lapin was staring at the girl in disbelief.
"Do yo' dance?" the girl asked, flipping her braids over her shoulder.
"Well 'nough," Remy replied standing and extending his hand to her.
"Belladonna!" Lapin exclaimed sounding outraged and nervous all at once.
"Mind your own business Rabbit," Belle said. "Jus' want a chance to meet your new friend, ain't gonna do no harm."
"Belladonna, hien?" Remy said as he took her in his arms. "De name be descriptive?"
"Beautiful an' deadly?" Belle replied. "I like to t'ink so."
"I'll have to 'member dat," Remy said spinning her so that her back was to him and her arms crossed in front of her, their joined hands at her waist. "Now how 'bout yo' answer de other question I asked yo'," he whispered in her ear.
"I mus' of missed dat one," Belle laughed.
"Why'd yo' 'ttack me?" Remy asked. "An' don' say it wasn' yo', yo' still wearing too much of de same perfume."
Belle struggled to break free only to find Remy had her securely pinned against his chest.
"Jus' sayin' bonjuer," Belle purred. "T'ought for shor someone would of tol' yo' 'bout dis little game we play."
"Naw, no one tol' me rien," Remy said.
"I guess yo' really are new," Belle said. "It's been too long since I seen a new face, an' I like yours."
Remy twisted to the side and Bell plummeted toward the floor with a shriek. Remy's grip on her hands brought her descent to a halt inches from the floor. Belle glared up at him, he grinned down at her then let her drop.
Several dances later Belle found Remy sitting alone at his table watching Lapin and the others on the dance floor with an unreadable expression.
Belle draped herself over the back of his chair. "Yo' don' like dat dey be keepin' t'ings from yo'," she purred. "I could tell yo', everyt'ing, but dey your family. Mebbe it best if I trus' deir judgment."
"Yo' brought yourself all de way over here jus' to say dat," Remy said skeptically.
"Well, mebbe, if I liked yo'," Belle suggested her breath warm against his ear as she slid her hands down his chest. "Course we'd need to get to know each other an' to do dat, yo' gonna need to catch me."
Before the challenge could sink in, Belle was heading for the door.
"Crazy femme," Remy said shaking his head, a touch of admiration in his voice. He left by the balcony; vaulting over the railing to land crouched on the street below.
He caught Belle as she rounded the corner, pulling her into the shadows beneath the balcony and pinning both her wrists over her head. "Dat wasn' much of a chase," he told her.
Belle's smile was a shrug in disguise. "Wanted to see what yo' do once yo' had me," she said. "Dat way I know how hard to make t'ings next time."
"How's dis?" Remy asked leaning in to kiss her.
When he pulled back Belle grinned breathlessly at him. "I should tell yo', yo' keep dat up an' m' daddy'll kill yo'."
"Won' be de first time a femme's pere not approve of Remy," he said. "More interested in what yo' be t'inkin' chere."
"Dat I kill yo' if yo' stop," Belle replied.
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