Chapter 17: …Is a Beginning.

The light of dawn glittered off the dew on grass, left by a still-lingering fog brought on by the curiously chill September morning. A drop of mist coalesced on a leaf of a broad, tall tree, rolled off, fell, and splashed against a wide granite stone. A small heart-shaped arrangement of marigolds leaned against it. Beneath that lay a bouquet of zinnias.

Two women stepped forth from the rolling fog. Both bore bouquets; the taller had one arm in a sling. As they drew near, two figures stirred and detached themselves from the shadow of a nearby tree. The shorter one alerted her companion to this with a touch.

"Hello again," said Mireille.

"We didn't see you at the service, yesterday," said Maurice. "We weren't sure if you'd show up."

She hesitated. "We…didn't think it would be appropriate."

"You're damned right it wouldn't," fumed Cherise, beside him.

"Cherise…"

"I'm surprised you have the gall to show up even now," she added.

Her husband laid a firm hand on her shoulder. "Those men could have just as easily been meant for us," he said.

"But —"

"We both made the same mistake here, Cherise," he said, with a glance to the new arrivals. "We thought we could live in peace. We dreamed of a normal life. That's what it was: a dream. And now," he added, bitterly, "we've woken up."

Mist coalesced on the grey stone. It pooled in the channels left by the three names carved there.

"Maurice…Cherise," said Mireille. "Thank you for taking care of things around here."

"Wouldn't do to have something like that hit the headlines anyway," replied Maurice.

"Fine job we did of it, too," added Cherise.

Kirika glanced at the third name on the stone.

Cherise noticed. "I know neither of you did it," she said. "He was…gone…by the time I reached him."

"It's all right," she said. "There was nothing you could have done."

"I should have been faster. I was there; I saw it happen. I could have stopped him. I could have saved him. I should have been faster."

Kirika started to say something, but held back.

"I left you out of my report," said Maurice. "At least, to the greatest degree possible. My superiors ordered it suppressed immediately." He grinned, ruefully. "These 'Soldats' of yours; they get around, it seems. But," he added, "they cover their tracks poorly."

"We can find them," said Cherise. "We can hunt them. And we will make them pay."

"You'll kill them, then, I suppose?" said Mireille.

"Well, yes." She noticed her resigned look. "We thought you two would be all for it."

"So many have died already," said Kirika. "What good will another grave do?"

"What good?" she asked, incredulous. "They'll be dead, that's the good!"

"And for each head you cut, three more will spring up," said Mireille.

"But we have to do something," she said.

"But not that, necessarily. Dead men tell no tales, it is said. And that's exactly how 'they' like it. Death is the guardian of secrets, and they hide under its cloak. No, you can't fight the darkness from the shadows. That's not how you kill a secret organization."

Realization crept in; her hard expression turned thoughtful. "We know some people with Le Monde," she said.

"I'm sure they'd love to hear from you," added her husband.

"Thanks," said Mireille, "but not yet. We need evidence. And we have things to take care of."

"'Things'?"

"Things."

"Ah," said Maurice.

"How was it? The service?" asked Kirika.

"Short," he said. "Their daughter, Marien, I think it was, showed up with her family. Said a few words. I don't think it's quite sunk in for her yet, to tell the truth."

"She's inherited the apartment," added Cherise. "I think one of her children plans to move in, take over management of the place, fix it up."

"Mm," said Kirika.

"We noticed you came by about a week ago," said Maurice. "You…are moving back in, I suppose?" Mireille shook her head. "No?"

"Maybe some day," she said. "But not now. It's too soon. But we will, eventually. It's…home…after all."

"Hmm. I don't suppose you've a forwarding address for us?"

She smiled, mysteriously.

"Thought not."

"We should go, Maurice," said his wife.

He agreed. "Well, write, if you can. And if you're ever in town…"

"Warn us," said Cherise.

"Goodbye, you two," said Mireille.

"Until our next meeting," added Kirika.

The two spies dipped their heads in acknowledgement, and then set off into the cold.

The two women approached the headstone. One laid a bouquet of white chrysanthemums upon it, the other, a bushel of hazel.

Three names accepted them, staring out from the cold stone.

Kirika crouched to the ground, and read the third. "'Peter Trousseau. Beloved son and brother. Taken too soon.'"

"I heard about him the day after you…left," said her partner.

Her eyes drifted over to the other half of the stone. "Did…they…know?"

"I doubt it. The Duceppes were too busy to make it to the hospital that night. And then, then next day…" She settled to the ground. "They…died in their sleep."

Kirika looked thoughtful. "Was it a dream?"

"Hmm?"

"What Monsieur Duceppe said: was it all a dream?"

"What do you think?"

She thought. "The…context…may not have been real. The words left much unsaid. But…the feelings, the…love…"

"I'm sure it was the same for them," said Mireille, quietly.

"But we deceived them," she continued. "We lied to them, every day. We drew them into our lives, as they did to us, without thinking of the consequences. And maybe, if we hadn't…"

"Kirika…"

"Mireille!" She turned to her, haunted. "Did we…?"

Mireille let the question float on the morning mist. She got down on her knees, and gently touched the stone tablet.

"We have a lot to talk about," she whispered.

Director's Commentary Do not read until you have finished the story! Really!

This is the longest work of fiction I've ever written, and probably the second I've ever finished completely. I do hope you enjoyed reading it; thanks for sticking with it to the end.

Unless, of course, you didn't, and instead decided to jump right to the end. Bad dog! No biscuit!

These sections contain all the "short" author's notes you'd normally find at the end of each chapter. They've turned out to be so numerous that I'd originally planned to file them away into a nice Director's Commentary chapter. Then I noticed the angry red text on the website. Blast! It also contains alternate scenes, and a great deal of sarcasm.

General

The origins of this story came from a discussion on the oyasumi.nu webboard. Someone wondered who else lived in Mireille's apartment, and someone else said something like, "No one. They were all scared away by all the loud sex and bodies falling off the roof.

This got me thinking. There aren't any actual exchanges of gunfire in or around the apartment until volume 6. (As for the "loud sex," well…) This leaves about a year or more where people could live there. Even if Mireille owns the whole building, there's no reason why those other 8 or so apartments wouldn't be occupied.

So what kind of people would live there?

Drawing inspiration from Garth Ennis's run on The Punisher, I concluded that the rest of the apartment's tenants would probably be pretty darn normal. However, Mireille was still able to return to the apartment after the shootout. There's no police tape, no dead neighbours, no angry landlords demanding a damage deposit. And "normal" in Ennis's book was defined relative to Frank Castle. So maybe things weren't so normal after all.

Since nobody apparently had any problem with Mireille still living there despite the massive shootout, and since it's damned funny, I concluded that everyone in the apartment must be one of four things:

1. A Soldat.

2. A spy or underworld operative.

3. Really, really dumb.

4. Dead.

Hence, this scene.

(Begin fantasy sequence)

A terrifying battle. Bullets are flying, people are dying, furniture is breaking. Very noisy.

The corridor is full of people. Most are ducking. Some have their hands in their nightshirts, apparently gripping some sort of fist-sized metallic objects.

An old lady hobbles up to the door. A few stray rounds whip through it past her face. She doesn't notice.

She knocks.

Lady: Excuse me, Miss Bouquet?

A hail of gunshots. A man screams. There are several loud thumps, as if heavy sacks had fallen to the ground. Then silence.

Mireille: (breathing hard) Um, yes?

Lady: The neighbours are trying to sleep, and they're complaining about the noise. Could you keep it down, please?

Someone gurgles. There are several loud thwacks, interspersed with screams, almost as if someone were hitting a side of meat with a pool cue. Then, again, silence.

Mireille: I'll see what I can do.

Lady: Thank you. Goodnight, Miss Bouquet.

(End)

That was the genesis of Madame Trousseau, the most sickeningly kind old lady you could ever meet. She would be Aunt May, Mrs. Magoo, and your grandma all rolled into one.

And so it began.

The Title

From here, the story went through several conceptual changes, as evident in its multiple titles:

The Diary of Madame Toulouse, Neighbour of Noir

Excerpts from the Life of Madame Trousseau, Widow

Excerpts from the Life of Madame Trousseau, Senior Citizen

Excerpts from the Life of Madame and Monsieur Trousseau

Scenes from the Life of Madame and Monsieur Trousseau

When this story was more of a pure comedy, I'd planned on a journal entry format. You know, something like "Dear Diary: today, Miss Bouquet said those young hooligans who harassed me the other day 'wouldn't be bothering me anymore.' How nice!" The format turned out to be too limiting, so I dropped it.

Next, Madame became a widow. I think Peter popped up at this point, as Madame was too incompetent to run the apartment. I dropped this idea when I thought a widowed Madame might be too depressing.

So, her husband came back from the grave, and she became a Senior Citizen. I was even less satisfied with this concept, mostly because the title sounded really, really dumb.

The breakthrough occurred when I envisioned Chapter 4, the encounter between Kirika and Monsieur. I found their relationship so fascinating that I plotted out a whole series of encounters between the two of them. I believe I also looked back at the Prologue, and realized that I could really go places with the implied tension between Peter and Monsieur.

I'm not exactly certain when the story turned to tragedy. I know Peter had a lot to do with it: if everyone but the old folks were Soldats, well, he'd have to be one too. And if he were one, well, then, like everyone else in the apartment, he'd get mixed up in the big Sin Within the Sin, and end up dead. I also realized that Mireille and (especially) Kirika were not naturally sociable people; moreover, they could never completely open up to anyone who wasn't in The Business, for fear of their own personal safety. This pall of secrecy would hang over any friendly chats they might have with the Trousseaus, resulting in some grade-A angst.

Conceptually, this story has several roots. I've always loved Episode 13 (Season of Hell). It's one of those rare moments in the show where you see the main character's lives outside of work (shopping!) and what happens when their personal and professional lives collide. Much of the tone of this story came from this episode. I'd also recently read Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent; this set up the overall sense of doom, and Madame Trousseau's fate.

The story started off as a way to answer all those niggling unanswered questions left behind by the series. No, not "What was Altena thinking?" or "What do those two gunshots mean?" More like, "Why does Mireille, a noted loner, have so much furniture?" and "Where did Kirika find a book on how to make a darn fine cup of Orange Pekoe?" Later, as I got into the characters of the Trousseaus, I realized that they were really the anti-Noir: slow, dull, happy, funny, and carefree. This created an immediate conflict between the world of the story and the world of Noir, a conflict that largely dictated how the plot took shape.

Characters

In or around Chapter 2, I decided to call everyone by first or last name except for the Trousseaus, to reflect their grand old dame and sir status.

Madame Trousseau started off as Mrs. Magoo, hence her pigeon-like appearance and intelligence. Once Monsieur got moving, however, I realized she really needed fleshing out, or she'd lose her place in the title. She stayed the wistful, dreamy, hopelessly optimistic person she was originally, but inherited a little wisdom; less pigeon, more owl. Conceptually, she's probably got a lot of Spider-Man's Aunt May in her. Looking back now, I can also see a bit of Mrs. Ramsay from Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse in her, what with her focus on family and all. Of course, Mrs. Ramsay is about a million times more complex, and Woolf took knitting in an entirely different direction (one which I still can't totally fathom).

Monsieur Trousseau quickly became a main character after I realized how interesting his conflict with Peter would turn out; in fact, for a while he was in danger of overshadowing Madame completely. I have a very particular mental picture of Monsieur; he looks exactly like this one golfer on the PGA Tour (the name of whom, regrettably, escapes me). For why he became a wise old Ent, see the commentary for Chapter 4.

I think Peter turned up when I decide that Monsieur should be too old to run the joint, possibly earlier. He's a classic coward figure, really.

The names?

Why Trousseau? I dunno. Possibly an amalgam of Trudeau (the eccentric Canadian Prime Minister) and Clouseau (of Peter Sellers fame).

Cosette was inspired. I needed a name that suggested innocence and naivety, and after a moment's fiddling with foreign language names, remembered that "Castle in the Clouds" number from Les Miserables.

Toulouse sounds wimpy enough. "Too lose"?

Peter? Why not? (Might have been some subconscious Spider-Man stuff going on here.)

Maurice and Cherise? Like Boris and Doris from True Lies.

Conrad's The Secret Agent is a huge influence on this story, and Verloc is a definite nod to him. Oddly enough, Conrad's Verloc wasn't very talkative either.

The Soldats are so named so it's bloody obvious they're Reservoir Dog-like goons. Although I briefly considered the names (The Talented Mr.) Ripley, Vhailor (a justice-obsessed character from the computer game Planescape: Torment), and other such names.

Chapter 1

Time check: this chapter, and the next two, presumably takes place about a year or so before the show starts, so as to give Mireille time enough to settle in.

The title: I'll explain later.

I had to establish Madame as the most sickeningly dull person I could right off the bat. Hence, knitting. Later, I remembered that knitting weaving fate and the web of life, so that was fun. Later still, I remembered that Mrs. Ramsay did something really (sexually?) symbolic with her knitting, and went, "Damn it! I hated that book!"

Monsieur's on a chaise longue; appropriate, since he's got family issues and all, and he essentially acts as counsellor to Kirika.

The Trousseaus started out as caricatures since, at the time I wrote this, this was a straight up comedy. In truth, they stay pretty flat throughout, too. I've considered rewriting this scene, but figured that its light-hearted mood provided a nice contrast to Chapter 14.

Originally, Monsieur had this really atrocious accent. He "rolled his 'r's' luxuriously." I dropped the idea because (a) I kept forgetting about it and (b) it made him sound like the French guard in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

If Madame and Monsieur sound more like an old English couple than a French one, that'd be because I know nothing about old French people.

The Saotome's were a throwaway gag more than anything else. Essentially, I asked, "Okay, so who lived in the flat before Mireille moved in?" and Ranma suggested himself.

Chapter 2

The title: originally, I had no titles for any of the chapters, as I'd intended the story to play out as one, long continuous piece. This was before I learned the limitations of this website, and before I realized how bloody long this thing would be. This chapter was originally entitled, "Casual Conversations," but I figured that was too much ironic humour too fast. Hence the more neutral, "Introductions."

This scene flowed fairly easily, helped in no small part by the bubbling enthusiasm of Madame Trousseau. I picked up my first running gag when I thought over what Madame's first impression of Mireille would be. I checked the latter's wardrobe, and concluded, "Skank." Ha!

I have absolutely no idea why Madame took on pigeon-like characteristics. It popped up in the boring shopping scene, after I'd made Monsieur an Ent. Then Peter became a rat.

I made a decision here to have the narrative perspective follow either Madame or Monsieur at all times; all cut-aways would be done in italics.

I also decided to keep all the Soldats nearly mute, since it was funny. That, and I'd have to pay the actors more if they have lines.

This scene changed several times, as I was initially unsure as to who else lived in the apartment (and the exact number of rooms it had). Earlier, I had a completely drugged-out stoner and an old ex-KGB agent sitting around the place. Both were axed, as the former was stupid and the latter unnecessary (Maurice got his lines).

The Duceppes (named after Gilles Duceppe, current leader of Canada's Bloq Quebecois party, I think) were an absolute riot to write. They're essentially James Bond and The Only Woman Who Could Tolerate His Company (Because She's Better than Him at Everything and She Knows It).

"Waste management, hmm?" said Mireille, examining the couple. "Clever."

Because they take care of scum.

I wrote up The Rat in the old, grandiose tradition of Ernest Stavros Blofeld. I thought about fleshing him out a bit, but then thought, "He's dead in a few pages, why bother?" Later, I twiddled with his speech so it resonated with Verloc's. To see the "old trick" in action, watch the opening sequence of (the otherwise rather terrible) The World is Not Enough.

Oh, and feel free to whistle the Bond theme at the end of Cherise's flashback, as I do.

"Oh, don't use that," said Madame, accepting the bag of groceries. "Monsieur Verloc says we should beware of bicycle thieves. Bring it in instead; it's drier and very much safer."

Possibly the only answer we will ever have to the question, "Why does Mireille haul her scooter up three flights of stairs every day?"

Chapter 3

The title: changed several times. I think it started as "Light a Candle," then went through several iterations. I hit upon "Enlightenment" after about the third one: bringing light to darkness, lightening one's emotional load, learning new things, etc.

"'NSB Official Murdered. Police Suspect Foul Play.' Second one this month. What is this world coming to?"

In "Our Daily Bread," one of the senior officials comments that two non-commissioned NSB/GIGN officers were murdered prior the events of that episode.

Monsieur Trousseau held the evening paper at arm's length.

Yes, he's far-sighted. What of it? (snickers)

Now that I think about it, Madame's "romance novel" is probably another Mrs. Ramsay reference.

"Oh no, no, no," is stolen from those horrible old women the Monty Python troupe put in all their skits.

I worried that revealing Peter as a member of The Knights (Les Chevaliers) of Paris this early on might ruin the rest of the story. Then I remembered that (1) it would make nice ironic tension and (2) it's conceivable that some readers might miss it, so I kept writing.

As evident in the flashback, I tried to keep the story at least partially accessible to people relatively unfamiliar with Noir. I highly doubt I've succeeded.

The talk with the Duceppes was tough, since I had to establish Mireille's cold heart without having a fire-fight break out. I was stuck for a solution, when cookies saved the day. Cookies: they make everything better.

The talk needed to simultaneously establish the Duceppes and convince Mireille to give Madame a chance. Mireille's a normal person, but probably not a sociable one. Currently, she really had no idea what to make (or do with) this strange eccentric old bat living next door to her. She needed something to push her over the edge: why not expert testimonials from our favourite spies?

"But the great web is so large we see but a little of it at a time, and influence even less."

A paraphrase from Rudyard Kipling's Kim, used for an entirely different purpose.

Yes, that is the cane formerly held by The Rat. I figured that Maurice had a fairly black sense of humour. It also, in a roundabout way, shows how the world of Noir is slowly starting to seep into the Trousseau's little sanctuary.

Chapter 4

Time check: this scene takes place exactly 15 minutes before Mireille unrolls that blueprint for the National Armed Alliance safe-house.

The title: this chapter was really an attempt to explain all those dramatic tea shots in Noir. That particular beverage probably has more symbolic importance (and screen-time!) than the two guns.

Latvian Idol. Oh ho ho ho. That's a good one.

Upon reflection, I suppose this makes the apartment the anti-Manor: instead of a place time forgot, we have a place that has forgotten time. That's the main reason for the old radio, anyway. At one point, I had it playing "Maybe" by The Ink Spots, in a direct reference to the Fallout role-playing game.

A young punk screamed a discordant techno-gothic number in his ear.

I suppose you could interpret this as "Salva Nos" if you really want to.

"Oriental" is used because Monsieur's just the kind of archaic person to use such a term.

This was one of the earliest scenes I'd imagined. I realized that Kirika has about a zillion tactical skills and precisely zero social ones. Ergo, she can face down a crack squad of machine-gun toting assassins, but will have absolutely no defence against the terror that is the overly-friendly geriatric tea-obsessed old man. I mean, honestly, the only reason she bonded with Nazerov so fast was because there was a cat involved. No cat here. And this is probably her first or second day in France, too. Culture shock! Bam!

The first part of the scene was easy: build up Monsieur's character/idiosyncrasies, and then bring in the amusing Noir rendezvous. I'd toyed with the idea of giving Kirika both jet-lag AND culture shock, but figured that'd be overkill. Since it was, it ended up in Noir: Contracts.

Their actual conversation was more difficult: I could coast on humour for a while, but I need to give Kirika an actual reason to come back to this (presumably terrifying) old man. I decided to exploit the symbolism of tea, and had Monsieur rant about it long enough for Kirika to calm down. Then I had him drop enough words of wisdom to catch her interest, and closed the scene with a convenient deus ex Mireille.

I fired up a harpsichord in the background because I firmly believe it's the creepiest classical instrument out there.

Then I had to name the complex. At first I thought "The House of Faint Hope," but then I remembered that seven-eighths of its inhabitants were liars, and the others stupid. Hence "The Castle Without Secrets."

Kirika's resemblance to Monsieur's daughter wasn't something I planned. I'd thrown the reference to the daughter in earlier, and then realized I could use that as a reason why Monsieur would bond with her.

Not being a tea-drinker myself, I've no idea how realistic Monsieur's little tea-appreciation spiel actually is. Any inaccuracies should be chalked up to the fact that he's a crazy old man living in a dream world. (I respect my characters! Honest!)

Yes, Monsieur is talking about D-Day.

A hand, gnarled and calloused with age, brushed against her fingers like a springtime branch, startling her.

This is where Monsieur became an Ent. I wrote "gnarled" and thought, "What is he, an Ent?" and answered, "Why not?" Fitting, since he's old and wrinkled and wise and stiff. Of course, if he was an Ent, and Kirika a lost cat, and Mireille a panther, Madame had to be something (a pigeon/owl).

Chapter 5

Time check: Monsieur and Madame's scene presumably takes place the day after Mireille scatters a bouquet of lilies in a certain graveyard. Mireille and Kirika have their chat on the evening after the hit in Episode 2. Yes, I'm well aware that it's sunny at the end of that episode. It was a sudden squall. Honest.

The title: well, it is!

I hate this bloody scene. I really do. Although it turned out a lot better than I thought, I still hate using the dual-track flashback structure. It's like welding an octopus to a skunk; it stinks, and just feels weird. It does, however, do its job, establishing the two world-views and the basic conflict between them.

Alternate opening to this scene:

(Excerpt start)

"It's true and you know it, Toulouse," she said. "And what a beautiful thing it is. Two complete strangers meeting in the land of the rising sun, overcoming their differences, discovering their common past, and surrendering to the bonds of love!"

"It was planned from the start by their handlers," replied Monsieur.

"Nonsense. It was true romantic destiny, plain and simple!"

"It's Lost in Translation, not Shakespeare!"

(End)

Golgo 13? Why not? We've got James Bond, why not the Asian connection? And anyone who says, "…" is okay in my book.

Oh, and durians are the coolest fruit ever, with the possible exception of dragon fruit. Those things are, like, spiky fireballs, man!

Would a flat-panel display have a ghastly glow? Eh, she's got the backlighting maxed I guess.

This scene took a damn long while, for some reason. Oh yeah, because I didn't know what should happen in it. The result was lines like this:

(Excerpt start)

"Yes. And its no more than what he deserved." She slid closer to her side. "This is the life I live, Kirika. Death and deception fill it, but it's not so bad when you get used to it, really. Kinda cool, actually. Like, there was this one time, in China, where there was this guy, and I was all like bang bang bang, and he went splat, and there was blood everywhere, so I was all, 'Like, eww!' and…"

(End)

On the other hand, it's an absolute joy writing dialogue for Madame and Monsieur. And they make for the most entertaining scene transitions.

"Belladonnas? Sorry ma'am," said the florist, "fresh out of them."

Seriously, Mireille and the Woman together buy, like 5 TONNES of belladonna lilies.

Violets happiness.

Flowering Reed confidence in heaven. This is obviously one well-stocked florist.

Apparently, White lilies youthful, innocence; not quite so for belladonna's methinks.

Tragically, I couldn't find a flower that meant "Relentless Optimism."

Chapters 6 and 7

Time check: both chapters occur simultaneously, presumably anywhere from a day to a week after the events of Episode 5. Mireille's flashback takes place about ten minutes before Madame happens by. Kirika's happens 11 milliseconds after the end of Episode 3.

The titles: technically, I suppose, what we have here are four sides to a conversation. Meh.

This was probably my first major stumbling block: I'm great at humour, but drama? Argh. I'd fleshed out four scenes with Monsieur and Kirika; now, I needed an accompanying four for Madame and Mireille so they wouldn't get left in the dramatic dust.

Kirika needed a father/sage figure (one that wouldn't be dead by the end of the episode, anyway) hence I paired her with Monsieur. Mireille needed a friend/confidant more than anything, so she got the ever-loving Madame. Both of them were also orphans. They matched up pretty good, in the end.

These scenes evolved from an in-car brainstorming session. It started off as a Mireille/Kirika/Madame/Monsieur four-way encounter (ewww…) in the park. Then I remembered that I had absolutely no plans for a Kirika/Madame or Mireille/Monsieur relationship.

Well, crapicus maximus, it's not wine, it's whiskey. Now I've got to change the glasses to tumblers.

Holy crap, it was brewed in 1960! That's convenient!

At some point, I think I considered making Mireille utterly wasted in this scene. But she didn't seem the type. She doesn't drink when she's depressed, she just kills people. So much healthier, no? Although it is tempting….

(Fantasy sequence)

Mireille and Madame stumble up the stairs, leaning on each other.

Monsieur: Cosette!?

Kirika: Mireille?!

Mireille and Madame: (singing) Waaaasting away in margaritaville…

(End)

I love "apropos," but have yet to work it into casual conversation. Damnation.

Madame started her transition from stupid pigeon to wise owl in Chapter 6. I also gave her a nautical background for no apparent reason. Wait; the whole "river of yarn" thing, right.

I like this scene, especially the ritualistic "tings" of the tumblers. It's all Tai-Chi, man!

I hope the Seine doesn't stink too much.

If you subscribe to the "Noir 2000" theory, this scene establishes the ages of all the major characters. Monsieur was most definitely 72; I think Madame's about the same. Marien's in her 50s, Peter's in mid-life crisis territory.

I suspect the "swallowing a trout" bit has roots in my Grapes of Wrath "choked on a wine bottle" bit.

Sometimes, I worry about Madame and Monsieur being too maudlin, too Hallmark and stereotypical. Then I remember that they are stereotypes and keep writing.

The Kirika scene took longer, even though I knew what I wanted to have happen. I knew I wanted her to learn of Marien at some point. After the previous scene analysis, I figured she might be a little angst-ridden over the whole "killing someone's dad" thing. I hit upon using Monsieur's war back-story. Trouble struck when I realized "How do you live with yourself after you kill someone" isn't a topic for everyday conversation, and Kirika already sucks at that.

Eventually hit upon the sight gag of Kirika catching the picture (several iterations; one had her doing a diving catch from the door, figured saving his life would be a better case for super-heroism), and then combined the daughter and war threads. Gods, I'm using my own metaphors in the commentary. Somebody shoot me. (Gunshot) Ow.

Kirika's darn lucky she doesn't have super powers. She couldn't hold down a secret identity worth a darn, unless she had one of those special hypno-ties like The Tick.

Kirika's by far my favourite character in this story, so far. Bloody hilarious, yet she gets all the really depressing scenes. She's also really, really annoying. How the fardwarks do I write dialogue when she's practically mute!? Then again, I guess it's better than having her say "Chii" all the time.

Assuming one tea per visit, this would be Kirika's fourth meeting with Monsieur.

"'Patria Non Immemor,'" she read.

Appropriately, Monsieur Trousseau has a French Resistance Medal.

"So many pictures," she breathed.

Considering that maybe three family pictures show up in the whole series, I think her reaction's pretty appropriate.

Sometimes, I worry about Madame and Monsieur being too melodramatic. Then I realize that this whole story is a melodrama, and I keep writing. And Monsieur's an Ent; he should be sappy. HA!

Special huge gigantic thanks to FacelessMinion for bailing me out of the Marien scene. See, I had this brilliant idea to invert the previous scene and have one of the young ones be the counsellor, but the counsellor in question was Miss Twenty-Sessions-With-Dr.-Phil-Just-Won't-Cut-It Yuumura. She's too much of a gloom muffin to spout platitudes, can't tell the truth, and probably wouldn't be comfortable lying. And I'm having her carry the conversation. And she has the emotional repertoire of a brick at this point! And is "fundamentally expressionless" according to the character sheets! And yet she's hijacked this whole storyline! I'll need a Madame/Mireille dance-number just so they can keep up! Damn you Kirika! Argh!

On a completely unrelated note, Kirika looks absolutely priceless in some of those character sheets. "Why am I here? It's 3 AM. I could be in my trailer right now with my three cats and Playstation. And you called me out for height comparisons? Where's my agent?"

"She go on and on about the tests and the war, about how France needed to be strong."

Specifically, this describes France's underground and underwater nuclear tests, and its involvement in the Vietnam War.

Y'know, it's unintentional, but I don't think Kirika will ever get to enjoy a cup of tea with Monsieur. Kinda appropriate, I guess.

"I've read it," she replied, setting down her cup. "It is."

Thus answering the question, "Why the fudge did Mireille have a book about tea recipes?" Yeah, yeah, it's conceivable that she just picked it up somewhere. But she strikes me as more of a casual drinker than a connoisseur of tea. Monsieur, on the other hand…

Chapter 8

Time check: talk about a quantum leap; we've gone from Episode 5 to 11! The first part of the scene takes place about 5 to 6 hours before Mireille and Kirika meet up with that Soldat welcoming committee in that fenced-off park. The last, of course, happens about a minute before Mireille hears a knock on her door and wonders, "Who could that be at this hour?"

The title: that's what it's all about, right? Even the Chloe scene, in a perverse way.

Chapter 8. AKA A Serious Pain in the Ass. The old amateur's curse had struck again: I'd a strong opening, an excellent conclusion, but what to put in the middle? And what to put in the exact middle of the middle, in that key transitional chapter before everything goes to hell? Scads of production notes resulted.

At various points, any and all of the following elements were slated for this chapter:

- Talks on the trip to Russia, Afghanistan/wherever that was, New York, and Italy.

- A session where Kirika angsts over shooting a certain old man in the head.

- A talk about friendship, in the context of Episode 7.

- Details on Peter's mysterious activities.

- A souvenir-giving scene, where Maurice would happen by and say, "Russia, Afghanistan, New York, Italy…my, you do get around, don't you?" To which Mireille replies, "So do you." To which he says, "Point taken."

- The whimsical manhole encounter.

- Key production note: "Take them almost to heaven, then drag them down to hell."

Not a huge fan of the third flashback, since it breaks my personal rule of "show nothing that was originally on-screen." I guess this is from a first-person perspective, so it's a bit different.

"Did. 'Cept after the shake up they had few months ago, they called him back."

Y'know, that bit in Episode 2 when a certain pair killed a certain NSB official with really bad dialogue?

"There could be a wind, or a sudden squall! You never know!"

Of course, it does come pissing down about 3 hours after this scene. Ha ha. Actually, this joke was a real turning point, since I remembered that I should really, really lighten this scene up, and that I had the perfect way to do it: old people squabbling.

He pulled a bag out of his jacket, reached in, and variously tried to feed and concuss the birds with the bread-crumbs it contained.

Somewhere along the line I recalled an old Royal Canadian Air Farce skit featuring an old couple that do exactly what Monsieur is doing.

Note how this is not any of the parks shown in the show.

Y'know, I got to the bit where Mireille's weaselling her way out of the conversation, and I had her check her watch. Then I realized she doesn't wear one. Twerp. Must have an uncanny sense of time, I guess; or maybe she keeps it in that bag of hers along with the gun? Could make for an embarrassing situation, that. "Freeze! (Draws gun, dislodging watch.) Damn, there goes the Timex. (Shoots people, retrieves watch.) Hey, it really does keep on tickin'!"

(Later that evening…)

See, traditionally, one would use a bunch of asterisks or angular brackets or curly brackets here to indicate a gap in time and space. Unfortunately, for reasons I have yet to discover, all such characters automagically vanish as soon as this story hits the Internet. Yet no one else I've talked to has this problem. I suspect a gypsy curse.

It was a young woman, whose face passed through joy, surprise, confusion, disappointment, resignation, and subtle intimidation in the space of three seconds.

Author's note to Chloe fans: I'm very, very sorry. But hey, think about it: if she stuck around any longer than this, my main characters would probably end up dead. Granted, everyone bites it in the end, but now is not their time…

Yes, she may be awesome, and maybe she's got a portable GPS unit in her cloak or something, but, well, new surroundings, vague directions mixed in with religious quotations ("Turn left where the wind blows against the grapes of the Holy Father…")…I figured she might screw up just once. That, and I suspect Altena didn't give her any actual directions and she had to look up the address in the Yellow Pages. "Nobunga, Nohoba…dang! No 'Noir'! Hmm, maybe it's under 'Black' or 'Ali Project.' Wait, there was a name, wasn't there? Something about flowers? Bundle? Bushel? Bunch? Bouquet? (snaps fingers) That's it! Mireille Corsage! (checks) Aw, nuts."

Why in heaven's name would they number the apartments 3, 3A, and 3B? Uh…for the same reason that they keep mangling old clichés?

Technically, the Trousseau's apartment is to Chloe's left when Mireille opens the door for her. The Duceppes, I think, are behind her on her right.

Chapter 9

Time check: it's not evident here, but this scene probably occurs at the exact time of day where Mireille passes by a flower-shop in Episode 15.

The title: was originally "Time," until I found a more appropriate place for that loaded term. Was "Out With the Old," for a bit, before I shuffled "Family" over to this spot.

This scene was much easier to write than the previous one since I had a clearer idea of where I wanted to go: ramp up the central Trousseau family conflict, and increase the tension on the truth/lies front with Mireille.

The Golgo 13 jokes were getting old, so I replaced him with The Talented Mister Ripley.

"Oh, that was this fellow I know from Otis."

They make elevators. Duh.

Thanks for FacelessMinion for suggesting Delft as the place for expensive tea sets.

Sometimes I worry about chapters 8 and 9 dragging out for too long. Then I remember they're named after two of the tale's principle themes, and keep writing.

Originally, there was a second half to this chapter, shown below. This would have taken place in around "The Cold-Blooded Killer Acte I," specifically about one hour after Mireille passes that flower shop. Gosh, it's fun cramming all these scenes into obscure off-camera moments, isn't it?

(Excerpt start)

"It's his birthday?"

"Eighty-one years young today," smiled Madame.

"That's what this is for?" said Kirika in regards to the pile of edibles she was carrying.

"Oh no, no, no. That's for next week. (And what a spot of luck that we'd run into each other; I'd need three trips to haul this all home myself. I hope I didn't interrupt anything…? Just browsing? Wonderful!) We're headed out tonight. There's this little café downtown that we both love called Julie Julie. The onion soup there is simply divine. Have you ever tried it before, Miss Bouquet?"

The blonde one stared off into space, seemingly preoccupied. Kirika gave her a nudge. She jumped. "Huh?"

"The soup? Have you tried it?"

"Uh, no. But I know the place. Had lunch there a few days ago, actually."

"Now I remember!" said Madame, snapping her fingers. "Last Tuesday, yes?"

"Uh, yes, yes it was. How did you —"

"I thought it was you that I saw over in the corner," said Madame. "The hair, the top, the nose…'That's Miss Bouquet, all right,' I said to myself." Seeing the question on her neighbour's lips, she added, "They only take reservations in person, you know."

"Oh," she replied, clearly relieved.

"And there was an attractive young man there with you, as I recall," Madame added, smiling.

"Oh," she replied, clearly dismayed.

"I don't mean to pry, my dear," she said, prying, "but I will say that I'm very happy for you. He looks perfect for you."

"He was…is…my uncle," said Mireille, softly.

"Oh, my apologies, my dear!" she replied, shaking with laughter. "There I go again, jumping to conclusions. I should have remembered, 'Never assume, because it makes a bass out of you and me' and all that. Never understood the spelling on that one, actually," she added, as an afterthought. "Hmm, I do see the resemblance now, I suppose," she said, attempting to find it.

"It's in the eyes, mostly."

"Really? Runs in the blood, then, does it?"

She clutched her sack of groceries subconsciously. "Yes," she whispered. "The same blood…"

"An uncle," said Madame, collecting her change from the grocer. "I don't think you've ever mentioned him before, Miss Bouquet?"

Kirika glanced over at her roommate. "Ah, Madame?"

"Mm?"

"This thing here —" She paused in mid-sentence at tired wave from her roommate. "Never mind," she finished, stepping back.

"We…we've been out of touch for a long time," said Mireille, scrutinizing the pavement.

Madame nodded slowly, as they left the marketplace for places more private. "It's the same with myself and cousin Reuel. He and I, well, we never really got along. Not since that octopus incident, anyway. I keep trying to mend fences with him; I write every year, but he never writes back."

"No, it's not like that," sighed Mireille. "We were…close. Very close. He wasn't so much an uncle to me, more of a…big brother."

Madame looked interested.

Mireille took a breath. "He was always around the house when I was young. My father, he was always busy at something, and my younger brother was too young to do much of anything, so we hung out together all the time. We'd walk, we'd talk, ride horses over the fields. He, he even read stories to me when I couldn't sleep. He had this huge library in the house; I'd raid it every chance I'd get. And…and there was this lake, just north of Paris where we'd go to every few months or so."

(End excerpt, unfinished)

Eventually, I realized I actually didn't need this scene here. I'd already established that Mireille's relation should be going downhill at this point, but had another scene in mind for later. Why duplicate? I elected to shove these plot points into Chapter 11 to give Mireille something to REALLY angst about.

Chapter 10

Time check: one of the few scenes that really could take place at any time (except that the storyline demanded it occur near the end). Presumably, this occurs in the gap between Episodes 16 & 17.

The title: what was it that Gandalf said of chance encounters?

Rue De l'Echaude is supposedly the actual place Mireille's neighbourhood was modelled after.

The manhole scene was one I envisioned very early in the story. Essentially, I looked at the scenes where Mireille and Kirika were at target practice, and realized some odd things:

1. The tunnels were lit. I'm not familiar with the Parisian sewer system, but it doesn't make much sense to me to illuminate a sewer. This smacked of the old fantasy cliché, whereby every dark place will always have some sort of light, illuminated crystal, or phosphorescent fungi in it on the off chance some hero without excellent night-vision just happens upon the joint. To me, this meant that either they were not in an actual sewer, or they were in one that was no longer in use.

2. We never see Mireille and Kirika fending off rats whilst in the tunnels. (I played with the idea that they'd shot them all, but dropped it.) Nor were they vomiting from the smell of raw sewage (or incinerated by flaming methane pockets). The water, then, must be reasonably clean.

3. A very distinguished, presumably hygienic, Soldat official climbs down into this very tunnel with an expensive cane and designer suit without any real concern that he'd get either soiled. I don't believe most sewers are that clean (I could be wrong, of course).

4. Despite shooting the hell out of the sewer walls probably at least twice a week, they never, ever end up shooting at a bullet-ridden wall. Moreover, Mireille herself was using these same tunnels for an extended period of time before meeting Kirika. Unless the two of them are moving deeper and deeper into the Parisian sewer system (not a good thing for stealth, convenience, or designer clothing), they have to have some system for repairing the damage they cause.

This scene actually helped shape some of Verloc's dialogue in a later chapter, as it made me realize how bad Mireille and Kirika were at covering their tracks. With modern forensics, all those shell casings they leave lying around would make it very easy for a police force to track their progress across the world.

As for "spelunking," that was another 2 AM innovation.

And, of course, weeks after writing this scene, I realized that they weren't actually in a sewer, but a storm drain. And storm drains do, on occasion, have lights (for inspection purposes). Ah phoo.

Chapter 11

Time check: occurs at some point in the one or two days Kirika is off on her journey of self discovery in Episode 19.

The title: Um, duh?

This is where the end of Chapter 9 ended up.

Presumably, Mireille has learned to not step on that one loose floorboard in order to avoid Madame.

I'm not sure if I've got Mireille quite right here, but I figured that, since I've established her and Madame as good friends and all, and since Mireille was a little bit stressed here, there was a good chance she could snap like a twig. Or bend a whole bunch. And if her snapping seems sudden and unexpected, even better.

Sometimes I worry about not adding anything original to the characters of Mireille and Kirika. Then I realize that this would take skill I don't have, and keep writing.

"And Julie Julie doesn't take phone reservations!"

Well, the latter half of the name is most definitely "Julie," and the former ends in "e." And there's a Beijing Beijing where I live. Meh, why not?

It was not the cold, empty dark around her that caused her to tremble, but that which lay within.

You know a series has a hold on you when you write a line like that and realize weeks later that you'd subconsciously referenced the title of the episode this chapter is based on ("The Darkness Within Me").

"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. 'Nothing,' is it?" She sat down next to her. "That's the most complicated thing of all."

Fun fact: nothing, as the origin of everything, must, by definition, be very, very complex.

"One word, one look, and the mask falls away, and you're never prepared for what's beneath it."

You know a series has a hold on you when you write a line like that and realize weeks later that you'd subconsciously referenced a line from "The Cold-Blooded Killer, Acte 1." Although this example isn't as bad as the one mentioned above; mask-imagery turns up most everywhere.

Chapter 12

Time check: here's where things get tricky. Assuming the Soldats obey rules of dramatic necessity and attack at midnight, this scene occurs exactly 38 hours before the big shootout in Episode 20.

The title: I think this one was originally "Trust" before I moved that one elsewhere.

Madame swept off the lid with a flourish, revealing a steaming, bubbling mess of onion, fish, and dismembered squid.

I wanted a French dinner-dish that would look really disgusting, something that goes plop off the spoon real good. Chaudrée was the first thing I could find. The presence of tentacles suggests that Madame is a really, really bad cook.

"Canada."

Originally, I had Peter considering Algiers. I think some latent nationalism might've slipped in here or something. That, and Canada's funny, damn it.

Inspector Vélohr Verloc of the National Police looked up from his paperwork.

This is where Vhailor from Planescape: Torment ended up. Considering that Vhailor was also obsessed with the concept of Justice (more like Vengeance, actually), I thought it was appropriate.

Brannua is where a certain Monument was located, where our dynamic duo gunned down a whole bunch of Knights in the rain. D'Estaing is the corrupt judge. Dux managed a hotel. Feyder was an Uncle. LeGrand ate Daily Bread (and lead).

Originally, after he ripped up the tickets, Monsieur said something like, "No Trousseau has ever run from trouble." Yeah, bad idea. Monsieur's no liar, and his priority is his son's safety. If his son wants to run, he'd hold the door open for him, but only if he knew where he was running to, and what from.

Fun fact: this chapter, possibly the dramatic peak of the whole tale, was written simultaneously with Chapter 8 of Noir: Contracts (where Mireille gets savaged by a club sandwich).

Chapter 13

Time check: occurs exactly 12 hours before the big shootout.

The title: was, at one point, "Last Words." Through a bit of shuffling, I managed to free up "Time" from another chapter for use here. Tick, tick, tick…

An intentionally short chapter, because, well, none of the characters are really in a talkative mood at this point. Originally, this was paired with Chapter 11. I'd planned out this chapter for a very long time, right down to the spent shell and the promise.

Unfortunately, this was also another one of those "Kirika speaks" deals. Worse, the whole scene was essentially a sledgehammer to her face; she comes in depressed, and leaves really depressed. So I needed to change it. Originally, I ended with this bit:

(Excerpt start)

He set something on the china plate with a clink.

It was a small 9-mm brass shell casing.

"I do not know what lives you and your friend live," said Monsieur. "I do not know what strength lies in your hands. But mine is spent. I cannot help him. Please. Help my son, if you can."

(End)

However, this would make him an absolutely evil bastard. I mean, the girl's clearly drowning in her own grief, and he throws her this 5000-pound life-preserver? Instead, I had him try to encourage her, and then ask her in absenteeism.

"Y'know, I read this book once. On tea. Fellow from Japan wrote it, actually. Smart one. Knows his stuff. Said tea was about 'the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence.' Sounds about right."

Special thanks to FacelessMinion for directions to The Book of Tea, from which Monsieur's quote comes from.

"You'll be just fine," he said. "There is strength in you; I can see it. Whatever it is you are facing, you'll get through it. I know it."

You know a series has a hold on you when you write a line like that and realize weeks later that you'd subconsciously referenced the last words of Kirika's other parental figure, Lady Odette.

He looked up at the old clock, with its curious two headed medallion, and its incessant, insistent time-keeping.

The "two-headed medallion" is supposed to be the official Soldat signet, visible on the ring one of those Illuminati-types wears. I figured that the actual symbol would be like that of the Stonemasons: meaningless to anyone who wasn't a member, and perfectly safe to parade around in public. This also explains why Chloe recognized the clock.

Chapter 14

Time check: come on; you can figure this one out, can't you?

The title: broken glass, broken promises, broken lives, broken bones, broken world views, broken spirits…yeah, I think it works. This was actually the first chapter I named.

It's all been leading to this. As soon as Peter and Monsieur walked on stage, I knew things would end badly. I actually wrote up to Chapter 6 then plotted backwards from the last chapter to figure out exactly what I needed to happen to reach this scene.

By far my favourite chapter as well, since its probably the only true tragi-comedic piece in the whole tale. Obviously, there was no way Madame and Monsieur could come out of this tale in one piece: people such as them have, regrettably, no place in the world of Noir.

Originally, I didn't even have the next two chapters; I jumped straight to the end, leaving Monsieur dying in Madame's arms. Then I realized I needed some more closure.

When I sat down to write this scene, I recalled that I'd already made the story somewhat circular with the chapter headings for the prologue and conclusion. I decided to make it explicit by making a grim return to the opening scene.

Yes, the Soldats normally use pistols. But look at the state of the apartment: that's assault rifle work, I think. I'm assuming they swiped the FAMAS from the police armoury or something.

I think it's a lot more entertaining and a great deal more terrifying to describe a fight scene this way; leaves everything up to the imagination.

But for you sticklers out there, I did manage to puzzle out the entire fight sequence. For positions, please refer to the map available on the Project Noir website (go to Gallery, Model Sheets, number 10: it's the last one):

1. Mireille is by the pool table, leaning against right wall, facing Kirika. Kirika leans against the left low wall by the steps to bedroom area. Guns are on the table, left.

2. Peter's clock strikes midnight. Assault team, consisting of Lt. Blanche and two Goons, crashes through bay windows. Goon #1 is on the left, Blanche centre, Goon #2 right.

3. Mireille rolls over the pool table, hoping to reach guns on far side of room. Kirika distracts Goon #1 with a thrown picture frame snatched from the wall. Assault team opens fire. Goon #1 hits mostly ceiling, but his wild burst (and the fact that he's right next to the guns) deters Kirika and Mireille. Blanche and Goon #2 shoot in Mireille's direction. Three lucky shots pass through the low wall, the open bathroom door, and through the wall between the apartments to hit Madame's yarn, Monsieur's cup, and Peter's clock.

4. Kirika retreats towards the kitchen, Mireille towards the bathroom. Madame says "Wha?" Goons shoot at stuff.

6. Goon #2 leaps over wall and pursues Mireille; Blanche does the same for Kirika. Goon #1 tries to shake the stars from his vision.

7. Goon #2 fires a long burst into the bathroom. Numerous rounds break stuff in the Trousseau's apartment. Monsieur is hit.

8. Kirika melees with Blanche, knocking him into some pans. Goon #2 stupidly enters bathroom, where Mireille kicks him into the shower door before flipping back into the bedroom. Goon #2 recovers and follows, but is bloodied and woozy on account of his face being full of glass.

9. Kirika stuns and disarms Blanche. Crack. Arrrgh. Goon #1 gets a burst off, but wounds Blanche. Kirika chucks a cleaver at the Goon. Gurgle. Thud.

10. Upon reaching pool table, Mireille dashes Goon #2's rifle from his hands with a sweep kick and floors him with a boot to the head. She grabs the pool cue from the rack and beats him mercilessly. Whack! Whack! Whack!

11. Interval. Kirika sprints from kitchen to where guns are laid out on pool table. Mireille probably gasps a bit.

12. Blanche gets to his feet and attempts to bull-rush Mireille. Not smart. Bang. Kirika plugs him from behind. He stumbles and crashes face-first into the right wall.

See? It was probably cooler in your head. That's why you read this stuff after you read the story, yes? Note that Blanche is face-first on the floor after this, sparing Madame the knowledge that he was involved.

It's a departure from the standard Noir "bang-bang you're dead" fight sequences, but I wanted something really brutal with all sorts of nasty sound effects. Hence the pool cue. WHACK!

"But…but I thought you said you were a fashion consultant!"

"I…haven't been completely honest with you, Madame."

The dialogue between Madame and Mireille is partially inspired by the last few minutes of Fight Club, and turned out much, much better than I thought it would. Terror, tears, absurdity! I love it! And "fashion consultant" would explain why Mireille dresses as she does (heels? All the time? And a dress that no witness would have any trouble identifying?).

Chapter 15

Time check: this, too, should be obvious.

The title: bit of a toss-up on the title here. "Fate" was the first choice. Then 3 A.M. struck, and I remembered, "Hey, Pete kinda redeems his scummy self by saving Mireille, and our heroines kinda make up for ruining the lives of the title characters by helping their son come to grips with his life." Why not "Redemption" then? On the other hand, Pete's been so very doomed since the start; his personal symbol's a clock, for gosh sakes. And this whole situation is the result of events largely beyond his control, very doom-like. I went with "Fate" mostly because it matches up nicely with the next chapter.

"You answered the call, so you wear it!" said Verloc. "That's the way it works!"

Unless those things have built-in night-vision, I can't think of any other reason why the Soldats would send out their best hitmen wearing something they could barely see through.

Note: theoretically, you can actually see the person I've named Verloc in Episode 20 (time index 16:51). He's on screen for about 1 second before he gets shot like every other male in this show. Peter is presumably behind one of the chimneys.

The exact moment of Peter's death went through several iterations. At one point, Peter actually shot Verloc; I dropped that idea because this would make him a killer like everyone else. He's no killer; he's a natural chicken. On the other hand, if he missed completely, that'd be too funny and ruin the atmosphere. (Also, I realized later, this guy's got at least a little firearms training: he shouldn't be that bad.) Hence the near-miss. At another point, I had either Maurice or Cherise catch up to Peter as he was dying. They would've shot Verloc dead and said some cool dialogue. That sent the wrong message: revenge is good, Peter's avenged, yadda. Originally, Mireille and Kirika did not make an appearance here: Pete shot Verloc off-camera. Eventually, I remembered he should have a plot curve of some kind. He needed a chance to redeem himself after that last talk with his parents. I remembered the promise I'd planned between Kirika and Monsieur, and that nifty moment where that Soldat inexplicably misses Mireille despite having about 30 seconds to aim, and wrote those in.

I do like how this scene turns out, especially with three out of four of its main participants finding redemption without even realizing it: Mireille indirectly helps Peter come to terms with his own life, Kirika fulfils Monsieur's last request (even though she didn't actually hear it), and Peter, for once in his cowardly life, actually does something brave and saves another life (even if he did it out of anger). Heck, even Verloc gets in on the act, what with him cursing the Soldats for sending him after his own neighbours. Arguably, his stupid decision to fire without taking cover could be interpreted as self-sacrificial. This also puts an ironic spin on the chapter title, and relates back to the fate-versus-free-will theme endemic to Noir itself.

Chapter 16

Time check: this is probably a few hours after Kirika stumbles out of that graveyard (depending on how long the surgery took).

The title: I thought it would make a neat counterpoise to "Fate."

I debated whether or not to include the following explicit flashback of what happened to Robert and company. I decided that it was better left up to the imagination. Then I consulted with my editor, who reminded me that it might be pushing things to ask readers to remember a single line of dialogue from about seven chapters back. I stuck it back in. It also helps readers judge how "cowardly" Monsieur and Madame are.

Madame swallowed. "Madame Duceppe came by a few minutes ago. He said they've found him, and that he should be joining us soon."

True to form, Madame lies to protect her husband, again (as we find out next chapter). Although, if you take a black-hearted view of it (as I do), she's technically telling the truth, if, by "joining us," she means "in the morgue." Bwah ha ha! I'm so eeeeeevil.

(Upon reaching last few lines.) Oh, no. Wait. Lump in throat. Guilt trip. Guess I'm not.

Chapter 17

Time check: takes place one week after the end of the series, assuming the events of Episodes 19-26 took about a full week.

The title: kinda explains Chapter 1, now, don't it? Also relates back to the particularly clever choice to call Episode 26 "Birth."

Originally, I left Madame and Monsieur bleeding on the floor of Mireille's apartment. I decided to add the "died in their sleep" bit after an attack of mercy. Besides, it fits them better; they come in quietly, and leave the same way.

A small heart-shaped arrangement of marigolds leaned against it. Beneath that lay a bouquet of zinnias.

Marigolds grief. Presumably left by the family.

Zinnias I mourn your absence. Left by the Duceppes.

"Maurice…Cherise," said Mireille. "Thank you for taking care of things around here."

Having spies for neighbours sure is handy. And a full-scale cover-up is really the only way Mireille could hang around her apartment/crime-scene for two days or so without being mobbed by the police and press.

"Maybe some day," she said. "But not now. It's too soon. But we will, eventually. It's…home…after all."

It would be nice for them to go straight back home after the end of the show, but that would make no practical sense. I suspect Mireille probably maintains several safe-houses; that would explain where all her money goes.

The two spies dipped their heads in acknowledgement, and then set off into the cold.

John le Carré's The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is another thematic inspiration for this tale.

One laid a bouquet of white chrysanthemums upon it, the other, a bushel of hazel.

White chrysanthemums truth.

Hazel reconciliation.

Hence, the two hold their own Truth and Reconciliation meeting, to set things right.

"Mireille!" She turned to her, haunted. "Did we…?"

Kill them? Betray them? Abuse their trust? Insert whatever you like.

Closing Remarks

Why did I put Madame and Monsieur through hell? Noir is a world where there are no truly bad or good people, and for good reason. A truly good person would not survive more than a second in it. In part, I guess this gets back to The Punisher, which shows precisely the disastrous things that happen when these worlds do collide.

Actually, when this was originally a Madame-only story, I'd planned for a slightly happier ending where Mireille would confess everything to her over tea. Too sappy; I'm glad I didn't go with it.

Last chapter and editing completed August 23, 2004.

Bashing the heck out of the story until it worked with the website's text parser completed August 24, 2004 (Argh! Although I'm certain the problem is on my end).

Utterly anal revision sweep since I'm bored, April 7, 2007. Sweet mother of sin, I wrote this THREE YEARS AGO?!

Kevin "Section 8" Ma