Title: The Ante
Chapter 28: Mistigris – Part II
Fandom: X-Men: Evolution
Author: Lucia de'Medici
Summary: When Remy LeBeau left Rogue on the shore of the Ripper's bayou hideout, he slipped a solitary playing card into the palm of her hand. It was a conciliatory gesture — an offer for friendship, an unspoken apology, and the beginning of a less-than-friendly game between rivals. A year has passed. The stakes have been raised, and Remy is not a person who enjoys entertaining the idea of folding before the bluff gets called.
Secondary Pairings: Gambit/Belladonna, Henri/Mercy
Warnings: Language, violence, (graphic) gore, scenes of a sexual nature, minors engaged in sexual situations, unresolved sexual tension, etc.
Author's Notes: As supplied by one Ms. Carmine LaCroix, at the very end of this chapter.
Disclaimer: All characters and situations remain the property of their respective owners, including, but not limited to Marvel, Kids WB, The Adams Family and H.P. Lovecraft (Ia! Cthulhu!) Special love is extended to Katherine Ramsland, Penny Coleman and Mary Roach for writing three wonderful books on thanatology that have added the little bit of extra oomph! needed to make the corpse in this chapter come to life. (Figuratively.)
Chapter XXVIII: Mistigris
Adamantium grinds in a flash of cold metal over his tops of his knuckles with each pass of his quarterstaff. Remy rolls the weapon over and under, twisting his wrist, his gaze set on a fixed point well in the distance though the air around him sings with the whip of the bo as it passes.
He loves it, his new toy. It's a mark of his status in the Guild to have graduated to defensive weaponry, and the adamantium is quicksilver in his hands. It bends to his will with the slightest roll of his thumb, slicing a smooth, sure arc in the air around him.
Today, however – right at this very moment – he's not paying attention to his trusty friend.
"Who's Père on the phone with?" he asks Henri, his attention unwavering from the window panes where Jean Luc cuts a dark silhouette against the amber cast of tasteful interior lighting.
Henri looks up through stringy bangs, shifting so that a moment later, his face is hidden by the shadows of the oak tree under which they sit. "Dunno?" He phrases it like a question, making it sound like he's asking Remy in return, "Why do you want to know?"
"Think its Essex?" asks Etienne, craning his neck to better see what's going on.
Remy sure hopes it's not Essex. The geneticist, while certainly helpful in coming to grips with his mutancy, was just on the other side of downright scary-as-shit.
Seeming to understand as much, Etienne gives him a sheepish look and returns his attention to the task Theoren's set him for the evening.
"Or," he clears his throat, "y' know, maybe it's a telemarketer or somethin'."
"Or somethin'," Remy echoes, unconvinced. He doesn't remind Etienne that on all radars, the Guild mansion simply doesn't exist. It makes it impossible getting the cable guy out to the middle of the swamp – so forget the idiots trying to sell life insurance at a premium.
Etienne does not yet have a staff of his own, having not yet undertaken his Tilling Harvest, so he's busying himself, splay-legged on the patchy grass, with the remains of Gardex 350 "Burglary and Fire Resistant" safe. Etienne's made short work of the lock. At present, he's picking apart the interior mechanism in the hopes of making a keychain.
Out of the corner of his eye, Remy thinks he can see Henri shake his head. He spares his brother a cursory glance, but he can only detect a hint of the movement with his kinesthetic awareness honed razor sharp. No matter; at Henri's side, Mercy acts like a mirror. She's looking into the shadows cast by the Spanish moss, a question plain on her face, though she doesn't vocalize it. That's how Remy knows that Henri doesn't like it when he gets too curious.
"Hey," Henri says, clearing his throat, "Where's Lapin? You seen him?"
"Tryin' t' change th' subject," Remy observes bluntly. "Not smooth. Mercy, if y' boyfriend ever tries t' lie t' you, there's no way y' won't know it."
She flashes him a smile, a sisterly sort of look that Remy appreciates because its so guileless. Fifteen, busty and blond… Mercy's full of that down-home charm that boys like him couldn't possibly get enough of. It's a good thing that Henri's staked claims on her. Mercy's as devoted as they come. In a year or two, Remy's certain there'll be a ring on her finger to prove it too.
Still, its hard not to appreciate a fine thing, he thinks. Even from afar. Seems like Etienne shares a similar idea; his eyes are practically suctioned to Mercy's thighs as his fingers manipulate the boltwork.
"So," Mercy says with a blinding smile, "Gambit? Why don't y' tell us all again how y' came t' take that particular codename."
He grins. "Sure, I'll tell you all about it while Etienne scoots up t' th' house and finds out who Jean Luc's talkin' to."
"Awe, common, Remy!" Henri groans. "Let it alone. I'm sure it's nothin'…"
"Really?" Etienne asks, perking up.
"Sure. Y' need all th' practice y' can get right now. Not gonna learn anything sittin' there looking at Mercy's legs."
"Hey!" Henri shouts over Mercy's laughter.
There's a clink and a shattering crack as Et pitches the bolt at Remy's staff. Without warning, a charge shoots down the staff, and upon connecting with the metalwork, it flares to life with a piercing whine and a crackle of fuchsia energy.
Not having even enough time to curse, he bats it out of the way with enough force to sending it soaring into the bayou. It lands with a heavy splash well beyond them, echoed a moment later with an ear-splitting explosion and a jet of water. The charge thrums out of his hands, grounded by the earth where he lodges his staff into the soft mulch between the tree roots.
Etienne beams, unconcerned by the show of power. Remy's hands are tingling, ready for more. He reigns it in. Mentally forces it to shut off. It hurts a little, all the way down to his cuticles.
Henri and Mercy, however, are rooted to the spot, staring between him and the lingering flare against their retinas where the bolt exploded over the swamp.
"I was not," Et hisses, though it's accompanied by a grin and a fleeting, impish smirk. He doesn't see Remy's brief, but pained expression, and Remy's already forgotten what they were talking about.
Etienne's already moving, rolled into a low run across the property along the tree line, happy to impress Remy at the slightest prompting, and even if it means breaking cardinal rule number one: never trifle with Jean Luc - especially while he's on the phone.
Mercy clears her throat pointedly.
"I meant t' do that," Remy says once Etienne is out of earshot.
Instead of chastising him for 'showing off his powers', like Henri usually does, Henri remarks, "That boy turns into you a little more each day, Rem."
Much to Theo's chagrin, he thinks, gaze flitting back to the mansion, his thoughts lingering on the momentary flash of his mutation: it feels a little like he's dropped his pants, or like someone's walked in on him in the bathroom and surprised him. He's half excited by it and half-embarrassed, though he disguises it well.
The adamantium bo is singing beneath his hands, but Remy knows that with the slightest push, he could easily spark the metal up again and turn the entire thing into a kinetically-charged pretzel. His powers are nearly as unpredictable as he is. Fitting, really. But something tells him that Henri isn't quite as impressed.
"You watchin' him?" Henri asks, watching him rather than Etienne's progress, to which Remy responds with a nod, switching his bo between hands, making it butterfly around him.
"See how he moves?" Henri says. "He's tryin' t' copy your style. You've gotta train him out of that. He doesn't have your agility. He'll burn himself out on a run, he carries on like that. Put his muscles into exhaustion, mebbe fall, mebbe break somethin', mebbe get caught..."
"I'll tell him," Remy says, cutting him off. He's still watching Jean Luc's window. "Any word on where Jean Luc plans t' send him?"
"Is that why you're so damned antsy?" Mercy cuts in. "You're thinkin' about Etienne's Tilling, still?"
"I think there's a few too many secrets in this house t' not try for the advantage, n'est-ce-pas?" He offers her a sly half-shrug, a glance out of narrowed eyes. Henri slumps.
"Blowin' up crap at random 'cause ya can't keep y' head straight doesn't equate to 'antsy' in m' books, Merc."
He ignores her admonishment, and with a sigh, Henri slinks out from the shadows to stand below him. "Don't brush it off so easy, Remy. You have an advantage that Etienne doesn't."
"Think I forgot?" he shoots back, harsher than he means to. "Kinda hard not to, homme, what with everyone remindin' me every chance they get."
"Your powers are an asset t' all of us, Rem -" Henri counters. There's something resigned in his tone that unnerves him. It sounds oddly like he's channeling Père.
"Yeah? You can have 'em, Henri, would that I could give 'em to you."
"But they're unreliable," he finishes.
Remy snorts, his bo stalling for a fraction of a second with a violent thwap! against the side of his boot. It's true, and Henri's right, but that doesn't mean he needs to know that he agrees with him.
"I'm just sayin' that Etienne looks up to you," Henri continues. "When you show off, it rubs off on him –"
"And you'd rather that it was you he tries t' emulate?" Remy shoots back, stopping his practice and leaping from the natural balustrade of gargantuan, moss-covered tree roots to join his brother beneath the protective covering of the old oak. "Be my guest."
"I'm not jealous of what y' can or can't do," Henri says hotly. "Y' know damn well that I hold m' own just fine 'round here."
Compacting his staff and sliding it into his belt, Remy cocks his head and smirks. "Mebbe you just like th' pressure Père puts on us all, so why don't y' take my share too?"
"Oh, mon Dieu." Mercy sighs, standing from her perch and stretching. "Here we go again."
"Mercy, chère –" Henry begins, but she cuts him off.
"Been listening t' this old argument for too long. When are you gonna learn that he don't like it, Henri?" she asks. "And Remy, when are you gonna stop throwing y' problems with y' Papa back at your brother?"
"Merc, chére –" Remy tries this time, in a silkier tone than Henri managed.
"He's right, you know," she continues. "You do have an advantage because of your mutation, and Etienne, more than anything, would love t' have th' natural skill that y' got. I don't envy you at all, Rem. You set the bar way too high, performance-wise."
"It's dangerous," Henri cuts in, not letting the opportunity pass. Remy wants to ask, dangerous for Etienne, or dangerous for himself?
"Only if he overshoots himself," Remy says instead, already bored with the conversation. Mercy shoots him a look that keeps him from leaping for the lowest tree branch and making a quick getaway.
"It's your responsibility that he doesn't," Henri snaps.
Remy rolls his eyes. "You been hanging around Theo too long. Startin' t' sound like him."
"And you been messin' around too long and shirking y' responsibilities, meanwhile me and Theo gotta pick up th' slack!"
Mercy snorts, stepping over the roots and landing lightly between them. One hand she puts on Remy's shoulder, the other at the back of Henri's neck. In one swift motion, she yanks them both against her.
"Boys," Mercy says patiently, patting Remy's shoulder and running her fingers affectionately into the scrub beneath Henri's ponytail. "Boys."
Remy blinks, temporarily distracted by the warmth of her body and the sweet smell of her shampoo.
"Don't you start –" Henri warns, still glowering. "I won't have y' lookin' at m' future wife like that, Remy."
"Calme toi," Mercy says affectionately, pecking his cheek. "Much as it pains me t' say it, you're both idiots. You know that, right?"
"If bein' an idiot puts me this close to a fine young woman such as y'self –" Remy murmurs, idle hands sliding casually around her waist, getting cozy.
Henri looks about ready to punch him.
"Ever th' ladies man." She rolls her eyes. "You move your hand any lower, Gambit, and Henri won't have th' time t' take it off ya. I'll do it myself."
Grinning fiendishly, Remy murmurs an apology, eking his shin out of the way before Henri can kick him. From where Mercy holds them both in place, and with both of them in a stalemate, there isn't much else to do other than wait it out. If they were working together, Mercy'd be in the drink by now and soaked up to her skivvies.
"You're both too dumb t' say what you mean. So let me translate 'fore one of you winds up painted with iodine and th' other puts another crater in th' lawn."
"It wasn't th' lawn. It was Theoren's desk," Remy corrects. It was one time. Lord knows, no one wants to let him live it down.
"… With his laptop on it, no less," Henri appends, adding smugly, "That's what got nuked. Remy can't charge up anythin' organic: early Manchu dynasty cherry wood included, remercier Dieu."
"Like you could even get in a swing 'fore I took you down," Remy says darkly. He's still smiling. "Like it or not, I'm still faster than you, brah." For Mercy's benefit he adds, "And more flexible."
"Whatever," Mercy says, utterly unimpressed. Her fingers brush the side of Remy's neck, and before he can take any pleasure in it, she pinches his earlobe. By the wince he wears, Henri appears to be receiving the same rough treatment. "You, mon coeur," she says to Henri, "are tryin' t' express your concern that Remy, not Etienne, will hurt himself on this mission. It's written all over y' face that you're scared that he'll lose control of his powers again, when y' know that he's sworn t' Jean Luc not to use his mutation to an unnecessary advantage since he's just overseein' things. In doin' so, you're usin' Et as a scapegoat – Et, who, I might add, is more than capable of puttin' you t' shame with all the exercises you've made him run t' prepare f' this. What you really meant t' say is… what?"
Stubbornly, Henri clamps his lips together.
"You're worried about me?" Remy laughs. "Thanks, maman." There's something in Henri's expression that is veiled over too quickly for things to be that simple. Remy catches a glimpse of it, but all too quickly, its gone. Could it… was it shame? Non, he thinks, ce n'est pas possible.
"Henri?" Mercy presses in a tone that suggests that if he doesn't comply, she's likely to withhold certain boyfriendly privileges to his detriment. The pitfalls of teenage hormones, Remy thinks to himself.
Henri mutters, "Don't do anythin' stupid." He winces from another pinch to his earlobe. "S'il-vous-plait."
"And you?" Mercy rounds on him, all sisterly affectations suspended while the bite of her nails into his flesh sharpens to a white-hot throb. Remy grits his teeth.
"I dunno what y' mean," he tries, aiming for levity but only managing to grit his teeth together.
"Why did y' really send Etienne off t' spy on Jean Luc, Remy?" Mercy probes. "I'm sure it wasn't 'cause y' didn't want him t' hear the two of you bickering like a pair of cheerleaders over the captain of the football team," she says wryly.
"This is how we get in touch with our feminine sides?" he asks, feigning surprise. "Shoulda told me. Left m' pom poms in m' closet."
"He knows," he admits finally, grudgingly, throwing a glower in Henri's direction. "No sense in askin' me when m' own brother won't tell me what's up t' begin with. Ain't just simple sibling concern for m' well being, is it, homme?"
Blinking, Henri tries to formulate a diplomatic response. It's altogether too long before he says, surprised, "I don't know what you mean."
"Forget it," he mutters. "Nevermind." But Mercy holds firm to him.
"Henri! Dit-lui!" she insists.
"Non," Remy continues dismissively. "S' aright. I don't need t' know what goes on behind my back between Père and Henri. Ignorance is bliss, and all that…"
"Now y' lost me," Henri says, looking to Mercy for support. "I really dunno –"
"…'Cept when th' walls are too thin and everyone else can hear y' clandestine conversations, an' I'm just supposed t' pretend like I didn't hear none of it, like I've blown up a few too many rocks near m' head and I'm deaf…"
"Eh bien, attend, it's not like that –" Henri protests.
Remy forges onward, setting up the ruse easily: "Not like what? Not like y' not ready t' blame me if Etienne doesn't pull through his Tilling because I don't have complete control? Why doesn't Lapin oversee him, then, if my freak condition is such a concern to th' Guild –"
"No one ever said that about y' powers, Remy. It's just a different circumstance, is all –"
"Y' don't need t' say it when it's written all over y' faces! Think I'm blind too –"
Henri, irritated, snaps at last, "Ça suffit! The only reason Père's been confidin' in me is because he's just as concerned for th' both of you as he is Etienne. The only reason he lets you run at all, Remy, is because you'd be the first person t' high tail it outta here if he actually told y' how important y' are to th' family's future."
"Merde, not this again – how long's it gonna be before y' drop this prophecy crap?" he laughs. It's lacks humour.
"It's in the book, Remy," Henri shouts. "You're in the maudite book!"
That shuts him up. That is exactly what he expected, and exactly what he'd hoped not to hear.
After a prolonged silence, Mercy asks, "What book?"
"The one Henri acquired for his Tilling Harvest," Remy answers, knowing he's been right in his suspicions all along, knowing now more surely than ever, he needs to see the damnable thing for himself.
Glumly, Henri admits, "I'm not supposed t' talk about it."
Remy smirks, covering up the sudden stab of disappointment in knowing that Henri's unease isn't as selfless as it would seem. It's concern for the Guild, and what it would mean for the family if Remy didn't return.
And its all because of some stupid legend.
He claps him in the shoulder with his free hand, hard enough to make Henri sway on the spot. "Merci, mon ami."
"You knew!" Mercy accuses, pinching them both hard enough to elicit two synchronized yelps of pain. Remy shrugs out from her hold, giving her a light kiss on the cheek, and tossing a careless grin at his brother. He only winces once he can turn his back to them, checking his ear and finding a spot of blood where Mercy's nails gouged him.
"He thinks the Guild legacy is bullshit," Henri mutters, pinching his own earlobe gingerly. "That's what makes lettin' him out on his own on any job dangerous. He gets reckless."
"I'm also ten times better at getting' out of a jam than you, cher frère."
"And big-headed." Mercy whistles. "How do you get that ego t' fit through doors?"
Remy shrugs, turning back to the mansion to survey Etienne's progress and wiping his fingers on his jeans. "Looks like my ego's done somethin' right. It's rubbin' off. Look at that."
Etienne is shimmying up the column easily with only his bare hands and his feet, and the makeshift rigging beneath his hips.
"That's his belt," Remy says, a barely controlled smirk reigned in at the last moment.
There's not a scrap of equipment to help with the ascent, which makes his next maneuver all the more impressive. Etienne pauses midway, glancing to his left and gauging the distance to the nearest beams supporting the gallery. As his legs drop out from beneath him, he reaches simultaneously, clasping the first secure thing he can use to haul himself over. A second later, Etienne swings wide and disappears beneath the mezzanine floor.
Henri clears his throat. "I seen that before. Seems like I taught you that move not more'n two years back, m'self."
Grinning, Remy cants back on his heels, lacing his fingers together behind his head. "Did me some good, brah. Just passin' on that old LeBeau wisdom."
Henri doesn't respond, though he makes a fine show of staring off into the distance with a vague look on his face that tells Remy all he needs to know: Henri's regretting his admission already. It's the unspoken solidarity between brothers that lured him into confessing that he's been talking to Jean Luc about the book he brought home. Even if Remy oiled the gears a little, Henri doesn't seem too pleased with himself. He doesn't blame him, but that's not reason enough to rub salt into the wound.
Remy's gotten what he wanted. Henri can give him a stiff upper lip all he likes, but that doesn't change the fact that there have been words exchanged behind his back that even Henri won't divulge.
Already, Remy's calculating the possible locations for the tome.
"No hard feelings?" He tucks away the bubble of resentment that threatens to burst in his chest at this tiny betrayal. He'll save it for later, when he's alone, and there's no one around to see him let loose the old, insistent tingle in his bones.
Brooding, Henri waves him off. With a fretful tug of his ponytail, he shows a moment's frustration that Remy's played him with the utmost ease. "Thought for a second I actually hurt y' stupid feelings…"
"Je t'aime, Henri." It doesn't come out sounding flat, but it sure feels it, Remy thinks.
He scowls at Remy's effort at using light banter to cover the tension.
Appraising them both with a cocked hip, a raised eyebrow and a wry expression contorting her features into an, "I told you so," look, Mercy sniffs.
"Next time, I might actually pierce y' ears through, if it'll get the air clear quicker," she promises.
"Only Assassins draw blood, Merc!" Remy protests, holding up his stained fingers.
She shrugs, inspecting her fingernails. "Jean Luc says t' use all my assets, Rem. If it comes down t' me against Belladonna Boudreaux, fightin' like a pair o' cats in the gutter someday? You can damn well be sure I ain't gonna be usin' a stick t' beat her off." She juts her chin at his collapsed quarterstaff matter-of-factly. "I'll claw out that bitch's eyes 'fore she takes me out."
Henri's eyebrows disappear under his hairline. Remy opens his mouth, a snide-retort ready about the possibility of videotaping the fight, but he's cut off abruptly.
Behind them, several long, loud splashes and a barbaric war cry can be heard beneath the bearded cypress.
"Ah!" she exclaims. "An' here I was wonderin' what happened t' the third stooge. Looks like we found him."
Under his breath, Remy asks, "You swear Pere's letting her in th' Guild?"
Looking apologetic, Henri shrugs. "She said she wouldn't accept m' proposal if we didn't."
Flouncing away towards the noise, Mercy calls over her shoulder. "I ain't lettin' no husband o' mine have all th' fun while I stay at home, chained t' the stove, barefoot and pregnant. Hell no!"
"So much for tradition," Remy muses.
They turn from the mansion, slowly following Mercy towards the banks of the bayou, cutting through the night sounds of bullfrogs and squelching lawn where the earth gradually becomes too sodden to support them. Soon, their sneakers are making sucking sounds in the mud.
"You're gonna tell Père, aren't you?" Remy asks. "That I know?"
"He won't show the book to you, Remy. Hell, he won't even let me see it myself."
"What is it?"
Henri shakes his head.
"You don't know?" he presses, incredulous.
With a sigh, Henri gives him a measuring look. "I thought you didn't believe in fairy tales, Rem."
Smirking into his chest, Remy replies with a noncommittal half-shrug that Henri can interpret in any way he pleases. When he next looks up, it's to stare past Mercy into the swamp, where a hulking shadow is gradually splashing closer to the banks on which they stand.
Henri doesn't offer him anything further, and a moment later, Remy finds that his cocktail of curiosity and dissatisfaction can be put aside, if temporarily.
"Hey!" Etienne calls, jogging up to them. "Remy, you plan on going t' school somewhere outta state?"
"Quoi?" Henri asks, giving Remy a quelling glance that says he should say no more about the diary in front of the Guild's youngest.
"Oncle Jean Luc," Etienne says, breathing heavily from the exertion, but not slowed at all. He's practically vibrating on the spot. "He was on th' phone with some Professor-guy from New York."
"Yeah?" Remy says, his curiosity piqued. Glancing at Henri, he searches his brother's face for that hint of added control that would smother a lie.
Henri shakes his head. He genuinely doesn't know anything.
"What'd Père say?"
"Said y' weren't interested, but he ain't gonna keep you here against y' will Remy. This ain't a jail. We all know that."
"It's the choice that makes you a Thief," Henri murmurs in assent. "You elect to live this life."
"You're not leavin' us, are you?" Etienne demands. "'Cause if y' do, I am so screwed. Lapin'd be my Registrar – and I like Emil, but he's a little –" Etienne makes a poco-loco gesture, spinning a finger around his ear. "Coo coo!"
Just beyond the nearest copse of trees, the splashing doubles in volume. Henri's distracted by the racket.
"Speakin' of Lapin," he mutters.
"Damn, look at that. It's the swamp thing!" Etienne laughs, pointing. Remy follows his line of sight.
"Poo-yee-yee!" Mercy calls, pinching her nose and staggering back from the waterline. "He smells like it, too!" she cries, flinging herself into Henri's waiting arms and burrowing her nose into his shoulder.
As if on cue, Lapin comes thrashing out of the bayou, sloshing water indiscriminately in front of him with each lurching step. In his arms, wrapped in a struggling bear hug, is the thing creating the commotion: with its jaws gripped between Lapin's hands, protuberant eyes bulging and teary, the baby alligator looks less than happy to be where it is.
Lapin stalls mid-step, the alligator's tail slapping against the water, pounding his legs and cutting into his rolled slacks. He's a muddy, soaked mess, but he is beaming.
Henri slaps his forehead, trying to shield his eyes from the sight. Doubled over, Remy and Etienne are clinging to each other, already laughing.
Lapin looks between the four of them, dripping wet and clearly keyed up, but expectant.
"It followed me home?" he volunteers breathlessly.
They call it The Pig: capital "T", capital "P". Definitely an "it" and not a "him", as Remy had mistakenly believed.
He'd expected a portly, middle-aged man in a straining Italian suit, perhaps cursed by the misfortune of having a rather snout-shaped nose, or hoof-like hands, or some other hideous deformity that would have earned him the moniker… definitely not the Lovecraftian horror in the room below.
Dieu, it really is too terrible to describe.
Etienne spits, or at least, Remy thinks Etienne spits: there's now a transparent glob sliding down the reinforced widow that looks down on a room called, "The Pen". The rude gesture seems to placate him a little, as if with a such a small, crass thing, Etienne can claim vengeance for failing his task and being made a captive.
Slanting his eyes at his cousin, who is exactly seven days shy of thirteen and still jittery from the entirety of their evening thus far, Remy nods in approval. Etienne doesn't need to say it: both the thing in the room below and the circumstances they've landed themselves in are despicable. Totally worth wasting a bit of spit.
There are simply no words for the animal farm of insanity they've woken to from their chloroformed slumbers.
Funnily, no one sharing their imprisonment seems to be complaining. There are at least a dozen other teenage boys locked into the room with them, seated at low tables and chairs, all dressed in neutral-coloured work clothes. They are all playing cards. Save for the dull murmur of "Go fish," every so often, Etienne has managed to ignore them entirely in favour of brooding over his failure as a thief.
"Theoren'll wet himself when he hears about how badly I messed up," he mutters. "First t' fail the Tilling since Fagan." Something flits across his gaze, rankling Remy's nerves further. "This means I'm screwed, doesn't it?" Etienne asks fretfully. "I didn't complete th' job. They'll boot me out f' sure, now. Merde."
"Don't cuss," Remy chides automatically, and then thinks better of it with a glance at his crestfallen cousin. "Never mind. Swear all y' want."
Granada was a bust, and they both know it. Remy thinks they're still in Spain, but it's hard to tell. The complex they're trapped in is made up of a myriad of connecting rooms and hallways, a miracle of Bauhaus-inspired monochromatic modernity – utterly space age and impenetrable; the chastity belt of communist design; completely plain-cotton-panties-non-descript.
He'd like to phone home and run this one by Jean Luc: 'Hey, Père? Etienne tripped an alarm and the mark caught us as we were shimmying down her drainpipe. Them powers y' keep telling me t' use? Yeah, I figured it might be too dangerous t' start blowing stuff up, so they knocked us out, maybe did god knows what to our comatose selves – me before Et, of course, so you can tell Theo not t' worry about Et's virgin butthole since we all know I'm prettier than he is – and then they sold us into slavery in a place that might be Spain-but-we-don't-really-know because th' place looks like something out of a Star Trek episode. Can you send Henri t' pick us up now? Kaymercibye.'
Remy sighs. "No one gets admitted t' the Guild without completing the Tilling Harvest first, Et. It's a rite of passage, and if y' ask me, it's as busted and old a tradition as y' can get."
"I feel like Peter Pan," he deadpans. "Never gonna make it t' adulthood in the Guild's eyes, always gonna be the baby of th' family, and now I'm not gonna be a thief either."
Remy distracts himself from the defeated dip in Etienne's tone by carefully double-checking for a way out. There's none that he can see.
"That make me Tinkerbell?" he asks lightly. "I think I might be offended by that, cous. Definitely don't appreciate the subtext, none."
Etienne gives him a lopsided, single-dimpled smile. It's better than nothing.
One thing Remy knows is that Guild law is a fixed and steady thing. It weighs in as heavily as their rituals and their traditions, and guides the Guilds in their every action. There is no recourse for Etienne, and they both know it, but being the son of the late Belize Marceaux, brother-in-law to Jean Luc LeBeau, Etienne isn't entirely out of options.
"You're still part of the family, boy-o. Could be worse," Remy continues, unsure what he can say to mend the sting of defeat. Whoever thought that stealing a chalice from the Benefactress was a good way to officially induct a person into the Thieves Guild ought to be lynched, he thinks. Hell, his Tilling wasn't half as rough as the task set to Etienne… at least, he doesn't think so. Maybe Henri, who'd served over him two years prior, made a better Registrar than Remy. Maybe he shouldn't have taken Père so seriously when he'd been told to keep an eye on Etienne and not to interfere. Maybe if he'd been willing to risk using his powers, he could have knocked a few of the Benefactress' flunkies on their backsides, and they could have made a break for it. Granted, that might've meant a few broken bones and a hole or two in their middles when his mutation got erratic… but so what? Thin was in, these days.
"Worse?" Etienne scoffs. "Worse is that Theoren said he'd make me go t' law school if I fucked this up."
Etienne scrubs at his crew cut; spiking sweaty blond strands with gloved fingers, and comes to rest on an egg-shaped lump at the back of his skull that causes him to cringe – a memento of the scrap with the people who'd knocked them out and brought them to The Pig.
"I'm so not meant f' Harvard," Etienne says despairingly.
"Both of us aren't gonna be meant for anything if we don't get outta here," Remy murmurs, casting a glance at the massive creature in the room below. He represses a shudder and turns away. "You think you're in deep with Theo? He's gonna have m' ass for not getting us out without makin' a complete spectacle of ourselves."
"What're y' thinking?"
Remy squints down at the loading bay.
Etienne follows his gaze, his eyes widening to comical proportions. He wets his split lip. "Y-you could put a hole through a wall or two with y' powers," he volunteers. "S' not exactly discreet, but –"
Mon dieu, Remy thinks, he's serious! The idea more than unsettles him. The very notion that he should resort to his powers is anathema, especially given the clusterfuck they've landed themselves in without using them so far. It must show on his face, because Etienne shuts up instantly.
"I promised Henri."
Gobsmacked, Etienne flails his arms in a gesture that is unsettling reminiscent of Emil. "Is Henri here?" he demands, exasperated.
Remy smirks, repressing the urge to demoralize him more by scrubbing his knuckles into Et's hair. He's right about one thing: what Henri doesn't know won't hurt him. Etienne seems to pick up on his train of thought, because he presses on, "You are th' best, Remy."
He nods approvingly.
"An' I taught you well."
Etienne offers him an indolent shrug, meandering between the tables and lifting a stray deck of cards. He pockets them without a thought; claimed without a shred of hesitancy while Remy looks on.
"Too much?" he asks, grinning. "Spread it on too thick?"
"Like peanut butter," he deadpans. "A little sticky on the compliments, like y' don't wanna let 'em out y' mouth, exactly; 'cause if you do, you'll end up bustin' your gut laughin'."
Etienne smirks, and it's sort of like looking into a mirror: one that's two years younger, blond and blue-eyed, but the expression is all LeBeau-bred-scoundrel.
"I don't have that sorta control, Et," he insists, turning back to the window. Jean Luc'll skin him, he thinks, already half-decided despite the half-hearted protestation. Henri will probably have an, "I told y' so," primed and waiting, but part of him wants to be reckless - part of him wants to prove them wrong. (Part of him wants to scare the entire Guild shitless at the prospect of endangering the sanctity of their precious prophecy.)
Ka-fucking-boom, he thinks, with no shortage of derision.
"Well, what're we gonna do then? Just wait t' be shipped off like them kids down there?" Etienne demands, starting to pace. "Look at 'em! They're bein' herded!"
A boy seated nearby, his posture rigid, sets down his cards on the table before him.
"I'm not about t' get m'self made into bacon 'cause of some arcane Guild ritual, Remy," Etienne says loudly, shaking his head. "Nuh uh. No way. No how."
The boy clears his throat. Remy gives him a cursory once-over that ought to get him minding his own business. He doesn't.
"The doors will open soon," he says. "It's almost time for Conditioning."
"An' I didn't even shampoo," Remy deadpans.
Etienne sneers, "Coulda fooled me, this place doesn't look like much of a salon."
The boy's expression remains placid - a sign of broken spirits or dim wits, Remy isn't sure. All he knows right then and there, is that he's about as interested in getting his roots touched up as he is seeing he and his cousin becoming mindless drones stuck playing "Go Fish". He doesn't even like cards.
"It's not," he says, just as a klaxon sounds and the large, hydraulically-controlled doors hiss open against the far wall. "It's a trading station."
Recognition dawns on Etienne's face as they fall into line behind the others, filing into the hall. "For people?" His voice cracks, exposing his cousin's nerves. Etienne seems to like the idea of being made a slave for profit as much as he does. "How do y' know?"
Maybe its not a total fluke that Etienne failed his Tilling. He shouldn't even need to explain it, but he takes pity on the kid, stating the obvious: "Eyes an' ears, open, Et. Always."
That settles it. Jutting his chin in Etienne's direction, he grins and says as he makes a break for a side hallway,
"Let's blow this popsicle stand."
His fingertips connect with the nearest panel and a charge licks outwards, crackling through the foot of concrete beneath and bringing the molecules in the wall to life in a frenzied dance, and for a second, for just one moment, Remy lets it all go. His tension floods the wall with the growing fuchsia glow, and for a moment, Remy understands the sheer beauty of such a violent, all-consuming force as it contracts, gaining in fortitude like a muscle clenching, bearing down and getting ready to break wide open.
It throbs, pulses and groans as the molecules shiver in anticipation.
"Remy!" Etienne breathes fearfully, right next to his elbow. Merde.
"Back!" he shouts. He doesn't see if Etienne complies or not - it's too late for that, anyhow.
In the next moment, when the rush of release overtakes him, Remy forgets everything, and then, there is nothing but light and noise and splintering, smoldering concrete to announce their presence as the wall balloons in on itself… and the sweet, saltine kiss of the Mediterranean beneath the smoke as the drop to freedom opens its maw beneath their feet.
It's Jean Luc who receives the call. Genard Alouette is on the other end, the line clear despite the time and distance; Spain to the U.S. It must be three a.m. over there, Remy thinks distantly. In the Guild mansion, the old grandfather clock in the front room keeps up its metronomic rhythm, measuring out the seconds. It falls out of sync with his heartbeat, and briefly, Remy shuts his eyes, praying silently.
No one else has Jean Luc's private number. That's how Remy knows it's bad. That's how Remy knows it's time to extinguish the last flickering coal of hope in his heart.
"Where is he?" Theoren demands stiffly, before Jean Luc is even off the phone.
Remy sees Jean Luc's raised hand out of the corner of his eye, begging patience from his cousin. Eyes unfocused, Remy's attention remains on the wall of books covering the office from floor to ceiling. They're a dark green and brown blur, no titles discernable.
There's something in Jean Luc's expression as his gaze is cast between the two boys that makes his stomach plummet, and makes the wall that much more interesting.
"Where's m' brother?" Theoren asks again. "You know. I know you do! I want t' speak with him!"
Jean Luc hangs up the phone with a careful click.
"You can't speak with Etienne, Theoren," Jean Luc replies, not looking at him.
Theoren stands by, involuntarily beginning to shake. He doesn't ask why not. Deep down, he thinks that Theoren knows the reason. He just doesn't want to accept it.
Theoren rounds on Jean Luc, ignoring the answer that stings and subsides though it remains unspoken between them. "Where?"
"Valencia," he murmurs after a pregnant pause. "Etienne is in Valencia."
For a moment, Theoren can only stare, not wholly comprehending.
Three hundred and twenty miles. That's the distance between the two cities, but Remy knows they probably weren't in Granada at the time. He's studied the maps compulsively, guessing that the Pig's pen was more than likely somewhere within the Balearic Island archipelago.
Still. That's damned far to travel, even by sea.
"Theo," Jean Luc says quietly, unwilling to put a reassuring hand on his arm though Theoren is practically standing on Père's toes. "S'il-vous-plait, assiez vous."
"I will not sit down. I'm going," Theoren insists, a touch of hysteria breaking his voice. "You can't make m' stay!"
"Theoren, please," Jean Luc says far too pleadingly. It twists Remy's stomach. "Sit," he asks again.
"Non!" Theoren shouts. "Non!" he repeats, his hands shaking. "Où est mon frère? Valencia? Où? Un hopital? Un hotel?"
Remy swallows the lump in his throat, and shakily, he turns away. He already knows the answer.
"J'aimerais aller, aussi, Père," he murmurs, his vision blurring as tears threaten. He wants to go too.
Theoren rounds on him. "Don't you cry! This is your fault, Remy. If it wasn't for y' stupid powers – your stupid, impulsive ideas, your lack of restraint – If you'd been a better man, a better thief – if you'd been normal – this wouldn't have happened!" he yells. "So don't y' dare cry –"
Remy can't meet his furious expression, even as Theoren wrenches from Jean Luc's reaching hands to tower over him. He slams Remy in the chest. "Stop it!"
While Remy staggers backwards, he doesn't try to defend himself from Theoren's fist as it makes contact with jaw. He doesn't wipe the tears that spill over, making Theoren's next slap slip off his cheek.
Remy barely feels it anyway.
The knowledge that it should be him in some morgue in Valencia instead of Etienne dulls everything else until the only thing he feels is the thready, Novocain-like tingle of spreading numbness.
"I want t' bring my cousin home," he whispers, shuddering beneath Theoren's heavy limbs as the larger boy clutches at his shirt, sliding down to the floor at his feet to pound at his legs.
Jean Luc only nods. It's seals his failure.
He shouldn't have come.
A hand on Theoren's shoulder, while Remy's are slack at his sides. The mind fragments what it doesn't want to understand. Objectifies. Draws partial conclusions to avoid obvious horror.
Grey skin, blue-tinged around the mouth, but quickly turning black with the onset of putrefaction – the entire left side a deeper shade of blue like bruising. He must have come to rest on his side. When the body's circulation stops, blood drains to the lowest possible areas. Sunken eye sockets where the ocular jelly has been eroded, consumed. Soft tissues are peeled back, the veins below the skin stretched into unlikely patterns. Distended belly where the bacteria has begun to propagate. Sodden flesh, swollen with bloat to three-times its regular size. An oily sheen to the skin, despite the fact that the body's been out of the water for several hours. Knuckles are waxen and shiny, the skin so loose around those blue-grey hands that Remy thinks if he touches him, it would slide right off like a glove.
There are little white fish where Etienne's eyes ought to be. In his ears. In his nose. Burrowing deeper into his intestines. He can smell them below the cloyingly sweet, rotten fish stench.
Remy turns, tearing free from Jean Luc's reaching hold, slams through the swinging doors before the floor can rush up to meet his face, bends over, his hands on his knees, and vomits.
"There are certain legalities when transporting the deceased overseas that must be adhered to, you understand," the funeral director explains in hushed tones to Jean Luc, though Remy can still hear him through the pounding silence in his ears, despite the busy hum of the hospital's underbelly around him, and though the doors are swinging on their hinges. "Of course, you are entitled to his personal effects. His clothing, some grappling tools and… a deck of playing cards."
This is what Remy would have looked like himself had he not been found by that fishing trawler.
Shakily, Theoren stalks out behind him, his palms dragging against the institutional green walls.
"It should've been you," he chokes out.
These are the last four words Theoren will speak to him for months. It doesn't take nearly as long for Remy to begin agreeing with him:
It should have been him.
The request hangs in the air, the cobwebbed frailty of the things left unspoken clinging between them stubbornly.
"I want t' see it," he says again, looking up from the pack of cards resting at the very edge of Jean Luc's desk. A grotesque souvenir. His penance. A reminder. Etienne's last hoorah. Fifty two dead weights. Fifty two life savers. He's taken out the Joker in the deck. It's too easy to laugh at himself into insanity for his failure: the Fool. Mistigris.
Remy swallows. "S'il-vous-plait."
"So y' believe it now, the prophecy? All this time, Remy, you were too proud t think of it as anything more than a bedtime story." He frowns, looking off into the distance, not meeting Remy's shamed expression. "All it took was th' death of your cousin t' come looking for it."
"I –" Remy begins, closing his mouth almost immediately. There's nothing he can say to make up for it. His silence is no more a balm than the others'. Each of them has mourned in their own way, but Remy can't seem to stop. Etienne's absence gives a new depth to the shadows around the Guild mansion; it makes the darkness seem all the more oppressive.
The child ghost follows him through the old plantation house – a whisper of laughter, a patch of sunlight in the hall, a favorite spot on the couch left vacant. Remy sees him everywhere; he hears the echo of his voice and the quick gait of his footsteps, muffled by the carpets.
At times, Remy will turn around, pausing mid-step, and he thinks he'll catch a glimpse of dirty knees behind a set of summer curtains. He's glad they've covered the mirrors with dark, camphor-smelling crepe. He's glad of the few mourning traditions that keep him from having to face his own reflection and face the accusations staining the skin beneath his eyes with bruised, sleepless purple.
"I need t' know how many other people have to die 'fore I fulfill my purpose," he whispers, and though the sound is hollow, Jean Luc hears him perfectly.
Moments pass, and though he doesn't look for it, he knows the book is here, still. He can feel its presence calling to him, a small piece of a much larger puzzle. The answers he needs are trapped somewhere in Jean Luc's office, inscribed in a Diary that Henri acquired at Jean Luc's command.
There are few things that Remy fears, but the implications of what Jean Luc's machinations mean are at the top of the list.
Steely, subdued, Jean Luc turns away.
"Some things are better left to the hands of fate, mon fils. This is not something you can ask of me."
Surely, he hasn't heard right.
"I cannot give you the answers you're looking for."
"Cannot or will not?" Remy demands.
Jean Luc does not turn around as he says, "It's too soon f' Theoren t' go back to work. I want you t' replace him in the interim. There's a job in Mississippi — a trifle — I want you to handle."
"Père!" he all but shouts, standing.
"Henri will brief you."
He is dismissed.
Angry tears barb the corners of his eyes. They're laced with an acidic sense of ineptitude that makes his world shimmer briefly, before he swallows back the feeling that he's done more than just fail his family; he's disappointed his father.
"Papa, please," he tries one last time, feeling all the more like a child rather than his fifteen year old self. But it is done. Jean Luc will have no more of him this evening, and like childhood's passing, with it goes the hope placed in the promise of glory; of heroism; of faith put in fantasies meant to inspire greatness when young minds can still aspire to something better than what their parents have become.
Slouched over himself on the branch of a dead cypress tree, deep beneath the protective cover of Bayou Sauvage where no one is likely to bother him at this time of the morning, Remy handles this new knowledge, learned at such a cost, with reluctant fingers:
The legacy of Etienne Marceaux is as precious as it is useful, he discovers, and with marked, calloused fingers, he pulls the next card from a fresh deck, the twelfth in sequence that he's run through today, and points it away from himself.
If he notices that his hand quavers with his heaving breaths, if he notices that his vision blurs with tears unshed, Remy pays it no mind.
With increasing fortitude and accuracy, each card makes its mark, and as each flares pink beneath the sheltering gloom of the swamp like a salute, he grits his teeth a little against the burning thought that, "This is for you, Et."
Soon, he's run through the stack; with only one packet is left, he pulls the first from its plastic-coated wrapper, pressing it between dirty, steadied fingers. Remy finally pauses long enough to swipe at his face with the heel of his hand. It's enough to notice that the tree is splintered, ready to fall. It's enough to know that a further strike will bring it down.
He looks at the card, and takes pause at the stoic face of the woman who stares back at him. He hesitates, wondering if he should let this one go as well, wondering why he can't seem to burn away the pain along with the cards, knowing that he can't.
Remy bows his head, and slowly, tiredly, tucks the memento away into the last pack, which is also, ironically, the first pack — the one that is water stained and still untouched; the only deck of cards he will ever keep in its entirety, until time and circumstance see fit to remove the Queen.
Find your recourse. When you can, take what this life offers you, and learn soon the means to escape it.
Months pass. Wounds knit over. Cicatrices form.
He relearns the rooftops, the dips and crannies and dark niches. Le Diable Blanc loses himself in the city's embrace. Again. And again. And finds he is birthed anew, though the parts of himself that have been cut away will never re-grow, and though the invisible scar he imagines over his heart is pink at the edges.
He works harder than he ever has: the prodigal son. Nights and days bleed together until he learns how to become numb, his fingers feeling for him: vaults, safes, locks… his cards… his women, though they belong to him for minutes or hours or a night, sometimes. Then back again he turns to his friends: all fifty-two in the deck. Forever faithful, unchanging, never imposing judgment when he gets too reckless.
It would only heal, if he didn't need to remind himself of the hurt, and start the cycle again.
Some things, Remy finds, are best left to chance and circumstance. It relieves him temporarily of the responsibility to be more than what he is: human. Only human, though the expectations placed upon him always seem so much more imposing on his good days…
And good days are the first to be forgotten.
"Don't care –" she gasps into his neck, a quick exhalation followed by the bite of both nails and teeth as Belle digs her talons into his shoulder blades.
Dragging from her a moan as he sinks his teeth into her lower lip, Remy's kiss cuts her off.
"Don't care if they hear us –" she says again, breathlessly, when she fights away from him. Pinioned as she is, its not far. Belladonna's words are all but drowned out beneath their steadily increasing, rhythmic pounding against the clapboard. The fog rising from the swamp offers a thick cover for their interlude; for hands where there ought not be hands exploring.
"Gon' protect me, girl?" he smirks, nudging her chin aside to expose her throat, the words punctuated by each thrust and slam of Bella's back into the siding.
Belle clings to him, thighs vice-like around his hips. "Protect me from Julien when he sneaks out of the cypress with a knife sized for m' back?" he jokes, knowing that it's all too great a possibility, even out here, in the worst possible place to give in to her sultry pleas and his demanding hormones.
There's a sweet ache building at the base of his spine beneath the running droplets of sweat. It's a hum that blots out the sting of every thought he can't reign in, every still moment when Jean Luc maintains his lordly silences, everything else he can't control or be rid of with the snap of his fingers and the flick of his wrist. It all blurs to insignificance with a few upward thrusts, working towards the best sort of explosion there is — the sort that brings on a rushing clarity for only the briefest moments; the sort that lets him escape the spreading numbness he imagines wants to claim him whole, some days.
"Stop fucking laughing at me Remy and make me co – oh – mmm!"
"That's four," he counts, slowing to a steady beat, licking his way down to Bella's collarbone as she sags in his arms.
"Merde," she curses with a laugh, incapable of insulting him further.
"Not spent yet, chére?" he asks. "Care t' make another wager?" he purrs. "This one's turnin' out golden, y' ask me."
"No one's asking you."
The voice comes out of the murky grey cloak and slows him, but doesn't halt him altogether.
"Well, well. A little far from home, aincha, LeBeau?" Julien tuts. "A Thief on Rippers' territory. What would Jean Luc say?"
Remy chuckles, his eyes shutting. "Wear a condom?" he murmurs into Belle's heated skin.
She stiffens in his arms, legs dropping on either side of him. Remy releases her, his good mood quickly overtaken with the swollen, painful immediacy of things left untended as she pushes him away. He grits his teeth not to grunt in reply as the cool air hits the bare skin of his… hips.
"He'd say it's best t' knock before y' enter th' boudoir," he manages, exhaling to control the spark of adrenaline that wants to drown out his temporary reprieve. Bella is already fumbling with her clothes, but the pain crawling into his kidneys stops him short from doing the same. Even two feet away, under the smothering blanket of the fog, she's barely visible. Finally, mercifully, Remy jerks his pants up, fastening his belt one-handed as he steps past her to guard himself against the wall of the abandoned slave quarters behind the Ripper's mansion, ready to doge if Julien is stupid enough to attack under such low visibility. Remy rolls up and pockets the half-used rubber in its ripped packaging, leaving no evidence for Julien to bring back to Marius other than his accusations.
"Julien!" Belladonna hisses.
"Bella?" Julien hesitates, trying to determine the logistics of Remy's comment, Remy's presence, and his sister found within close distance.
"Kinda rude, homme," Remy mutters. "I'm sure y' sister doesn't interrupt you when you're post-coital… if y' ever have th' chance, that is. A bottle of baby oil and a box of tissue doesn't exactly count, does it, Julien?"
"Remy, go," Belladonna warns, pushing at his chest. "Julien, this isn't what it sounds like."
"Oh, no?" Julien shoots back, his voice cracking as his voice rises to a shout. "Well, that's a relief, 'cause yesterday I woulda sworn on my mama's grave that my sister wouldn't be whore t' no filthy thief!"
"That ain't no way t' speak to a lady," he warns, anger waking the fire in his bones. It overtakes the passion, buffering the white noise that will be back any moment.
"Remy, get outta here!" Belle says, her pitch dropping into her no-nonsense business tone. "This is best kept in th' family. I'll deal with him."
"I'll kill you, you asshole. I swear it, if it's the last thing I do – you're dead!" Julien shouts over her. "Just wait until I tell Papa 'bout this, Belle — he'll skin you and toss y' bones out for th' gators for bein' a traitor to y' own blood, y' maudite saloppe! Maudite saloppe to a thief! To a LeBeau!"
Remy moves on instinct, following the sound of Julien's voice. A second later, two percussive sounds echo in short order: Remy's fist making contact with Julien's nose, and Julien's backside hitting the soft-packed earth.
"Remy, what –?" Bella starts, and he presses her to silence with a quick, hard kiss that's sure to leave her breathless and with a bruised upper lip.
"Fuck th' families, chère," he hisses.
He's running blindly into the bald trees of the swamp before the footfalls of the cousins can be heard, smirking to himself as he narrowly avoids the splaying cypress roots and takes the first few splashing steps before finding his stealth tucked away up in the Spanish moss. The Rippers' shouting trails him into the night, but Remy disappears, finding an ally in the gloom, and a fierce sense of righteousness for his enemy-turned-love where he'd forgotten he could feel.
She's scrubbing down the countertop with a brusque, purposeful air about her, deliberately not looking in his direction. Remy's fingers stink of crab meat and raw shrimp, and there's chili pepper embedded under his fingernails, but there's a pot of gumbo simmering on the stove with a roux that he knows is perfect to show for his efforts.
Still, he's reluctant to touch the large box's pristine wrapping with fishy hands.
"Go on, chile' – 'fore Emil shows up and claims it for himself."
Flashing a half-smile, he tips his head to the side and appraises her silently. Tante glances at him, and turns away quickly.
Oh, this is too good, he thinks.
Remy folds his arms across his chest, easy confidence letting him draw the moment out. She'll break. Tante always breaks.
"You keep starin' like that, boy, an' I'll give that to Emil myself. Go on, 'fore Jean Luc decides he wants you workin' tonight."
Remy stiffens slightly, relaxing into a slouch a moment later as he drapes himself over the island in the middle of the kitchen. It's no secret that Jean Luc's sent him on twice as many jobs lately. Part of him wonders if Père suspects his involvement with the daughter of their family's known rival, the Rippers, and being run ragged is the best way to keep him out of trouble – it's really not, but Remy'll be the last person to mention it – and part of him wonders if its just because profits have doubled since he's been left to run a few jobs by himself, a revelation that's made Theoren livid, Lapin envious, and Henri far too uptight to discuss it with him.
He shares none of these ideas with anyone. Not even Tante, especially when its evident that she's fishing for information.
"Got m' street corner reserved. It's hard bein' a pimp, Tante." He grins lasciviously.
Remy senses Tante's terse look of disapproval before she turns to face him down; it gathers in her shoulders, knotting the muscles in the back of her neck. There's a bar of soap in her hand, and for a second, Remy thinks she'll use it to scrub out his mouth.
"Inhuman, is what it is – you boys off at all hours of the night, sleepin' all day like y' do. It ain't right. Not that I have a say in th' matter."
"Business first, Tante," he murmurs, forcing a grin. "But not before dinner."
"Good t' know I taught you at least one sound thing." She looks down her nose at him with a frown, as if she's waiting for a rejoinder that ought to make her blush. "You gonna let that gather dust much longer?" She juts her chin at the box. "Wasn't much in the mood t' clean tonight too."
He glances at the lid, eyebrow cocked.
"There ain't a lock t' pick on that box, boy, so if you want your birthday present from Tante, then stop sizin' it up!"
He's about to protest, but the mention of his birthday causes his guard to waver. Tante reads his next thought easily.
"'Fore you ask, I don't know what day it is, really – but that's hardly important. It's the thought, Remy. An' if you ask me, once in a while, we all need the reminder that we're family." She somehow manages to twist her expression from motherly to doleful. "An' if you ask me, you're not eatin' enough. This is the one thing that's gonna spare your skinny hide when th' air gets cooler come February."
Flashing a grin, he purrs, "Not th' only thing, I hope."
"Besides little Belladonna Boudreaux," she says, a thread of warning not undeserved.
"She ain't so little anymore."
"Uh huh. I hope t' never hear about that again," she mutters. "Ain't never heard Julien cuss like that in m' life... Coulda peeled the paint from the walls. Fool boy." She clucks. "It's a miracle you ain't dead yet for the trouble."
The miracle is that Père hasn't said two words to him about it. While Theoren's certainly thrown the term "fiasco" around liberally enough, Jean Luc's been surprisingly reserved about demonstrating his displeasure. Remy doesn't know whether the silence is indicative of the fact that he should be shitting bricks, or if he should be disappointed by the resulting string of jobs on the Guild "to do" list with his name on them. Julien, at least, had provided a whole ten seconds worth of amusement that wasn't work-related.
The lid flops to the floor, the paper flaring to cinders as he lights it up to make the job faster. Little bits of weightless ash rise around him as he looks at Mattie from beneath his fringe.
"No trouble at all, Tante."
She tuts, concealing a flash of nerves at the possibility of straining the already fraught situation between the families by busying herself around the kitchen.
"And maybe," she continues, undaunted, "if y' wear that for a stretch over y' uniform, you might just slip under the Rippers' radar." She tuts. "I knew I shouldna let Emil choose th' armor. It's just like him t' make y' wear pink for a laugh."
"Magenta," he corrects absently. "An' its only temporary."
From the box, Remy lifts his gift. It folds out with the brush of buttery soft leather against cardboard, falling to the ground with something that sounds like a sigh.
Her tone warms, though she doesn't turn to catch his expression. She can hear the surprise in his voice.
"You're welcome, chile."
Remy doesn't bother to downplay his inability to speak as he snakes his arms into the sleeves of the trench coat. Truthfully, he's a little choked up. No one's given him a gift before – imaginary birthday or not. He's had want for nothing except a challenge since Jean Luc took him in. But this… this is special.
He flips the collar up, running's his fingers down the seams and into the silk lining. The pads of his fingers trace across several additions. A few expertly stitched pockets, large enough to hold his tools, fall beneath his fingers.
"Made them adjustments myself," Tante Mattie says proudly. "A lil' lagniappe might be nice, I thought."
Better than "nice", it's been given to him with love.
Unsure what to say or do for a moment, Remy experiences a rare, cathartic urge to throw his arms around Tante and kiss her cheek. Instead, he blinks quickly, and reaching into the pocket of his jeans, his fingers extract a small, beaten pack of cards that he has carried on him every day for the past year.
The deck is a solid weight that fits best in the pocket nearest his heart.
He nods to himself, swallowing hard as he zips the pocket closed, and manages, "Merci, Tante."
The load he carries is no lighter, but here, at this moment, it hurts a little less.
To be continued…
In Chapter 28: Mistigris – Part III
Ça suffit: That's enough
Calme toi: Calm yourself
Dit-lui: Tell him
Eh bien, attend: Well, hold on (a minute)
J'aimerais aller, aussi, Père: I want to go too, father.
Où est mon frère? Valencia? Où? Un hopital? Un hotel?: Where is my brother? Valencia? Where? A hospital? A hotel?
Remercier Dieu: Thank god
S'il-vous-plait, assiez vous: Please, have a seat.
Maudite saloppe: Damned whore
Mon coeur: My heart
Mon dieu: My god
Mon fils: My son
Well, this is awkward. Good day (or good evening, as this may find you). Let it be said first and foremost that Lucia knows nothing of this intercession with respect to her (sigh) "baby". MY name, my dears, is Carmine - and I've staged an intervention on your behalves. (That's Carmine LaCroix, thank you very much.) Lucia has had a rather difficult winter, a trying spring, and a godawful summer thus far. Regrettably, she did not want to post this chapter until it was "done", but "done" for Lucia is a long and boring process that no one – least of all me – is interested in.
I, however, am easily bribed and have been persuaded to act on her behalf by going against her wishes and flouting the careful constructs Lucia had established for the release of this story… Which is to say that I am giving you the first third of this chapter, with the others to follow. I've taken the reigns, you see. I'm doing her blasted job for her because she's either too distracted or too depressed to do so herself. (Bully for her: but it's more work for me, isn't it?) Anyhow. She's in a miserable state, and no fun at all to deal with, but I am certain she would appreciate a smattering of affection before she reaches her maudlin and self-loathing stages for being a poor fanfiction writer with no respect for consistent updates or even review responses. (Bloody awful, isn't she?) Anyhow, I think of you, dears: so long as you pay the Piper, Auntie Carmine will gladly take your best interests to heart. (Which is to say, you may spare the genuflecting, but must assuredly leave a review to demonstrate that Lucia's efforts aren't a wholly lost cause… which, I've heard, she frequently uses as an excuse to avoid writing on a consistent basis. These "tortured artist" types always think they're so maligned by the world… How tiresome.)
And finally, for those of you chomping at the bit for more "ROMY" (Ooh, dear me. Would you look at that: is that supposed to be "Rogue" and "Gambit" mashed together as one? How… adorable.) I can assure you that I've seen what the upcoming "ROMY" entails, and it's quite torrid, but the only way you'll be exposed to the "ROMY" is by piping up and leaving your demands in the review thread… because honestly, who is this Belladonna tart? Ought she not have a rock to crawl back under? Can we slaughter her soon? Please? (Sigh.)
On behalf of Ms. Medici, thank you for your attention. (Ia! Shub Niggurath!)