King of Secrets: A thief's odyssey
Disclaimer: All known and recognisable characters, names and places property of Marvel; I am just playing with them.
A/N: Hello; This is a re-posting of a story that I started but could not finish, however recently I have been re-inspired to breathe new life into the story and finish it and I will be posting chapters once more at regular intervals. Once upon a time there were people who read and enjoyed this story before I tore it down unfinished and I do apologise for that, if they are out there still I hope they come back, if not, c'est la vie, it can't be helped.
Part One: Remy Lebeau welcome to the end of your world
People say it's normal to be nervous on your wedding day. It's normal to be happy on your birthday. It's probably considered normal to be happy and nervous if it's your wedding and birthday.
I may not be the best judge of normal. Me and normal not having much cause to talk, but I'm going out on a limb and saying that I don't think it's normal for a man to feel like I do now, not when he just turn eighteen and be preparing for his nuptials.
I think today is the day I die; Dramatic, no, Melodramatic even. I got a feeling, like a cancer gnawing inside me. Nothing good is going to come of this day; nothing.
Belle knows. If I know anything it's how that femme thinks. She's scared, which is probably why a routine pinch for the guild ended up in a double homicide because I brought my dearly beloved with me.
Strippers, hand-cuffs, gallons of booze? No, I spent my 'last night of freedom' as a bachelor decapitating and removing the hands and identifying clothing from the corpses of two dumb security jerks without the brains to run when they had the chance and dumping them in good 'Ol' Man River'.
Like I say, normal's really not my forte. The post corpse removal sex was magnifique though. I know, not supposed to see the bride before the wedding, but as Belle and me have been betrothed for the last ten years that tradition seemed a little - redundant.
'Belle – you didn't have to shoot them!'
Running over to the bodies leaking brain fluid all over the floor and all I can think is, what will Henri say about this? This is no way to make a pinch. Damn it why in hell did I say Belle could come with me?
'They were drawing their weapons.'
She looks fastidiously down at the corpses, just a couple of blue collar slobs; bald, fat, no ambition, no prospects….especially not now they dead.
'They security and we're robbing the place what did you expect them to do? Roll out the red carpet?' The bodies don't bother me, and I know that Belle is a professional, silencer was on; she was careful how and where she shot them. It's just the principle of the thing; thieves don't kill.
I must have said it out loud because Belle skewers me with an angry violet glare, 'But assassins do.'
We speak French to one another most often, don't know why. The Guilds mostly speak English – the language of commerce and all that. But French - French is the language of love.
Funny that I'm reviewing last night's memories, funny that I'm thinking about love. Do I love Belle? I guess so. It a weird question to be asking myself now, non? Not like it matters anyhow; this wedding, me and Belle, it's never been about love. It's always been about politics…….and about survival.
I met and became fast friends with Belle two whole years before I became a Lebeau. Back then I was just 'Remy', though mostly it was 'Diable' or the more formal 'Le Diable Blanc', though I answered to 'you filthy little brat', 'cur', 'sumabitch' and other names that kids on the streets get called all the time.
But this lil' street thief accidentally saved the daughter of Marius Boudreaux from his greatest inter-clan rival and got himself the attention of both the assassins and the thieves Guilds; made myself a helluva friend as well.
Do I love Belle? It's not about love. What the hell good is love anyway? Don't keep you warm and fed does it? Don't save you from getting your ass kicked by your rabidly psychotic soon-to- be brother-in-law neither, oui?
'Henri, Julien is never gon just let dis wedding go 'head.'
Trailing after my big brother, trying to pull on my clothes at the same time, (Not the best time to try and have a reasonable, adult conversation with Henri. Why did I think that seducing the cute, but undeniably sluttish, daughter of a potential client was a good idea; especially while Henri was in the other room with said client trying to hash out the deal).
'You don have to worry about Julien; leave Boudreaux to us.'
Henri turns to glare at me, looking like a really angry Humpty-Dumpty with his bald pate and thick frame. 'All you have to do is de girl.' A curl of the lip as I fumble with my open fly, 'Stick to what you're good at Remy. Leave de politics to us.'
Henri; brother by adoption, heir apparent to Clan Lebeau, he never been my greatest admirer; figured out right quick to cut my losses with him. He was never going to see me as anything other than a tool.
Stick to what you're good at Remy.
Wine, women and wagering; getting so crazy drunk that the whole world is nothing but a wet kaleidoscope of colours and movement, go dancing and let the music take me over until I can see the notes in the air, twisting like cigarette smoke. Go rutting and screwing around until I can't walk straight and wait for my wedding day. The payoff; the day I earn my keep and get to feel like I earned the last name Jean-Luc gave me.
Today is that day; today I eighteen and today me and Belle become the glue that paste over the cracks between the two guilds.
But there a tiny little whisper in the back of my head: You never asked to be adopted. You don't owe anyone anything. I been bought and sold for the future of the Guilds, but what do I really owe them? Don't I have some say in my own life?
'Why can't we run? You don know what Julien's like, Remy. I don want to see you dead on my wedding day.'
Belle sitting up in the back of the stolen convertible acting as our 'getaway/corpse disposal' vehicle of choice and pulling her bra back on. Purple with see-through panels; always hated the colour, but she loves it. It sure does suits her though.
'Not planning to die, Belle, dat wouldn' fit de plan, would it, now.' I say lighting the cigarette. I hate this post coital talking women seem to get into. Never could figure out why they always get so chatty after the event; what's left to talk about, huh?
'Remy for the love of god, don' be so stupid; t'ink wit' your brain for once.' She gives me a hard pinch down where I prefer the femmes to be gentle.
'All dat matters is dat de wedding is ratified by de guilds. An' dat de Assassins an' de T'ieves are legally bound by truce under de eyes of Candra. After de ceremony dere be no need for either of us to be alive.'
I stare out of the window shield and deliberately don't look at her. Her eyes are on me, silently pleading with me to do – something – anything, who knows? I surely don't.
'I know dat, Belle. But my Papa din't go to all dat trouble to civilise me jus' to let me die.'
Belle snorts a laugh, 'Your Papa,' she snarls the words, 'jus' wants you to knock me up an produce a real heir to both de Assassins an' de T'ieves Guilds. Spreading your mutie genes don' hurt none neither.'
Mutie genes. Red eyed freak. Devil with an angels smile. Foundling. T'ief. Lover. Husband?
Bedroom door slams open and Tante Mattie barrels in the room. I can see her under the fold of bed sheets over my head. 'Get your skinny lil butt out o' dat dere bed, boy. Dere be t'ings to be doin.'
She grabs the blankets and tears them off me. 'Hey!'
That I'm naked not a concern to her, she just throws a towel and robe at me. 'Go get showered. We got to give you a haircut.' She brandishes a pair of scissors with obvious glee.
Haircuts; I hate hair cuts. Having a full head of hair has multiple advantages, keeps your head warm when you sleeping rough at night and it help you hide when you don't trust your expression to behave. Plus people always remember hair style before they remember faces; perfect camouflage. I make a promise to myself: after today no more haircuts. I'm going to be able to sit on my hair before I cut it again.
'Tante?' Snip, snip; there goes the hair.
'What is it, chile?'
'I had a dream las' night.'
Never tell anyone about my dreams except Tante. I only tell Tante because the woman knows everything about anything anyway. Plus she believes in dreams, signs, portents; it comes with the territory when you're a Traiteur, a healer, who can damn near bring back the dead.
'What you dream about, chile.' Her old, bony fingers brush hair from my face and shoulders, a thinly veiled caress. She can't be seen to be giving a thief preferential treatment but I know she cares.
Open my mouth but no sound comes out. Try again and this time I do speak but not what I planned to say. 'What am I good for Tante; why did Jean-Luc pick me, dere are plenty other street kids to take in; better t'ieves, better sons to have.'
The confession hurts. It and other traitorous thoughts like it are the things I try to drown in sex and Zydeco. You never let an opportunity slip by you and you never ask yourself if you deserve something good that happens, if you do the person giving it to you might too – then where you be: cold, hungry, and forced to turn tricks on the streets because you can't find a mark, that's where.
Tante don't say anything for a spell. Then she leans over me as I sit on the bed and kisses the top of my head. 'Can't answer dat question for you, chile. Only you can do dat.'
I sigh and nod. Typical cryptic crap, but then I'm just as glad she didn't ask me why I asked the question. Better to ignore the whole thing. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
'I tell you dis, chile. Don ask me how I know, you ain't never believe me if I tell you.' She smiles, skin creasing in a thousand deep set lines, as beautiful as a sun rise over the Mississippi. She meets my eyes in the mirror on the dresser across the room as she speak:
'Dere is love in you enough to save de worl' boy, not de Devil hisself take dat from you.'
I laugh out loud as much in surprise by how serious she sounds and to the ludicrousness of the statement. 'Fat lot o' good dat gon do me. Or de Guild.' I shake my head. 'Least you could say is dat I make a good t'ief.'
Tante looks sad for a moment in the reflection from the mirror. Something in her expression makes me ashamed for laughing. I brought up the topic, after all. So I turn around to look at her proper and drop a kiss on her withered old cheek.
'Don know 'bout de worl', Tante, but you know I love you, right?' After all who in their right mind wouldn't love a woman who provided hot food and shelter to all the street children of New Orleans who need it?
Tante smiles again, 'Oui, Remy chile, I know dat.'
Fencing? What de hell good is dat?
It teach you poise and discipline, boy. Now En Garde!
Note to self. Next time you decide to go get married, Remy Lebeau do NOT kill your brother-in-law during the reception! At least wait until after the honeymoon.
They look so flimsy and weak, those rapiers do. Fencing is a sport not a means of murder. So when Julien gets up half way through the reception like he going to give a speech and challenges me to a dual of honour I just thought the whole thing was a joke.
The rapier didn't look so silly when it slid right between Julien's ribs, when it popped out the other side of him, non, no joke in that. There wasn't much blood until I pulled the blade out either. I shouldn't have worn a white shirt. Didn't know so much blood could come from such a small hole.
I drop my sword. I know, I know, you never drop your weapon. That's a sure way of getting yourself killed. Except it not me whose dead. Julien is dead.
Julien is dead. I just killed him. It was pathetically easy. Why were we so afraid of him? For so many years, the monster that haunted Belle's dreams and did things to her that no brother should do to his sister. All this time and all it took was one little prick with a skinny little fencing sword and - bang – no more Julien.
Strong arms grab hold of me. There be lots of yelling, none of it happy. Belle standing there in her white dress covered in dollar bills, as is our tradition, no expression on her face. Her eyes glowing with some emotion I don't have words for.
'Remy what have you done. You stupid - '
Henri. He says something more but I can't hear him. There's a roaring in my ears. This is different from the two security guards last night. I wasn't responsible for them. It's me with blood on my hands this time. Why does that make a difference I wonder?
Things get kind of blurry. Lot more yelling, lot of angry faces twisted in anger, I remember Marius Boudreaux snarling for vengeance – but then he always snarling about something. I try to find Belle but then it all go to hell. Thieves and Assassins in their wedding finery picking up whatever they can get their hands on to use as a weapon. Somebody knocks the wedding cake over. It goes splat on the floor under the white silk marquee.
I don't know why but something about that big old cake all over the floor, the little plastic bride and groom trampled underfoot – mon dieu – it actually scare me and I can't even say why.
Everything happening so fast I can't keep up; bodies hustling me away from Belle, bless her, but I think she tries to help me, to come after me. I get taken down to the 'cold room'. The thieves own dungeon above ground; can't have cellars in the bayou, comprende vous?
Hatch is opened and I'm dropped forcibly down into the concrete cage. Door clangs closed and I'm left in the small space, no light, few holes for air. Darkness so complete even I struggle to see. Not that there be much to see.
Congratulations Remy Lebeau. This is supposed to be the happiest day of your life. Who knew it would be your last?
I don't know how long I'm shut up in here. Figure it's at least twenty-four hours – maybe more. Feels like more. Get really, really cold. Monstrously hungry but then you don't spend ten years of your life living off of the streets and not get used to being cold and hungry. Still I lose the knack of ignoring hunger after eight years of plenty.
Nothing to do but think, and lord knows I hate that. There's dried blood all over my hands. For a few hours the smell of the blood in the tight, empty darkness was almost enough to break me. Then it dried and didn't smell so much; ended up smelling of copper pennies.
I keep asking myself, what happens now? Sure Marius not going to be best pleased with me for killing his son but everyone knew he challenged me, plus he's nuts. That's well known.
Was the treaty ratified? Jean-Luc and Henri had closeted themselves away with the Harvest Master and the Tithe Collector as well as the Benefactress when I was out on the front lawn killing Julien.
Damn it. Couldn't even get through the day, couldn't give my Papa four hours to get the contracts signed. I failed. The one thing I was brought into clan Lebeau to do and I failed. The only responsibility I was ever given and I ruin it in spectacular fashion.
Bravo, Remy, bravo, you going down in history as the Guild's biggest fuck up; that quite some achievement, there.
Why won't anyone come? Surely Papa knows it was an accident?
Just like Genevieve was an accident? Just like Etienne was an accident; they dead too, because Remy Lebeau is good for nothing but trouble. How many accidental deaths can a body be responsible for before the blame starts to stick? When does an accident stop being an accident?
I heard the rumours of course. The whispers about me; Le Diable Blanc with the red burning eyes: evil, mutant, the Fated One. Was I death come to wreak chaos and ill-fortune on Clan Lebeau? Sure was beginning to look that way.
I'm sorry Papa. Dear God – Belle! God but I'm sorry Belle. You were right, you were so right. We should have run. You should have run. Should never have agreed to tie yourself to the likes of me.
When this is all smoothed over I'll make it up to you, Belle, ma cherie. We'll hit the road, have us an extended honeymoon. Vegas! We'll take on Sin City and then maybe head on over to Los Angeles - always wanted to break one of them Star's Homes.
It will be alright. None of this is my fault. Not really. Jean-Luc will sort it out. Even Henri won't let the Assassins do anything too rash. The Truce has to hold. They need me for that. Don't they?
Yes, they need me, but more than that. I'm a Lebeau. Maybe I wasn't born one. Maybe I've only been one for eight years now, but I'm still Jean-Luc Lebeau's son. The one he chose.
My family will protect me. It will all work out in the end. Everything will be sorted out. Too much effort gone in to the truce to see it broken now, I know that my Papa and my brother will do anything to save the truce. And they need me for that. They need me.
Sure is dark in here. Quiet too. Wonder how long I'll have to wait? Won't be long now, it will all be sorted out; just got to wait it out. Jean-Luc will fix everything. Just like always.
'I Tithe Collector for the Guilds of New Orleans stand in judgement of one Remy Etienne Lebeau on behalf of the Guilds ever beneficent Benefactress Candra.'
The tall cadaverous man drones on. I try to listen, try not to make a fool of myself in front of the most powerful and influential men from both the Thieves and Assassins Guilds.
I don't look towards Jean-Luc in his Patriarch garb or Henri shrouded in traditional thieves cowl at his side. They don't look at me either, not one word have they said to me.
Forty-two hours of solitary confinement in the 'cold room', nine hours of interrogation by the Thieves Council. Did you deliberately provoke a fight with Julien? De man is a master swordsman - how did you break his guard? Did you have help?
Then eleven hours in the hands of the assassins, tied to a table while they scraped broken bamboo sticks down my chest. Bamboo slithers rammed under my finger nails. Jean-Luc - Papa – watched. He watched them torture me, because justice had to be seen to be done. Justice. Would they have gone to this fuss if Julien had killed me?
No food. Little bit of water. No sleep. Not even allowed to see Belle, make sure she okay. Now I got to stand here pretending my knees aren't about to give way while these old men pass judgement over me.
'It is the judgement of the immortal and wise Candra that the Pact of Truce be maintained as was ordained through the marriage of one Thief to one Assassin. The great houses of Boudreaux and Lebeau must agree to make sacrifice for that Truce.'
Sacrifice? What's that supposed to mean? Haven't I paid enough already? I try to catch my Papa's eye but his face is in shadow under his thick red velvet hood. Henri meets my eye though. The look he give me chills my blood. It's like he don't even see me – just looks right through me.
'Marius Boudreaux has lost his son and heir. The Boudreaux clan agree that this sacrifice was necessary for the greater good of the Guilds. But such a lost as this demands acknowledgment, demands equal recompense from clan Lebeau.'
I listening as hard as I can. I speak three and half languages me (Japanese giving me some trouble, okay?) but I can't get the words the Tithe Collector saying to make sense to me.
I don't know what happening around me while I stand here in chains in the centre of the candle lit inner chamber of Tithe Collector's mansion, stuck between a thief and an assassin who play my gaolers, assassins and thieves ranked all over backing into the ante chambers like flocks of vultures looking down on me. I try to figure out what's coming, what they going to do to me and then my Papa steps forward and pulls down his hood.
'I Jean-Luc Lebeau Patriarch of de New Orleans Thieves Guild acknowledge de grievous loss my compeer Marius Boudreaux has suffered for the sake of lasting peace.'
Grievous loss? Yeah right, he better off without that psychotic lil' batard. What is Papa doing? It was self-defence – Julien was the one in the wrong. We - Clan Lebeau – should be the ones demanding damages!
Papa pauses, draws a breath, I know that posture, those mannerisms, he going to do something he don't much want to do.
'In light of this and in accord with de edicts dictated by our mutual benefactress Candra, I accept de judgement meted out by dis court. From dis day forth I have but one son. Marius has lost a son and I too sacrifice my youngest child in recompense for de loss of his eldest.'
No! I surge forward in my restraints and don't even realise I've spoken out loud until the guards grab me and try to shove a rubber ball gag into my mouth.
I charge the thing before it's half way round the back of my head. Charge the restraints too. One guard goes flying across the chamber, clothes on fire, when I spit the charged gag at him.
Assassins fire their plasma guns but I'm pure motion. They couldn't hit me in a month of Sundays. Thieves surge forward but they not my friends either, know that now. I got nothing to charge so I steal their pocket change and the clasps from their cloaks as they come for me.
I'm good. I'm faster than anyone here. I can kick like a mule but there are near two hundred thieves and assassins packing this huge chamber and only one of me. I'm starving, sleep deprived. I take as many down as I can but the outcome's inevitable.
In less time than it takes to tell about it I'm flat on my back, being held down by red and black robed assassins and thieves and someone is pressing the barrel of a plasma gun to my forehead.
'Enough!' a swirl of red velvet cloak trimmed with black silk and a grim, lean aristocratic face appears above me, normally that face be refined and debonair but now just looks haggard. My Papa looks down on me like I'm already dead. He's grieving while I lay on the marble floor bleeding.
'Papa?' It's barely a whisper when I want to scream.
Jean-Luc grabs hold of me and pulls me to my feet. He grips my arms, grinding both my wrists together. 'Don you dare charge, Remy.' He whispers in my ear. I hadn't even realised my hands were still glowing.
'This boy is not my true blood son.' Jean-Luc bellows above the bloodthirsty snarls from the thieves and Assassins surging towards us.
'He is not of de Guilds by blood or lineage.' His words, as he pushes me through the crowds and back up to the dock, make me cringe. So this is it. This is how I die, with my whole world in tatters around me?
'I relinquish any hold on this boy but I demand dat the Guilds, both T'ief and Assassin grant dis boy his life. I brought him to the Guilds. I and I alone am responsible for his actions; let Remy live.'
Up-roar and fury all around us; I thought I knew what it felt like to be hated. I knelt with other people hating on me my whole life, but this, all that hate, all that rage.....it just make me feel cold and dead inside to know all that hate directed at me. I think I could have died then, everything I thought I was broken on the floor and drowned in all that hate. Then the Tithe Collector raises his hand for silence and the room slides into grudging quiet.
'Patriarch Lebeau makes a valid point. Candra has decreed that no more blood should be spilled from either thief or assassin. Hence forth the thief formally known as Remy Lebeau shall keep his life but will be banished from Clan Lebeau, from the Thieves Guild, and from all territory belonging to either the Thieves or Assassins Guilds in these United States of America.'
The Tithe Collector turns to look me straight in the eye. Sallow skin and long, equine face and I think, like I thought plenty of times before that he looks like a corpse, all skin and bone and fish eyed.
'You have twelve hours to gather whatever belongings Clan Lebeau permits you to take with you and to leave New Orleans. You return here at your own risk. Any Thief or Assassin that see's you anywhere or anytime within their territory has the full backing of the Benefactress to kill you. Do you understand?'
No! No I don't. I turn to my Papa – my former Papa – and Henri my once-brother, I want to scream at them. I want to ask them why? Why have they done this to me?
But I don't because I know; the Truce. It was always about the truce. I should have known from the very beginning. I should have run when Jean-Luc first swept me off the Rue Royale and told me, 'welcome to your new family, Remy Lebeau.' I should have known not to believe in it.
'Yes.' I say. 'I understand.' And it's done and dusted. This is the day Remy Lebeau dies. This is the day my world ends; happy birthday Remy, happy birthday to you.