Author's note: OMG, I've actually written a Broken Sword fic! Champagne's on me! No really, the fact that I've finally decided to write something down for this marvellous series is incredible. Anyway, Broken Sword (c) Revolution Software and amazing director Charles Cecil. As usual, please excuse the mistakes/typos that might remain in the text (written by a non-native English speaker XD) but please feel free to point them out for me. This happens after Broken Sword 4: Angel of Death/Secrets of the Ark.
Autumn in Paris was usually stereotypically beautiful. The trees were a magnificent mix of yellow and orange and red, the exceptional lighting made all photographers drool with envy and the river Seine glowed surreally by sundown. Yep. Beautiful. Except when cafés were being blown up by creepy-looking clowns, that is. But even that seemed so distant now.
You can't escape the past in Paris, and yet what's so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn't seem to burden. Yeah, right. If I only could cross paths with the idiot who'd said that, I'd make him reconsider his words. Although I've got to admit he's right about the whole 'no escape from the past' thing.
I blinked at the aggressive sunlight streaming through the windows, not really wanting to get up just yet but knowing it was already too late. I propped myself up on my elbows and took in my surroundings. The flat was empty, of course. Nico must have left early in the morning, trying to look for another newspaper to hire her. Damn editors. I let out a sigh, running a hand along my jaw and frowning at the sensation of my newfound stubble scratching against the pad of my fingers. I needed to shave.
I got up, a shiver running down my spine when my feet came in contact with the cold wooden floor. I could hear horns blaring in the distance, a reliable piece of evidence that Parisians still drove as badly as ever. The world moved on while I could not. I looked down at myself, feeling feverish and dead-tired and disgusting. Slowly, mechanically, my right hand snaked into my crumpled jeans' pocket, reaching for the photograph I'd tucked in there God only knew how long ago. I stared at the picture for what I thought was a little while, the reality of what it meant crushing me yet another time.
It was my fault she was dead. My fault that she'd been shot to death by Mevlut. My fault that she'd never open her eyes ever again. My. Fault. My hands were tainted with her blood.
I felt the need to throw up and rushed to the toilet.
Once I was sure I'd lost pretty much all the bile I had, I closed my eyes, clenching the photograph within my fist and trying to suppress the lump that was forming in my throat. Sure, Anna-Maria had tricked me, used me, played with my emotions but in the very end…she'd died for me. And for Nico.
I knew Nico was worried for me. I'd be too, if I were her. I had hardly spoken a word since we'd come back from the Vatican and even when I had, it'd been because it was absolutely necessary. This was quite a change from the usually good old talkative, sarcastic George Stobbart Nico knew. I despised myself. Scratch that. I hated myself. I hated the sympathetic look I could sometimes glimpse in Nico's chestnut eyes. I hated being a burden for her, even if she kept repeating I wasn't. As if she hadn't her fair share of problems already. But no, she'd insisted on me getting back home with her, threatening to tie me up if I even had a flicker of a thought about disagreeing with her. So, here I was. And being back at 361, Rue Jarry after all this time felt kinda strange. But on the other hand, it was the one of the rare places in Paris –and, coming to think of it, in Europe- where I truly felt safe and comfortable. Call me whatever you want, but having escaped from Death a certain number of times tends to make you cherish the locations where nobody tried to kill you.
I flushed the toilet and opened the windows to get rid of the horrible smell of vomit that was still floating in the air. Turning round, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and froze. I did not recognize the man I was looking at. Blonde hair, deep blue eyes, thin, wearing blue jeans and a white shirt -both as crumpled as can be- but definitely not looking like what I last remembered looking like. I brought a hand to my face, examining the fairly impressive rings under my eyes. The mournful look they literally underlined was beginning to depress me. I mean, more than I already was.
What day was it anyway? I'd completely lost track of time.
I decided on having a shower, shaving, putting some clean clothes on and going outside for a walk. Maybe the fresh air would do me some good. Maybe not. Whatever. It wasn't like I had anything better to do.
When I climbed up the staircase that led to my apartment, I expected to find George still sprawled out on the bed. Not that I blamed him. The only one I blamed was Anna-Maria, and even that didn't feel quite right now that she was dead. I probably shouldn't be thinking like this, but I still resented her for what she'd done to George. I wasn't sure I'd ever forgive her.
On top of that, the appointment I'd had this morning with the editor of Le Figaro Magazine had gone completely wrong, leaving me with no other option than to keep looking for another job. Screw ces espèce de cons, they didn't know what they were missing.
I tried to push my door open, to no avail. Weird. As far as I was concerned, George had never felt the need to lock himself up in my apartment. I took my key out of my pocket and opened the door. It creaked in protest. It'd done that for years. I was accustomed to the sound by now and even associated with something friendly and welcoming. I quickly gave up on being quiet when I spotted the cleanly folded sheets on my bed.
No reply came. I suddenly felt a jab of fear. I dropped my handbag and rushed to the bathroom. It was empty too, although I could smell the scent of the after-shave George sometimes used in the air. But this was the only clue I had. Ignoring the feeling of panic that was beginning to well up inside of me, I went back to the main room and scanned it thoroughly in an attempt to find something –anything- that might indicate me where George had gone. I found nothing.
It was unlike him. Under normal circumstances he would have left me a clue, something he knew I'd notice. Then again, normal circumstances and George Stobbart didn't exactly go together often. But this was very strange. I knew he was feeling completely down. I knew he blamed himself for Anna-Maria's death – hell, I'd heard him mumble countless things in his sleep the previous nights, which had been constantly disturbed by his recurring nightmares. I knew how depressed he was, even if he tried –very unconvincingly- to hide it. He'd touched bottom and he was still digging. But he'd never said anything about leaving without telling me about it!
I was starting to get frantic with worry. Depression could kill people. Good people. And if there was a single person who meant the world to me, it was George. He and I had gotten so close over the years we almost knew each other by heart. I'd felt my heart sink when I'd seen how drunk he had been when he'd believed I'd been killed in Phoenix.
Just to make sure I wasn't missing anything, I went to check the kitchen. I saw nothing special at first…except when I spotted something that should have been there and that wasn't anymore. The clown's nose was gone.
This could mean only one thing. One place. I grabbed my jacket in a fluid movement and rushed out to call for a taxi.
Sitting outside the Café de la Chandelle Verte again felt especially weird. I couldn't prevent myself from glancing nervously all around the place every two seconds to make sure no clown was running down the alley and/or carrying a spooky accordion. Hey, you can't blame me. Once bitten, twice shy, as they say.
The café had been rebuilt a couple of years ago and they hadn't changed its name despite the bombing. I was grateful for that. This place meant much to me, and when I'd left Nico's apartment earlier this morning, I'd felt like I needed to go there. It is here that it all started. So maybe it is here that it will all end.
I added sugar to the coffee the waitress had brought me. I didn't think she'd recognized me and I didn't know if that was a good thing or not. I brought the cup to my lips, blowing gently on the hot beverage to avoid burning myself. I closed my eyes and took a sip, concentrating on the feeling of the liquid pouring down my throat.
Until I heard the familiar click and flash noises that indicated a photograph had just been taken.
"I knew I'd find you here." Said the woman I was turning my back on.
I actually managed to smile knowingly upon hearing her voice, even though she could not see it. I didn't need to look up. I simply listened as she made her way to the table and took the seat opposite me, motioning for the waitress to come over and ordering a hot chocolate.
There wasn't a single word uttered when we gently touched our respective cups together. There was no need for words. We drank -in silence- to everything we'd faced and lived ever since that fateful day when the café had been bombed. Nico eventually reached out to grab my hand and I looked up to meet her eyes.
"I'm glad you're back with the living." She confessed, squeezing my hand softly to let me know she really meant it.
"I was lost."
"I know. That's why you came here."
I nodded, attempting a smile. She flashed me one of her own in encouragement.
"I…needed to let her go. Anna-Maria."
Nico's eyes narrowed for a second but she just squeezed my hand harder. I knew what it meant. This whole adventure had taken its toll on the both of us. Especially me. But going back to the Café de la Chandelle Verte had helped me to understand just how deeply I had lied to Anna-Maria and most importantly to myself when I'd told her that Nico was just someone I'd known in a past life. Ha. Rubbish. That night, at the hotel…It was Anna-Maria's body I'd made love to, but it was Nico I'd had in mind. I'd be dead before I tell her that, though.
"So what now, George? Think this is the end?"
I didn't reply immediately, taking out the clown's nose out of my pocket and fingering it absent-mindedly. This is where it all began, I reminded myself. I looked up again, reaching out with the hand she wasn't holding and tucking one of the wild bangs the autumn wind was blowing on behind the shell of her ear.
"Nope. It's only the beginning."
We smiled, ready to give ourselves another chance. We were alone out there. We were alone in the world. But we had each other. We always would. And in each other, we had the world.
We'd simply come full circle.