Queen of Thieves

- T1.Q1.1 -

Story Summary: Friendship and love are put to the test when two people, once closer to each other than anyone else, now little more than strangers, are forced to marry.

Canonical Notes: AU. Very AU. Timeline One, Queen of Thieves Base Timeline, First Story.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Lucia de'Medici, Merr2, and LithiumAddict, all of whom were instrumental in inspiring me to write this story arc and its various companion pieces.

Author's Notes: I rarely write historical fiction with a very good reason. If anyone notices anachronisms or anything that smacks wrong, please let me know and I will correct it.

Also, I wanted to write long chapters. I give. This works. I write short ones better anyhow.

More updates coming soon from old and new stories. (Though if you've visited my personal website, you might have known about most of them.)

Queen of Thieves

- 1 -

The first thing Ah remember of all the tahmes Ah've lived is holding to my Papa's hand as he walked meh down the streets of New Awlins at eleven fifty-one at naght. We were goin' to meet some acquaintances of his, a word Ah had already learned meant dangerous men and double talkin'. Ah was fahve years old. Ah'd never known any different.

Gruff and surly, his body sheltered in a heavy winter overcoat that had seen better days, the Wolverine stomped purposefully down a poorly lit alleyway. A tiny, dark-haired girl clung tightly to his hand. What appeared to be his waistcoat had swallowed her up and only her elfin face, the tips of her fingers, and the bit of shoe below her ankles poked out.

It was cold out. Winter was never fierce in the city of New Orleans, but it could still put a chill on one's bones.

He suddenly gripped the child's hand more tightly, hesitating where the street turned. He tucked her behind him.

"Hold on now, Anna. Don't need to be worrying about you."

She wrapped her arms around the back of his knee, tucked both feet on one shoe, and buried her face against his leg. He wasn't a tall man or a big man, but he was big enough to just about hide her from the front.

Wolverine continued forward, paying no more heed to her.

The little girl studied their surroundings as they reached streets lit with lampposts and homes with windows that glowed behind the curtains. The fragrance of the last forgotten and dying blooms of summer wafted across the night tang. She thought she could smell traces of spice and family and pain, all mixed up with the scent of nearby water. Her father taught her to pay attention growing up. Pay attention with all your senses, he'd said. She struggled to stay awake, lulled by the steady motion of his walk.

She came abruptly alert when he jostled to a stop outside the door to one of the mansions. He rang the doorbell and waited patiently for someone to come.

She looked around her interestedly, then remembering herself, ducked her head against his leg and became completely still.

The door opened and a man's clear tenor rang out. "And y' are?" It held the taint of the Cajun.

"Wolverine," came the gruff reply.

The man stepped aside and her father went in. She remained breathlessly still and silent as he walked over plush carpets, past rich oil paintings and antique furniture, into the depths of this New Orleans home. She wondered if only the servants were Cajun or if this was merely a city home for a bayou family.

"Is dis de chil'?" asked a woman's rich voice.

The little girl's father brought his hand to the back of her head and she stood up from behind him.

The woman was a dark-skinned, heavyset woman with a thick braid around the top of her head and a colorful wrap around her body. Dark eyes pierced both girl and father, and Anna pressed just a little closer to her father's leg.

"Go on now," he said and prodded her in the direction of the woman.

Obedient, she went forward.

"Come wit' Tante Mattie now, chil'," the woman said warmly. "I have cookies fresh baked an' dere's room enough for y' in de kitchen."

Anna took one last look at her father, who only gave her an encouraging expression before following after a tall, slender man down the hallway. Tante Mattie's hand was inviting. She reached out and allowed her own to be swallowed up in the rough, callused warmth of the woman's.

"Come along, chil', an' y' can meet my Remy."

Obediently, she trotted behind the woman through the long hallway and around several corners before finding herself in a large, spacious kitchen with thick, broad tiles on the floor, long counters, tall windows. On the right half of the kitchen, a large wooden table had been laid with about a dozen plain wooden chairs pulled up around it in front of a broad hearth on which a royal fire burned. Over the fire hung a roast. At the table sat a scrawny, raw-edged boy in denim trousers, bare feet, and no shirt. Messy auburn hair fell over his shoulders and into his eyes. The small part of his face that was clear to the girl was all sharp edges and razor thin. He didn't look up on their entry. His gaze was pointed at the table and two stacks of cards, one face up. He held several cards in one fist, their red and black points standing out to her in the warm glow of the fire.

"Remy," Tante Mattie called. "Y' get up proper an' greet our guest."

The boy slid off the chair, setting down his cards as he did so. He hooked his thumbs through the belt loops on his pants and came forward.

Anna stared at him.

He was much taller than her. As he approached, she could make out his bony ribs in sharp relief and burning red in his dark eyes. Even closer, she could see that his eyes themselves were black, drinking in the light. She took a step forward at that, and he arrested his motion entirely. His eyes were fascinating, fixed on her with startling intensity. She had never seen anything like them.

"Ah'm Anna," she got out.

One eyebrow winged upward beneath his bangs. "Remy," he muttered back, then at Tante Mattie's reproachful look, stuck out one hand to shake.

Anna eyed him warily. She had seen her father shake hands with the men he did business with, but she had never had reason to attempt the gesture herself. She looked back at Tante Mattie, her long dark hair flying about her.

"Sit y' bot' down." The colored woman shooed them both toward the table again. "I'll bring de cookies."

The boy's eyes gleamed, but he curled back up on his chair, shoving another out with one hand for Anna to climb into.

"Whah are yoh eyes that color?" she asked, curiously.

The boy shrugged, a casual gesture with only one shoulder. He began to shuffle in his nimble fingers. She watched, intrigued, at the mesmerizing, easy rhythm, the way light and shadow played across his hands.

His unruly mane had fallen across his eyes again. The girl reached out and brushed back the reddish hair. He looked up, clearly startled.

"Ah lahke them," she said with all the certainty only the very young can master.

Remy furrowed his eyebrows together, but Tante Mattie separated the two of them with a quick wave of her hand at Anna's arm and set down a plate of cookies.

"Don't cheat, mind," she said to Remy and ruffled up his hair.

"Yes'm," he mumbled back. The gleam came back into his eye and he dealt out.

Anna snaked out one hand and took a cookie. She nibbled at the edges. It was chewy and flavor just bursting in her mouth of oats and spices and honey. Very good. She wiped her mouth and picked up her cards.

"Y' know how t' play?" the boy asked with a rolling Cajun accent of his own.

Anna let do with a nod.

"Bien." His sharp features fell intently to the cards. He spread the five cardboard slips in his hand.

Anna ran her finger along her own and reached out for another cookie. "How old are ya?"

The dark eyes neither flickered nor turned. "Eight." He set a cookie to his mouth.

She blinked. She hadn't even seen him take one.

"So what are y' wearing under dat?" he asked blithely. "Two cookies in de pot."

Anna felt bewildered for a moment. "Y'all can't bet the cookies. They're both of ours!"

Remy raised an eyebrow at her and set down the one he had been chewing on. "So..."

"A dress," she replied, miffed. "What else would I be wearing?"

He shrugged casually. "Je no sais, mais, I've heard stories 'bout de Wolverine. T'ought he might dress y' like a boy."

Her eyes narrowed. "Yah've heard stories?" she said flatly. It wasn't a question.

"Oui." Remy grinned and sipped his milk. His dancing eyes said he knew full well he was in trouble.

Anna sniffed. "Three cookies. And another glass of milk."