Whispers

 
 
Chapter Ten: Le Code des Voleurs

"The Way of Thieves"

- Boosted? -
- You stoled those radios? -
- Gimme a break. I'm getting lectured on taking things that aren't mine by a pick pocket and a member of the Thieve's Guild? -

Storm, Gambit, and Marrow, X-Men Unlimited #32

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Blindspot noticed the infinitesimal frown from Tessa and though she acted as if she hadn't, she had. She knew she'd lost the contract.

The girl cursed her opponent, the unheard of La Femme Fatale. Her eyes ran lightly over her cards, though she considered throwing them down on the table for all the good they would do her. But no. She would play this out.

Blindspot glanced toward the shadows and the other employers about the edges of the room. There were other jobs for a capture.

Surviving had never been a problem for Le Diable Blanc, the Gambit. Blindspot smirked and her eyes began to dance. No, she would take a job for capture. Surviving would be up to him.

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Katherine Pryde, or Kitty as she was known, had had a nightmare of a time hacking through information for the nebulous, vague, nonidentifying words Le Diable Blanc. The White Devil. Cajun. She'd narrowed her search to New Orleans and been at it for almost three days straight.

Bobby had taken to occupying the room behind her, pacing mostly, muttering sometimes, bringing her food and answering questions when she asked him to.

"Bobby!"

"What?" He was instantly at her side, peering at the computer screen.

She placed one hand on his shoulder and shoved him neatly back. "Stop wearing a hole in my carpet."

He stared at her, confusion in his eyes. "Your carpet?"

"Yes!" Kitty shook her head despairingly, patted his shoulder again, and turned back around to the monitor. "I've found him."

"What?" His face hovered over her shoulder next to hers.

This time she shoved him by the head.

"Ow!"

"I found him as a baby, dimwit." She glared at him. "Now, get out of here and give me ten minutes to myself, okay?"

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Sunfire studied Blindspot with guarded eyes and demeanor. She twirled one finger carelessly in her thick, black hair falling around her face as lovely as any of the woman of his homeland in Japan. She had changed her mind, from what he could not say and to what he could not either. But she had changed it.

He raised and tossed his chips on the pile.

The conversation flowed in eddies around the table. Most realized the employer had probably decided. The tie-breaker, of course, was the hands.

They dropped them.

These hands were lower scoring than the ones before. Avalanche sported a One Pair. Blindspot a Diamonds Straight. Rax dropped down Two Pair. Dominion folded. As the cards went round, the highest was a Four of a Kind from #10.

Sunfire, Shiro Yoshida of the Yakuza, laid down his own cards, cursing them as he did so. Ten of Hearts. Ten of Spades. Ten of Diamonds. Ten of Diamonds. Ace of Clubs. Four of a Kind. With the Ace, he had the highest hand.

The last hand down was La Femme Fatale's. She had the highest ranked Two Pair on the board. A pair of Kings.

The pot should have been split between #10 and Sunfire, but he knew with Blindspot and Femme Fatale's additional work during the hand, it could very well be a draw.

Lady Mastermind rose regally from her place at the table and dropped the deck in the center of each round before talking quietly. Finally she reached theirs and dropped it.

"The packets will be delivered by Sage within the next twenty-four hours," she said quietly.

Sunfire was shepherded away to the side and not given the option to return to another table. He had the job. That much he knew.

"Lady Mastermind." He caught the woman on her shoulder, over the cloak. As a child taken to such an event, he had once seen what the women here wore under their cloaks. Not much.

She turned in a swirl of her long, golden hair. Very American.

He asked softly, "Will I work alone?"

"The information will be in your packet," she said demurely, as if she was anything like demure, then returned to her place at the table.

Blindspot had also returned to the table, a sharp look on her face.

Interesting. Shiro Yoshida frowned. Very.

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Chere woke to a light buzzing beneath her arm. Her eyes flew open, then shuttered. A soft ding chimed from Remy's laptop. It was under her other arm. She sat up stiffly, looked around. She must have fallen asleep on the couch. She glanced at the clock. Three hours ago. At the end of the game.

The phone was still buzzing.

"Oh." She clutched at it, got a grip, and flipped it open. "Oui?"

Remy told her to talk French any time she answered the phone.

"You received the packet?" a dry female voice inquired.

Chere sat up, rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and brushed back her long, tangled hair with one arm, then tucked her feet up under her, pulled the computer into her lap, and popped it open. She clicked on a few things.

"Oui. It came." Her thickly accented voice sounded strange in her own ears. She had to shove back the personality of the psyche who spoke with it.

"Good," the woman on the other end responded. "The employer sent special instructions you are to read. The first payment has been transferred into your account. You'll have an allowance for working expenses. The balance will be paid on delivery."

Chere frowned intently, skimming through the details. "Mais oui," she replied absently. Her eyes halted on a requirement. They'd hired two of them. She would have a partner.

She bit back a swear.

An uneasy shadow of a personality flitted through her. Don't like that, chere. He knows me. It had been a while since she had felt or heard him in her head. At least, at his volition.

A light pause on the phone. "There will be interference."

Chere snapped back to the conversation and pulled out an amused hum. "Vraiment?" Really? "Eight jobs open, what else should I expect?"

"Will that be all?"

It was quite enough for Chere and she exchanged pleasantries then snapped the phone shut. The personalities flinched away from the fierceness of her accompanying mental gesture, and she leaned back her head on the couch. She could just make out the door to the bedroom with its two beds in her peripheral vision.

"Remy!" she called. "It came!"

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The exact location of the headquarters of Black Air were enshrouded in mystery, as was everything about the powerful organization. Britain's finest had gone into its ranks. The heavyweights with the strongest abilities, the most knowledge, the greatest skills.

The least personality.

Michelle Scicluna could never figure out anymore what had attracted her so strongly to this snarling, off-putting man sitting before her, smoking away, feet up on his desk.

Peter Wisdom.

"How is your project coming?" she asked, tapping her fingers against the desk.

His brown eyes hardened. "We'll find him," he said curtly, blowing smoke in her face.

When things soured between them, it hadn't been one-sided.

"Of course." She didn't let up the tapping and won another frown. "Perhaps, you can look into the attempted security breach on our firewall."

He coughed and set down the cigarette. "Excuse me?"

Michelle straightened. "Someone's trying to break in the database. I want to know who. And why."

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"As La Femme Fatale of the Thieves Guild, there are certain things you need to know. First of all, the heirarchy. The Patriarch is known as the Guildmaster. His wife is Guildmistress. Unless the Guildmistress is Matriarch. Then she's in charge. The heirs are princes and princesses, of course."

"Mais oui."

"Listen, Chere. This is important. Officially, I sponsored you into the Guild four years ago and you've had minimal contact since. You owe your sponsor loyalty as long as the Guild branch recognizes him. Hellfire knows this is a breach contract. My own winning the bid for me."

"A common technique..."

"Not common. Merely recognized."

"I've a partner."

"Which is why I'm training you! Now listen."

"I'm listening."

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Pierre Bisson and Jacques Renoir sat in the large, comfortable office of the Guildmaster of Montreal. There was much to discuss between the Council member and his Guildmaster.

"Why do you suppose they are here?" Renoir asked, tapping Fatale's file against his knee.

Bisson frowned, folding his hands together and gazing at the Monet on the wall. "I do not know, mon ami. And it worries me. The Tithe Collector has never brought our patron with her before." He returned his piercing gaze to Renoir. "And our new Thief. Fatale?"

"We are prepared." Renoir handed over the file. "I forgot how easy things are working with Gambit."

"Oui." Bisson waved off the words. "He is a Master. Don't forget it."

Bisson had been Guildmaster for only five years. His hair was still dark, his face still young. But as the only Master Thief in Montreal, he'd been handed the position on a silver platter. It bothered him yet that he could not contact Jean-Luc LeBeau and tell him what his son was planning. Or anything really. That warrant of Exile silenced the Guild's lips effectively.

He tossed the file on his desk. "And our guests? What of them? Have you learned anything?"

Renoir sighed and coursed his fingers through thick brown hair. "Non. They are femmes, one young, one very young. That is all I know."

"Well, find out more." Bisson turned away and studied the painting again. "I don't like this, Renoir. Our patron has never asked for people before." He glanced toward the file. "And this..." He tapped the documents with one finger. "This must be ended. Immediately."

Renior nodded and stood. "Will that be all, Guildmaster?"

"Oui, Renoir. It will."

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"Now, the Guilds have patrons. In New Orleans, it's the Benefactress."

"In Montreal?"

"LeBeau."

"Like your name?"

"Just LeBeau. Use the name with care."

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"Bring them here, Tessa."

Tessa turned toward her mentor, gave a slight nod of acknowledgement, and silently slipped across the library and out of the door. She strode easily into the twisting labyrinth of the headquarters of the Montreal Thieves Guild. She did not often show her face here in her capacity as liaison between her mentor and the rest of the Branch, so the Thieves had been somewhat surprised when not only she, but her mentor also, arrived and took possession of a suite of rooms on both the upper levels and the underground portion of the Guild complex.

Tessa LeBeau quietly opened a door that led to a long, twisting set of stairs winding down and down into the maze. She stepped quickly and lightly down them. She followed the hallways lit by torches, passed the guarded Thieves serving sentry duty. Their eyes distrusted her.

Why was she here?

She ignored them on her way to retrieve her guests, only stopping when she reached the heavy door into the X-Men's quarters. Tessa did not knock. She quickly broke through the security measures on the door and opened it to reveal a fidgeting Asian teenager, trying vainly to read a book on the couch, and the narrow-eyed dangerous glare of a full-grown woman assassin, whose mind pulsed with telepathic energy.

Having been trained over years in many times by some of the most powerful telepaths in the world, to say nothing of the most untraceable mutant alive, Tessa felt no threat from psionics. She could turn their gift on themselves or vanish completely from their realm of influence. Only one telepath had ever been strong enough to fight her.

She shook her head of memories from her girlhood and gestured toward the pair, applying her French accent once more. "You will come with me."

Psylocke tossed her head. "Why should I?"

"Because," Tessa replied equably, "you don't want him to come here."

Psylocke frowned, but gestured to Jubilee. "She stays."

"Non." Tessa curled her lips into a cold smile. "She is needed."

"She stays."

Tessa allowed Psylocke to feel the mental power feathering the edges of hers. The assassin stiffened. LeBeau had taught Tessa early to never let another know your real strength. Psylocke believed her to be as strong as she herself, not knowing it was the assassin's own power that had fought her and brought her down. She believed it was Tessa's.

"She is needed," Tessa repeated.

Jubilee set the book down calmly and put her hand in Pyslocke's, ending the argument. "I'll be fine," she reassured the older woman.

Psylocke's eyes tightened as if she felt pain. She nodded.

Tessa opened the door wide and waited for them to precede her. They stood hesitantly just outside under the hostile watch of the sentries as Tessa replaced the security on the door.

She straightened. "Come."

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"Under the Guildmaster are the Council members. Consider them like a Senate. They support him, advise him, obey him."

"But?"

"French, Chere. Mais they can vote over him if they're unanimous."

"On anything?"

"Non. Mais the exceptions aren't worth noting. Each Council member belongs to a Clan."

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The information on one named Remy LeBeau was as thorough as it was shocking. Logan felt for his beer and tossed it back before rereading the sheet regarding his marriage arrangement to an Assassin. This guy had certainly been screwed over a few times and Logan was surprised that he continued to work with the Guild at all.

But family was family.

Logan flattened his mouth into a grim line and flipped to the next sheet.

He set down his beer. He set down the sheet. He braced both palms on the table and considered the words in front of him.

The details handed to him from the inside combined with Hudson's snippets of information were beginning to fill in quite a picture. Not a pretty one.

The kid had been abandoned at a hospital. Le Diable Blanc. Demon child. Even then, his eyes had earned him a place in the newspaper. Then he had vanished. A thin, nearly unreadable slip of paper noted the retrieval from a child-enslaving Antiquary. He was then forcibly placed by the Thieves Guild with one, Fagan, a street thief they allowed to raise children to their ways. Jean-Luc hadn't adopted Remy until he was eleven years old.

Thirteen. Mutation manifested. Explosively. He'd gone through rigorous training that Logan could guarantee left the man Remy now was with nearly perfect control.

Fourteen. Betrothed to Bella Donna Boudreaux, daughter of Marius Boudreaux, Patriarch of the New Orleans Assassins Guild. As prophesied before the Thieves Guild had even adopted him.

Fifteen. A report on how well he handled shepherding another Thief through his Tilling. The young Thief whose rite of passage it was had died, though the remarks on the report said bluntly that Remy had done all as he should have.

He'd promptly taken the codename Gambit.

At sixteen, he was allowed into Fed jobs under the name of Le Diable Blanc with strict silence from the Guild regarding all other names.

Sixteen. Medical report. Sitting in front of Logan's drink. Secondary mutation. Omega level. Treatment: brain surgery.

Logan picked up his eighth beer with one hand. Memories stirred and he considered the helicopter.

"He's wanted all right."

Weapon X.

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Peter waited until Scicluna was safely away before feverishly hunting through his defensive software, trying to find the attempted hacker. He paused and stared at the screen. Make that hacker.

Whoever it was had managed to squirrel their way into the most intensely guarded computer system in all of Great Britain.

He picked up his cigarette again and cradled in between his fingers as he smoked. He used the other hand to navigate through his computer, laughing when he found the hacker's IP address. His.

Peter Wisdom, Black Air agent, wasn't about to let up without a fight. He began typing away, hacking away at the location of the hacker.

The browsing slowed. Then increased at a furious rate.

Whoever it was knew they'd been spotted. Soon, they'd know a whole lot more than that.

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"Each Clan is made up of related families and their adopted trainees."

"Like you were adopted into the LeBeau Clan."

"You know that."

"Your psyche. The memories... Sometimes they come out. Mostly, you're kinda quiet."

"French, Chere!"

"D'accord."

"C'est mieux. You will be reporting to the Renoir Clan, in the family of Jacques Renoir. You answer to them. You get paid anything for a job as Fatale, you pay your tithes to the Guild. A portion of those tithes go to the patron."

"Pourquoi?"

"Because that's how it works. The patrons give Guilds protection and other...gifts. The Guilds pay tithes."

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Jubilee carefully noted everything as they walked down the stone corridors. Men dressed all in black stood silent and still as statues on either side of many doors like hers and Betsy's. Every so often a set of chiseled steps would suddenly wind upward in a tight spiral away from the hallway. Once another hallway crossed theirs.

She noticed everything.

The musty smell of the ancient building. The complete cleanliness of the fixtures, mostly torches, but some real, honest to goodness, light fixtures, completely free of dust and cobwebs. The way their own feet echoed upon hitting the floor while the people they passed and the feet of the woman made no sound whatsoever.

Jubilee noticed with the same careful eye of the mall rat she used to be, eyeing up who would pay for her dinner before bringing on the entertainment. She noted the rich fabric those black clothes were made of, the gloved hands, and the lack of thickness in their pockets. These people had money and confidence in spades.

They eyed the woman, LeBeau, with distrust.

That could be helpful.

LeBeau led them up a set of stairs that went up and up and up. Jubilee counted off the eighty-four steps and gave LeBeau's back an extremely complaining glare by the end. Her feet and legs were killing her!

"You guys ever consider elevators?" she demanded.

LeBeau turned around with a small laugh on her mouth beneath the red shades shielding her eyes. "Oui. I think we did at some time. Whether those were implemented..." LeBeau gave a helpless shrug. Her expression turned shrewd as one hand rose to her hip and she cocked her head slightly at Jubilee.

Betsy stepped partly in front of the younger girl, but Jubilee wanted to know what LeBeau would say and stuck her head out.

"Well?" Jubilee asked.

"He said you would ask." LeBeau shrugged. "He also said you'd make a good Thief. But I'll try not to corrupt you." The smile was back as LeBeau turned again and continued leading them.

Now windows appeared at intervals and Jubilee could see they were in a city at the outskirts. Promising. She grinned.

"And who is he?" Jubilee asked, despite the tightening of Betsy's grip on her shoulder.

"You will see." The woman clipped her reply.

Jubilee sighed loudly and scuffed her shoes along the floor. If everyone wanted to treat her like a kid, these guys could too. It would be better than being treated as a threat.

She stole a glance at Betsy, staring ahead with a serious look that meant business.

Good cop, bad cop.

"This way." LeBeau gestured at a set of double doors and pulled one side open, standing so they could enter first.

Betsy gripped Jubilee harder. Jubilee set her teeth in a smile to hide the grimace and walked in beside the former assassin. It was a library, full of ceiling to floor shelves and books. The room was nearly as large as Xavier's study and seemed to house far more books than his.

"Whoa!"

Jubilee took in the rich wooden floor with real Persian rugs scattered across it, the velvety couches with end tables crowded with books, the smaller shelves that came out from the walls with even more books in little islands, the fireplace, the massive desk, the man... She stared at him.

Grey hair fell messily but nicely away from his face to his shoulders. He wore something akin to rags, but very expensive rags she noted. More like a rich brown cloth that had never been fully made into the garment he wore it as. His chest showed through the wrap-around front and it was far more toned than an old man's ought to be, and his face was younger than she would have thought too, handsome, sharp and angular, with the keenest, most alive and playful set of eyes she'd ever seen. Instead of white though, his had black. And the irises burned a brilliant red.

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"The Tithe Collector for the Benefactress was a man. LeBeau's is a woman. She calls herself the same."

"LeBeau?"

"Oui. As for your partner..."

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"Coward!" Shiro Yoshida snarled at his cousin, Harada.

The Silver Samurai made a move as if to strike him, but arrested the motion, lowered his arm slowly. "You do not know of what you speak. We must protect our own," he said. Reproof.

"From Remy? A Thief?" The young Yakuza pulled back from Harada and turned to stare out the window of the high-rise hotel room. They would be returning to Japan in the morning. Shiro had won a contract. On his friend.

His cousin laid a hand on Shiro's shoulder. "If our sources are true, this mutant could be the greatest threat we will ever face."

Shiro whirled, staring in disbelief. "Remy?"

"Not what he is now, my cousin. But what he will become." The Samurai dropped his hand from Shiro's shoulder. "You have heard of Fujikawa?"

Shiro cocked a brow. "And who has not?"

"Witness is reported to have red on black eyes also and a pink aura about him when he sits in power," Harada told him.

Shiro lowered his gaze, troubled. "We must protect our own," he intoned.

"Yes."

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"You know about the Yakuza?"

"I've worked with Sunfire before, chèrie. So, oui, I know about the Yakuza. The point, Chere, is do you? You'll be in close contact with him."

"Non. It's Wolverine. He married one."

"You don't say. Your papa marries a Japanese crime maiden."

"Princess more. It's fuzzy."

"You know enough. I met Sunfire on a job. American Feds. He knows my face, my eyes, my skills, my cards, my accent. Not much of my history. Not even Bella Donna. Be careful what you say around him, Chere. My history is yours. If the Guild knows it, so do you, d'accord?"

"D'accord."

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Bella Donna Boudreaux returned quietly to the ancient, beautiful stone edifice that housed the New Orleans Assassins Guild. She had retrieved what she wanted, a contract, and the information that went with it. She wished she could retrieve the information on all eight jobs that had clearly been played and certainly had information that at least one government had called in the mercenaries.

None of it was good.

Remarkably, the rules of the Guild that had been in place for hundreds of years and forced the Guild to honor all contracts taken in such a fashion were the same rules that allowed her to take a contract on family—and as her intended, no matter how wrong that had all gone down, Remy was family—in order to protect them rather than harm them.

She sighed and pushed open the heavy door to her office with one hand and moved to settle in her large chair behind the desk. Bella Donna had insisted on the office of a Master Assassin as that was exactly what she was.

She leaned back her head and considered her fiancé.

Remy LeBeau was definitely the most handsome man she'd ever known. He had toned, hardened muscles honed in the art of survival, never excessive or superfluous. The lines of scars running up his arms and decorating various places on his torso leant him a dangerous air she had always appreciated. It was an important part of an outsider who would marry an Assassin. His face was handsome, angular, sharp, usually sporting that careless smirk that made her forget what she really wanted and prefer his desires. His eyes were the red on black of a devil, his attitude about as innocent.

Maybe she had liked the devil.

She had. She had even loved him. She stared at the laptop waiting for her on the desk. The packet would be there, waiting to tell her how to end his life. What had gone so terribly wrong?

When she had.

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"You know your weapons?"

"Oui."

"How to break and enter without leaving tracks?"

"I can draw you up for the thieving. Most of the knowledge is just...there."

"Without fail? You can't mess this up, Chere."

"I know what I'm doing, Remy. Is there something else I need to know about the Guilds?"

"Some."

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The man studied Jubilee intently, a smirk on his face. "You're younger than I remembered, petite."

Jubilee kept her look blasé. "Oh?"

"Oui. Been a long time." He nodded toward Betsy. "And I can see things have already changed."

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"There are five branches in North America: New Orleans, New York, Chicago, Montreal, and Los Angeles. There are twenty-three branches altogether. I made your father Paris Guild. Montreal agreed to it."

"D'accord."

"Your Guildmaster is Pierre Bisson. You owe him fealty, but you've only met him a handful of times. There's a sheet in there for you from Renoir. Should include the details you'll need. Any questions?"

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Kitty typed away furiously, quickly entering, noting, storing the data to her screen capture management program, the fastest, safest way for her to keep a handle on it without leaving a trace.

Whoever was onto her was good. They had her tracked to America. To New York.

She saved one last capture and pulled the plug.

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He'd been brought out of his hiding place in her subconscious. That internal her constantly on guard had surprising control of the psyches when she needed something. Right now, she needed to be a Thief.

It was frustrating to say the least. He'd been close, so close he could almost taste the thrill of a successful pinch. He had found the wall erected in her mind, the solid blocks relegating her proper memories to mere unsearchable archives.

He'd searched anyway.

Her name. This close. Just a moment's breath away before she had ruthlessly dragged him out and up and he nearly filled her and it was a rush even stronger than the pinch. She needed his help with gambling, something he was eminently qualified to assist.

Now, she wanted him to stick around and be her expert Thief. If it weren't for those tantalizing moments when their minds melded, their personalities blended together, he would complain strenuously about the disruption to his work.

He wasn't really complaining.

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"Does your pere know we're doing this?"

"He's not even allowed to ask. Not me. Not the other Guilds."

"Remy?"

"Oui."

"Will... With Sunfire and all, does it mean... I mean... Oh!"

"What, Chere? Just say it."

"Will I still be with you? For now."

"Oui, ma Chere. For now."

"Pour le moment."

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Chere said the words softly to herself, in French. For now.
 


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