Whispers

 
 

use it up:
Genevieve Darceneaux

The city of New Orleans, drunk with sin and sacrament, sprawls across the mighty Mississippi River, edges the bayou and the Cajun Guilds, crowns the coast; that city, where saint and sinner hail Maria, where Thief and Assassin ply their trade, where the streets are torment, wonder, beauty, ugliness in all its grandeur, stares down at a tall, lonely figure upon the horizon, staring back at its beauty, its ugliness, its terror, its wonder.

A Thief.

He wears a long, brown trench coat over his nondescript dark clothes. A cigarette dangles from his lips. His eyes blaze red on the blacks of them. Auburn hair blows long and unruly in the light wind about him.

Son of New Orleans, that mighty city, devil and prince. Le Diable Blanc.

He turns into the wind, his duster swirling about his legs, and flicks away the butt. "Shake de dust," he mutters. [1]

The cigarette lands on the asphalt of a long highway and crumbles into ash.

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Tradition.

The New Orleans Thieves Guild was known to flout law, privacy, and the very moral and ethical standard of the Holy Roman Church it patronized, offering its tithes into the overflowing coffers of that sacred establishment.

But never tradition.

Tradition was a royal, sacred word to the Cajun Thieves, passed down to their newborn babes, fresh from the cradle, murmured over reverently by their storytellers and Masters, upheld by young and old alike, as thick as blood, as smooth as silk, as unchanging and unyielding as ageless stone.

The Rites of Tilling were a tradition of old among the Guilds. When a young Thief came of age, he was required to pass his test of thievery, loyalty, and skill. A Thief who passed Tilling was a Thief true, a man grown and capable in the eyes of the Guild.

All of this went briefly through the mind of Remy Etienne LeBeau as he gathered his courage on the day he would be assigned his own Tilling. Though he was adopted, the principles of the Guild had been ingrained into him as thoroughly as if his père had trained him from the cradle. He wore tradition as a cloak around him as he moved through the hallways of the LeBeau mansion as silent and casually unobtrusive as any Thief had ever been before him.

He paused for a moment outside of the heavy, hand-carved mahogany doors of his father’s office. He breathed in one heavy inhale, the only outward sign of his apprehension, then lifted his hand to the knocker.

For a moment, Remy's hand remained poised. He heard the voice of Jean-Luc LeBeau, patriarch of the LeBeau family and Guildmaster of Thieves. His father.

“De Paris Guild asks for our best,” Jean-Luc said, a repressed excitement in his tone. “We’ll send dem our best.”

Henri's voice followed Jean-Luc's. “He’s fifteen, Père. T’ink o’ what you’re doin’. He’s fifteen.”

Remy paused, taken aback. But he could not afford to stand at the door like an eavesdropper for long, so he opted for the straightforward solution. He took hold of the knocker and rapped loudly.

"Come in, Remy," Jean-Luc's rich voice poured through the door.

He cursed softly. His père knew it was him.

Remy opened it, took two steps inside, and let the heavy door boom shut behind him. His gaze shifted abruptly to the tense back of his older brother, Henri, standing by the window, one hand in his pocket, the other arm against the frame. Something was off about this, but he had no idea what.

"Sit." Jean-Luc’s eyes gleamed as he settled into the massive chair behind his antique desk.

Remy obeyed his père's command and dropped into the offered chair. Henri did not turn around.

"Y'r Tillin'." Jean-Luc placed a worn dossier in front of his younger son on the edge of his desk. “De fille’s name is Genevieve Darceneaux.”

Remy hid his surprise at the lack of comment regarding whatever argument Henri and Jean-Luc had clearly left unfinished beneath the professional expectations of receiving a new job.

He took the slim folder and flipped it open to a photograph. Genevieve was a pretty girl, dark hair, fair skin, small, heart-shaped face, pouty lips. Her eyes seemed dark and quick. Secrets and laughter hid in their depths behind a sparkle that would seem mere coy amusement and youth to the untrained eye.

“She’s a t’ief,” Remy said.

“Oui.” Jean-Luc nodded his approval.

Henri snorted in disgust, earning another long look from Remy.

“And a good one,” their father went on, not minding Henri in the least. He leaned back in his chair and wound his fingers together over his chest. “She’s a t’ief wit’out a Guild.”

Remy forced himself to focus on his father again.

“De Paris Guild had its eyes on a necklace called ‘De Cheatin’ Star,’ l’Etoile du Tricherie, and dispatched t’ree t’ieves t’ go get it when it came into deir territory.”

Three thieves. Remy quickly calculated the difficulty of the job and frowned when he realized just how good Genevieve was at what she did. She could have, of course, used other charms... Remy snapped back to his father's next words.

“When dey got dere,” Jean-Luc continued, “de necklace was gone. De fille had stolen it.”

“And dey let her live?” Remy asked in disbelief.

But Jean-Luc was shaking his head. “She’s good. Dey’d rather keep deir eyes on her for a while. Mais, dey still want de necklace and asked moi for a T’ief to get it back.” He fixed his gaze on his younger son and waited for the words to sink in.

Remy glanced again at Henri’s back. “And dat’s where I come in, non?” This was a job Remy could handle. He’d done worse jobs in his extensive training as an apprentice Thief. He was the best the New Orleans Thieves Guild had produced in years and everybody knew it. So why was Henri so upset about it?

“Oui,” Jean-Luc said. “I told dem I’d send you.”

Then the words he had overheard finally hit home. "We'll send dem our best." Remy kept his composure. His frère was clearly uncomfortable with the job, but Remy wasn't entirely certain yet of why. Patience, Remy, Henri had told him often enough. Don' rush in wit'out de facts.

Jean-Luc watched him thoughtfully. "So have y' decided on who t' ask t' be Registrar?"

Remy fastened his gaze on Jean-Luc's, hesitant with his brother's anger unabated. But Jean-Luc's dark eyes weighed him just as they had always done from the time he took Remy on as apprentice. He could not afford to show weakness.

"Oui. I want t' ask Henri."

He had chosen the obvious candidate to guide him through Tilling. His brother had taught him nearly as much as his father and had always shown as much care as he had skill.

Henri's shoulder twitched, but there was no other outward reaction.

Jean-Luc spun in his desk chair towards his older son. "An' d' y' accept?"

Henri turned suddenly on his heel. The eyes that met Remy's were just shy of livid. "Oui," he said.

Remy studied his frère's sealed expression, a faint worry gnawing in his gut.

That feeling did not abate, but only increased over the next few days of preparation, of communications back and forth with the Paris Guild, of passport alterations and quiet exchanging of top-secret paperwork. Remy was at the heart of everything going on, but he was largely kept in the dark on anything not directly related to the working of the job, the traditional way of handling a Tilling. He was expected to get any information he needed mostly on his own.

And he did.

He did his own casing of the dark-eyed belle with her quick laughter and coy ways. He tracked down her bank accounts, her major contacts in the underground (surprisingly few), her reputation among the upper class of Paris, her apartment number and street, the places she liked to shop, the fact that she did not own a car. Then there was the necklace itself. What jeweler created it, who owned it as it passed from hand to hand, the exact composition, the players who might know or care about its value. It took Remy every moment he had to spare before their flight, but he considered it time well spent. The most important part of any job was the legwork beforehand.

It seemed hardly any time at all before he and Henri boarded a plane to Paris. Remy adopted the easy airs of a frequent traveler. The art of invisibility was one he had honed early on, but Henri, his older brother and applauded Thief, he was the one who spent the entire plane trip strung up so tight, it was a wonder no one called security on them.

He waited until they had checked into their Paris hotel room, closed the door, and scanned it for bugs before confronting Henri.

“What de hell is de matter?” Remy exploded. “You’re goin’ t’ get us in trouble, y’ keep up dis moping.” Remy narrowed his devil eyes at Henri.

Henri dropped into a chair and made some small sound of derision. “I’m a T’ief, Remy. Been one for longer dan you. I don’t need y’ tellin’ moi how t’ be one.”

“Den start actin’ like it!” Remy turned toward the window and peered through the partially closed Venetian blinds.

A busy street lay below them. It was a different kind of city than New Orleans. Older. More snooty, if it was even possible. In the far off distance, he could make out the spires of the Notre Dame.

“De Guild weren’t de only ones after de necklace,” Henri said suddenly.

Remy reeled around. “Qu'est que tu dit?” he demanded.

Henri sighed deeply and ran a hand wearily down his face. His eyes were most, if not all, of the way shut. “De necklace has adamantium,” he said. “Père didn’t tell y’, but dere are governments dat want dis stuff, private investors, men wit’ deep pockets and not much in de way o’ scruples.” He opened his eyes and stared at Remy through his splayed fingers before dropping his hand to the arm of the chair. “Darceneaux’s playin’ wit’ de big boys, takin’ jus’ ‘cause she can.”

Remy tightened his mouth into a grim line. This wasn’t going to be as easy as he thought. An unwelcome thought squirmed its way into his mind.

“Dis is why dey asked for a New Orleans T’ief, non? Dey wanted someone dat could disappear when de job was done.”

Henri didn’t bother to answer. "Let's go." He rose from his chair and gestured toward the door.

Remy felt like commenting on their overly brief settling in period, but in the end, he decided it was best to let it go.

Tradition demanded they honor the local Church as they honored the local Guild. So Remy and his brother followed the line of the faithful and the curious into the nave of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. They crossed themselves, bowed their heads in the ancient pews, and celebrated the Mass. Remy kept his eyes open and his senses alert, even as he gave himself over to the familiar rites and phrases.

"Seigneur, prends pitié. Ô Christ, prends pitié. Seigneur, prends pitié."

Remy scanned the congregation surreptitiously, keen to find the Thieves he knew were there. The Thieves of Paris, however, were indistinguishable from the crowd of worshippers and tourists from many nations. Even knowing the traditions and secret ways of the Guild from his childhood, brought up within its hallowed walls since that fateful day five years prior when Jean-Luc had snatched him off the streets of New Orleans, Remy could not identify a single Thief with certainty.

And so he waited, performing his part with the reverent throng in the rites of the Mass until the Liturgy was completed. After that, Henri and Remy walked out together.

It was a small thing that captured his attention. The same nondescript man, lean, athletic, around thirty years old, that had greeted them coming in, hovered nearby, keeping even with their pace.

Remy cursed himself inside his mind. He had paid little heed to the greeting, not finding it significant, but now they were among Thieves, and more men fell into step around them, five in all. All wore nondescript, unobtrusive clothing in muted tones. They gave off a quiet aura of skill, confidence, and reserve. Henri said nothing, simply staring straight ahead, his mouth a grim line.

Remy knew these men were the Council of the Paris Thieves Guild. He had walked with such men before in New Orleans and recognized the presence of a Master. One Thief, a tall man with sandy blonde hair and a hawk nose in his straight features, led the others about with subtle cues.

They soon found themselves in a different area of the city with quieter streets. The leader gestured toward Henri, spoke quietly to him, and turning to his companions, drew away with them to enter a small, but almost pretentious old stone building with Gothic façade.

Henri signaled for Remy to remain behind and added a few more signs in the Thieves code.

Remy assented with a nod.

His brother hesitated, as if not trusting the assurance, but acceptance smoothed away the expression, and Henri followed the men into the building.

Remy waited for a while before settling up against the outer wall along one side, leaning on it with one side. He slipped out his cards and shuffled a deck absently through his fingers. He was not to go inside until invited in by the Paris Guild officials. He was not to smoke, warned against it by his older brother. He was supposed to be quiet and stay out of trouble.

He snorted.

Like anyone called the white devil would do that.

The streets of any city had a familiarity to someone who had grown up on them, and Remy slowly launched himself off the wall and began to walk down the one next to the building. He didn’t walk quickly or far, just breathed in the mixed smells and sounds of the city, felt out with his extra senses for motion, space, density, creating a small map within his head of the immediately surrounding area. The traffic was minor and he could pick out the distinct emotional threads of the few people walking in a two block radius. Low traffic was good for their kind of business, but it also made it a more dangerous location.

Suddenly, he stopped cold.

He cocked his head and focused outward, sharply toward the left, and felt the slapping backwash of naked fear and lurid delight in another’s terror.

His silent tread resumed. He kept his head down, his shades on, covering the burning red of his eyes when the charge was strong, moving along at an easy, casual, unobtrusive pace. His hands were in his pockets. One found the edge of his cards and held them tightly in his fist.

He reached a cross street, glanced up, looked both ways over the black lenses of his sunglasses. Devil eyes. Some bypasser noticed him and quickly looked away.

Remy smiled and moved out around the corner.

He found what he wanted on the side of another small building. He climbed up the fire escape and slipped silently over the edge of the roof. He came to the edge and looked over.

There she was.

Genevieve Darceneaux.

It was enough to stop him for a few moments, just to stare at that pretty little thing, her dark wide eyes like a young girl’s, her desperate struggle with a monstrous man far too large and strong for her. He pulled himself together, putting all thoughts of the heist from his mind, and readied himself for a fight.

“Come to play, kitty cat?” Remy asked in perfect Parisian French from the edge of the roof.

As expected, the man turned, still clutching Genevieve in one clawed fist. His eyes held the slight predatory craze of a feral who’s given in too much to the evolutionary will inside. He flashed a hungry grin—with fangs, Remy noted—and laughed evilly.

“You want to fight for her?” The man’s French was atrocious, but comprehensible.

Remy leaned forward and clucked his tongue in disapproval. He caught the flicker of disbelief in Genevieve’s quick, dark eyes, but she remained silent as he admonished the feral.

“My Tante always taught me never to allow a lady to come to harm.” He returned his own hungry grin. “Now you’re not being much of a gentleman, are you?”

He flung himself over the edge of the building and hit the man with the full weight of his body. Genevieve cried out as the impact hurled her hard into a stone wall.

Remy and the dark-haired feral went flying. The feral stopped when they hit the building, but Remy used the moment to swing off and back around, boot into the man's face, holding him down to the ground.

"So you're the young Romeo and this is your Juliet," the feral snarled up at him.

Remy winced at the terrible accent. "Y'r French stinks," he finally said in English, lip curling in disgust. "Mais if y' truly want t' know, I've never met dis woman before. Just can' stand for a lovely femme to be accosted by such a foul person as y'self."

He could admit to himself at the low growl coming from beneath his boot that antagonizing an unknown feral in an unknown city with a known problem watching him from under sooty lashes a few feet away was not necessarily a good idea, but Remy wasn't particularly known for playing small stakes and this was an opportunity worth exploiting.

"Get out of my face, boy," the feral growled and nearly sideswiped Remy with an arm.

Remy flipped neatly out of the way only to pin the man again.

"I'm here to retrieve something stolen by this lady." The man sneered the last word, mocking Remy's answers.

Remy laughed. "I have respect for a poor person robbin' de rich, as y'r boss mus' be t' hire a thug like y' t' do his dirty work." He looked the man over. "Y' have de fangs, I'll grant y' dat." A slow grin spread over his face as the feral stilled under the growing heat and brilliant color of his clothes.

Genevieve slid back a few steps, almost to the alley's end, but she couldn't get past them without coming into arm's reach of her former attacker.

Remy leaned forward. "Mais, I have de bite."

He decharged the clothing, except for one glove. The feral ripped it off and sent it flying toward the wall. The gloves struck the red brick and exploded.

Brick dust and mortar spewed over the three of them. The ground shook. Genevieve shrieked and fell into Remy in her flight. He caught her easily in his arms while the feral stood, stretched the kinks out of his neck, red patches of broken skin healing over before them.

Hate-filled eyes met Remy's. "You're Guild." A feral grin, fangs showing. "Long way from New Orleans, boy."

Remy scoffed. "Never met a man like y' in New Orleans or anywhere else, homme."

The feral laughed, then deliberately turned his back to walk away. "You've won this round, boy," he tossed over his shoulder, a clear threat lingering behind him.

For the first time, Remy focused his attention on the soft, warm body trembling against him. He gently released her and brushed the dust from her clothes, modestly avoiding any areas of impropriety, noting briefly the silver chain disappearing beneath the front of her blouse.

"Y' all right, chère?"

Genevieve nodded, almost shyly. "Who are you?" she asked in perfect French. A Paris native for sure.

He smoothed back her hair with one hand, watching her swallow, quick eyes darting over him. "Remy," he said, then backed away.

Disconcerted. Worried. Angry. It rolled over him with the traces of familiarity that told him his brother approached quickly down the other side of the building. He must have heard the explosion, recognized the sound of it, seen Remy absent from where he left him...

Remy sighed. "See y' around, chère?"

She nodded, dark eyes full and sweet as he turned around and walks away. He cast one glance over his shoulder for good measure.

She was smiling.

Henri was not.

"Dieu, boy!" Henri cuffed him harshly across the shoulder when he had barely rounded the corner. "I tell y' one t'ing and y' can't even do dat!"

Remy's clamped his jaw tight over a sharp retort and nodded curtly at the approaching Guild members of Paris.

Their sandy-haired leader studied Remy with an intent frown. "We have business to discuss," he said finally.

Henri straightened up with one last warning glare to his younger brother, then turned to follow the men toward the Guild building. Remy, seething, followed.

It was tradition that shut his mouth. He was the apprentice, seeking admittance. Henri was his Registrar. Until he had passed Tilling, he had no place to speak. There was always the slight possibility that Henri would not accept the job, no matter the results, on the basis of how Remy performed it. 

So Remy kept silent as he walked behind the men into the hallowed halls of the Paris Guild and crossed the plush carpets of the front entry. Persian, new. His training picked out the highlights of the rooms they passed through, cataloguing the Renaissance paintings, the ancient sculptures from both Orient and Middle East, noting the exits and entrances, unobtrusive security cameras nestled in plants and nooks, identifying the make and age of the furniture of the Guildmaster's office and being suitably impressed. New Orleans was the oldest of the Guilds, but Paris... Ah. Only the best would do for Parisians.

They sat in their indicated seats. Henri accepted a cup of tea. Remy declined.

"You have been briefed on the girl?" the Guildmaster asked quietly, in an exceptionally understated French accent. His name was Jean Louis Blanc, according to Remy's research, and now he had a face to go with the name. No one who did not know the man well would even glance twice in his direction.

Remy gave a small nod. "Met her," he said lightly.

Henri twisted in his seat and stared at Remy. "When?" he demanded.

Remy replied coolly, needing to redeem himself not only for his brother, but for the Paris Thieves. "Just now. She was bein' accosted on de street."

A slight stirring passed through the room, but no one said anything of it. Henri subsided grudgingly, a slight twitch in his clamped jaw.

Blanc nodded acceptance. "Bien. I'm glad to hear it."

The details were precise, delivered in the manner of a client. The goal was simple: bring the Guild the necklace. They required a genuine sample of adamantium to begin their own production.

Remy understood perfectly.

"I think he'll do nicely," Blanc told Henri with a smile.

But Henri did not seem pleased when he walked with Remy down to a little bistro after. He yanked open the glass door. A small bell tinkled wildly over their heads. Remy watched his older brother’s jerky motions and knew something was up, but he waited until after they were seated at a small table for two with beignets and coffee before addressing it.

“De Guild seems pleased,” Remy said leadingly. He weighed the words carefully before throwing them across the table, but his brother’s reaction was almost violent and thoroughly unexpected.

“Y’ don’t know what y’re talkin’ about, diable,” Henri said harshly, his coffee cup slamming loudly against the table.

Remy said nothing, too stunned for a response.

Henri sighed abruptly and ran his fingers worriedly down the middle of his face. He dropped both hands to the table, gripped the edge, and stared at his plate between them. When he spoke again, his voice was calm, and his eyes refocused on Remy.

“Jus’ ‘cause y’ were adopted, Remy, don’t mean y’ get into de Guild,” he said quietly. “Y’ have t’ steal de Cheatin’ Star back from de fille--successfully--to get dat.”

“I know dat,” Remy said impatiently.

“Listen, pup,” Henri nearly snarled. It was not normal for Henri to be like this, and Remy watched him with concern. “Dis ain’t a job for a Tillin’. Dis ain’t one o’ de femmes like y’ normally play. If y’ fail, de consequences are real.”

Remy leaned back with a shrug and bit into a beignet. The warm, sweet flavor melted along his tongue.

Henri suddenly turned away and rummaged in his bag. He pulled out a fistful of photographs and tossed them onto the table between. One was of Genevieve, another of the necklace, another of a middle-aged man with gold wire-rimmed Remy recognized from his own research.

"Martin Herzog," he said lightly. "Owner o' de Cheatin' Star."

"And Genevieve's former lover." Henri eyed him shrewdly. “Y’ see de necklace?”

“Danglin’ from her fingertips.” Remy smirked. “Jus’ haven’t been invited into her boudoir yet.”

Henri gave him a sour look. “Y’ goin’ t’ make her love y’? Remy, y’re betrothed, fou! Start actin’ like it.”

“T’ a stranger,” Remy scoffed. He scowled and downed his black coffee in one gulp. The hot liquid scalded the back of his throat.

It was an overstatement at the least. He had known Bella Donna since he was a child. But Guild training had pushed them apart, and the cold-blooded killer that Bella could be was not the fille he’d grown up with.

He shook his head, allowing from habit his auburn bangs to obscure his eyes. He looked at Henri.

“Let me have a little fun, d’accord?” Remy was not above sidling his charm beneath Henri’s skin, increasing his brother’s already often lenient nature. “I’ll settle down for de weddin’.”

Henri’s look was one of resigned distaste. “Jus’ get de necklace,” he said. He opened his mouth to go on, but merely ended up shaking his head.

Perhaps words were not enough.

That didn't stop Remy from going to work.

Henri was there, sitting on the sofa in their apartment, idly fingering his untouched wineglass while Remy flipped through the man’s—feral beast though he was, man he remained—personal effects, lifted at the tail end of their tussle. The wallet held a few key details. Driver's license. Passport. Military ID.

Remy stopped cold, held it up, memorizing every mark.

Name: Victor Creed.

A tiny X in the bottom right-hand corner elicited a Cajun curse.

Darceneaux had her first tail.

Remy charged up the wallet, money and all, and watched it explode in incinerated bits of leather and plastic. Henri's malaise turned sharply to interest.

Remy gave a single shrug. "Y' said dey wan' de Cheatin' Star, neh?" Remy's accent always thickened when he was agitated, and the gleam in Henri's eye said he hadn't missed the tell.

"Who?"

The bells of Notre Dame began to toll. Remy glanced out the window. "Uncle Sam."

Henri's fingers still played about his glass. "Where y' goin' nex'?"

Remy laughed suddenly. He turned to Henri with a fierce grin. "It's a lovely night for de t'eatre."

Genevieve would have agreed.

He found her at the Théâtre de la Bastille on the Rue de la Roquette. The warm red and black tones greeted him with familiarity. His colors. It seemed too natural to see a laughing Genevieve talking to some girlfriend in line at the ticket counter.

"Bonsoir, mesdemoiselles," he purred, and Genevieve whirled about, startled.

"It is you!" she exclaimed with a pretty laugh, then proceeded to explain his earlier heroism to the young lady beside her.

He was polite to Danielle, but his eyes were only for Genevieve in her sweet little green dress hugging her curves and l’Etoile du Tricherie gleaming around her neck. She noticed and blushed and invited him to join their party.

Within days, he became a fixture in her circle of acquaintances, then a companion as she excitedly showed him her home city, Paris. They traveled down the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe. She taught him the history of the Louvre; he taught her the art of the French kiss. She pretended she knew him well, or thought she did; he pretended she was Belle. He had loved Bella Donna, still did if he allowed himself to face the truth, but it had been almost two years since his fiancée had the sweetness and innocence that Genevieve had when he stared into her eyes.

It was easy to pretend.

Of course, there were reminders.

"So you are a thief?" she asked one night while they walked upon the Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge over the Seine. Golden lamplight from the city set the water aglow in shimmering purple and blue.

"Oui," he agreed easily enough. Creed had mentioned it at their first encounter and Remy had not denied it.

Genevieve nodded, but her head was down and he saw trouble at the edges of her mouth.

Remy laughed and fingered her necklace. "Y' mean t' tell moi y' bought dis?"

She stared at him before laughing herself, and her hand held his more tightly. She turned her body into his and laid her free hand on his chest. "Let's do something fun."

"And what might dat be?" he murmered against her. He held her close and watched as she tried not to react to the charm he was reeling her in with, but it was a lost cause. She had already fallen too far into him to break it off now.

"Champagne?" she said.

They stole a bottle from a local shop along with a baguette and cheese, then raced through the city square.

"I can't keep up, you scoundrel!" she scolded him. "I had enough money for it."

Remy slowed down and caught her by the arm to pull her to him. "Why pay for somet'in' when y' can steal it?" He smiled at her, but for once, she brushed off the charm.

"That smile of yours may work on American girls, but it does nothing for a French girl that needs a corkscrew." She arched one eyebrow at him in challenge.

"Hand me de bottle," he answered with a sigh and she handed it over. He smirked and charged up the cork stopper with a touch, but it turned to a frown when he realized he had charged it too much, then he cursed.

Genevieve didn't realize what was happening before the cork exploded and shattered the bottle, spilling wine all over her lacy white blouse and his clothes.

She surprised him by laughing. "My blouse is ruined!" She shook her head at the mess. "And so is the wine." She gave him a rueful glare that meant nothing.

Remy leaned over and kissed her, hard. Startled, it took her a moment to respond, but then she returned the kiss eagerly and fisted her hands in his shirt.

He pulled away, but not far. She leaned against him.

"We can always get anot'er bottle," he said, running his gaze indecently over her flushed face and that dripping blouse plastered to her curves. "De shirt we can deal wit' later." His eyes met hers and he could see the understanding in her eyes.

"My place?" she asked, innocent sounding as a dove. Innocent she was not.

He knew she was experienced. The fact that she'd successfully seduced and robbed Martin Herzog was proof enough of that. But she didn't act it. Her enthusiasm and her small hands shy but eager was that of a virgin interest. He made her gasp and whimper and melt into him and he couldn't help but wonder at how good it felt to hold her. It had been too long since anything like this had felt so free. He wasn't free anymore and it had begun to chafe that he longer had a choice, whether or not he would have made it anyway. Genevieve was not his duty.

Except she was.

Spent, he decided to drop his dreary reflections and focus rather on the smooth curve of Genevieve's bare shoulder leaning against his, the smooth small of her back, the soft cloud of dark hair. Losing himself in such sensual pleasures was second nature to him when he wished.

Genevieve had other ideas.

"I've stolen from people," she admitted to him, burying her face against his bare neck. She was soft, warm, comforting in a way. "Lied to them." He could feel her frown against his skin.

"Oh?" Remy leaned back a bit, settling his free arm behind his head, curling the one beneath her around her shoulder. "We're t'ieves, Gennie," he reminded her gently. "It's what we do."

Gennie lifted her face from his body and rolled over slightly to look up at him. The frown still troubled her heart-shaped mouth, still danced in the quick, dark eyes. She looked at him earnestly. "I've hurt people."

He considered that carefully, one hand idly stroking the smooth skin of her back, tracing the groove of her spine. "Y' know, dey say y' can't use up mercy. Dere's always s'posed t' be redemption." He wasn't sure what made him say it, the words the church father would say. It wasn't a philosophy he'd often thought about, let alone passed along to someone worried about what he would feel about her.

But it seemed to be the right thing to say. The frown on Gennie's face smoothed out and her eyes grew thoughtful. Mercy, like water to a dying man, thirsty and abandoned in a desert. It was a tempting offer, this thing called redemption.

She turned her dark eyes back to his again. "Do you believe that?" she asked softly, a slight tremble in her voice.

He stared at her for a long moment, then pulled her small, naked form against him and kissed her warmly. He'd never asked for mercy, for redemption, never repented of the willingness to do anything to survive that the streets of New Orleans had raised him with. He never asked because he had never had a choice. People got hurt. It's what happened. It's how you survived. And living with the Guild had disabused him of none of those notions.

But he did not say anything of this when he pulled away and tucked her against his chest, breathed in the faint apple scent of her hair. He said, "I do," with as much sincerity as if it was real.

Gennie sighed a soft sound of contentment. "I'll never hurt you," she vowed fiercely.

He stroked her back soothingly and watched her drift toward sleep. "I'll never hurt y' eit'er."

Stealing the necklace was far too easy. He took it from the side drawer where she had dropped it prior to their lovemaking and slipped out into the cold Paris night.

He wondered what it was about this pinch, this play for a woman's heart that made him think of consequences, woke his conscience from its long sleep. Remy had never thought twice about taking what he wanted from whom he wanted without regard for anything else. He had played women wthout a care.

Why care now?

He shrugged it off, jerking one shoulder slightly. Not that anyone would notice or care at the motion of a young man, hands stuffed in trench coat pockets, eyes hidden behind unruly auburn bangs, walking down the street of the city. No one would notice him, wonder if he had the much sought after necklace with its silvery links of adamantium in the inside pocket of his coat. No one would wonder if his conscience troubled him. Dislodging a fly perhaps, not his very soul.

Something was off, but he didn't know what.

Remy arrived in the apartment he was sharing with Henri shortly before midnight. He pulled out the necklace and looked at it. Bright sapphires interspersed with the heavy silvery links. He carefully undid the braces and pulled off one link to pocket it. Then he sealed the necklace again and went to Henri's room.

"Henri," he called out softly. "I'm back."

But Henri did not respond. His covers were twisted but empty. Remy furrowed his brow and looked around the room. In vain. Henri was gone.

He stepped out of the room, muttering curses and went to the small kitchenette. A flutter of white paper caught his eye and he caught up the note from where it had fallen on the floor.

You'll find your brother at the Notre Dame, thief.

Remy swore. Someone had caught up to them.

He could only pray it wasn't Creed.

He cursed himself every step of the way to Notre Dame, running down streets he'd walked with Genevieve just days before. How could he have been so stupid? How could he have forgotten Creed?

He'd done his homework. Members of the Weapon X program were dangerous players in his field, and Victor Creed was one of the worst, a cold, ruthless murderer and mercenary.

In his mind, the church bells rang. Seigneur, prends pitié.

The Thief in him kicked into action the moment the Cathedral came into view. Thief eyes scanned the few tourists shooting pictures of the Notre Dame at night. No way he could safely break inside. Almost midnight, people in sight, looking about wildly.

Then he looked up.

"Merde."

Dark shadows had gathered on the roof where no shadows had the right to be. Only one way up and that was inside. He had to break in. He pulled out a camera, acted the tourist—more hurried, more sloppy than he would like, but he had no time for discretion. A view of a side door and he slipped into shadows, doing fast work on the lock. The security had already been dismantled, and Remy took a second look.

Henri's work.

He didn't have time to swear again, so he simply threw himself through. Up the stairs to the tower, out onto the roof.

Shadows congealed into the dark, manic laughter of Victor Creed, fangs showing in his open mouth.

"Hello, thief."

A thick rope hung from Victor's hands. To Remy's horror, Henri hung bound from one and Genevieve from the other.

"The necklace, thief."

"Y' would threaten someone's life for a piece o' jewelry?" Remy demanded, but his eyes were calculating the distance to those ropes hanging precariously over the edge of the roof. How fast could he run, leap, catch them? For the first time in his life, he felt real fear.

Creed only thickened it with the feral grin spreading across his face. He swung the ropes lightly. Remy clenched his fists.

"You're in the big leagues now. You should get used to more pain," the monster said with relish. "Toss me the pendant."

Remy hesitated, still looking into the fearful eyes of his brother and his lover.

Creed noticed his line of vision. "Of course, to catch it, I'll have to let them go. You'll have time to save one."

"Y're insane." But Remy threw the Cheating Star at the feral's feet. Christ, prends pitié. "Don't do dis."

It was reasoning with insanity. Impossible.

The ropes dropped. Remy leapt and Creed made no move to stop him, still laughing that dark laugh.

He could only save one.

Vision blurred and only unthinking, unreasoning skill cut the rope and unbound Henri's limbs.

"I tried t' warn y'," his brother said when his mouth was free, but Remy had already fled toward the tower, down the stairs, out onto the street where no one had yet seen her crumpled body.

"Genevieve!" His voice was hoarse and did not carry, but she heard him, clutched for his fingers as he reached for her.

"Remy, why?" she asked, such pain in those dark eyes, once full of life and laughter. "I love you," she whispered, and he couldn't believe it, only hold her closer, willing his life into hers. "I would've given you the necklace if you asked."

They were her last words.

He wept.

Night faded into day, but he barely noticed the passing of time, not until Henri shook his shoulder sharply.

Remy didn’t turn around from his seat near the window though he heard the men sweeping into Henri's and his hotel room. His head hung down into his hands and a Catholic cross swung from a silver chain fisted in his grasp.

“Remy.” Henri’s voice held that faint hint of formality that should have brought Remy snapping to.

Tradition, he thought bitterly.

“De Councilmen of de Guild du Paris are here for y’,” his brother went on.

The long pause hung ponderously between them. One man coughed quietly.

Finally, Remy dragged his eyes upward, surveying the men, León, Pierre, Jacques, then settling on the Guildmaster himself, Jean Louis Blanc, a powerful man with a powerful presence. It could have been unsettling to Remy that he was unaffected and did not stiffen before him as Henri did.

“You have lost the necklace,” the Guildmaster said, evaluating, as much question as answer, as much answer as question. His French sounded foreign to Remy’s ears, attuned inward as they had been to the Cadiens of his youngest childhood.

It took a long time for the words to sink in, for Remy to rise to his full height, to give the honorary bow, and slide one hand deftly in and out of a pocket before the men even knew what he had done. He stepped forward and held out his hand facing downward, lightly grasping its burden.

Blanc stared at him curiously for a long moment, then held out his own hand, palm up to receive.

Remy dropped the silvery link of adamantium into the Guildmaster’s upraised hand.

“Adamantium,” he said, his voice hoarse and soft.

“A link o’ de Cheatin’ Star?” Henri asked, amazement written in his words.

Remy shrugged. “Oui.” But his voice was dead.

The Paris Thieves stared at him, all but the Guildmaster, who had eyes only for the treasure cradled in his palm. He nodded and finally looked up at Remy. His expression was even, unreadable, but in it Remy could detect the hint of understanding at what it had cost Remy to do this.

He’d sold his soul and could never get it back.

“Your père told us true,” Blanc rumbled out. “You're de best of the New Orleans Thieves I’ve ever met.”

Remy should have felt honor at the words. Instead, he stared deeply into the still, dark eyes of the Guildmaster, feeling the blazing charge behind his own.

"Merci beaucoup," he said, lacing his tone with formality and tradition. He inclined his head as he was required.

He turned away in disgust.

It was tradition for a young Thief to grow up on his Tilling, to face the world, to earn his home with the Guild of Thieves. It was tradition to sacrifice and learn the meaning of guilt and of loyalty.

Remy knew tradition. It was lodged in his blood, indoctrinated with the training that made him the best, settled in by the rites of Tilling that changed a petulant boy into a man.

He kept up the old bluster, but no one knew that he did not pour back the bourbon for good times. No, he remembered the black shadows of a Paris night over the street lights that could never shine bright enough, remembered her whispered plea, "Remy, why? I love you."

Love. The taste was bitter when Bella Donna kissed him, told him how glad she was he'd passed.

"Y' goin' t' make her love y'? Remy, y' betrothed, fou!"

Fool indeed.

He remembered when Jean-Luc called him into the Guildmaster's office one night months later, after drinking and jobs had drowned out the images of that night, if not the pain. He remembered when the Guild Council stared in awe at the unwrapped gift from Paris: a telescoping bo staff made of adamantium.

"It's yours," said Jean-Luc, "with Paris' thanks."

Tradition.

Time-honored tradition saw Remy filing into the family pew behind Henri and his father that Sunday to celebrate the Sunday Mass. An air of sanctity pervaded the space as priests chanted their fervent prayers, and the congregation bowed their heads and chanted with them. Remy slid into familiar words and phrases, rolling them off his tongue like they actually meant something.

"Seigneur, prends pitié. Ô Christ, prends pitié. Seigneur, prends pitié."

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Dark, quick eyes—coy, charming, thieving, loving--stared up at him in his haunted thoughts.

Dey say y’ can’t use up mercy,” he had said, uncertain even of why he said it.

Do you believe it?” she asked.

His heart was cold as he recited the cry for mercy, that humble prayer.

He didn't.

[1] "And whosoever shall not receive you...when ye depart out of that...city, shake off the dust of your feet." Matthew 10:14
 


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