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Gambit: One Year Ago Today

Faith Barnett

 

It was late afternoon. The autumn sun quickly approaching the horizon and starting to streak the sky with hazy color. The breeze was light, and for New Orleans, the weather had finally started to loose the heavy humid touch that made the summers here as hot and steamy as a good Cajun gumbo.

Crowds milled along Bourbon and Canal Streets taking in the sights, sounds and scents that would soon help then decide on what to eat for the evening. But in these last hours prior to gastronomical indulgences, window gazing and shopping were the lazy objective of the slow moving groups.

Even in the off season, New Orleans contained a few street performers and artists. Many stopped to watch them ply their trade and drop them a dollar or two. Some paused to consider bars and other establishments for later indulgences. Somewhere music played.

But where there is light, there is shadow, and along the edge of the streets, ignored in the unseen places, someone watched.

Remy gazed over a small group of tourists laughing as they came out of one bar already starting on an early evening of festivities. He eyed two casually dressed gentlemen as they swaggered down the rue and then stopped to try to talk to a young woman. She promptly moved on seemingly unimpressed. An older lady and her husband walked in and out of one shop then another. Nothing terribly unique about any of them except each had recently flashed a quite decent amount of cash in the open.

Time for scoping the pinch was over, now to choose.

The two men had moved on to two young women and stood chatting with them. Something about them earlier had made Remy keep an eye on them as prospective marks. He wasn't sure what it was, maybe it was the insincerity in their body language. There was certainly something. Something almost predatory maybe.

You grow up on the streets and after awhile you learn to trust your instincts on that or you'd be dead real quick. A street rat from almost his earliest memory, Remy certainly had learned this lesson well. His instincts sharp enough to have survived even as young as he was for over a year and a half on his own prior to being taken in by Jean-Luc LeBeau, head of the legendary New Orleans Thieves Guild.

Remy had seen too many others not be so lucky and had learned the hard way to rely on his uncanny ability to read people to give him the edge. It had gotten him out of trouble more than once and not listening to it had certainly done the opposite. Now it was telling him these guys were not all on the up and up. Maybe that was why he chose them to rob. Of course the excessive amount of cash didn't hurt either.

*Can't cause too much trouble if they be broke and have to head back home.* he thought. Besides stealing from the harder mark was more fun, and these men had their wallets chained.

"Hey! Watch where you are going! You nearly knocked us down! Stupid...." The taller of the two mumbled as Remy backed off apologizing. The other just looked a bit surprised. The women were smiling though as Remy flattered them and apologized once more.

"Yeah ok. Just watch it next time." the man snapped, and Remy bobbed his head and smiled at the women again before moving past them and continuing on more slowly this time.

Remy casually walked two blocks before ducking into a side street and then quickly moving on. With luck, it would be awhile before the two men noticed their wallets were gone intent as they were on their companions.

It wasn't until he was safely away that Remy checked his take. The wallets were loaded with a few hundreds, fifties, and twenties. It was a good haul for a practice session and the large amount implied the two had a need to use cash not credit backing up his suspicions. Jean-Luc would be proud of him.

He needed to keep his skills up to be the best, and Jean-Luc had drilled practicing into him. And for some reason, today, he wanted to practice on a street corner in the French Quarter and to blatantly walk through both Assassin and Thief territory to do it.

He knew he shouldn't have come this way to return home, but it was as much of a rush as the pinch. Neither side wanted anything to do with him, but right this minute, he didn't care. Right now he was on top of the world. Though rather simplistic in thieving terms, he'd pulled it off and come away clean. For one brief moment, no fears from the past or the present weighed him down as he prided himself in the one thing he truly did well. Maybe he was a thief, a nothing, someone to be judged and looked down on, but he was a very good thief. At least he could do something right.

"Well, well. If it isn't a worthless thief. Hey mes amies. Look who decided to walk right though Assassin territory. Remy LE-BEAU.

The way he walks you'd think he's something."

They threw something, a bottle or rock, but he dodged it. It was daylight and he'd heard the taunts before. Many many times before.

"But he's just a thief pup."

"Heck, he's not even a real thief. Just some dirty little rat bastard they found on the streets."

"Just a worthless street rat. All scared. Pink eyes wide. Ain't that right Remmmmy? A bastard rat. Don't get no lower."

"Bet your mere did it with something real dirty to have had you.

And even she wouldn't keep you. Only lowly thieves would take in something as scummy as you."

Come back after dark, thief. Well show you who your betters are."

"You ain't good enough be with the likes of thieves much less us."

Don't go thinking you're better than you station or it'll get you killed."

"Stay out of our world Remy."

Remy kept walking. No slower and no faster than before. As he moved on through into Thief territory the taunts faded with their owners. He'd stopped hearing them ages ago anyway. Or at least that's what he told himself.

Once in Thief territory though, Remy stiffened. The Assassin's scorn was easy to accept compared to what waited ahead with those he called family.

Nothing and no one greeted him on the streets. To the casual observer, there was nothing there at all. One would assume that he was welcome to be here as no one was trying to run him off like before. But cruelty comes in many forms.

Remy could see them, watching him. The imperceptible movement in the shadows known only to those that lived in this hidden underworld of life. Unlike the Assassins, the Thieves would never be so obvious as to attack him. Subterfuge was their life. But he knew. He always knew what they really thought. Because he knew all he had to do was listen to what was not being said.

In this world, it's wasn't what you were told to your face, but what was said behind your back. Here were the whispers.... and the lies.

They smiled at him from the dark areas as he passed.

"Remy what brings you through this way ?"

"You should come visit us more often."

"We should go on a pinch together."

But in hushed tones came the quiet curses not meant to be heard. Yet his heart would not shut them out.

"Why'd he come back?"

"He's not really of our blood. Look at his eyes."

"He's just a street rat not worthy of the rank of Thief."

"It's bad enough we have to accept him because Jean-Luc wants us to, but he's made us look stupid too many times."

"He should be grateful we took him in yet he does as he pleases and never thinks of us."

He heard each smothered word. Not a killing thrust but a slow gnawing, an erosion of his soul. Sometimes he didn't know why he kept coming back.

But the memories would haunt him in his dreams reminding him why. Because, for all the pain they'd caused him, they were all he had left. It was far better than the alternative. Abandoned, alone, cold.

He kept moving closer and closer to the only place it seemed he could pretend to call home, and hoped they would still welcome him there. He knew he shouldn't be so doubtful, tried to convince himself that it didn't matter anyway, but it was the one thing he was truly afraid of. Being abandoned and rejected again. Being .... , could he admit it to himself? Unloved. Didn't even a street rat deserve to be loved by it's family?

Not if he'd always bring them shame and pain, he thought. But he kept walking. Even scared of losing them, even with the fear that they'd turn around one day and realize what he was and want him gone, he rather risk the time together than never have anyone at all.

Some moments without loneliness. He'd survive when the time came, he always did, and maybe, just maybe, one day he'd prove himself worthy of, if not their respect, their acceptance, and he'd never have to fear being rejected again. He had to keep trying. He had to. He didn't have anything else. He'd be the best for them if they'd let him.

Remy stared at the door. The place wasn't much really. Unlike the Assassins who needed only give Candra blood and could keep their wealth, the thieves had to sacrifice nearly all they had taken and had been left with little for themselves. They didn't know any other lifestyle but this. Still, Jean-Luc kept it warm and pleasant inside, and his own small room in the back of the shabby place beckoned. He felt joy at being home, ... home. But in the back of his mind the dread remained.

He put on his best grin and knew that only in facing the fear would he know for sure. The rusty doorknob turned.

The house was quiet and dark. Maybe everyone was out? He walked through to the back where the small family quarter of the house was situated. His movements quiet grace. Barely more than a reflection in a mirror. Yet for the observer in the house, that was enough.

He entered the room cautiously, but was still unprepared for what came.

Suddenly lights blinded him, and he could hear a roar in his ears. He tried to drop into a protective stance but was not ready in time for the strong powerful grip that lifted him bodily off the ground in a crushing embrace.

He blinked in surprise, the bright light hard to adjust to.

Henri grinned at him and increased the hug. Remy's feet dangled with no place for purchase.

"You had us worried there mon petite frere." Henri smiled warmly. " "We were afraid you wouldn't show up in time for you own birthday!"

Remy still only blinked again. That's what they had all yelled at him when he came in. Happy Birthday. But he didn't have a birthday. Or not one he could remember.

He scanned the room in shock. Tante Matte and his father grinned at him standing next to a cake with seven candles on it. The room was brightly decorated and had brightly colored balloons. He always loved balloons watching them float away to freedom from Mardi Gras.

Even Lapin was here wearing a silly hat. He pouted at Remy, the way only a nine year old boy can while still being smug.

"Hey cus. What took you so long? I want to eat cake and ice cream and open your presents."

Henri dropped his brother back down as Jean-Luc approached.

"Birthday?" Remy asked staring up at him.

"Why yes indeed. Don't you know what today is, Remy?" Jean-Luc asked with a wistful look in his eyes.

The puzzled expression on the young Remy's face said he didn't.

Jean-Luc bent down on his knee so he could look his at his youngest and placed his hands on Remy's shoulders.

Remy would have sworn he saw tears in his father's eyes.

"One year ago today, one of the most wonderful things of my life happened to me." Jean-Luc stated with his even quiet voice. "God send me another son. It was the day you tried to steal my wallet, and I will never forget it. You were quite the little thief and even caught, had that defiant devilish grin. I knew you were special and were meant to be with us.

Jean-Luc reached out to hug him holding him very tight for a second. "And I knew you were meant to be with me. Bring a little fire into this old man's life."

Remy sniffled trying to will back the moisture in his eyes. but it still came.

Jean-Luc only smiled.

"I love you my son. Happy Birthday."


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