"Bella Donna--I forbid you from seein' dat boy again!" Marius Boudreaux's voice echoed around the sitting room. He hadn't meant to be quite that angry with his young daughter, but she was leaving him little choice in the matter.
"But Poppa--I love him!" Thirteen year old Bella Donna protested in spite of her fear. She was frightened of her father; he was the patriarch of the Assassins Guild after all. But she was also angry with him for being so closed-minded and for treating her like a child in front of Gris-Gris.
Marius almost snorted at his daughter. Bella Donna could have sworn she'd seen Gris-Gris' dark eyebrows raise up under his beaded dreadlocks. Marius reiterated quickly, heatedly. "You are t'irteen child, what do you know of love?"
Bella Donna ran from the room, fighting back tears as she did so. Her father didn't understand, not one bit. And that hurt. She didn't have a mother anymore, and Bel had been blindly hoping her father would be able to take care of both sides of de parenting platform. She raced up the grand staircase of the mansion and into her bedroom, slamming the door behind her. Then, knowing that her father and Gris-Gris would be talking about her, she went out onto her balcony and leaned over it. She caught the first part of their conversation, but it was enough.
"Girl be headstrong, Marius...feisty. One day, dat make her a good leader for the Assassins Guild." Gris-Gris commented. Bel's eyes nearly bugged out of her head. Was that Gris-Gris, paying her a compliment? The large black voodoo master was her father's right-hand man and rarely complimented anyone except Marius.
Marius didn't look at his friend. "Perhaps, Gris-Gris. Right now, though...it only makes for a father's heartache."
Gris-Gris' voice took on a contemplative quality. "Is it really 'bout de fact she love a boy t'ief--or de secrets you really know...about what Remy LeBeau is gon' mean one day to th' Guilds of New Orleans?" He asked, unaware that Bella Donna heard the question. But before Marius answered, the two men went back inside and Bella Donna never got to hear what her father replied.
Bella Donna went back inside, her stomach churning with indignation and questions. She flopped down on her bed and buried her face in her hands, crying. She didn't understand what Gris-Gris had said, but she knew she could never ask, or they'd know she'd been eavesdropping on them. But even though she didn't understand, she also knew they didn't understand her. Gris-Gris had used the word love very lightly in regards to her feelings about Remy, and she already knew her father didn't think her old enough to know the first thing about love.
"Well, Poppa, if I don't, neither do you! None of you do!" Bella Donna whispered to her pillows. She continued, but in thought, in case someone decided to join her unannounced. They had a habit of doing that. 'Dey don' know anythin' 'bout love...dey refuse to allow it to enter deir lives! I'd be surprised if Poppa ever even loved Momma...Dey don' know how to love, none of dem. An' jus' b'cause I do...dey forbid it. It's not fair!'
There was a soft knock on Bella Donna's door. She sighed and got up, wiping the tears off her cheeks as she did so. She sat there, a disheveled but composed figure, in the middle of her bed with it's dark green comforter. "Come in." She called softly, wondering who was on the other side and praying it wasn't her father or Gris-Gris. God only answered part of her prayer.
"You are more like him dan either of you care to admit, little one." Gris-Gris said, once he closed the door. He sat on the chair in front of Bella Donna's bureau and looked at her.
"He doesn' understand." Bella Donna frowned.
"Neither do you." Gris-Gris countered.
The frown turned into a pout very quickly. Bella Donna was spoiled, and used to getting her own way in everything. The idea that her father had refused to let her see Remy again went against everything she knew. "I know more'n you do!"
The slightest ghost of a smile crossed Gris-Gris' dark, chiseled face and disappeared so quickly Bella Donna thought maybe she'd imagined it. He shook his head, the beads in his long dreadlocks clinking together quietly. "Non, not 'bout mos' t'ings, I should say. But maybe 'bout dis. Who knows for sure?" He shrugged. "But jus' for de record, your Pere is not tryin' to hurt you."
"Well he's got a funny way of showin' it!" Bella Donna glared.
"Bella Donna..." Gris-Gris sighed, defeated. This was partly why he'd left Marius' company moments before. He was beginning to get a headache from all his discussions with them. "Your father wants what's best for you an' for de Guild. An' we are by no means ready for an alliance of any kind wit' de T'ieves. He is merely tryin' to protect you from gettin' hurt if somethin' were to happen down de road, compris?"
Bella Donna digested that and glared again. "He sent you up here to talk to me, didn' he?"
"Non. I came up here on my own, hopin' you wouldn' be as stubborn an' hard-headed as he is. I was wrong." Gris-Gris shook his head. He got up and stood in front of her, leaning down to cup her hostile young face in his large hand. She looked up at him reluctantly, wondering what he would say next. He surprised her. "Don' let your similarities ruin your relationship wit' him, child. He's de only father you got. Bon soir."
With those words of advice, Gris-Gris left her room as quickly as he had arrived. He went back down to the first floor of the mansion briefly. Marius was speaking with his son, twenty-five-year-old Julien, who had brought home yet another scantily-dressed whore from his nightly romp in New Orleans. Gris-Gris shook his head and slipped away unnoticed. He wandered into the kitchen near the back of the huge mansion; he was hungry and wanted to get something to eat before he began his nightly rounds.
Forty-five minutes and a steaming bowl of chicken gumbo later, Gris-Gris put the dishes in the dishwasher and turned the lights of the kitchen off. The main floor of the house was dark and silent; the others were either sleeping in their rooms or out on jobs. Gris-Gris climbed the stairs to the second floor, keeping his ears open for anything that sounded out of the ordinary.
In his role as second-in-command of the Guild, Gris-Gris tended to take a lot of things seriously. Tradition and loyalty were high up on his list, but so was the safety and security of the people who resided with him in the mansion. It was for that reason that Gris-Gris, whose own bedroom was on the top floor of the mansion, along with Marius's, had made a nightly ritual of being the last one to go to bed. On the way to his room every night, he walked the halls of the mansion, pausing outside doors, listening for anything odd, and thinking about the people he called family.
They were as dysfunctional as could be, a Guild of cold-blooded killers, but they were still family. They looked out for their own when necessary, and turned a blind eye when something couldn't be avoided or prevented.
Gris-Gris paused outside Bella Donna's door once more and heard the soft sounds of her crying. He frowned, but did not enter. He made a point of not going near anybody while on his rounds, unless they really needed his assistance. He knew nothing was seriously wrong with the girl and absently hoped she wasn't crying over something he'd said to her. There would be much crying behind closed doors that night, if he wasn't mistaken, and he knew that some of the others might need him more than Bella Donna did.
"I hate you! Leave me alone!" A female voice shrieked from behind another closed door. A vase smashed shortly thereafter. Gris-Gris stopped in his tracks, and looked at the door. Should he or shouldn't he? He decided not to, but stuck around to listen for a moment, in case he was needed.
"You hate me, huh? Well what's a little hatred among fam'ly, eh, chere?" A male voice, belonging to one of the typically more violent Assassins, Louis, demanded. Gris-Gris glared at the door as the sound of someone being thrown into a table reached his sensitive ears. Abuse wasn't unheard of among the Assassins Guild; in fact, it was almost commonplace, especially when used to break the spirits of the younger males in the family. But while the girls and women might be yelled at, it was a punishable offense in the Guild to physically or sexually abuse them.
"Louis...non...stop it!" Twenty year old Singer screamed, her voice betraying her fear and the tears that were falling from her eyes. She was as well trained as the rest of them, but the assassins had a hard time fighting back against the people who taught them what they knew. Louis was quite a bit older than the raven-haired girl, and had taught her a lot of her skills. Gris-Gris decided to intervene before Singer was seriously harmed. He shook his head and placed his hand on the doorknob. 'Lord knows Louis is prob'ly drunk...'
"LOUIS!" Gris-Gris bellowed, his deep voice startling the other man. Louis froze in place above the downed Singer, who was shaking on the floor, purple bruises already beginning to show on her face and arms. Louis had been about to rape her, but Gris-Gris didn't give him a chance to consider it any longer.
Gris-Gris crossed the room to where they were in two strides. Half a heartbeat later, he had yanked Louis off the floor and was holding him in mid-air. He'd been right; the younger man reeked of alcohol. He looked at Singer. "Open de window." He commanded.
Singer did as she was told. She unlatched the lock on the window and threw it open, then scrambled out of the way and sat on her bed, curled up, holding her pillow. Gris-Gris wasted no time. He went to the window and tossed Louis out of it. "You can sleep off whatever you been drinkin' out dere!" Gris called after him. As he closed the window he muttered, "Muet saccade..." and then he looked at Singer again. "You really need to get a lock on dat door, Desiree." He crossed over to her and placed a hand awkwardly on her shaking shoulder. "You okay?"
Singer nodded briefly. "Oui, t'ank you."
Gris-Gris gave her a curt nod of his own, wished her a good night and left the room. He couldn't make a habit of staying in one place too long on his rounds, or he might miss something vital.
Most of the rooms were quiet by this time, but three more caught his attention before his rounds were finished that night.
Julien and his flavor-of-the-month were coming out with some unearthly noises from inside Julien's bedroom. That was one room Gris-Gris was not going to go inside, no matter who screamed what. He had no desire whatsoever to walk in on two people having sex. Aside from that, he knew Julien would kill him if he did walk in on them, so he stayed right away. He almost wished, for Marius' sake, that Julien would settle down with one girl and start a family. Not out of love, of course; Gris-Gris admitted openly to himself that he knew nothing of love and didn't care to. Emotions like love got in the way of being an effective assassin. He preferred to be a hateful, mean, venomous bastard. It worked so much better when trying to kill people.
For some reason Gris-Gris didn't fathom, Julien enjoyed the company of women and took pleasure in being with them. Did he love them? Probably not. And definitely not in the way Bella Donna claimed to love that young scamp of a thief. Gris-Gris sighed and shook his head. He didn't understand. He listened a few more moments to the sounds of lust and passion coming from the room and the moved on. He'd heard more than enough to last awhile.
Gris-Gris shook his head again a few minutes later when he heard loud clicking and laser blasts from inside another bedroom. Fifolet was a worse night-owl than he was. Only while he tended to wander the halls of the mansion or go out on the balcony and look at the stars, Fifolet had more of a tendency to read Stephen King novels or, as in this case, play computer games. Gris-Gris knew the long-haired thirty-year-old was sitting at his desk, the glow of the computer screen lighting up his features, getting no end of fun out of blasting aliens and renegade space cadets out of orbit. He considered poking his head in the door and suggesting that Fifolet get to bed soon, but thought better of it. The younger man would merely tell him to follow his own advice first and then go back to his game.
One of the last rooms Gris-Gris walked by belonged to the most troubled young assassin in the Guild. His name was Questa, and although he was only twenty-one, he'd been put through a living hell for most of his life. His mother had died when he was only three, leaving him at the mercy of his father and older brother, who both hated him. They and three other members of the Guild spent the next fifteen years physically and sexually abusing the boy to within an inch of his sanity and his life. Gris-Gris had beaten all five of them up himself not long after Questa turned eighteen and pressured Marius to throw the five animals out of the Guild. Marius had done so, but the damage had been done. Questa was almost completely insane; he suffered from nightmares nearly every night, and while he was a very good assassin, especially when it came to using guns, he was also very fearful of everyone and suffered from clinical depression and acute paranoia constantly. When Gris-Gris paused outside Questa's room, he caught the sounds of a nightmare gripping the young man and sighed.
Most of the time he didn't bother going in to see if Questa was alright; he didn't fancy the idea of getting shot by the frantic young man, but tonight was different. He knew Questa hadn't been sleeping well lately, and it was making him jumpier than normal. He opened the door quietly and shut it behind him, then turned on the bedside lamp. He watched Questa for a few moments before acting. The dark-haired young man was caught in the throes of a terrifying, hurtful dream, crying and struggling in his sleep.
Gris-Gris sighed quietly and placed one of his strong, warm hands on Questa's sweat-slicked forehead. He quietly whispered a few words in what sounded like a foreign language and then waited. He was a voodoo master and sometimes used the magics to calm Questa and keep the dreams at bay to allow peaceful sleep to enter the troubled boy's life. Within moments, Questa was relaxed and sleeping soundly, no sign of nightmares anywhere. Gris-Gris nodded contently and switched the light off again. He paused at the door on his way out and softly said,
"Someday we'll get rid of dose dreams altogether, young one. I promise."
Minutes later, Gris-Gris was on the third floor of the mansion, where only he and Marius had rooms. They each used half the top floor. It was a pleasant escape for both of them, and they would fight anybody who tried to move in on their territory.
Marius heard Gris-Gris's footsteps on the floor and opened his door to greet the man to whom he had given the title First Kill many years before. He trusted his best friend's judgement on all things, especially things pertaining to the Guild. "Is everythin' alright, mon ami?"
"Oui, Marius." Gris-Gris nodded. "Everythin' is as it should be, for now. We mus' do somethin' wit' Louis in de mornin' t'ough. Il y a un grand peste."
"Was he drunk an' after Singer 'gain?" Marius questioned. Gris-Gris noddded again. Marius sighed. "Hmm...yes, he must be dealt with. We can only turn our backs to dat so often. I believe he has run out of second chances, non? Remind me in de mornin'. For now, bon soir, Gris-Gris."
"Bon soir, Patriarch." Gris-Gris replied.
He walked down the hall to his own bedroom door as Marius retreated back into his room. Nothing out of the ordinary occurred behind either of those closed doors, or any of the others, for the duration of the night. Peace reigned at the Boudreaux mansion even if it was a very unstable one, as the peace of sleeping killers tends to be.