Tante Mattie opened the door and checked the mailbox the way she did every weekday morning. None of the people who lived in the Guild safehouse usually ever got any mail, but she checked all the same, especially since Jean-Luc had left six months before. Just in case, she thought. Anything was possible.
Mattie wasn't expecting anything to be in the mailbox that bright sunny spring morning, but she was wrong. She opened the box and inside was a large yellow envelope. She took it out and looked at it, noting that it felt like it had a videotape in it. It was addressed to her. She recognized Jean-Luc's handwriting.
Mattie took the envelope and went back inside, retreating to her bedroom with the package before opening it. Inside, she found a videocassette and a letter. She sighed, and unfolded the letter to read it even though she knew what it said. She had been waiting for it ever since Jean-Luc had left, and had kept what she knew in her heart a secret from the thieves for months. It had been hard to live with, but somehow she had managed, and now the time had come for the truth to be told.
I promised you that when the time came, I'd do this, and I never forgot that. By the time you get this parcel, I'll be dead, you know that. I can't get out of it, Lord knows I tried.
I still feel horrible about leaving everyone without saying anything. I know Remy didn't want the Guild leadership, I know I hurt him…I hurt all of them…by leaving. Maybe it wasn't fair to them, but it also wouldn't have been fair for them to know what was going on before it happened. I knew they'd try to stop me, try to stop what was inevitably going to happen. I couldn't put them through that much pain.
I am sorry for hurting them. I love them all…so much…and if I could have done this without hurting them, I would have.
Please watch the video yourself before you show it to them. It's not for you, really, it's for them, but you should probably see it before they do. It's not going to be easy for them to watch.
Je t'aime, mon amie. Take care of them. They need you more than they'll let on. And take care of yourself too.
Mattie folded up the letter with another sigh. She took the tape down to the living room and, after seeing no one was there, she put the tape into the VCR and pressed play. An image of Jean-Luc came on the screen and he started talking. He had been right in the letter, it wasn't for her. It was for them, for his family. The seven most important people in his life.
When the tape was done, tears were streaming down Mattie's dark face. She had to put her emotions in check and gather the seven thieves together. She would have to be strong, because she knew when they watched the tape, it would upset them, some of them more than others.
Seated in a row on the tan-colored couch were Remy, Mercy, Emil and Theoren, the remaining members of Jean-Luc's immediate family. Genard and Zoe were on each of the two plushy armchairs, and Claude had made himself comfortable on the loveseat. The seven looked at Tante Mattie expectantly, wondering what was up.
"I asked de seven of you to join me here for a reason," the elderly woman began. "I've been expectin' dis to happen for some time now, but I wasn' at liberty to discuss it wit' you. I'm sorry to have to be de bearer of bad news, but I have a video for you to watch."
"Dis is 'bout Papa, isn' it?" Remy asked, his red-on-black eyes looking into Mattie's dark brown ones intently.
Mattie realized she couldn't lie to him. "Oui, it is."
"Play de tape, Tante Mattie." Theoren said quietly. He had a feeling he knew what it was all about, and wanted to get it over with.
"Very well." Mattie replied, pressing the play button and moving out of the way. She stood where she could watch their reactions as the tape played.
Jean-Luc began the tape by telling them why he had left, explaining his reasons, and making sure they knew he hadn't meant to hurt them. He told them that by the time they watched the tape, he would be dead. Seven sets of shoulders slumped visibly at that statement, but they all kept watching, in spite of the distress they were in just from that knowledge. Tante Mattie knew that they had all kind of hoped Jean-Luc would return eventually.
When he was finished with the introduction part of the tape, Jean-Luc addressed each of the seven individually. It was then that the tears began to fall around the room, and Mattie felt her heart breaking. They were taking it just as hard, if not harder, than she had anticipated. Somewhat surprisingly, before the tape was even finished, both Remy and Emil got up and left the room. When they did this, Mattie paused the tape.
Theoren and Mercy looked at each other, sadness mirrored in their eyes. They each knew it would be up to them to help Remy and Emil through the pain.
"Tante Mattie, how much tape is left?" Mercy asked, her voice low.
"Not much. We could save it for later, if you two want to go talk to dem."
"Okay." Theoren replied as he and Mercy got up and headed for the door. "T'anks."
"Do you need our help?" Zoe asked, speaking for herself, Claude and Genard. The three of them were worried about Remy and Emil, and would help if needed.
Mercy paused in the doorway and shook her head sadly, her blonde ponytail swinging behind her. "Non, merci. Dis is somet'ing Theo an' I need to do on our own…it's somet'ing we should have done six months ago…"
In the hallway the two friends stopped and looked at each other. They knew, somehow, that Remy had gone outside, and Emil had gone upstairs.
"What now?" Theoren asked.
"I t'ink you should talk to Remy. I'm always de one who does it, an' it's your turn. He's your cousin, Theo, no matter what's happened in de past. I know you care 'bout him, Theo, you jus' never show it, an' I t'ink now's a good time to start." Mercy said. "I'll take care of Emil."
"Okay…" Theoren replied with a sinking feeling. What Mercy said was true, every word, and he realized he couldn't put off talking to Remy any longer.
Mercy went upstairs and lightly knocked on Emil's bedroom door. The door was open slightly, and, hearing no answer, Mercy went in. At first glance, the room was empty. But Mercy was experienced with the way Emil's mind worked, having known him since the day he was born. She went to the closed closet door and opened it.
"Go 'way." Emil mumbled from his hiding spot behind all his clothes.
"Does it work?" Mercy replied, shoving some clothes aside and sitting down across from him.
Emil frowned, making no effort to hide the tears that were falling in rivers down his pale cheeks. His red hair was messed up from being in the closet. He looked sadder just then than Mercy had seen him looking in ten years, not since he was fifteen years old, the year both his father and his good friend Etienne had been killed. "Huh?"
"Does it work? Using your closet to pretend this crap doesn't exist, I mean."
"Non, not really. But…" Emil replied, sniffling.
"But…?" Mercy prodded.
"I don' have to pretend to be happy when I'm in here." Emil explained. "I'm not happy. Haven' been happy in a long time. When I'm in here, I can be myself an' no one questions it, no one criticizes, no one gets mad at me for de t'ings I say."
Mercy didn't try to hide her shock. She'd had no idea how Emil had really been feeling all these years, he'd done a very good job of hiding it. She had a feeling none of the others knew either, and it nearly tore her heart in half. "Oh Emil…why didn' you tell any of us?" she asked, suddenly realizing she was going to need the help of Theoren and Remy to help him. She moved over and sat next to him, wrapping her arms around him, wishing there was more she could do.
"Tante Mattie knows." Emil replied. "She knows everyt'ing. Always has. Tried to hide it from her, but dat's kinda like tryin' to hide an elephant on Main Street. Mercy, why did Jean-Luc break his promise?"
"I…I don'…know, Emil." Mercy stammered, absently wondering how Theoren was doing talking to Remy. "I guess he t'ought it would hurt us less to find out what was goin' on after he was gone."
The tears started falling down Emil's cheeks again. "It doesn'."
Outside, Theoren was still looking for Remy. He searched the grounds of the safehouse, walking around in circles until he spotted two red orbs staring at him from a branch in the huge elm tree in the backyard. Shaking his head in mock annoyance, Theoren climbed the tree and sat down on a branch next to the one Remy was lithely seated on.
"You were gon' watch me walk 'round in circles all day b'fore you'd tell me where you were." Theoren jokingly accused.
Remy half-smiled at his cousin. "Maybe."
"Good t'ing your eyes glow, dat's all I can say." Theoren conceded. "So, you wan' talk?"
"You an' I have not'ing to talk 'bout, Theoren." Remy replied.
Theoren sighed deeply. "De fact dat you t'ink dat is my fault, an' I'm sorry."
"Well now I t'ink I have heard everyt'ing!" Remy said in mock amazement.
Theoren was confused. "Excuse me?"
"Oh! De great Theoren Marceaux actually apologizin' for somet'ing! It's…wow…I'm so glad I was here to see it!"
"Remy…" Theoren began. He was getting a little exasperated. "You're not makin' dis any easier…"
"You never made my life easy, Theo. Now you know how I feel." Remy retorted.
"Point taken. I deserved dat." Theoren said quietly. "But Remy…"
"Theoren." Remy said, looking the older man directly in the eyes. "You never hid de fact dat you hated me. Why?"
Theoren sighed again. "I'm sorry it came across dat way, Rem. De truth is, everyt'ing I did an' said…well…most of it was my father's influence, an' de influence of de other Guild members. You know as well as I do dat de Guild is based on clans, fam'lies. De older members, dey didn' take too kindly to outsiders. Dey didn' t'ink you had any right to be in de Guild. Jean-Luc suffered a lot of slack for his decision, but he stood his ground, an' dey eventually shut up 'bout it. In public dat is. Dey still didn' approve, an' dey took every chance dey got to tell de rest of us dat. I guess it kinda rubbed off a bit…"
"An' I used Etienne's death as an excuse to treat you like you weren' part of my fam'ly. Remy, I know it was an accident, I know it wasn' your fault. I was wrong to use you as a scapegoat for my own grief. I'd like a chance to make amends for my behavior, a chance for you an' me to start over…if you…want to…"
Remy didn't quite know what to say. Theoren never really opened up to anyone about anything he was feeling or thinking. He decided not to answer the question just then. There was something else bothering him that he needed to have addressed first. "Theo, why did he do what he did?"
"I'm not sure I follow…" Theoren replied.
"My father. Why did he leave me in charge?" Remy elaborated, tears in his eyes.
"Ohhh…well, Remy it's kinda like a monarchy, I guess you could say. You jus' happened to be next in line for de throne after Henri."
"An' who's after me?"
"Ultimately, your first child. If you don' have any kids, I guess it's whoever you choose."
Remy chuckled through his tears. "Fine. Den can I abdicate right now an' leave you in charge?"
Theoren blinked in shock. He wasn't sure if Remy was serious or not. "Remy?"
"I don' want dis, Theo." Remy said, so softly that Theoren had to strain to hear him. "I never did. He knew it, too, but he still did it to me. I don' care what de prophecies say, I don' know if I can' do it…"
"Remy, c'mon now, be serious." Theoren commanded. "I t'ink Jean-Luc knew what he was doin' when he left you in charge. Are you de best man for de job? Well, dat remains to be seen, so let's wait an' see. Aside from dat, you have prob'ly de best second-in-command you could ask for. Bella Donna can get de assassins to listen to you when you can', an' dat's invaluable."
"Where does dat leave you?" Remy wanted to know.
Theoren shrugged. "Right here. In spite of previous actions, I do support you, Remy."
Remy snorted in contempt. "Dat's a nice little change of tune you got goin' on, Theo. How can I b'lieve you after everyt'ing you've done in de past?"
"I don' s'pose you can. But Remy t'ings have changed, an' not jus' de unification. I guess I'm realizin' what Tante Mattie's been tryin' to tell us all along. We're de only ones left. If de seven of us can' depend on each other, den we've got not'ing. I'm not willin' to t'row it all away."
"You really mean dat, don' you?" Remy asked, amazed.
"Remy…I have a hard time expressin' how I feel. It's a shortcomin' I've always had, an' it sucks, but it's jus' part of who I am." Theoren admitted. "I…love you an' de others more'n I love myself, an'…well…when I realized Jean-Luc was gone, I made a vow to myself dat I would never let anyt'ing happen to any of you. Again, dat's somet'ing I haven' really been expressin', an' I'm sorry…"
"It's okay, Theoren." Remy replied. "You said you wanted a chance to make amends wit' me?"
Theoren nodded, wondering what Remy had in mind.
"Well, you were Papa's second-in-command for a long time. I t'ink if I'm gon' successfully lead dis Guild, I'm gon' need your help too, not jus' Bel's. An' maybe along de way, we can get to know each other a little better, be actual cousins, instead of what we've been all dese years. You up for dat?"
"Of course…" Theoren was relieved. He'd been afraid that Remy wouldn't forgive him for his past behavior. "I'd like dat…"
"So…what do we do now? Aside from go watch de rest of dat blasted tape, dat is?" Remy asked.
"I t'ink it would be best if we went an' found out how Mercy's doin' wit' Emil." Theoren replied. "Somehow, I…I t'ink he took it harder den you did."
The two men climbed out of the tree and headed back into the safehouse. On the way there, Theoren put a hand on Remy's shoulder.
Remy turned, a questioning look on his face. "Yeah?"
Theoren smiled. "You're gon' do jus' fine, kid."
"Is dat de official Theoren Marceaux prediction?"
Remy laughed at his cousin. "Okay den, if it doesn' come true, I'm blamin' it all on you!" He exclaimed, dashing away into the house and heading up the stairs to the second floor.
"Aww…Remy!" Theoren exclaimed as he ran after the younger man, shaking his head in exasperation. Really, Remy and Emil could be so much alike at times, it didn't surprise Theoren that the two were best friends. And if Theoren was given the opportunity, he wouldn't change either one of them.
PART TWO: STICKING TOGETHER
BACK TO INDEX