"T'ank you for comin' on such short notice, Mr. Petrie. We weren' expectin' dat you'd take time from your weekend to pay us a business call..." Remy LeBeau, patriarch of the Unified Guild of Thieves and Assassins, smiled. It had been more than fifteen years since he last saw Vincent Petrie, and the man had not changed.
Vincent smiled back at the tall young man before him. "So you're in charge 'round here now, are you, Remy? Dat's impressive, I mus' say. An' to be perfectly honest, I tend to do any off-de-record business t'ings in my off time. You prob'ly don' remember, but it was a Sunday when I came to visit de last time, when Jean-Luc wanted to adopt you legally." Vincent Petrie was of medium height, with a pretty decent build for a lawyer. He had short brown hair with traces of gray and brown eyes, but he gave the impression of being anything but plain, and he had an easy, friendly smile.
"Well we're grateful you could come." Remy said, leading the well-dressed man into the living room of the Guild safehouse. He motioned for Jasmine to join them. "We're hopin' you will be able to do for dis beautiful little girl what you did for me all dose years ago. I also hope you know sign language, b'cause she's deaf."
Jasmine timidly climbed off the couch, where she had been sitting, and walked over to them. She was dressed in a neat pair of shorts and a matching t-shirt, her normally wild black hair braided. Vincent smiled at her warmly and noted that she looked healthy and happy in this mis-matched household.
"Good evening, little lady." Vincent signed and spoke at the same time. "I'm Mr. Petrie."
"Hello." Jasmine said softly, relieved not for the first time that Professor Xavier had been able to enable her to speak. "My name is Jasmine."
"It's very nice to meet you Jasmine. Do you know why I'm here?" Vincent asked.
Jasmine nodded. "I just hope you don't say no..."
"I can't say yes or no until after I hear all sides of the story. So why don't we get down to business?" Vincent said. He looked at Remy. "Remy, I assume from what you said that one of your Guild members wants to legally adopt Jasmine?"
Remy laughed lightly. "Well if you let a thief adopt a child back in 1986, why would t'ings be any diff'rent today, when an assassin wants to?" In reality, they were all nervous, because taken at face value the man who wanted to adopt Jasmine wasn't suitable to have a child.
Vincent paused. "I see..." He commented. "Dat isn' exactly as easy as tellin' Jean-Luc LeBeau he could legally adopt a homeless mutant, Remy....Dat was a special situation. Dis..."
Remy began to speak, but stopped when the man known as Gris-Gris stood up. Gris-Gris was a six-foot-five voodoo master who could intimidate anyone...anyone but Jasmine, who looked to him as a guardian and father. Everyone waited for him to speak. "Mr. Petrie, you jus' told dat little girl dat you couldn' say yes or no without hearin' all sides of de story. Please don' make your decision based solely on de fact dat I'm an assassin. Don' lie to her. Hear us bot' out...talk to all of de rest of dem if you want a more rounded view of t'ings...but please don' base your decision on who I am. Doin' so wouldn' be fair to her or to me."
Vincent nodded in agreement. "Okay. I will speak wit' you bot' separately, an' if I need to, I will consult wit' de rest of de Guild, but I will not base my decision on your status as an assassin. I b'lieve I would like to speak wit' you first, t'ough."
"You can use de kitchen." Remy suggested. "Give you some privacy."
Gris-Gris led the way to the kitchen, and sat down opposite Vincent at the table. Vincent studied the large black man for a few moments. His original guess had been correct; when he looked at the Guild members, and looked at Jasmine, he had thought it would be this one who wanted to adopt her. After sitting in silence for what seemed like an eternity to Gris-Gris, who was nervous and anxious, Vincent spoke.
"I guess I'll start by gettin' some information from you. Why don' you tell me 'bout yourself?"
A brief nod. "My name is Jovan Neville. I was born on November 9, 1948. My father was second-in-command of de Assassins Guild for many years before he died and I eventually took over de position."
Vincent nodded. "Are you married? Do you have any children?"
"No to both. I was married, a long time 'go, but she's been dead since 1968. We'd only been married 'bout a year." Gris-Gris hated this conversation already. He knew what was going to happen and he didn't want it to. But he had to be honest, for Jasmine's sake.
"How did she die?"
"Poison. It was painless. She didn' feel a t'ing." Gris-Gris admitted. "An' b'fore you say it, oui, I'm de one who did it. But I wasn' given a choice..."
Vincent raised his eyebrows. "Meanin' what, exactly?"
Gris-Gris sighed. He hated talking about his past so openly like this. "Lorraine found out somethin' 'bout a job we were doin'...somethin' she would have been much better off not knowin'. In de eyes of de rest of de Guild, she was a threat an' needed to be eliminated. Dey told me to get rid of her, or dey'd do it for me. An' b'lieve me, deir methods would not have been painless. I didn' want her to suffer. An' I couldn' jus' make her leave or somethin'...de risk would still be dere dat she'd go to de cops."
"So you chose Guild honor over de life of your own wife..."
"Yes. An' I 've regretted it ever since. I'm not de same man now dat I was den...I spent a great many years hatin' myself for what I did."
Vincent realized that the man sitting across from him was being brutally honest with him about everything. It was a strange concept; he knew the man was a professional killer. Honesty wasn't something that came easy to the Guild members, he knew that as well. 'He must really love dat little girl...' He thought before moving onto a different topic. "So, let's not talk 'bout dat anymore for de moment. Tell me 'bout de day you met Jasmine."
"It was de evenin' of March 20 of dis year." Gris-Gris began. "We had been given a contract to fill...de Assassins, I mean. Bella Donna gave de job to me. I had finished it an' was walkin' back here when I noticed somethin' in an alley dat wouldn' have disturbed me twenty years ago, but it did dat night. Dere were three teenaged boys tryin' to pin down an' rip de clothes off Jasmine. Of course I didn' know her name or anythin' den. Dey were attackin' her an' she wasn' screamin'. I couldn' figure out why. All I knew was dat I wasn' gon' let dem succeed. So I scared de crap outta dem an' dey took off."
"How is it possible for you to be a professional assassin just finished a job an' yet be unable to turn a blind eye to a small girl being attacked by three older boys?" Vincent asked suddenly.
"Like I said, I ain' de same man I used to be." Gris-Gris shrugged. "Maybe I'm gettin' mellow as I get older, I dunno. But I do know dat somethin' inside me wouldn' let me ignore it. Anyways, I talked to her, but she looked like she didn' understand...I finally figured it out when she started signin' t'ings to me. So I called up all de sign language Tante Mattie taught me a long time 'go an' talked to her on her level."
"What did she tell you?"
"Her name, age an' dat her parents were dead. She ran away after dey died, I guess, b'cause she was scared of goin' to de orphanage or to a foster fam'ly. Some boy she knew told her foster fam'lies were always mean an' cruel to kids."
"An' why did you bring her back here wit' you?"
"I couldn' let her stay out on de streets. It ain' easy out dere. She'd only end up gettin' hurt or killed, an' I didn' want dat. She suggested dat she wanted to come wit' me, actually, b'cause I saved her life. So I took her back here, told everyone what was goin' on, dey held a vote an' agreed dat she could stay. She's been here ever since."
"Does she know what you an' de others do for a livin'?"
Gris-Gris nodded. "Oui. We've been up front with her from de start. She seems fine wit' it. She even sat us Assassins down an' insisted dat we never take contracts to kill children. But dat's not somethin' we've ever done anyway."
"Dat's good to know. So you are her primary caregiver, in spite of livin' in dis huge house wit' a lot of people?"
"An' what hopes do you have for Jasmine's future as a member of dis fam'ly?"
"She can do an' be whatever she wants. Some of de others have children...an' dey're never gon' pressure dose children into followin' deir footsteps. If dey want to...if Jasmine wants to...den fine. But she'll never be pressured into it. I'd like to train her to be a healer...ever since Tante Mattie died, we've more or less been without a traiteur in de fam'ly, as I'm not very good at it yet. But it has to be somethin' she wants. Whatever she wants to do, she'll be supported. No matter what."
Vincent smiled encouragingly. "Okay. Is dere anythin' you want to tell me dat I haven' asked, b'fore I talk to Jasmine?"
Gris-Gris thought for a moment and then spoke. "Mr. Petrie, I never t'ought I'd ever love anyone 'gain, after what happened in 1968. Thirty-five years later, dat little girl came into my life an' changed it in ways dat still baffle me if I t'ink 'bout it too hard. She's helpin' me realize dat I do still have de ability to love somethin' other dan my work. I love her...she's my daughter even now...an' even if you say no to us makin' it legal, it wouldn' change how I feel 'bout her or how I t'ink of her. She's part of who I am now...nothin' can change dat."
"I think we're done here, then." Vincent stated. "Could you ask Jasmine to come in an' see me?"
Two minutes later, Jasmine entered the kitchen, a shy smile on her pretty dark features. Vincent smiled and motioned to the chair. "Have a seat."
Jasmine sat and looked at him. It didn't take him long to get going. He knew everyone was anxious and worried. The quicker the interviews were over, and the decision made, the better. "What's your last name, Jasmine?"
"Williams." Jasmine said, glad he was speaking and signing at the same time. The hearing aids she got after Professor Xavier enabled her to speak helped but signing was still better.
"When is your birthday?"
"May 2, 1992. I'm eleven."
"Were you born a deaf mute, or did something happen, some kind of accident?" Vincent asked. He was keeping the questions as simple and direct as possible, seeing as he was dealing with a child, not an adult.
"It was an accident. My mother told me that when I was ten months old, I was at my babysitter's house and there was some kind of explosion...I don't know what happened...but it made me deaf. Because I couldn't hear voices, I couldn't learn how to talk." Jasmine explained.
"I see. And did your parents take you to specialists to figure out the problem?"
"Yes, but none of them knew how to fix me." Jasmine said simply.
"When did your parents die? Do you know how it happened?"
"They died two weeks before Jovan found me. And they died in a car accident when I was at school." Jasmine said, her voice soft. "I miss them...I wish they could see that I know how to talk now and can hear more..."
"Jovan told me how he saved your life...what do you think about that?" Vincent asked.
"I'm glad he was there when he was. I know it was wrong for me to run away, but if I hadn', I wouldn' know him..."
"Would you tell me about your life since you came to live here?"
Jasmine smiled, thrilled with the question. "I like it here. Everybody treats me really well and they all make sure I always have enough to eat and clean clothes and things like that. They watch movies with me and play with me and help Jovan take care of me. I don't go to school, because it would draw attention to the Guild, so they teach me instead. I have my own room, and I'm allowed to go anywhere in the house...and nobody gets mad if I ask too many questions or get in the way."
Vincent nodded. "What do they teach you?"
"All kinds of things. Mercy and Bella Donna are teaching me how to cook. Zoe's teaching me Japanese and Singer's teaching me French. Theoren's teaching me how to use a computer, Genard teaches me math an' Fifolet teaches me science. Jovan's teaching me history and some voodoo things too...voodoo is what he's good at. And Claude's teaching me English literature." Jasmine laughed. It was a nice sound. "Jovan says it's a good thing there are so many people here, or else I might not be getting such a well-rounded education."
"That is quite true, it would seem." Vincent smiled. "How did you learn how to speak?"
"Mr. Petrie have you ever heard of the X-Men?" Jasmine asked. Vincent nodded and Jasmine continued. "Well Remy's one of the X-Men. Their founder is a man named Professor Xavier. He's a telepath. Jovan took me to see him in April and he used his telepathy to upload the English language into my head so I could talk. And we're hoping that maybe one of the other X-Men, Dr. McCoy, will be able to find a way enable me to hear for real, not just a little bit like with these hearing aids."
"I hope he can help you. Can you tell me why you want Jovan to legally adopt you?"
"My real parents are dead. Jovan showed up in that alley two weeks later like a guardian angel...and he's been taking care of me ever since. He's my father now; I don't really think making it legal will change anything. But if it isn't made legal, then somebody could come and take me away to the orphanage or something and I'd never see him again! I don't want that to happen. I don't want to live anywhere else but here with him and the others. They're the only family I have now."
"Jovan explained to me that you know what he and all the others do for a living. Does that bother you in any way? Do you feel safe here with them?" Vincent had to cover all bases.
Jasmine shrugged. "As long as Jovan and the other Assassins don't kill children, I don't mind what they do. And I don't mind what the Thieves do either. Those are just their jobs, what they do for a living. Deep down, they're all good people, it's just hard for outsiders to see past what they do. And yes I feel safe here...I'm safer here than I was for the two weeks after my parents died, when I was living in an alley. None of them will let anything happen to me, especially Jovan."
"Alright, Jasmine." Vincent said. "Why don't you go back into the living room with the others? I'll be along in a moment to tell you my decision, okay?"
Vincent Petrie sat in the kitchen by himself for ten minutes. He kept reminding himself that he had allowed Jean-Luc LeBeau to adopt Remy back in the nineteen-eighties. Was there really any difference between that and allowing Jovan "Gris-Gris" Neville to adopt that special little girl who had changed his life so dramatically for the better? Both Gris-Gris and Jasmine had made it very clear through their words that they considered each other to be family and wanted nothing more than to ensure that things remained the same. Legalizing the adoption would put their minds at ease regarding the possibility of anyone trying to remove Jasmine from this new home. Finally he got up and rejoined the Guild in the living room.
The different little family units within the Guild were now fully in tact. Vincent had to smile when he walked in. Jasmine was sitting on the couch beside Gris-Gris; his arm was protectively around her thin shoulders. Two of the Assassins were on the floor playing with their toddler daughter, and one of the Thieves was sitting in an armchair with his young son. Two other Thieves had their hands full with almost-newborn twins.
"You know..." Vincent said softly, making sure to sign so Jasmine could understand him. "I had made my decision when I left the kitchen, but this scene has just clinched it for me. It seems to me that the whole group of you...half Thieves and half Assassins...have managed to put centuries old differences aside and join together as one family. I knew both Jean-Luc LeBeau and Marius Boudreaux for a very long time...and I think they would be very proud of the way you've pulled together since their departure from your lives. Seeing you living in the same house together and not killing each other...seeing you raising young families with each other's help and guidance..."
He paused and looked directly at Jasmine. "Come here for a moment, Jasmine."
The little girl got up and stood in front of him, her dark eyes questioning him. He smiled. "If I was to bring the paperwork by tomorrow evening, would you be ready and willing to have your last name legally changed to Neville?"
Jasmine's widened and she looked back at Gris-Gris, who was smiling. Then she looked up at Vincent, eyes bright, a huge smile on her face. "Yes."
"Okay then. That's what we'll do. I'll come by tomorrow on my way home from the office so we can get all the paperwork straightened out."
"T'ank you, Mr. Petrie." Gris-Gris said. It was all he could manage.
"I had my doubts at first, Jovan, don' get me wrong." Vincent admitted. "But bot' you an' Jasmine managed to erase dose doubts very effectively, jus' by bein' honest. Now you all have a good night, an' I'll see you tomorrow evenin'."
With that, Vincent walked out of the safehouse and left the Guild members to celebrate the official, legal, addition of Jasmine to their family unit. He went to his car, whistling. It always made him feel good when he could make someone happy, especially if that someone was a child.