Theoren sighed for the sixth time since he joined his cousin in the young man's bedroom. The room was decorated in blue and white and Theo noticed, not for the first time, that the blue was the exact same shade as the blue of Emil's twinkly eyes. He watched as Emil lay down on his bed, his red hair contrasting against the white pillowcase. The young man was frustrated, Theoren could see that, and he tried to ease that frustation a bit.
"Emil...you don' know dat for sure. True, he'll prob'ly never like you, but you might be able to earn a bit of respect from him if you try."
Emil shook his head and looked at his cousin. "Him? Respect me? Pardon me if I don' b'lieve you, Theo."
Theoren sighed again as he moved over and sat on the bed by Emil. "Emil...you'll never know if--"
"Leopards don' change deir spots, Theoren." Emil interrupted bitterly. "He'd say de same 'bout me, an' I'm sayin' it 'bout him. He'll never change."
"Never say never, Emil." Theoren replied, getting up and leaving the room. Theo knew deep in his heart that Emil was probably right, but he couldn't help trying to change the young man's mind. It just wasn't going to work that way though. Emil would have to find out for himself if leopards really could change their spots.
Once the bedroom door closed behind Theoren with a soft click, Emil got up off his bed and walked across the room to his window. He gently moved the blue curtains and stood looking out the window. He watched as the cars and pedestrians went by on the street below him, but he wasn't really paying attention. Instead, Emil was thinking, lost in memories from as far back as he could remember knowing who the assassins were. Images flashed through his mind, images that brought back pain and fear and not much else. Images with one key character in each one, aside from himself. A large, evil voodoo master named Gris-Gris.
Gris had been one of the assassins responsible for the murder of Emil's father in 1991. He also seemed to have it in for Emil; he beat the younger man up more times than Emil could remember. Emil had nearly died on more than one occasion after getting attacked by Gris-Gris. All these memories and images coming back to his mind, Emil felt tears spring to his eyes. He blinked them away as someone in the yard below caught his attention.
"Gris?" Emil whispered to the curtain in his hand as he watched the assassin cross the yard. "Where's he goin' dis time of night?"
As a matter of fact, the six-foot-five black man known only as Gris-Gris was going for a nighttime walk in the swamps and catacombs around New Orleans. He was restless, bored, and felt like he was going to go stir-crazy if he stayed in the safehouse any longer. He wasn't scared of the alligators or other threats in the swamps; if he couldn't fight them himself, he could use magic to stop them if need be. Gris was also agitated over a run-in he had just had with Remy and Bella Donna, the patriarch and viceroy of the Unified Guilds.
Remy wanted someone to accompany Gris on his excursion, just in case something were to happen. Bella Donna, even though she sympathized with her friend as former matriarch of the Assassins Guild, had agreed with Remy that the precaution should be taken. After an exchange of some very heated words, Gris had informed them that he could take care of himself and stalked out of the house into the warm twilight. It was just after that confrontation that Emil had caught sight of Gris from his bedroom window.
Emil watched as Gris disappeared out of sight before he closed his curtains and sat back down on his bed. Fifteen minutes later, being as curious as he was obnoxious, Emil, in his blue and white Thieves Guild uniform, was heading down the stairs. He was just about to open the front door of the house when Bella Donna's voice stopped him in his tracks.
"Where are you goin', Emil?"
"Ummm...out." Emil replied, not turing around or taking his hand off the doornob.
"If I tell you not to follow him, would it do any good?" Bel asked, raising her eyebrows and waiting for him to respond.
Emil finally turned around and looked at her. "How did you...?"
Bella Donna smiled. "Hey, I'm psychic, remember? Trust me when I tell you it wouldn' do him or you any good if you followed him."
Emil thought about that for a few minutes and then tilted his head. "Do you want him out dere, wherever he's goin', by himself?"
"Non...of course I don'." Bella Donna sighed. "Remy an' I tried to stop him, tried to convince him not to go alone, but he didn' listen. I wish he wasn' so hardheaded...it worries me."
"Tell you what, Bel. I'll go after him, but I won' make my presence known unless somethin' happens. Dat way he won' technically be alone out dere, I can stop bein' curious 'bout where he's goin', an' you can stop worryin' 'bout him, at least for tonight. Okay?"
"Alright. Jus' be careful. Remy'd never forgive me if he found out I let you do dis an' somethin' happened to you, y'know?" Bel agreed.
"I will." Emil assured her. "I better get goin' or I'll lose any possible trail he might have left."
Emil headed in the direction he'd seen Gris-Gris go in, and after walking through the city he thought he'd never pick up any kind of sign of the large assassin. However, once he reached the swamps, he found Gris' trail easily. Not many people went walking there, especially at night, and the only footprints Emil could see belonged to Gris. The prints headed deep into the dark swamps and Emil shivered as he started to follow them. He wasn't entirely comfortable doing what he was doing. Going into the swamps was something most of the Guild members avoided, especially at night. Going into the swamps at night after a much-bigger person who wanted to kill you was a lot worse. But here Emil was, doing just that, all the while praying Gris-Gris had no idea he was following him.
In an effort to keep his mind off the intense darkness and general spookiness of the swamps while he walked, Emil sang some old Cajun songs in his head, songs he remembered Tante Mattie used to sing to him and Etienne when they were small children. He had been walking for quite a long time...well over two hours in the swamps alone...when he heard a sound that stopped him in his tracks.
"Dat sounds like Gris!" Emil said to the trees and bogs around him, eyes wide. "If he's in trouble, he better jus' learn from dis experience an' not go out here by himself again!"
Emil quickened his pace somewhat, trying to figure out where the sound of Gris' yelling was coming from. He was having a hard time finding the right direction and he didn't know why. If he knew, he would have been much more concerned, not just for Gris, but for himself as well. As he ran deeper into the swamps, he realized that Gris' voice was echoing, which told him the truth. Gris was in one of the deep, treacherous caverns in the catacombs. And if Gris was yelling from one of those caves, he was in serious trouble.
"You hard-headed man..." Emil muttered as he changed direction and headed for the caves. "Jus' what have you gone an' gotten yourself into dis time?"
Deep in one of the caves, Gris stopped yelling. It had occurred to him that on top of his throat getting sore, no one could hear him. He had, after all, gone out alone, which indicated that no matter how much he yelled, no one all the way back in New Orleans was going to hear him and come looking. He sat down on the ledge he had been standing on with a sigh of self-loathing. He was angry with himself for being so stubborn and for slipping. He wouldn't be in this situation if he had been paying more attention to where he was putting his feet.
"Correction." He said aloud. "I wouldn' be in dis situation if I hadn' gotten so angry wit' Bella Donna an' LeBeau."
Gris had been exploring the cave, finding the many different layers, tunnels and the overall darkness of the creepy place to be comforting to his equally dark soul. As he look around, going deeper and deeper into the cavern, he started thinking about the confronation he'd had with Remy and Bella Donna earlier in the evening and in thinking about it, he forgot to pay attention to the unstable ground he was walking on. His foot had slipped off the edge of a dark revine in the tunnel and he had fallen over that edge, landing on a ledge about twenty feet down into a dark, rather frightening abyss. From his position on the ledge, Gris could not see the bottom and therefore could not judge how far down it was, or what was at the bottom.
At first, Gris hadn't wanted to let the situation get the better of him, so he stood up carefully, pulling his rope out of one of the many pockets in his outfit and promptly dropped it over the ledge. His hands were shaking. He cursed aloud and then shook his head, realizing there wasn't much he could do with the rope anyway. He then pulled out his flashlight and decided to take a look around. He saw that the ledge got wider a few feet away from where he was, so he cautiously walked there. He felt a little more secure on the wider ledge. Six feet versus two feet was more preferrable any day, in Gris' candid opinion. However, it was still too far down for him to climb out without the risk of falling further down into the ravine. So he had started yelling, unable to think of anything else worth doing.
Emil was at the entrance of the cave when Gris stopped yelling. He paused, waiting for the yelling to start up again and when it didn't, Emil's worry came back with a vengence. "Oh no, big guy, don' do dat to me...c'mon now...it could take me ten years to find you if you don' give me some help here..." He muttered. He used his own flashlight to keep Gris' footprints in view until the ground became too hard for prints to be noticable, and then he stopped again to listen. Still nothing. Emil sighed and then asked himself the question of the hour.
"Do I yell to him or do I keep my mouth shut?" After a brief analysis of the options, and realizing just how turned around he was in this dark cave, he tiltled his head to one side and sighed again. "I yell. He won' yell again if he don' know I'm here."
He put his flashlight away and cupped his white-gloved hands around his mouth, yelling the assassins name as loud as he could.
Emil paused and waited for a reply, praying he was loud enough for Gris to hear him. He didn't have to worry. On his ledge, Gris suddenly looked up when he heard his name being called, unsure if he should be relieved or annoyed. "Lapin?" He questioned softly. "What de hell is he doin' here? Well, I'll never find out if he don' find me, so...EMIL!"
"Oh t'ank God." Emil replied. "GRIS! WHERE ARE YOU?"
Gris looked at his surroundings and chuckled before yelling back. "YOU DON' WANNA KNOW, KID."
Emil picked up on the general direction of Gris' voice and followed it; Gris helped him out by keeping up a continuous stream of words that sounded foreign to Emil's ears. They were voodoo words, he knew that much, but nothing more. He poked his head over the edge above Gris with a crazy grin on his pale face. "You better not be puttin' a spell on me, or I'll leave you down dere."
"You leave me down here, an' I will put a spell on you, Lapin." Gris replied shortly, trying to hide his relief. "What de hell are you doin' here, anyway? Did you follow me?"
"Yes I did. An' I t'ink it's a pretty darned good t'ing I did, or you'd still be alone here right now. I came partly b'cause I saw you leave an' got curious, an' partly b'cause Bella Donna's worried sick 'bout you. An' for de record, you were right. I didn' wan' know where you were. But now dat I do...how's 'bout we try to get you out, huh?"
"I dropped de only rope I had." Gris admitted. "Not dat it woulda done me any good, but it might have come in handy now."
"Oh dat's okay, Gris. I won' tell anyone. An' I have a toe line here in my utility belt, dat'll work jus' fine." Emil cheerfully replied, showing Gris the rope.
"An' jus' what are you gon' tie it to?" Gris asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Uh..." Emil looked around. Nothing to tie the rope to. "Huh."
"Any more bright ideas, Einstein?"
"Hey I resent dat, an' I'm stronger den I look." He tossed the free end of the line down to Gris. "Catch."
"You're not plannin' on...?"
"Well what else do you want me to do, Gris? If I leave you here to go get help, it'll be hours before we get back here, an' I prob'ly won' remember where you're at. De only choice I can see is you try to use the rope to climb out hopefully wit'out pullin' me down wit' you. If you have a better idea, I'm listenin', but right now I can' see any other option!" Emil snapped.
"Okay okay. I see your point." Gris caught the end of the line and waited for Emil to brace himself. "You ready?"
"Yup. Go for it." Emil replied, saying a silent prayer. In his heart, he knew it wasn't going to work, and so did Gris. But at least he was trying something. Sure enough, Gris had barely put his entire body weight on the rope to start climbing when Emil's feet let go and he started stumbling towards the edge. Both Emil and the tow line came flying over the edge past Gris, who wisely thought to hold tightly to his end of the rope.
"HOLD ON!" He yelled at Emil, who no doubt would have come up with a smart remark had he not been screaming in terror at the time.
Emil did as he was told and held on as tightly as he could. The rope went tight and Gris felt the impact as Emil slammed into the wall of the ravine some fifteen feet below him.
"Lapin?" Gris asked, peering over the side, still holding to the rope.
"Ouch..." came the reply from the darkness below. "I t'ink I broke somethin'."
"Hold on, I'll pull you up." Gris told him. Bit by bit, he pulled the rope up, a pile of it gathering at his feet. When Emil appeared at the edge, Gris reached down and lifted the young thief up onto the relative safety of the ledge. He caught the pained expression that crossed Emil's face as he did so, and realized that Emil had not broken anything, but rather dislocated his left shoulder.
"Ow ow ow ow ow ow!" Emil squeaked. "Geez, go easy, would ya?"
"You didn' break anythin'."
"Dislocated shoulder. It's a wonder you held on for as long as you did." Gris told him, a hint of admiration in his voice.
"Alright, who are you an' what did you do wit' Gris?" Emil asked. "An' do you have to do anythin' 'bout dis shoulder...ow..."
"I won' deny bein' impressed wit' you for dat. Didn' t'ink you had it in you. Questa couldn' have held on like you did." Gris replied, his usually menacing voice taking on a softer tone for once in his life. "An' 'bout dat shoulder...it depends on if you want to be in pain or not."
"Well good lord, Gris, what do you t'ink? I'll take no pain over pain any day...but...what exactly do you have to do...?"
"I have to get it back in place. Once it's there it should be okay an' not give you too much pain between now an' when we get out of here so Tante Mattie can look at it." Gris explained. "An' yes it will hurt you more den it hurts me to put it back in place."
"Oh dat sounds so reassurin'..." Emil said with as much sarcasm as the pain would allow. "Jus' do it, huh?"
"As you wish." With that, Gris took Emil's arm and popped the shoulder back in place, causing Emil grimace and scream in pain. Gris then took off his jacket and put it around Emil's shaking shoulders before moving and sitting down a couple of feet from the injured thief.
Emil looked over at Gris and saw that the large assassin had regained his typical thief-hating expression and demeanor. "Hey."
Emil flinched at the sharpness of Gris' tone. "Uh...jus'...t'anks, an' uh...did you...I mean..."
"Spill it, Lapin."
"Um...did you mean what you said b'fore? An' why were you out here anyway?"
Gris sighed. Emil was an annoying, obnoxious little brat who talked way too much and asked too many questions. That was on a good day. Gris had never hid the fact that he hated the red-haired thief, and didn't want to start hiding it now. However, as he looked at Emil, for the first time he saw the other man for what he was. The look in Emil's blue eyes gave it all away to Gris, who sighed again as he remained lost in thought. 'He's jus' a kid. Prob'ly fears me more'n I hate him. An' right now, he's terrified, not jus' of me, but of dis situation...'
Snapping himself out of his thoughts, Gris answered Emil's questions. "Yes, I meant what I said, but dat don' change anythin', you got dat? An' I came out here to be alone. Instead, I got stuck out here, trapped on a ledge in a cave I can't get out of, wit' you of all people. Now shut up an' leave me alone."
Seeing that Gris had closed his eyes a few moments later, Emil took the opportunity to study the older man. His dark face was chiseled and hard, void of all emotion except hatred. True sign of an assassin, Emil noted, rolling his eyes. The outfit Gris wore was an odd mixture of khaki and yellow, but it seemed to work well on him, so Emil didn't question it. Instead, he wrapped the jacket more tightly around himself, realizing for the first time that it smelled of insense. Emil sighed, seeing Gris shiver slightly as the air seemed to cool around them. 'He didn' have to give me dis...' Emil thought before getting up and moving over to Gris. He took the jacket off his shoulders and covered Gris with it, then went back to where he'd been sitting and lay down on the dusty, hard ledge, drifting off to sleep almost instantly in spite of his discomfort.
Gris had opened his eyes when he felt the jacket being placed over him and watched Emil fall asleep. He put his jacket on and closed his eyes again with a quiet sigh, wondering what time it was and if anyone was going to find them.
Many hours later Gris woke up to find Emil sitting in the same spot, watching him. "What time is it?" Gris asked shortly, stretching his cramped muscles.
Emil shrugged and then flinched. "Ow! I dunno. Late. If I had to guess, I'd say it's late afternoon or early evenin', but I can' say for sure. I'm hungry."
Gris realized his own stomach was empty and sighed. "You don' happen to have any food in dat utility belt of yours, do you?"
"If we could only be so lucky." Emil grinned. "Nope. Sorry. What 'bout your pockets?"
"You mean you didn' search 'em? Didn' take my wallet?" Gris asked. When Emil shook his head in reply, Gris rolled his eyes and said to the ceiling of the cave, high above them, "An' he calls himself a t'ief."
"Shut up Gris. Dere's still tonight."
Suddenly a voice came out of nowhere. "You mean to say you two wan' stay down dere 'gain tonight? I'm sure dat could be arranged, right guys? I mean if dey really wan' stay dere..."
Emil and Gris both looked up in surprise only to find Remy, Theoren, Claude, Genard, Fifolet and Questa looking down at them from the edge above. It was Remy who had spoken. They looked at each other and Emil grinned.
"Couldn' you jus' slap him for dat?"
"Indeed." Gris replied. "If you are done playin' games, could you get us out of here?"
"Not so fast, Gris." Genard chuckled. "What's de magic word?"
"NOW!" Gris snarled.
"Uh...close, but not quite." Emil corrected. "It's please. Watch."
He looked back up at his friends and the other two assassins and smiled with a raise of his eyebrows. "Hey guys? We're more'n a little hungry an' sick of bein' down here. Could you please get us out of here so we can go home?"
"Sure t'ing. Hang on." Fifolet replied, laughing at the expression on Gris' face as the rope they brought with them was tossed down. "Oh c'mon Gris. Even you knew dat one. Don' be difficult."
Late that night, after they had all returned home safely and Tante Mattie had gotten good square meals into Gris and Emil and fixed up Emil's shoulder, Theoren knocked on Emil's bedroom door.
"Well?" He asked, sitting on the bed beside Emil with a smile.
"Well what?" Emil replied.
"You two were stuck in dat cave together for two days, kiddo. Sure you prob'ly slept through most of it, you were both exhausted, but you can' tell me you didn' talk to him even once..."
"Yeah we talked. A little bit anyway." Emil admitted. He knew he and Gris had a long, long ways to go before they'd ever even be semi-friends, but maybe Theoren had been right after all.
"And...? What happened?" Theo pressed.
"Never say never, Theoren." Emil grinned. "Never say never."