"Come in, Jovan." Professor Xavier's voice sounded in Gris' head and he jumped, not expecting it. He hesitantly opened the door and walked in.
"Sorry if I'm interruptin'..." Gris said quietly. He looked around the room and sighed. Bella Donna and Singer were both sitting in chairs across the desk from Xavier. Bel's eyes were red from crying, and Gris assumed Singer's were as well even though he couldn't see them beneath her dark glasses. Fifolet was standing at the window, staring out into the early morning light as if he was expecting to see something incredibly amazing out there.
"You're not interrupting." Xavier assured him. "How are you holding up?"
Gris shrugged, but didn't answer with words. He couldn't express how he was feeling at that moment. He was feeling so many different emotions it was hard to define any of them. Xavier nodded, signifying to Gris that he understood.
Silently, Gris walked over and stood behind Bella Donna. He put a hand on her shoulder and was surprised when she brushed it off rather violently. "Don't touch me." She warned, her voice filled with pain and anger. Gris backed off, unsure of how to react to this sudden reaction from the young woman.
"Bella Donna..." He began, but Bel cut him off. Her eyes flashed angrily, her voice, though quiet, shook with emotion.
"Save it, Gris-Gris. You knew better'n most what he'd been t'rough in his life...helped him whenever you could...helped my father take care of him all his life...an' in spite of dat, in spite of knowin' dat he an' Emil had b'come friends since de unification, you continued to hurt Emil when he angered you. You haven' shown any consideration for any of de t'ieves or for any of us either since de unification. Sometimes I wonder if you even know how to care. Questa would still be alive right now if you did."
Bel got up and stalked to the door. Her hand was on the doorknob when Gris finally reacted to her words. "Don' you t'ink I know dat?!" He yelled, his deep voice echoing in the office. He whirled on her and grabbed her arm. She jerked away, still fully intent on not sticking around to hear what he had to say. It was Xavier who stopped her.
"Perhaps, Bella Donna, it would be a good idea for you to listen to what he has to say. I have a feeling the things he is about to tell you are things not many people know."
Bel let out a frustrated sigh and stood facing Gris with her arms crossed over her chest and a glare in her violet eyes. "Fine."
"For God's sake, girl, don' punish me for dis." Gris said with a shake of his head. He was having a hard time collecting his thoughts, but he knew what had to be said, and Xavier was right. Those present didn't know. Only Jean did. Jean and Marius, who was dead and couldn't help. He took a deep breath and started from the beginning.
"You mentioned dat I know what Questa went t'rough in his life. Dat's true, I do. Mainly b'cause I went t'rough it myself, at de hands of my own father an' uncles, only I had no one to help me t'rough it. Dat's why I helped him so much, b'cause I didn' want him or anyone else havin' to go t'rough it like I did. An' I swear to you, if your father had let me, I would've killed Chandler an' Percy b'fore dey got a chance to even lay one hand on dat kid. You wonder if I know how to care, how to love? De answer is yes. I loved your father and Julien. I loved Tante Mattie. I love you. I love Fifolet an' Singer. An' I loved Questa...."
"You say all dat now...but you never show it..." Bel said, her tone softening in spite of herself.
"I have my reasons for dat, chere." Gris admitted. "A long time ago, I met dis wonderful woman named Lorraine. She was de most amazin' woman I'd ever known an' for de first time in my life, I allowed myself to fall in love. We ended up gettin' married...she knew some t'ings 'bout de Guild, but told me as long as I didn' take it home, so to speak, she wouldn' ask questions or get in de way. I was happy...I 'member your father teasin' me all de time...but den, 'bout a year b'fore Questa was born, Lorraine found somethin' out she was better off not knowin' an' she confronted me 'bout it. Julien heard us arguin' an' told your father, who later told me she was a threat dat had to be eliminated. He pretty much said if I didn' get rid of her, he would."
Bel's eyes widened. "So you killed her..."
"Oui. I poisoned her, she jus' fell asleep an' died. It didn' hurt her. I couldn' hurt her. She never knew what happened. But I found out later from Tante Mattie dat Lorraine had been pregnant at de time. So I killed my wife an' my unborn son in one shot, for de sake of Guild honor an' tradition." Gris laughed bitterly. "I've never forgiven myself for dat. You wonder why I never show it if I care 'bout someone? Dat's why. I hate myself an' dat hatred an' anger has filled up my life. Questa was my one shot at tryin' to do t'ings right...Celeste asked me to be his godfather...an' what do you know, I screwed dat up too. I went in dat MedLab when Lapin asked for me an' I did everythin' I could t'ink of an' even a few t'ings I didn' know I knew to try an' save Questa's life, but I couldn' do it. I let him down...I let de whole damned Guild down. An' if you t'ink I don' care, t'ink 'gain."
Bella Donna was silent for nearly five minutes, digesting everything the man had just said. It shocked her that he had undergone much of the same treatement as Questa had. "Did dey all have to go t'rough dat horror...did Julien?" She thought to herself, wishing she could ask her brother. Since she couldn't, and she already knew Questa and Gris had been put through it, she looked to the only other man left in the Assassins Guild.
Fifolet squirmed under Bel's scrutiny. He knew what was coming next and he didn't want to have to answer her questions. Gris sympathized with his friend, but couldn't stop Bel from asking.
"Fifolet?" Bel said quietly. "Did you...um...?"
The long-haired man sighed deeply. "Oui...it was a kind of tradition of sorts...meant to make us all cold-hearted killers devoid of any emotion. Needless to say it didn' really do much 'cept hurt us."
"Yeah..." Bel replied. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry you all had to endure dat." She looked back at Gris. "An' I'm sorry for blamin' you for all of dis..."
Gris gave a half-hearted smile. "Technically, it is my fault, Bella Donna. Mine an' Lapin's. He an' I have come to an agreement, however, so dat dis kind of t'ing never happens 'gain."
There was a sudden knock on the door before Gris got to explain what the agreement was. Xavier had been silent for the entire conversation between the assassins, because he knew they had to deal with some of these issues on their own. However, he knew who was outside the door and thought it would be nice if Gris could share the agreement with them as well, so he said,
The door opened and in walked Remy with Theoren, Mercy, Claude, Genard and Zoe.
"Jean told us we could find you here..." Remy began. "Do you mind...?"
"I don't, and I don't believe they do either." Xavier smiled. "In fact, Jovan was just about to tell them about this agreement he and Emil have worked out to ensure nothing like what happened this week ever happens again."
"Oh really...?" Theoren muttered, his voice dripped with sarcasm. "Come on, Gris, do tell."
Anger flashed in Gris' dark eyes, but rather than lash out at Theoren, he took a deep breath, held it for a couple of seconds and let it out as slowly as possible. He hadn't told Emil this but he was planning on trying to keep his temper in check with all the thieves, not just Emil. "Actually, he an' I talked 'bout it earlier. He's goin' to try harder to not make me angry, an' I'm gon' try to not be so quick to get angry."
"An' if you do get angry?" Claude asked.
"Dr. McCoy suggested a punchin' bag, like de ones dey have in gyms. Lapin said he'd see 'bout stealin' me one when we go back to Nawlins, but if dat don' pan out, I'll buy one." Gris said. "De point is, none of what happened dis week should have happened, an' if he an' I have any say in de matter, it won' happen 'gain."
Mercy caught the sincerity in Gris' voice. "You're really gon' work on it." She stated.
Gris nodded. "Questa's death showed me dat t'ings can' keep goin' dis way. We can' afford to lose anybody else, an' if we're meant to be unified, den you won' get any more complaints outta me."
Slowly the Guild members filed out of Xavier's office. The thieves were on their way back down to visit with Emil, and the assassins voiced an expression to go for an early morning walk and get out of the house. But Xavier wasn't finished with one of them just yet.
"Bella Donna, please remain behind. I would like to speak with you in private." He thought to her. She gave him a curious look but nodded and stood by the window while waiting for the rest to leave.
"What's on your mind, Professor?" She asked, not turning from the window, once they were gone.
"It came as a shock to you, what you learned from Gris-Gris and Fifolet this morning." Xavier said matter-of-factly.
"Yes." Bel admitted. "Oh, I'm not as naive as to t'ink Questa was de only one...I knew he couldn' have been. But de idea dat all of dem went t'rough it an' never said anythin'...an' worse, de idea dat my own father, who I loved even t'ough he drove me crazy sometimes, put my brother t'rough it...I never t'ought he would do dat kind of t'ing to his own children..."
"Yes. I asked Jean to tell me about Questa just before she and Logan went to find him. She gave a short account, but explained about the levels of abuse."
Bella Donna shook her blond head. "I can'..."
"You can't what?" Xavier prompted.
"I can' imagine Gris-Gris allowin' anyone to do dat to him. All my life he's been dis big, tough, hard-as-nails killer. No one has been able to hurt him in all de time I've known him. Remy could, if de element of surprise was good enough, but dat's 'bout it. I jus' can' see him takin' dat kind of treatment from anyone..."
"It is amazing what abused children will put up with when they are young and unable to defend themselves." Xavier commented thoughtfully. "I have a feeling once Jovan grew up, his father and uncles found themselves on the receiving end of a whole world of pain."
"He prob'ly killed dem...said he would've killed de people who hurt Questa if Papa had let him." Bel nodded.
"I don't doubt it."
They were suddenly interrupted by a beeping noise. Xavier pushed a button on the intercom on his desk. "Yes?"
"Charles, could you ask Bella Donna to get the other assassins and meet everyone in the waiting area outside the MedLab?" Hank's voice came over the intercom. He sounded frazzled.
"Of course, Henry, but what is wrong?" Xavier nodded and Bel was already on her way out the door to get the others. "Is something the matter with Emil?"
Hank sighed. "I knew he shouldn't have gotten up and moved around so much so soon..."
"We'll be there shortly." Xavier replied.
Three hours after the guild reassembled outside the MedLab with Professor Xavier and Jean, Hank came out to speak with them about Emil's condition.
"I t'ought he was gettin' better!" Mercy exclaimed.
"He was." Hank said. "And he would still be getting better if he had remained on the respirator and had not gotten out of bed and moved around so much. He over-exerted himself and now he's set back even more."
"Hank...please just tell us..." Jean said, her worry coming through in her voice.
"I had to perform emergency surgery on Emil. When he moved around earlier, his broken ribs also moved. As they were settling back once he laid back down, they caused friction against his already weakened lungs and the right one collapsed again. On top of that, his bruised liver was stressed and began bleeding. He is in critical condition and I will be monitoring him closely for the next forty-eight hours at least." Hank told them. "I pray whatever angels watch over you are keeping a close eye on him."