Fifteen-year-old Remy LeBeau woke up with a start, his unique red-on-black eyes adjusting to the darkness almost quicker than his ears adjusted to what exactly had woken him up to begin with. He stifled a sigh and sat up, looking over at his cousin in the dim light.
Across the small room, Emil Lapin sat on the floor, hugging his knees to his chest, crying. Emil was fourteen-years-old, only a few weeks shy of fifteen, with flaming red hair and usually sparkly blue eyes. Technically, Remy knew why his best friend was crying; Emil's father, Francois, had been killed by the Assassins Guild only a few days prior. But even Emil's grief over losing his father hadn't made him cry like this. This was different, and Remy knew it.
"Emil...? What...?" Remy asked, crawling out of his mattress bed and sitting on the floor in front of his cousin, reaching out and gently putting a hand on Emil's shoulder.
Emil made a valiant effort to control his crying and succeeded somewhat. When he was more in control, he started talking, his words punctuated by the deep breaths he had to keep taking.
"Jean-Luc told me...dat it was a...possibility...dat Marcel an' Louis would be...named my legal guardians...b'cause dey're Papa's brothers...but...Remy..." Emil's voice trailed off as his sobs started up again.
Remy didn't understand and said so. "Emil, I don' get it. Don' you wan' your uncles to be your guardians? It makes sense..."
Emil shook his head. "Non!"
"Promise you won' tell anyone?"
"Promise me, Remy."
Remy rolled his eyes. "Okay okay. For now, I promise." He said, even though he knew if it was serious enough, he was going to break the promise. Or else make Emil tell someone else.
Emil knew that too, and he sighed. He had misgivings and fears about showing Remy what was bothering him, but he also felt if he didn't tell someone, he'd go insane. And he had to do something to prevent his uncles from gaining custody of him. "Move back dere for a second. I want to show you somethin'."
Remy did as he was told and sat on his mattress, wondering what on earth Emil was going to show him. Whatever it was, it was bad enough for his cousin to come crying into his room in the middle of the night.
Fighting back more tears, Emil turned around and lifted his shirt up, showing Remy the scars, burns and welts on his badly beaten back. Remy's jaw dropped in shock as he looked, seeing scars on top of scars, and fresh wounds on top of all of it.
"Emil...did dey...?" Remy managed to gasp out through his shock.
"Uh-huh." Emil replied, putting his shirt back down and facing his cousin. "Been doin' it for awhile. Dat's why I don' want dem to be my guardians. Dey punish me for everythin'. Always wit' Marcel's belt. After tonight, I t'ought if I stayed dere any longer I'd have to kill myself or somethin' so I came here..."
"Why'd dey do it tonight?" Remy wanted to know.
Emil chuckled slightly. "B'cause dey caught me cryin' 'bout Papa. Dey made me swear I'd never tell, or dey'd do worse t'ings to me...but it's so hard..."
Remy was about to tell Emil he needed to tell de other Guild members when they were interrupted. Remy's older brother Henri, and his two best friends, Theoren Marceaux and Claude Potier, appeared in the doorway of Remy's room, looking anything but pleased at seeing the two teenagers awake and talking at two in the morning. They had just returned after a nightly walk of the numerous tunnels and underground rooms the Thieves Guild called home, and had not expected to find anybody awake.
"What on earth are de two of you doin' awake at dis hour?" Henri demanded. "An' Emil, I didn' know you were stayin' here tonight."
"I wasn'...I came over...I..." Emil stammered.
Remy poked Emil in the side. "Tell dem!" He hissed.
"Remy! No..!" Emil hissed back, his eyes filling with tears again.
"Tell us what?" Theoren asked. Theoren was a first cousin of both the LeBeau brothers and Emil. He had very little patience with the boys for the most part, but deep down he loved them both and wanted to do nothing but protect them, especially Emil, who was a bit of a computer geek, just like him.
"Nothin'..." Emil tried to brush it off. "It's nothin'. Really."
"Yeah. Right." All three men shook their heads. Henri continued. "Now stop lyin' an' tell us."
Emil sighed in defeat, knowing all too well that they wouldn't let him not tell them. He lifted up his shirt for the second time in five mintues and showed them what he had shown Remy.
"Mon dieu..." Claude breathed.
"Who did dis to you?" Henri and Theoren demanded at the same time, their voices betraying their anger and shock.
"Marcel an' Louis." Emil admitted. "Dey do it all de time...made me promise I wouldn' tell, but I jus'..." He turned and looked at them. Suddenly all three of them saw just how young, innocent, tired and scared Emil really was. The tears that had been threatening again spilled over, rolling down Emil's pale cheeks in rivers. "I jus' want dem to stop..." he whispered.
"Remy, go get Papa. Claude, can you get Tante Mattie?" Henri said, kneeling down in front of Emil and gingerly taking the teen into his arms. Remy scampered off to wake Jean-Luc up, while Claude slipped back into the shadows to fetch the Guild's healer. Theoren made himself comfortable, sitting down on Remy's mattress, shaking his head in disbelief of what they'd just learned. Holding Emil close to him, Henri soothed as best he could. "I promise you, kid. We ain' gon' let dem do dat to you ever 'gain."
"Damned straight." Theoren muttered in agreement.
"Alright, what's goin' on dat you had to wake me up for...?" Jean-Luc yawned as he preceded Remy into the room. They were followed closely by Claude and Tante Mattie, as well as Henri's wife, Mercy, who woke up wondering what all the commotion was about.
"Papa, we got a problem dat needs to be fixed now." Henri explained. He looked at Emil. "You up for dis?"
Emil nodded, wiping the tears off his face, only to have them replaced with fresh ones. "Can' back down now.
As he explained what had been going on, Henri gently lifted Emil's shirt up to show Jean-Luc, Tante Mattie and Mercy. Mercy looked away in horror, unable to understand how and why anyone could do that to a child. Tante Mattie immediately started her healing work to ease the physical pain Emil was in. And Jean-Luc, eyes flashing in anger, realized something. He sighed sadly at his young nephew.
"Now I know why you weren' too thrilled when I said Marcel an' Louis would prob'ly end up bein' your guardians..."
Emil nodded, unable to speak through his tears.
Jean-Luc stood straighter, his anger barely contained. He looked at Theoren and Claude. "We're gon' deal wit' dis right now. Go get dem."
The two men nodded and left. During the twenty minutes they were gone, Tante Mattie had healed all of the fresh wounds on Emil's back, while Henri and Mercy took turns comforting him. Jean-Luc just paced the room, waiting.
As soon as Marcel and Louis saw Emil they knew he'd told on them. Both glared at their young nephew.
"You little--" Marcel began.
"Marcel Lapin, if you finish dat sentence I'll kill you." Theoren warned.
"Y'know..." Jean-Luc said, addressing them. His voice was low, dangerous and very, very serious. "De two of you were gon' be my first choice for guardians for Emil. When I told him dat, he didn' seem too happy, but I didn' t'ink much of it. Knowin' what I do now, I've changed my mind. I don' wan' either one of you anywhere near dis child ever 'gain. You're bot' hereby out of de Guild. You got one hour to get what you need an' get out of New Orleans. I don' wan' see either of you in dis city 'gain, you got dat?"
"But...we're..." Louis stammered.
Jean-Luc raised an eyebrow. "Go." He commanded. Wisely, they went.
"T'ank you..." Emil whispered, the relief evident in his voice. He leaned his head against Henri's shoulder, barely able to keep his eyes open.
"Get some sleep, little one." Mercy said softly, gently running her fingers through his hair. He nodded sleepily and closed his eyes, using Henri as a pillow.
"Remy do you mind if he stays in here wit' you tonight?" Henri asked.
Remy shook his head. All he wanted to do was go to sleep himself. "He can stay. Not like I ain' got de room."
Once the two boys were tucked in and sleeping peacefully, the adults convened in the main room. Claude took his leave after speaking quietly with Jean-Luc. He was given the job of making sure Marcel and Louis left the city.
"Now we got de task of figurin' out who's gon' be his guardian." Tante Mattie commented. "De boy can' raise himself, y'know."
"He needs us, we saw dat tonight. All of us." Mercy agreed. "But we all can' be his guardians. Well we can, but someone should be appointed de official guardian, jus' in case."
"You're right, Mercy." Jean-Luc said. "De question is--"
"I'll do it." Theoren interrupted. Everyone looked at him, but none were surprised. Francois had been Theoren's best friend, and everyone knew how close Emil and Theoren were, in spite of the fact that they tended to argue frequently because they had such opposing personalities.
"Well dat was easy." Henri joked. "Now I say we all get some shut-eye b'fore ev'ryone else wakes up an' wonders what de hell is goin' on 'round here."
When the others were in bed, Jean-Luc, who was waiting for Claude to come back, looked in on the two sleeping teenagers. Emil's face still had a pained, scared look to it, even in sleep, but Jean-Luc was pleased to see that it also looked as if a huge weight had been lifted from the boy's shoulders. And Jean-Luc knew that was the truth. He knew the emotional scars would take a lot longer to heal than the physical ones, but the first step had been taken that night and those were always the hardest.