This story was entered in the X-Day 2003 competition. 8 people voted for it in the competition. Its final rating was 6.5
"Emil, are you comin'?" Francois Lapin asked, poking his head in the entrance of the small cubby-hole of a room occupied by his young son. "Jean-Luc's d'cided it's time you an' Remy get to know each other."
Red-haired, blue-eyed and full of energy and mischief, ten-year-old Emil got up off his mattress and looked at his father questioningly. "Is Et comin' too?"
"Non, mon fils. One at a time. Remy's pretty skittish, even now, an' has already been confronted wit' havin' to meet mos' of us all in one shot."
Emil rolled his eyes as he followed his father. He'd heard what most of the thieves were saying in regards to Jean-Luc's newly adopted son and none of it was good. They didn't like Remy...thought of him as an outsider to their ways and a freak because of his strange eyes. Only a very few of the adults seemed to like Remy, as far as Emil could fathom from the talk, and he was comforted only by the fact that his father was one of them.
"Remy ain' gon' have an easy time of it 'round here." That's what Tante Mattie had said when Emil asked her about it. "De important t'ing I want you to remember, chil' is dis. It ain' what's on de outside dat counts. It's what's on de inside."
Emil had taken that to mean that the others were all judging Remy based on the facts that he was a mutant and not a member of the Guild by birth. He also took it to mean he shouldn't do that.
As Emil followed his father along the dingy, candlelit tunnels beneath the streets of New Orleans, he couldn't help wondering what Remy was like. The Thieves Guild lived in rooms and tunnels under the city...they maintained a poor, humble existance but yet felt very rich because of the close family bonds they shared with each other. Money couldn't buy everything, they knew.
When they arrived at the section of tunnels occupied by Jean-Luc LeBeau, his son and daughter-in-law Henri and Mercy, and now Remy, Emil suddenly felt shy and he couldn't for the life of him understand it. He had never been shy in his life, but yet there he was, hovering behind Francois while the latter spoke with Henri. They were soon joined by Mercy, who came out of one of the rooms with a small smile on her pretty face.
"How is he?" Henri asked his wife.
"He's freaked out, how else?" Mercy sighed. "He keeps sayin' he doesn' wan' meet anyone else, b'cause so far everyone hates him. We tell him not everyone hates him but he doesn' b'lieve it."
"I t'ink he knows you two an' Jean-Luc don' hate him, but given de reactions from everyone else, I can understand why he wouldn' b'lieve it." Francois commented. "I'm sure you guys have heard all de t'ings bein' said 'round here dese days. Dey ain' givin' him a chance."
Jean-Luc came out of the room, looking tired and slightly frustrated. "I can' get him to come out. He's stubborn, I'll give him dat. Pretty adamant dat he ain' comin' out to meet anybody else. I'm sorry, Emil."
Emil grinned up at his uncle, a twinkle in his sparkly blue eyes. Jean-Luc always had to do a double-take when he saw those eyes. They reminded him so much of Emil's late mother, Emily Therese, who also happened to be Jean-Luc's baby sister. He set his lips in a determined line. "Don' be. If he won' come to me, I'll go to him."
"Oh Emil...I don' know..." Jean-Luc began to protest, but Emil cut him off.
"Hey. He's a kid. I'm a kid. Jus' trust me on dis. An' stay here."
With that, Emil walked into the room where Remy was and came face to face with his new cousin for the very first time.
Remy was sitting on the mattress, his face tear-stained. His auburn hair was messy and falling in his eyes, which Emil noticed really weren't like anybody else's. His clothes were torn and ratty but he looked as comfortable as could be expected in them. He heard Emil come in, but didn't bother looking up.
Instead of replying or leaving, Emil moved closer to the mattress and sat down on the floor. Remy noticed this and sighed in frustration. "You deaf or somethin'?"
This time, Emil replied. "Non. I heard you."
Remy finally looked at him, unable to figure out why this other boy wasn't listening to him. "So...?"
"So if you wan' me to leave, you're gon' have to make me leave." Emil challenged.
Remy blinked his strange red-on-black eyes a couple of times, unable to believe what he was hearing. "None of de others wanted to stick 'round once dey saw me." He said softly, looking down again. "Dey all keep sayin' how I don' b'long here, an' dat I'm jus' a no-good freak of nature..."
"I know. I've heard dem say stuff like dat 'bout you too...but dat don' mean it's true."
"How do you know?!" Remy jumped up, eyes flashing in anger. His voice, shaking with emotion, was loud enough to make the adults in the other room simultaneously look at the room. "You got no idea what it's like to be me so why don' you jus' leave me alone?"
Emil looked at him, compassion in his young eyes. "I don'...you're right. So why don' you teach me?"
"What?" Remy was stumped. This was the first time someone had said anything of the sort to him and it baffled him. No one else had ever wanted to get to know him beyond what they saw on the outside, except for Jean-Luc, Henri, Mercy and Tante Mattie. "I don' understand..."
"Tante Mattie says we shouldn' judge a book by it's cover..."
Remy tilted his head. "An' dat means...?"
"She says it means you shouldn' base your opinion of people on what you see on de outside." Emil explained. "You jus' told me I don' know what it's like to be you. I agree. You don' know what it's like to be me either. Why don' we teach each other?"
"Why not?" Emil laughed. "Look, you got anythin' better t'do?"
Remy shook his head. "No."
"Me neither. You t'ink it'd be cool to have a friend your own age?"
This time, Remy nodded, a small smile appearing on his lips. "Yeah...but..."
Emil blew air out through his teeth in exasperation. "But what?"
"Look at me. Don' you t'ink I'm a freak like de others do?" Remy asked.
Emil looked at Remy, his blue eyes locking onto Remy's red ones. Unlike nearly everyone else who looked into Remy's strange eyes, Emil didn't flinch or turn away. "Nope." He replied with a smile. "For de record, I t'ink dey're pretty cool. But I also t'ink it don' matter. Others look at you an' see a freak. I look at you an' see someone I'd like to get to know. I've never been one for doin' or t'inkin' what everyone else does anyways..."
Remy finally laughed, a sound that made the adults in the other room smile with relief. "Uhm...I'm sorry for snappin' at you b'fore...t'ink maybe we can start over?"
"Sure." Emil agreed. He stood up and faced Remy, a smile of comraderie on his pale, freckled face. He pretended not to know who Remy was. "You're Remy, right?"
Remy laughed, realizing what his new friend was doing and also realizing that he didn't know the other boy's name yet. "Yeah...Remy LeBeau."
"Well, Remy," Emil grinned. "I'm your cousin, Emil Lapin. Welcome to de T"ieves Guild."