"Y'know Zoe, I can do dis." Jackie LeBeau said, smiling down at the three week old baby in her arms. "Seriously. Emil an' I are gettin' married next month! We're gon' have a fam'ly of our own. Who better to practice on den our godson? We'll be jus' fine, won' we J.P.? Yes! Yes we will!"
Zoe sighed and sat down on the rocking chair in the nursery, watching her friend dance around with the little boy much to his unending delight. "Jack, you've been up all night with him. The others'll be home today. I'll take care of him...you go take it easy. Don't you want to get some rest so you'll be awake when Emil comes home?"
Jackie laughed. "Emil's had bronchitis, Zoe. He de one needin' de rest, not me."
"Yeah you're right. But still. If Tante Mattie was awake, she'd tell you to get some rest." Zoe raised her eyebrows cryptically. "You know that better than I do."
"I know, I know..." Jackie yawned, then laughed as they were joined by Singer and her three month old daughter Cheryl. "I t'ink you might be right."
"Right 'bout what?" Singer asked, gently trying to untangle her daughter's tiny fist from her long dark hair. Zoe laughed and moved to help the beautiful assassin.
"I'm trying to convince her that she should get some rest, and I think she just yawned herself into believing me."
Singer nodded sagely. "Ah. I see. Well actually, Jackie's rest might have to wait. Fifolet jus' woke up wit' a really bad cough an' we don' have any medicine. An' dis one here is fussy as all get out b'cause it's so hot...so I can' really take her peacefully into public, y'know? Would you mind goin' to de store an' gettin' some stuff to ease my poor sick husband's misery? I'd really appreciate it."
"Oh!" Zoe exclaimed. "And I can take care of Jean-Pierre while you're gone!"
Jackie sighed in defeat and handed J.P. over to Zoe before turning back to Singer. "Sure I'll go to de store for you. I've seen Feef when he's sick, an' gettin' him better is top priority." She took the money from Singer and paused, reaching over and lightly running her index finger over Cheryl's silky hand. Cheryl promptly grabbed Jackie's finger and held on tightly. Jackie laughed gently at the little girl. "Hey, I kinda need dat..."
"You should try havin' her pullin' your hair." Singer smiled, trying to unwrap Cheryl's fist from Jackie's finger. "C'mon now, petite...let her go...if you don' wan' Papa to keep us both up all night wit' his coughin', let her go...dere...t'ank you."
Singer and Cheryl walked Jackie down to the main foyer of the huge safehouse which housed the now unified Thieves and Assassins Guilds. They paused at the door when Singer made an observation, her voice thoughtful.
"You know, she seems really anxious to take care of him."
"I know." Jackie agreed, her purple eyes glowing slightly. "It's nice, b'cause Genard's gon' need all dis help when he an' de others gets back today. I gotta admit t'ough...either I'm crazy or she's not jus' doin' it to help out."
Singer smiled. "My t'oughts exactly. Maybe we gotta get some info outta her when you get back..."
"I'll take care of it Singer. You concentrate on takin' care of your fam'ly. I won' be long. Tell Feef if he can hold out until I get back, he will soon be a happier, less coughy man."
The second sound came from upstairs and was much more urgent. Jackie shook her head and started walking up the stairs to the second floor of the house, wincing every time Fifolet coughed, which was almost constantly. "I'm comin', Feef, I'm comin'..." she muttered on her way down the hallway to the set of rooms used by Fifolet, Singer and Cheryl. She knocked lightly on the dark mahogany door and waited.
Singer answered the door with a sigh of relief, her dark hair flowing like a cloud around her shoulders and head. "Oh t'ank God you're back. Every time he coughs, I t'ink he's gon' go intangible an' disappear into de bed or somethin'."
Jackie laughed. "Now dat would be a funny sight." She walked into the master bedroom and held in a giggle when she saw how pathetic Fifolet looked. "You know, dis jus' won' do."
Fifolet coughed three times and looked at her with as much of a glare as he could muster, which wasn't much under the circumstances. "What won' do?" He asked before coughing again.
"Dis!" Jackie laughed again. "We can' have you all sick like dis. You're an assassin! A killer! Right now you look more like a whipped puppy." She handed Fifolet the medication. "Here. Take dis. Follow de directions. Get lots of rest an' drink lots of orange juice. If you need more, ask me. I'll be in de nursery. Maybe my room. I don' know yet."
Jackie made it as far as the door before Fifolet stopped coughing long enough to say something. "Jackie..."
"...T'anks..." A small smile. Jackie returned the smile and left the room with an intriguing thought in her mind.
'He ain' a bad lookin' guy when he smiles. Hell none of dem are. Not even Gris.'
Jackie laughed as she opened the door of the nursery. What a funny thought.
"How's Fifolet?" Zoe asked from the rocking chair where she was reading a book. Jean-Pierre was sleeping peacefully in his crib.
"Sick, but he'll live." Jackie grinned. She walked over and stood by the crib, tracing her finger gently over J.P.'s soft hair before leaving him be and sitting in the plush armchair. "Hey Zoe, tell me somethin', would ya?"
"Why does dis matter so much to you?"
Zoe didn't take her eyes off her novel. She shrugged her answer and then sighed. She knew Jackie would get the answer out of her eventually...so why was she fighting it?
"Zoe...put de book down an' talk to me."
Zoe did as she was told and put the book down. She looked at Jackie almost defiantly, wondering what her friend would say when she found out the truth. "What do you want me to say, Jack?"
"Oh I dunno...de truth maybe?" Jackie retorted. "Sure none of us is good at tellin' de truth, an' acceptin' it's even harder, but Tante Mattie always says de truth is a good place to start wit' t'ings, so why not give it a shot?"
Another sigh escaped from Zoe's lips. Her dark eyes were hopeful and troubled at the same time, a look Jackie understood only too well. Before she found a home with the Thieves Guild and love with her soon-to-be-husband Emil, she used to look like that more often than not. For a few moments, Zoe was silent. Then she spoke, her voice quiet.
Jackie looked at her friend, concern in her purple eyes, her expression as gentle as she could make it. She knew whatever was eating at Zoe was big. She knew it wasn't easy for Zoe to admit to it. So she tried to be as helpful and encouraging as possible. "Yeah?"
"What if the truth isn't good enough?" Zoe's voice caught as she tried to fight back the tears that were threatening to spill from her eyes.
"What do you mean?" Jackie was confused.
Zoe got up and went over to the crib. She looked down at the sleeping baby and a wave of protectiveness washed over her entire being. She swallowed the lump in her throat and spoke to Jackie, continuing to watch J.P. sleep. "I have a secret. I'm the only one who knows it, except for maybe Tante Mattie. Maybe this little one can sense it, maybe he can't, I don't know. But the secret...the truth of the secret...what if it isn't enough? What if I tell it and come clean...what if it isn't enough?"
Jackie was still confused, but she was starting to get the picture. "Why wouldn't it be? Why don' you jus' tell me an' den we'll talk 'bout it? I won' tell anyone if you don' wan' me to."
Zoe thought about that for a moment and decided to take Jackie up on her offer. "You promise you won't tell? Even though you're going to want to?"
"Oui, I promise."
"Okay...I may as well just tell you. I'm in love with him.
Zoe laughed. "Hard to believe, I know. It's the truth though. And I can tell you exactly when it happened." She sat back down and faced Jackie, a faraway look now gracing her fine features. "About six months after Shirow and I came to America, after Remy took Shirow up to New York to go to school at the Xavier Institute, after your father and the other High Council members accepted me as a member of the New Orleans Thieves Guild, I was going for a walk one night...had to get away from being in the underground tunnels. I was getting a little claustrophobic. On my way out, I happened to spot Genard sitting in the dirt in one of the tunnels, without his glasses on, looking for something on the ground...."
It was Jackie's turn to laugh. "His glasses broke!"
"Exactly." Zoe continued. "And you know as well as I do that he can't see a foot in front of himself without them, so I stopped to help him. I found the screw and put them back together for him with those mini screwdrivers he keeps in his utility belt. At least he's always prepared. He ended up joining me on my walk. We walked around town for hours...almost all night...just talking and getting to know each other. He told the funniest stories...he's really got a great sense of humor. He's sweet, caring, thoughtful, considerate and charming, he's just really shy. That's what he told me when I asked him why he never acts like that with everyone else. I've loved him ever since that night, I just never did anything about it."
"Why not?" Jackie demanded. "He was obviously comfortable enough with you to open up like that."
"I know, I just...I guess I thought the differences would out-weigh the similarities or something. I should have...yes I know I should have...but I didn't. I was too scared. We became really good friends, I'm closer to him than just about anyone here, and I'm really grateful for that, but I should have told him the truth. I can't now though." Zoe sighed again, the tears welling up one more time.
Jackie got up and moved over, giving her friend a hug. "Why can' you? Don' you t'ink he has a right to know?"
"Once CJ came into the picture, I told myself I'd never admit to him how I feel. I couldn't do that to him then and I really can't do it now. She hasn't even been dead a month...I can't just suddenly come out with this now, while he's still grieving for her, while his heart is still attached to her."
"Okay Zoe, y'know what? You're right when you say you shouldn't tell him now. He needs time to grieve, dat's right. But if you wait until he's not still attached to her, you're gon' be waitin' for de rest of eternity."
"So what should I do?"
"Give him time. Be his friend de way you always have been an' help him raise his son. When de time is right, tell him de truth 'bout how you feel. Don' keep it a secret forever."
Zoe smiled. "Thanks Jackie. But how will I know when the time is right?"
Jackie laughed. "I once asked Mercy how I'd know what real love was. She told me I'd jus' know. An' now I'm tellin' you de same t'ing, my friend. You'll know it when it comes. I can promise you dat."
Christmas Eve had arrived and the members of the unified guilds were busy getting last minute preparations made for their annual Christmas party. They hadn't had an easy autumn and were hoping the festivities would ease their pain a little bit. Tante Mattie had passed away during the summer and in spite of their best attempts, the thieves and assassins had not been looking forward to spending their first holiday without her.
While the other Guild members were off doing their assigned tasks, Zoe was being silly. Bella Donna had asked her if she'd put up some hidden pieces of mistletoe around the safehouse, and she undertook the job with great happiness. She knew some of the others had their own reasons for wanting hidden mistletoe, but they weren't the only ones. Zoe had been thinking over her conversation with Jackie frequently during the past months, and as the time had gone by, she became more and more sure that she should tell Genard how she felt. Maybe using mistletoe was a way to cheat at doing that, but she didn't want to embarrass him in front of the others and hoped she could catch him with one of the hidden pieces of mistletoe, when no one was around.
The house was soon filled with voices as the Guild members assembled for dinner and the start of the party. Everything was as close to perfect as they could make it without Tante Mattie's help, and while they were sad she was gone, they couldn't help but be taken away by the festive spirit.
The guys had done a wonderful job decorating the safehouse. There were thick boughs of holly adorning the staircase railings, wreaths on every door, and scenes of winter painted on the windows with fake snow. The Christmas tree was beautiful as always, covered in red ribbons and white lights. Standing over them at the top of the tree was their guardian angel, a large, elaborate wood angel carved by the talented hands of Claude, who was quite the artist.
After a delicious supper prepared by Bella Donna and Mercy, the entire family moved into the living room and gathered around the Christmas tree. The two babies, Cheryl and Jean-Pierre, who were nine months and six months old respectfully, were dressed in red and green outfits and refused to sit still for any kind of posed pictures, so eventually their fathers gave up and took normal action shots instead.
The evening was passed in a semblence of normalcy. They sang Christmas carols, most of them in French, drank eggnog, ate candy canes and told stories of Christmases past for both sides of the Guild. Slowly, as they got tired, various parts of the family said their goodnights and headed upstairs to bed until the house was silent.
Zoe made herself a cup of coffee in the kitchen and when she heard a noise from the living room she took her coffee and went to see who was up. When she got there, there was no one there. There was, however, a note on the desk with her name on it. She opened it and read,
"Z. Meet me in the graveyard. G."
Her curiosity getting the better of her, Zoe pulled on a coat and her boots and silently left the safehouse. Ten minutes later she arrived in the graveyard, her eyes looking around for Genard. She sighed when she realized where he was, but joined him anyway.
"You miss her don't you." She said quietly.
Genard turned slightly and looked at his companion. "Of course I do. One doesn't easily get over losin' one's first love." He sighed.
"One shouldn't get over something like that. Not fully. You've never really lose her, though, not while you have J.P. You keep saying yourself how much he reminds you of her." Zoe said thoughtfully, lightly resting her hand on his arm.
"He does, oui." The ghost of a smile crossed his lips. "An' part of me is glad of dat. De other part of me wants to move on. But I don' know how."
"I know how." Zoe confided.
"Sure. The same way everyone should live life. One day at a time."
Zoe didn't feel bad about not telling Genard how she felt. There was a nagging little voice in her mind that wouldn't go away. It kept stopping her every time she went to tell him. It was driving her crazy, but she had learned a long time ago to trust those nagging little voices, because they were almost always right.
Still, later that day, when she finally caught him under some mistletoe, Zoe didn't hestitate to make Genard pay for getting caught. She kissed him, a gentle, fleeting brush against his lips that made his body tremble slightly, before dancing away with a triumphant laugh.
Genard stared after her with a curious expression on his face, thoughts whirling in his mind, until he heard a sound from down the hallway. He turned and saw Jackie laughing at him.
"What's so funny?" He asked, joining her, hoping to get answers.
"She gotcha!" Jackie giggled.
"She did that on purpose...?"
"Maybe. Maybe not. De point is, look up b'fore you stand anywhere 'round here. Dere's booby traps everywhere." Jackie grinned.
Six days later, on New Year's Eve, the Guild decided to watch movies all day and then ring in the new year with Dick Clark like everyone else in America. They watched movie after movie after movie until they were sick of movies, and ate popcorn until none of them wanted to see popcorn again for a year. They turned the movies off at eleven-thirty and hung around the house until it was time for the big countdown.
Genard cornered Zoe out on the balcony once everyone had scattered. He had a question. "Hey."
"Hey. What do you think the new year is going to bring?"
"I don' know." Genard shrugged. "'Course, dis time last year, none of us t'ought all de stuff dat happened dis year would happen. So we can never tell..."
"Yeah..." Zoe replied, letting her voice trail off.
"Can I ask you something'?" Genard asked.
"Sure. What is it?"
"Why'd you kiss me de other day?"
Zoe blinked. She had not been expecting that blunt a question from him and she tried to laugh it off. "Hey you were the one who stood under the mistletoe."
"Uh-huh. But dere's no rule dat says if a person gets caught under de mistletoe, dey have to be kissed. So why'd you really do it?" Genard raised an eyebrow and grinned at her, letting her know he wasn't going to let her get away with it.
"I...well...I've wanted to tell you something...a secret I've had...for a long time now...but I didn't because I was scared."
"Scared of what? Of me? I ain' gon' hurt you. I'd never hurt you." Genard assured her.
"I know that. The timing was never right. And now, I guess I'm just scared of rejection, or something." Zoe admitted.
"Isn' everybody?" Genard laughed. He reached up and lightly rested the tips of his fingers under Zoe's chin, making her look at him. "Jus' tell me, okay?"
From somewhere inside the house, most likely the living room, the rest of the Guild had regathered around the television to watch the countdown. They started counting down with the people on TV at 10 seconds. Out on the balcony, Genard and Zoe could hear them.
"Jus' tell me..."
"But what if...?"
"Screw bein' scared an' tell me."
"...Are you sure?"
"Oui, tell me!"
"I love you..."
Amid the cheers of "Happy New Year!" that rang out in the house and around the city, Genard said nothing. Instead, as if timing it perfectly, he pulled Zoe into his warm embrace and kissed her, his lips on hers in a soft, searching caress that somehow felt so right. When the kiss ended, he looked at her with her messed up hair and flushed cheeks.
"I can' say it yet...but when I can...will you be dere to hear it?"
Zoe wrapped her arms around him and leaned her head against his chest, listening to his heart beating in his chest. "One day at at time, remember? I'll still be here. I promise."