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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50
Chapter 51
Chapter 52
Chapter 53
Chapter 54
Chapter 55
Chapter 56
Chapter 57
Chapter 58
Chapter 59
Chapter 60
Chapter 61
Chapter 62
Chapter 63
Chapter 64


Written by Valerie Jones
Last updated: 05/10/2010 11:31:24 PM

Chapter 50

Rogue tried to summon a smile for Jean when the other woman opened the door. She didn’t think she succeeded very well, and Jean’s expression turned sympathetic.

"Come on in, Rogue," she said as she stepped back. She had one of the Black’s twins tucked into the crook of her arm. Behind her, Diedre and Andrea sat at the Drakes’ little table whose surface was taken up with coffee mugs, assorted plates and half-eaten muffins, and a jumbled pile of plastic blocks in friendly rainbow hues. Andrea held her other son in her arms and Clarissa sat in Diedre’s lap, a block gripped in either hand. The two-year-old was banging them together with great gusto and grinning.

Rogue stepped inside, the weight on her heart easing a little as she took in the scene. The other women greeted her warmly.

"We saved you a muffin," Andrea said with bright smile. She pointed to the platter at the center of the table, where one untouched muffin remained.

Rogue sank into an empty chair with a deep sigh. "Thanks, sugah."

"You look tired," Jean commented as she returned to her seat. She shifted the baby in her arms to avoid her rounded belly.

"Here, let me get you some coffee." Diedre started to move Clarissa out of her lap, but Rogue quickly held up a hand to forestall her.

"Don’t get up, sugah. Ah’m the only one here who’s not holdin’ a child. Ah can get mah own." She pushed herself to her feet and wandered toward the sideboard where the coffeemaker sat. She could feel the other women’s gazes on her back.

Jean cleared her throat. "How are you holding up, Rogue?"

Rogue shrugged as she poured coffee into her mug. "Okay, ah guess." All of the things she’d been trying not to think about surged forward, tightening her throat and making her eyes burn.

"Bobby says Remy’s taking it pretty hard," Diedre offered from behind her.

Rogue nodded. "Yeah." She swallowed painfully. "He’s said about four words ta me since Tuesday." As soon as the words were out of her mouth she realized how it sounded and qualified, "He’s not talkin’ ta anybody right now if he doesn’t have to."

Taking a deep, bracing breath she picked up her mug and turned back toward the table.

"You’ve got to give him time to grieve," Jean said.

Rogue set her coffee down on the table and sank into her chair. "Ah know." Resting her elbows on the table, she combed her hair away from her face. "Ah just-" She laid her forehead in her hands and covered her eyes with her palms as if she could somehow push back the tears that wanted to form. "He’s shut me out again an’ ah can’t stand it."

"I’m sure he’s not trying to shut you out," Jean said.

Rogue scrubbed at her eyes. "No, he’s just doin’ an impressive wounded bear imitation."

"Can you blame him?"

Rogue looked up into Jean’s clear gaze and, with a little sniff, shook her head. Remy had suffered more loss than most. She couldn’t blame him for not being able to deal with it very well. But that didn’t lessen the sense of rejection.

Jean watched her evaluatingly. "You’re angry," she said after a moment.

Rogue sat back in her chair and wrapped her arms around herself. She really hated Jean’s tendency to psychoanalyze, especially since she was right a lot more often than she was wrong.

Rogue bit her lip. "Ah don’t even know where to start."

Jean cocked her head. "Who are you angry at? Remy or Belladonna?"

"Both," she answered before she could stop herself.


Rogue shook her head. "Ah don’t know." She tipped her head back to stare at the stone ceiling as if she might find the answers there. "Ah’ve got no right ta resent either of them foh lovin’ each other once upon a time."

"It’s not that simple, Rogue." Jean’s voice was filled with compassion. "Believe me, I know how hard it is to be the second wife."

Rogue dropped her gaze to the other woman’s in surprise at the echoes of old pain and bitterness in her tone.

Jean met her gaze unflinchingly. "At least Belladonna wasn’t a clone created by Sinister for the sole purpose of having your husband’s baby, right?" she asked.

Diedre and Andrea both gaped at Jean. Rogue summoned a strained smile for their reactions. Bizarre didn’t begin to describe the lives of the X-Men.

"If that’s your way of tellin’ me it could be worse, sugah, I get the point," she said after a moment.

Jean’s expression lightened minutely. "Just give Remy some time."

Rogue nodded, and the conversation turned to more mundane topics-children, the school and a host of everyday Guild issues. But, eventually, as Rogue knew they would, they came around to the upcoming meeting with Marius Boudreaux and her gut clenched.

She sat forward in her chair and wrapped her hands around her coffee mug. "Ah’m really not lookin’ forward ta this meetin’ with the Assassins," she admitted. When she’d gone to New Orleans with Remy a couple of years earlier, the Assassins had all looked at her like she was something they’d scrape off their shoes.

Rogue gripped her mug until her knuckles turned white. They hadn’t been far off. Her stomach twisted at the memories. She wasn’t very proud of how she’d acted toward Belle, particularly in stealing the other woman’s memories of her relationship with Remy. At the time Rogue had justified it by telling herself it was as close as she would ever get to making love to him. Now, though, that thought and the faint shreds of memory she still retained from Belladonna’s mind simply made her feel ill.

"Do you have any idea what the chances are that the Assassins might try to pull something?" Jean asked. Her expression sharpened. "Even if they haven’t taken up the contract on Remy, plain old revenge is still a possibility."

Andrea shook her head. "Not while they’re here under a flag of truce. They wouldn’t dare."

Jean rubbed her stomach absently. "Well, Scott will be glad to hear that. He’s been fretting about Remy’s safety."

Rogue found herself smiling unexpectedly at the image her words conjured. "That man’s going ta make an excellent grandmother someday," she told Jean.

The others laughed and the atmosphere in the room lightened. Diedre began stacking the blocks on the table in front of Clarissa, which the little girl immediately knocked over with a squeal of delight.

Grateful for the distraction, Rogue set about building successively taller structures for Clarissa to knock down. Diedre watched in tolerant amusement as the crashes got more spectacular and a larger percentage of the block skittered off onto the floor with each new demolition.

"Okay, girls, enough seriousness," Andrea declared suddenly. "We need a new topic. Preferably something frivolous and gossip-worthy."

"Hear, hear," Jean agreed, raising her coffee cup.

The women looked at each other expectantly.

To everyone’s surprise, Diedre was the one to break the silence. She pointed at Andrea. "Did you know your sister has a crush on Sam Guthrie?"

Andrea’s eyebrows arched sharply. "No, really?"

Gris-Gris sat on a small marble bench inside a dusty mausoleum near the heart of New Orleans. The cool stone wall at his back gave him what he knew to be a false sense of security, but he was willing to enjoy the feeling while it lasted.

He stared at the tomb in front of him without seeing it, and thought of Belladonna. It still seemed so strange that he would never hear her voice again. The future of the guild-their greatest hope for real leadership, strong leadership-gone because of Bastion.

A snarl curled his lip. Because of LeBeau.

The man Gris-Gris had been waiting for stepped inside the dim confines of the mausoleum and the assassin rose to his feet.

He inclined his head respectfully. "Hezekiah."

The man who had been orchestrating Belladonna’s rise to power within the guild nodded in acknowledgement. "Bonsoir, Gris-Gris. I assume everyt’ing is taken care of?"

Gris-Gris nodded. "We fly t’ New York tomorrow morning."

Hezekiah rolled his shoulders, traces of remorse on his broad face. "Did y’ try talkin’ t’ Marius again?"

Gris-Gris sighed. "Oui. He won’ budge." Disappointment made the words taste like ash. It had been obvious for a while, but the truth could no longer be avoided. Marius Boudreaux had lost his edge. They had a clear shot at LeBeau and a contract to fulfill, but Marius remained adamant that truce with the thieves had to be honored no matter what. He seemed to have forgotten that peace with the thieves was merely a tool-something to be discarded at an appropriate time-rather than an end in itself.

"Den we’ve no choice." Hezekiah crossed his arms over his chest.

Gris-Gris just nodded. OZT’s power suppression field gave them an advantage over the thieves they would be fools not to use. And with Remy LeBeau dead, the Guildmaster of New Orleans would not be able to count on any meaningful support from the New York Thieves Guild. Not when that chapter already had so many other troubles to deal with.

Not that the transition of power would be an easy one. Belladonna had been their one hope for a bloodless succession. Without her clear leadership, the battle for Marius’s throne would drag on for months, if not years.

Still, it had to be done.

Hezekiah watched him with dark, thoughtful eyes. "Are y’ sure you’re ready f’ dis, Gris-Gris?" he asked after a moment.

The assassin unconsciously straightened his shoulders. Ready to die, Hezekiah meant. LeBeau was not a man to be underestimated. Gris-Gris didn’t doubt his ability to get to the thief, but his chances of getting away afterward would be minimal.

"Oui," he assured the other man. LeBeau had been Belladonna’s one true weakness. Perhaps by completing the contract she so foolishly refused, he could finally set her free from the thief’s thrall.

After a fairly intense search effort, Rogue finally found her husband in their quarters, seated on the floor of the closet with a small shoe box open in front of him and a handful of items scattered on the carpet nearby.

Her first thought was that she really should have known better than to believe the group of people-both Guild and X-Men-out in the office who swore up and down that Remy hadn’t passed through since they’d been there. Not because any of them would have lied to her, but because the man was extremely good at avoiding notice when he wanted to. She’d only come back to their apartment herself because she’d run out of time and needed to change her clothes.

Her second thought was one of relief for the fact that he was dressed in his tuxedo, though his tie hung loose around his neck and his jacket still waited on a nearby hanger. The Assassins were expected within the hour and people had begun to panic when they’d discovered the Guildmaster was nowhere to be found.

Her third thought, however, quickly demolished that sense of relief because she realized that the box he was sorting through held mementos, some of which she recognized from Belladonna’s stolen memories. Rogue’s stomach twisted savagely at the thought. She wasn’t sure which was worse-the fact that he still kept these reminders of a relationship that had for all intents and purposes ended more than a decade earlier, or that she was insecure enough about her own relationship that their existence felt like a kind of betrayal.

She cleared her throat. "Everybody’s lookin’ for ya, sugah."

He didn’t look up. A cheap, gold-colored chain with a half-heart strung on it-the kind of silly trinket teenagers won at an arcade or got from a vending machine-spilled through his fingers. He let it tumble from one hand into the cupped palm of the other, repeating the motion over and over.

"I got tired o’ Cyke an’ Chess lecturin’ me about m’ safety," he said after a moment, his voice inflectionless. "I grew up ’round de Assassins. I t’ink I know better dan they do what t’ expect."

Rogue carefully stepped past him, grateful that the walk-in closet was square and gave her plenty of room to maneuver.

"They’re just worried," she said as she looked over the collection of gowns she’d acquired since becoming Guildmistress. Most were far too flashy, designed to draw attention to her in her role as a symbol of the Guild’s wealth and prestige. Tonight she needed something different.

The gray gown drew her gaze and she nodded subconsciously. It was one of the most flattering dresses she owned, as much for its simplicity as its color. The dove gray highlighted her pale skin and the contrasting richness of her hair. She could tone her look down by wearing pearls instead of gems, without sacrificing any of the elegance with which she was supposed to represent her Guild.

Remy’s hands stilled. "De Assassins are walkin’ into a Guild stronghold. Marius’d have t’ have a death wish t’ try anyt’ing tonight."

"Okay, sugah," she agreed. Personally, she was at least as worried as Scott and Chess but there obviously wasn’t any point in arguing with him about it. She knew him well enough to recognize when he’d dug his heels in.

She kept her back to him as she undressed, afraid that if she looked she would find him still engrossed in his memories of Belladonna and indifferent to her presence. Her jeans and sweater went into the clothes hamper. She combed her fingers through her hair, bundling the mass of it up at the nape of her neck as she considered her bra and panties.

Neither would do, she decided after a moment and turned to go to the drawers built into the far wall, only to find Remy standing silently behind her. She uttered a squawk of pure surprise and recoiled so fast she might have fallen except for the strong hands that caught her waist.

"Easy, chere." Though his face remained still, his voice held a warm note.

"Remy, ya scared me half ta death!" she scolded, though only half-seriously, and wrapped her hands around his forearms to steady herself. If it weren’t for the chain she could feel flapping lightly against her hip, she would have used the opportunity to close the distance between them. Instead, she reached down to catch the dangling half-heart emblem, holding it in her palm as she studied it.

"Did Belle give this to ya?" she finally asked.

Expressions chased across his face before he nodded.

"How old were ya?"

He shrugged. "Sixteen."

Rogue nibbled her lip, trying to imagine him that young and found that she couldn’t.

He took the heart from her, his thumb brushing across its surface. "I don’ even know why I still have it, out of everyt’ing." He looked away, out over the top of her head. "Stupid Mardi Gras souvenir."

"What happened to ya weddin’ ring?" The question popped out of her mouth before she could fully consider it.

He snorted, the sound pained. "Threw dat in Lake Ponchartrain on m’ way out o’ town."

Rogue swayed instinctively toward him. She recognized the kind of bitterness it would take to do something like that and it made her heart ache.

"Ah’m sorry," was all she could think of to say.

Remy shook his head, his gaze distant. "Was a long time ago, chere."

"Doesn’t mean it’s stopped hurtin’." Cautiously she reached up to encircle his neck with her arms and was reassured when he pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her waist and burying his face in her shoulder.

He breathed a long sigh. "Belle deserved better than t’ die f’ de likes o’ me."

Rogue’s insides went cold at his words. It wasn’t just the guilt she heard in his voice, though they both knew Belladonna’s fate had been sealed the moment she stepped aboard Bastion’s space station. Even if the assassin had accepted the contract, it would only have led to one of them killing the other and Rogue’s money would have been on Remy in that case despite how much it would have torn him up to do it.

No, it was almost a sense of self-loathing she heard, as if he’d solemnly weighed himself as a person and come to the conclusion that he possessed no inherent worth. The thought made her angry.

She pulled back enough to stare up at him. "Belle died because Bastion killed her," she told him flatly. "It wasn’t yoh fault."

She watched as his face closed in on itself, sealing his thoughts away behind an emotionless façade. He stepped back, releasing his hold on her.

"Get dressed, chere. We’ve got an appointment t’ keep." He knelt and began collecting the scattered pieces of his life with Belladonna, returning them to their box. The half-heart on its chain went in first, hitting the cardboard with a small, hollow thud.

Rogue blinked furiously against the threat of tears and forced herself to breathe. She wanted to scream at him for shutting her out yet again-for hoarding his pain and denying her the chance to help him carry it.

Trembling, she finished changing into the gray gown. Her thoughts ran in frustrated circles, culminating in an exclamation of disgust when she found herself unable to contort quite far enough to pull the zipper in the back all the way up to its stop.

She froze at the light touch of her husband’s fingers on her spine. Her arms fell limply to her sides as he tugged the zipper into place. She could feel his solid presence behind her, so close she could feel the warmth emanating from his body. He traced the edge of her gown, fingers trailing softly across the skin of her back, and then followed the line of her straps upward. Warm hands cupped her shoulders as he bent to press a kiss into the curve of her neck.

"I’m sorry, Anna."

Rogue’s breath exploded out of her in a near-sob. Remy wrapped both arms around her from behind in a tight hug and she felt his lips in her hair. She clutched his arms, returning the hug. Her eyes burned, and this time she couldn’t prevent the pair of tears that escaped to wet her cheeks.

After a minute in that reassuring embrace, though, she straightened with a little sniff. "Why didn’t ya ever go back for her? For Belle, ah mean." She didn’t have the courage to turn to face him, but it was something she’d wondered about ever since learned of Belladonna’s existence. "Once ya earned yoh master’s mark they couldn’t have kept ya out o’ New Orleans."

"I thought about it," he admitted after a minute. "Spent a couple o’ years wonderin’ if it would be possible t’ pick up again... start over... whatever."

Nausea squirmed in Rogue’s gut. "So why didn’t ya?"


She squeezed her eyes shut. "Yeah."

He was silent for a long moment and she could almost hear his shrug. "I met you."

Remy would rather have been anywhere but where he was, standing in the middle of the Club waiting for Marius Boudreaux to arrive. A hospital. Antarctica. Federal prison. Anywhere.

The last time he’d faced Marius Boudreaux over the death of one of the assassin’s children, it had shattered his entire world. And as much as common sense told him that this situation was different, it was hard not to fear the same happening again.

He glanced over at Rogue, who waited silently beside him. This time he had even more to lose. The thought was enough to make his throat go dry.

Around him the thieves waited, their tension coiling through the room like an invisible current. None of them were armed, save for those who stood guard at the front door and the door leading down to the Guild complex. Remy didn’t want anybody’s jitters sparking a bloodbath.

The Club had been closed to the public for the evening and its interior rearranged into something fitting for a formal reception. Soft music played in the background and several tables laid out resplendently with an assortment of hors d’oeuvres took up the far end of the room.

"Are ya sure I should be here, sugah?" Rogue asked in an undertone. "If it’s gonna make things harder..."

Remy reached over to squeeze her hand. "Non, chere."

"Okay." She sounded doubtful, but her body language demonstrated a kind of stoic resolve.

Across the room, the door leading from the street-access imaging area opened and a New York thief stepped through, followed by Marius Boudreaux and four of his assassins. Remy recognized all but one of the men with Marius. They were all seasoned professionals-dangerous men-but he knew them to be well-disciplined as well.

Marius gave nothing away with his body language as he walked toward Remy, but his temperature profile flickered under the influence of strong emotions. He came to a precise stop at an appropriately non-threatening distance, the flux of his signature intensifying.

Remy drew himself up. "Under flag of truce, de New York Thieves Guild welcomes you, Marius Boudreaux, an’ the representatives of de New Orleans Assassins Guild."

Marius turned his head a fraction, taking in Rogue’s presence, and then returned his attention to Remy. "Under flag of truce, we accept New York’s hospitality." His voice was stiff, but underneath the forced calm Remy heard the raw echoes of his grief.

It struck Remy then that this was Belladonna’s father-his own father-in-law for more than ten years-and the person Belle had loved most in the world.

He was also the man who had tortured Remy on his eighteenth birthday, whose angry voice still mixed in his dreams with the hiss of hot metal meeting skin, with pain, and the awful smell of burning flesh.

While he was still trying to resolve that dichotomy in his own mind, Marius went on, "I bring sad news from New Orleans." His heat signature spiked. "Belladonna Boudreaux, your wife-" His voice caught. "-my daughter-is dead."

Remy wasn’t ready to hear the words again. He wasn’t ready for the way his heart pinched at the thought of Belle’s laughter silenced forever. He looked away for a moment, needing the time to gain control of his reaction.

Finally, he looked back at Marius. "Then a light has gone out in the world," he told the other man. The ritual response echoed hollowly in his ears, far too trite to encompass any of what he was feeling.

Purely on instinct Remy held out his hand to Marius. Regardless of what had gone between them in the past, there was no one else who could truly understand how terrible Belle’s death was and the gaping hole she left behind.

The entire room held its collective breath as Marius looked down at his hand and then back up into Remy’s face. Then, slowly, the leader of the Assassins reached out to grasp Remy’s forearm.

Marius leaned forward until they were barely an inch apart, his grip tightening painfully. "Tante Mattie warned me t’ have not’ing to do wit’ le diable blanc," he hissed, his voice pitched low and trembling with suppressed rage. "I ignored her, an’ look what it’s gotten me. You’re a curse, LeBeau. Everyt’ing y’ touch comes t’ ruin."

Remy recoiled in horror and Marius let him go. The guild leader of the Assassins calmly folded his hands in front of him, his body language composed. Remy fought to copy him. He could not afford to let the assassin see how deep his words had cut. Anger stirred deep inside him, mixed with the sinking knowledge that Marius was right.

Remy shoved those feelings down deep into his gut, shutting them away behind the iron wall of his will. He couldn’t afford them. Not now.

He stepped back and gestured toward the tables on the far side of the room.

"You’ve come a long way t’ deliver such sad news, an’ y’ must be tired." From somewhere he summoned a hollow smile. He had no choice but to play the gracious host. "Please, be welcome and accept our hospitality."

Marius nodded in acknowledgment and, with his assassins in tow, headed toward the far side of the room. Remy breathed a silent, shaky sigh as he watched their retreat.

"What did he say to you?" Rogue demanded quietly as she stepped up to his elbow. Her heat signature rippled with angry colors.

Remy shook his head. "Not’ing I haven’ heard before." He didn’t look at her.


"Not now, chere." He kept his attention focused on the group of Assassins, who had begun helping themselves to the food laid out for them. In accordance with tradition they served themselves first and the thieves followed. A stiff, uncomfortable distance separated the two groups and he knew it wouldn’t take much to turn that gap into a battle line.

He reached over to take Rogue’s hand. "I’d better go talk t’ some people," he told her. "C’mon."

Rogue silently allowed herself to be led across the room, but he could tell from the colors making up her form that she wasn’t happy.

Remy made his way toward the tallest of the four men Marius had brought with him. Theo Benoit was a skinny reed of a man. Standing beside Gris-Gris’s solid frame, he looked like a stick figure. When they’d been kids, the joke had been that Theo was the only one who could make Remy look fat. He’d been one of Belle’s best friends, as well as one of those who’d conspired with her to sneak a certain thief into and out of assassin territory.

"Bonsoir, Theo," he greeted the other man with genuine warmth then acknowledged his companion more reservedly. "Gris-Gris."

Both assassins turned to face him. Theo extended his hand.

"Remy. It’s been a long time." Remy could hear the smile in his voice.

He took the proffered hand. "’M sorry it couldn’ be under better circumstances." Around them, the thieves and assassins took note of the friendly conversation and the tension level in the room stepped down a notch.

Theo shrugged, his heat signature flickering with amusement. "I understand. Y’ been too busy movin’ up in de world."

Remy snorted at that and Theo turned to Rogue. "Are y’ gon’ introduce me t’ de belle femme?" he asked. He scooped up Rogue’s hand and bent down to kiss it.

Beside Theo, Gris-Gris made a small noise of disgust, which Remy ignored. Gris-Gris had always resented his relationship with Belladonna and had never been shy about showing it.

"Ben oui," Remy agreed. "Theo Benoit, dis is m’ wife, Anna. Anna, Theo." He gestured to each in turn.

"Ah’m pleased ta meet ya," Rogue said, managing to sound genuine and warm.

Gris-Gris’s core temperature spiked angrily. "Y’ got a lot o’ nerve, LeBeau." He looked pointedly at Rogue.

Her signature flared in response and Remy squeezed her hand in silent warning.

"An’ you, apparently, still don’ have any," he told Gris-Gris. He cocked his head, considering. "Y’ never did tell Belle how y’ felt about her, did y’?" The last time he’d been to New Orleans it had been obvious the assassin had strong feelings for her. Remy didn’t know if Belle had been oblivious or if she’d simply been waiting for Gris-Gris to step up and say something.

Gris-Gris took a step forward, his signature flaring bright with fury, and Remy chalked himself up a point. Theo held out a restraining hand toward the other Assassin and shook his head.

"I really hope y’ not trying t’ provoke us into givin’ y’ an excuse f’ murder," he told Remy. His tone was light, almost joking, but his stance had turned wary.

Remy winced at the rebuke and relented. He knew he was being petty.

He shook his head. "Non. Jus’ lettin’ de past get de best of me."

Theo nodded, his posture relaxing. "I suppose we all do dat from time t’ time." He elbowed Gris-Gris in the ribs, but the other man’s only response was a grunt.

Rogue eventually wandered away from Remy’s side, buying herself some much needed space from him as well as the delegation of Assassins. She resented being used as a weapon in the ongoing silent war between her husband and his kin, her presence Remy’s way of subtly thumbing his nose at the two New Orleans guilds and their peace accord.

Sighing, she pinched the bridge of her nose where a headache was beginning to form. She couldn’t blame Remy for being angry, though. Whatever Marius had said to him, it had been as cruel a blow as the Assassin could devise. She’d seen it in his eyes.

"Had all you can take?" Chess inquired gently as he wheeled himself up beside her.

Rogue straightened guiltily and let her hand fall to her side. "Yeah, pretty much," she admitted after a moment. She’d retreated to a corner of the room, as far from the cluster of people surrounding Remy and the Assassins as she could get without her absence becoming noticeable.

Chess rested his elbows on the arms of his chair and folded his hands in his lap. "The blood feud in New Orleans has been going on for centuries. This accord is the longest a truce has lasted in all of that time."

Rogue glanced over at him. "So how does the New York Guild figure into all this? Is the feud just between the folks in New Orleans or are there other Assassins guilds, too, and y’all just universally hate each other?"

Chess chuckled lightly at her description. "There are other Assassins guilds, yes, and the relationship between us and them is often strained. But New Orleans is the only place where two guilds inhabit the same city and it is the only place where the bloodshed has been consistent." He shrugged. "Having the External, Candra, meddling in affairs has not helped, either."

Rogue made a noncommittal sound. ’Meddlesome’ was a good descriptor for Candra. The fact that she’d almost certainly graced Remy’s bed at some point didn’t win her any points in Rogue’s book, either.

"New York’s relationship with the Assassins Guild is relatively cordial," Chess continued. "Or it has been in the past, at least." He nodded toward the group surrounding Remy. "Now that we have inherited the Guildmaster’s rather bitter history with them..." He shrugged. "We will have to see what happens."

Rogue sighed. "More politics." She decided to change the subject. "At least it looks like Remy was right an’ the Assassins ain’t gonna try anything tonight."

Chess raised his eyebrows. "On the contrary, Guildmistress. When they are taking their leave the risk will be greatest." When she turned to him in alarm, he added, "They are very good at killing in subtle ways, and once they’ve passed beyond our borders they will simply disappear."

Her stomach clenching, Rogue looked back toward her husband. She didn’t think she would ever be able to face the prospect of losing him without feeling the familiar paralyzing bolt of fear.

As if Chess’s words had been an augury, the knot of people broke apart. Marius and his assassins gathered on one side, Remy and the thieves on the other. There was no overt animosity in the confrontation, just a sudden, stiff formality and Rogue knew without having to ask that the Assassins were preparing to leave.

"I’d better get over there." Rogue picked up her skirt and hurried toward the group, Chess’ warning ringing in her ears.

She slowed as she approached, trying to be inconspicuous. Remy and Marius were exchanging what sounded like scripted lines. She could see the bunched muscle in Remy’s jaw that spoke of how tightly he was controlling himself.

The two men finished with a formal handshake entirely unlike the one that had started the meeting just as Rogue reached her husband’s side. Marius pointedly ignored her as he stepped back and to the side, allowing one of the other assassins to take his place.

That man repeated an abbreviated version of the ritual and also shook Remy’s hand while Marius spoke with Artur, who stood to Remy’s right. A few minutes later Theo replaced the assassin Rogue had not been introduced to. Marius stepped back, his part apparently done. He crossed his arms, his gaze resting on Gris-Gris.

Remy and Theo talked for a few minutes in relatively friendly fashion. Theo even went so far as to address Rogue directly, which drew a dark scowl from Gris-Gris.

She responded as warmly as she could in that atmosphere, but the tableau behind Theo kept distracting her. Something about the way Marius was watching Gris-Gris nagged at her, making the hair on the back of her neck prickle in silent warning.

Eventually Theo stepped back, allowing Gris-Gris to take his place. Marius watched the exchange, his gaze narrowing a fraction. Rogue studied him, trying to identify the emotion reflected in his face.

It almost seemed like suspicion, she decided as Gris-Gris held out his hand. Remy reached out to accept the handshake and Marius’s eyes flew wide in alarm. Instinctively Rogue followed his gaze, her attention jumping to Gris-Gris’s outstretched hand as it closed around Remy’s. At first she saw nothing, but then her stomach bottomed out as she realized he was wearing a thin band of some lightweight material around his middle finger. It was dyed the same dark color as his skin.

"No!" Rogue cried and leapt forward, blindly trying to knock the assassin’s hand away.

"You fool!" Marius shouted at the same time. He spun toward Gris-Gris, lashing out with the edge of one hand, taking the assassin in the throat.

Remy jumped back and was immediately swarmed by thieves who pulled him away from the assassins, forming a human wall between him and them. A dozen shouts filled the air.

The combined weight of Rogue and Marius carried Gris-Gris to the ground. The assassin landed hard on his back. Rogue could hear him gagging, his windpipe crushed.

Marius grabbed a double fistful of his shirt and shook him. "You dare violate a sworn truce? Idiot! All you had to do was wait."

Rogue caught Gris-Gris’s right arm and pinned it beneath her knee. She could see the dark, narrow ring better now. A small spike on its inner surface glistened wetly.

"Poison," she gasped, twisting to look up at the thieves behind her. "It’s poison." Beneath her, Gris-Gris thrashed in panic and then went still as unconsciousness claimed him. In a few more seconds he would be dead, she knew.

Men caught Marius’ arms and dragged him away from Gris-Gris, holding him captive with his arms twisted behind his back. Out of the corner of her eye she noted Theo and the other assassin standing off to the side, their hands raised. The two thieves who had been guarding the doors had their weapons out and trained on them.

Remy pushed through the crowd of thieves, his voice strident and angry. He dropped to his knees beside Rogue and grabbed her arm, running his hands roughly along her skin and tracing the outlines of her fingers.

"Did he touch you?" he demanded. His hands continued their restless search, moving from her hands, along her forearm to the tender skin on the inside of her elbow and then along her upper arm to her shoulder. Without pausing he switched to her other arm. "A prick or a scratch? Anyt’ing?"

With a small gasp, Rogue looked down at her hands. She hadn’t felt anything in the course of her short struggle with Gris-Gris, but that wasn’t a guarantee.

"Ah don’t think so," she told him as she frantically searched her skin for signs of blood. Finding nothing, she shook her head and forced herself to calm down. "No, he didn’t get me. Ah’m fine."

Remy’s expression went sick with relief before disappearing altogether. He rose to face Marius, and Rogue scrambled to her feet beside him.

"What kind o’ poison was he using?" Remy demanded of Marius, his tone just shy of openly threatening.

Marius shook his head. "I can’ say f’ sure."

One of the thieves holding Marius struck him in the side of the head, but Remy shot the man a warning glare and the thief subsided.

"Take y’ best guess," Remy told Marius. Something in his voice scared Rogue at a deep, visceral level.

Looking a bit mystified, the assassin complied. "It’s probably an extract from de Blue Ring octopus. Why?"

Remy ignored his question. "What are de effects?"

Marius shrugged, his motion limited by the men holding him. "It shuts down the autonomous nervous system after about five minutes."

"Antidote?" Remy’s flat expression gave nothing away.

Rogue’s heart began to pound in helpless terror as Marius shook his head. "Non." His gaze narrowed. "An’ again I ask y’, why?"

Reaching down, Remy pulled back the cuff of his jacket, exposing the single drop of blood welling from a puncture on the inside of his wrist. His lips twisted in a sardonic expression.

"Because I need t’ know how much time I’ve got."


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