'You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
'They called me the hyacinth girl.'
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Od' und leer das Meer.
--T.S. Eliot

Belladonna Boudreaux was not given to introspection. In fact, she hated the very girly fact that she was still in love with a man she'd barely seen in five years. "I should just kill him," she muttered to herself. It was a Sunday afternoon and she had far too much free time. She settled in the little French Quarter courtyard of the house she and her – soon to be dead if she had anything to say about it – husband had purchased before their wedding. It was a nice house, with period woodwork and solid iron-work. The garden was filled with roses and hyacinths and lilies. Honeysuckle climbed the walls. The smell of flowers was heavy in the air. She sipped her coffee, savoring the bite of the Chickory.

She let her blonde hair settle over her shoulders. The small braids she kept to frame her face were starting to fray at the ends. It was time to redo them and possibly change the beads. She fingered the small amethyst bead on the bottom of the front-most braid. She smiled. Remy had given it to her before Jean-Luc had adopted him. He'd found it or stolen it or maybe even bought it for her. They'd been all of ten. She'd worn it in her hair ever since. She'd be buried with it. She missed those innocent days.

Her eyes stung from the pollen heavy in the air. Remy was in New York and she was in New Orleans. There was no cure for the disease that was tearing their marriage apart. Julian was alive – scarred, twisted, and more insane than ever, but her husband was still banished. She threw her cup across the courtyard. It shattered with a satisfying tinkle. Coffee ran down the wall into a bank of purple-flowered hyacinths. A flash of movement caught her eye and she nearly threw the knife that she'd automatically pulled. Gris-Gris was just checking that the noise wasn't a danger. She wouldn't kill him for doing his job.

She tucked her knife away in the sheath she wore under her loose top. She should be safe here, in her own home, but safety was more fragile than the blooms around her. She remembered feeling safe once. Remy had filled her room with hyacinth blooms and sat reading poetry to her while she recovered from being stabbed through and through with a sword. His voice had wrapped around her, mixed with the sweetness of the hyacinths. Even now the scent of hyacinths was the scent of home.

A shadow flashed on the flagstone. Her head snapped up to follow the cause of it. Hope rose in her chest only to be crushed by the sight of a pigeon. With no coffee to occupy her hands, she started unraveling her braids. The beads dropped onto the still intact saucer with delicate clinks. The blue one was Venetian glass from when she was training in Italy. The green one was Czech-garnet from her mother's trip to Prague. The deep purple was another amethyst from Remy on her 15th birthday to complement the smaller, lighter one he'd given before. She continued to shed the memories from her hair. Once her hair was free, it hung in zig-zag waves that framed her face. She ran both hands through it, trying to release the stress in her skull. Too soon she would have to return to her duties as leader of the Assassin's Guild.

She closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair. She sighed and let the blossoms surround her. A soft petal caressed her cheek. "Bonjour, Husband."

"Happy Birthday, Belle," he whispered. He slid a package onto her lap. He put his hand over her eyes. "No, don't look, if you see me, you have to kill me remember?"

"Oui," she whispered sadly. He wrapped his fingers in her hair and tugged her into a soft, lingering kiss. The scent of his Tommy cologne filled her nose, over-powering the soft flowers. She wondered if one of his women had gotten it for him, like one of the pretty boys that wanted her attention had gotten her the Chanel she was wearing. She usually wore Poison. His mouth tasted familiar – coffee and spice overlaid with chocolate and rum. His mouth slipped from hers, tracing the line of her jaw and down her throat. His right hand slipped under her loose shirt to caress her skin with the combination of skin and leather his oddly cut gloves had always created. It was so familiar that she was like to weep. She missed being with someone she didn't have to fear. Remy was no killer.

"Will Gris-Gris leave us be?" he asked softly.

Belle smiled a tiger's smile. "Perhaps," she purred. She let her hands glide up his battered trench. It amused her that he was wearing it, here in the heavy heat and humidity that lingered on the skin like berry-sticky kisses. She let one hand linger on his throat, her fingers picking out the familiar scar that ran from the center under his chin towards his hair. He'd moved too slowly and gotten caught with a knife. Half an inch deeper and she would have lost him then. Maybe that would have been easier. She wrapped her fingers into his hair and considered how easy it would be to snap his neck. He wouldn't try to stop her. He wouldn't even consider that she'd think of it. His teeth tugged at her right lobe gently. He tongued the jeweled earring that was one of her marks of rank.

She turned her head and parted her lips for another lingering kiss. His fingers traced the line of her jaw and the shape of her ear as if she were a piece of sculpture he was appraising. She, in turn, sought the knife she knew would be at his waist. She stroked the familiar wooden handle. It was his guild-knife, she knew. How fitting it would be to use it to slip through his ribs and into his heart. She hesitated still. She breathed in the smell of him, sweat and musk under his cologne.

She ran her fingers up under the worn cotton of his tee-shirt. It was as soft as a baby's blanket and as thin as the skin under his chin. His skin was warm. She traced a line up his side, feeling new and old scars like a topographical map of his life. He was warm, so warm to her touch, but he always complained about being cold. He gave off all of his heat and saved none for himself.

His coat brushed her legs and he straddled her. He was careful not to put weight on her legs. She snorted and pulled him closer to her body. "Y' can rest on me. It ain't goin' t' hurt."

"Ah, chere, I want y' able t' move when y' want." He ran a finger around the waist of her jean shorts. "Mais, we get these off." His clever thief's fingers undid the top button and drew down her zipper. She lifted her hips to give him the opportunity to slide them down her legs and expose the lacy underwear she rarely wore. His breath caught a little. "Here now, I t'ought ole Remy was supposed t' bring the present."

Her fingers twitched around the package. She placed it on the table so that both hands would be free to torment him. The panes of his stomach were hard. "Y' been workin' out," she murmured. He bit at her throat and didn't answer. She arched into his bite, wanting the mark he might leave if he didn't think she was too gentle for it today. He lapped at her skin, cleaning away sweat and salt and defining his favorite spot. His cheeks were clean shaven and she appreciated the extra effort. She tweaked one nipple and his teeth tightened. "Y' got a condom in y' wallet?"

"Oui. Always," he murmured into her ear. "I want t' taste y' first. I want to remember that flavor when I go home t' my empty bed and pretend that I ain't alone. Then, I want to slip into you gently and rock like we's on our raft. T'ink this ole chair can handle that?"

"Figure it's gotten worse over the years," she replied. She wrapped the cool silk of his hair around her fingers and dragged him to her for a kiss. "T'ink about all the people watchin' us t'day. T'ink how jealous they all gonna be when y' come and fall across m' like a blanket and we just sit here, pretending we ain't in the middle of the garden."

He chuckled deep and low in her ear. "All the boys an' girls want y', but I get t' have y'. Don't even t'ink I don't appreciate that." He trailed his way down her front, pausing to help her out of her shorts, but leaving her panties in place. She set her bare feet onto the edge of the seat and he chuckled. "Pure beauty."

She laughed at that. She hadn't been pure in years. He nosed over the now damp fabric between her legs and her breath caught. It had been so long. He laid a kiss on the inside of her thigh, his strong fingers wrapping proprietarily around her leg. She rested her own against them and felt his smile against her skin. She kept her eyes closed only through strength of will. She wanted so badly, but he was right. If she saw him, here, she had to kill him. His banishment was meant to be a death sentence if he showed up in New Orleans. If she kept this little fantasy world of perfume and soft kisses and darkness, she could have him and the Guild.

He rested his cheek against her thigh as he carefully, oh so dreadfully slowly investigated the edge of her panties with his tongue. "Tease," she accused.

"Just appreciatin'. Patience," he scolded gently. He tongued at the piercing in her bellybutton as he finally, moved her panties down and off of her legs. The humid air seemed almost oppressive, like the start of a storm. Anticipation pooled low in her belly. She heard the shift of fabric and when her hands found his shoulders as he knelt before her like a supplicant, there was nothing but the softest cotton there. She let her fingers settle lightly on his shoulders, not to direct, just to connect. To steal a moment. Or a memory.

He settled his hands on her hips, holding firmly, but not enough to bruise. It was a shame that she wouldn't have any marks to remember, remind her, that this was real, not a fantasy. Then, he was kissing a trail down her stomach to her groin, until he paused at her clit. The tiniest scrape of teeth and she shuddered. She wanted more, but she knew that he was hell-bent on making her suffer. She wouldn't beg. That would mean he'd won. Again.

Her fingers tensed and relaxed, crumpling the top of his shirt and probably exacerbating some raveling seams on the poor thing. His tongue was tasting her slit then and she could focus only on that intimacy. His touch was soft, exploring as though he'd forgotten what she tasted like and that shifted like broken glass in her chest. He took his time exploring her body, until she was trembling on the edge of orgasm, before he pulled back and kissed is way up her body, pushing her shirt further up to let him run his thumbs over her nipples through her bra. He kissed her and she tasted herself on his tongue. She shivered overheated and cold at the same time.

"Remy, cher," she said sweetly, "If y' don't fuck me soon, I'm goin' t' strangle y'."

He laughed at her, then, lifted a hand from her sides to unzip his jeans. She reached for his waistband to see if those were as soft as his shirt. They weren't as soft, but she could feel the distress of the fabric near his belt loops and his pockets. She heard the familiar rip of a condom package and relaxed. Her fingers brushed against his balls as he was fitting the condom into place and his breath caught.

Oh, it was like the best wine to have that effect on him still. "Y' want me in y', y' shouldn't tease me so," he whispered as she ran a finger along the underside of his cock.

She huffed out a laugh and leaned back in the chair, waiting for him. He slid in as though his only home were her body and he rocked against her. He buried his face in the crook of her neck, nosing into her hair. She wrapped one arm around his back and let the other bury itself in the hair at the nape of his neck. His ponytail was loose and already falling. She helped it along, wanting to feel that silken weight against her own skin as he rocked gently.

This was the softest, gentlest love-making they tried. They'd had a raft once. Made it themselves out of fallen wood and twine and laughed about fighting the gators off, even as they drifted on the waters of the bayou. The wicker chair under her gave just enough that it was comfortable, and though it creaked alarmingly, it didn't give way under the weight of their coupling.

Slowly, maddeningly, the warm friction built up. She let her head fall aback against the chair and bit her lip to keep from crying out. Polite fictions or not, she didn't want to share him with the eyes of her bodyguards. This was her present, more than whatever frippery he'd stolen for her. This softness was lacking in their world of violence and scars. When she came, she felt him wrap hard around her with his left arm, pulling her tighter against his body. Soon enough, she felt him stiffen and find his own release. They stayed, joined as long as possible, chests breathing in sync.

She wanted it to last forever.

But, eventually, he slid free of her body. He cleaned her up with her panties and guided her back into her shorts. His final kiss felt like a goodbye and he was wrapped up in his trench once more. "Je t'aime," he murmured. Then, he was gone, like a spirit.

She opened her eyes to an empty courtyard. The small package on the table beside her was wrapped in white paper. She opened it with a flick of her knife to reveal a new bead.

And when she had repaired her braids, the one that hung just below her ear and brushed against her shoulder had a new red and black bead woven into it.