A hush had fallen over the assembled group, the low chatter that had filled the dark corners had softened into a pointed silence. The dull rustle of fabric and drag of bottles across wood fell still as gang's attention sharpened upon the broken-voiced girl, and the boy who had seemingly returned from the dead.
The close proximity of the Daima to Colombe obscured most of the grim details from the feral-eyed urchins view. But their ears were sharp to any sounds of pain, or any sudden panicked regret from the stranger. No doubt it had happened before, as the blade had come close, and they were hungry for a death.
The darkly attired leader raised her knife, and the blade drew in close to Colombe's exposed throat. There was no tremble in her hands, but a look in her hurt eyes that suggested some dark thought passed through her mind. That in that moment, the vindictive girl was considering how easy it would be to slice the stranger's life away from her, and in doing so punish Fabien by inflicting a pain that was half equal to what losing them had been.
When the blade finally touched the girl's skin, it made three thin lines from the curve of her shoulder, to above the rise of her collarbone. The urchin leader was practised, and the wounds would no doubt leave a distinct, but not inelegant mark. Each line was no bigger than a pauper's match, and spaced together they were not unlike what prisoners might use to record the passing of days upon a rotted cell wall.
As soon as Daima was satisfied, she began to back slowly away, the tip of her blade darkened with blood, and Fabien advanced in her place. He came with the sound of tearing fabric as he tore a strip of his shirt to press against his friend's shoulder, and soak up the blood that threatened to pour angrily from her cuts. From that point on, the grey-eyed youth would not leave her side.
The group's leader continued to back away, swiping her weapon on her thigh. Her hard, scrutinising gaze was still on Colombe as she gave her final demands.
“Give writing to the fruit-seller girl he was with today. She works for me. One of many.” She paused, and her eyes moved toward Fabien.
“Any news... about Jehan, it is invaluable to me.” Her voice cracked softly with emotion, and the girl shook back the short crop of her hair to regain her composure.
“He said I was a fool for rescuing you. He said you would bring only sadness to us. But it was my mistake to make, and-”
Daima continued to back away into the shadows until she had found the edge of a rotted chair, and folded into it. Victoire came and settled at her side, resting her head upon her leader's knee.
“I am glad you are not dead, Fabien.”
It was impossible to see whether she smiled, but some slow movement of her hand suggested she blew a departing kiss in his direction.
“Leave. Now. I will expect your writing.”
Fabien sought Colombe's hand in the dark, and tugged it gently to encourage their hasty retreat from the squalid rookery. But as he turned to depart, a small hand was upon the hem of his ripped shirt. The pale haired boy turned, his storm cloud eyes pinched with sadness. The boy other hand was outstretched, and a filthy pack of playing cards was held fiercely in his grasp.
“I kept these safe for you, like you asked.” He rasped, his tears cutting rivers through the grime of his cheeks.
“Ah, but they look comfortable in your hands. They fit perfectly.” Fabien whispered, and his hands moved briefly from Colombe. “And if these do not now, they will in time.”
He shrugged out of his finely tailored coat, and removed the soft leather boots that encased his feet. Both items were hastily bundled them into the arms of the thin little boy, whose face suddenly illuminated like a lit match. He nodded through his tears, and held his prizes close to his chest.
“Merci, Daima. Come, ma chérie.” Fabien murmured anxiously.
The pale haired boy once again urged them towards the ragged cloth that served as a door And then beyond that, out into the cold night, and toward what they might have called a home.