Chapter 2 : Le Phare
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Camille & Xavier
Gorgeous CI by heartfelt @TDA
"The mayor," he answers finally. "They want us to kill the mayor."
There is a very pregnant pause, during which the only sound that is heard is the ticking of the clock, and, somewhere in the distance, the dull thud of boots against the pavement. Then Astrid speaks up, her voice slicing through the tension.
"So, your uncle."
"I've never considered him as my uncle," Jean immediately retorts.
"Yes, but he's still related to you by blood."
"Ethically speaking, Jean, we can't…"
"When have ethics ever mattered?"
"This is different."
"It's not different, he's a target like any other!"
"No, he's not!"
"Que tout le monde la ferme!" Camille shouts, raising her voice to stop the argument while such a thing is still possible. The others stop and turn to her, surprised. She isn't the loud one, preferring snide, back-stabbing comments to direct confrontations. Therefore, her outburst has the desired effect. "Jean," she asks more quietly, colour draining from her cheeks as quickly as it has risen, "what are our options?"
"We don't have any," he replies darkly. Taking orders is still something he has trouble with. "Goldberg wants Henri dead as soon as possible, because he has suspicions about the magical world, and we can't afford anyone else knowing."
"I thought your uncle was a Muggle?" A crease appears between Astrid's eyebrows as she tries to put the pieces together.
"He is, but he's known me since I was able to set his eyebrows on fire by reaching in his direction," Jean is already calculating the least dangerous trajectory for this operation – the one that will allow the killer to get away easily. "If he says anything…"
"Our entire existence is compromised," Xavier completes for him. "What do you suggest?"
"Avada Kedavra. Quick, easy, untraceable by Muggles, but we'll need to cover it up. I think Astrid should do it."
A look of intense surprise appears on the Veela's face, rapidly replaced by one of determination. "Where, when, and how do we make it look normal?"
"If his habits are still the same, he walks home from the mairie every evening, through a street that's extremely busy. Camille and Xavier, you two will start pinpointing the area tomorrow."
A groan escapes Camille's lips before she can do anything about it, and she hastily clamps a hand to her mouth. Next to her, Xavier smiles slightly, but his eyes show the same reluctance at the idea of the mission he has just been informed of.
Tomorrow will be a long day.
"Get up, you filthy swine!" A voice roars in German, pulling Simon out of his uncomfortable slumber. "I want you all in the courtyard in five minutes!"
The routine is always the same: all Simon has to do is get out of bed, pull his spoon and bowl from under the jacket he uses as a meagre pillow, put on the jacket, and he is ready.
There is no need to put on his shoes, which he sleeps with to avoid them being stolen.
He stumbles out of the barrack, blinded by the sudden light, but quickly blinks his senses back and regains the neatly ordered columns of prisoners that spread out in front of him.
"Bread was stolen from the kitchens last night," an officer paces back and forth once all the men are lined up under the freezing wind. "Until we find the culprit, you will stand here without moving."
Simon represses a shout of anger. He knows who has stolen the bread, yet he also knows he will not say anything. With time, he has gotten better at this type of exercise, and knows he is capable of staying upright, unmoving, for several hours.
Next to him, people are already starting to shiver: they have not had the time to put their shoes on – perhaps, even, do they not even have shoes anymore.
As the hours continue to tick by excruciatingly slowly, Simon still has not moved. The man on his right, he notices, has not been able to hold himself, and his pants are stained, a wide damp ring spreading on his thigh.
Simon has made himself a promise. Never to be reduced to the state of an animal, incapable of power over his own body. He grits his teeth and continues to stare forward, darkly, directing all of his hatred at the Nazi standing in front of them all, warmly sheltered from the elements with his fur-lined coat.
"I'm not doing this, Jean," Camille repeats for the fourth time. "You know how I feel about Xavier."
"I do, but I don't know why because you won't tell me." The brown-haired man doesn't lose his calm. "Your resentment against Xavier is something none of us understand and I mostly respect that you don't want to work with him, but you two need to cooperate on this one for maximum efficiency because Goldberg wants results and you're our best tactician but Xavier knows the area better. Now, please tell me my speech appeals to the horrendously rational part of you, because otherwise I'm going to have to take the convincing to another level and neither of us are going to like it."
Half-hearted smile. "Oh, fine – but if you choose to make an executive decision like this without me next time things will get ugly. We decide together, remember?" He nods and Camille continues in a softer tone, "How are you holding up? I know it can't be easy but..."
"I don't want to talk about it. As I said earlier, Henri is a target like any other."
"You and I both know that's a far cry from the truth."
"Then you also know why I want to stay as far away from all of this as I can, hence sending you and Xavier to do the recon work..."
"And why you're giving the mission itself to Astrid," Camille murmurs, understanding dawning on her. "Because she's the one who knows the least."
"Precisely. Now, can we please stop talking about this?" His voice is terse, his fingers shaking slightly where they're clenched into fists. He leaves the room as soon as Camille has acknowledged his request with the barest of nods.
"Is he going to be alright?"
"Excuse you, the door was open." The brunette ambles in and drops onto the bed, elbows on her knees and hands framing her face. She's wearing what they've all come to refer as her work outfit, the utterly unpractical cinched velvet dress that reaches slightly below her knees, but her gloves are off (abandoned in the kitchen if Camille has to take a guess) and her hair is down – Johanna at her least alert, a state Camille hasn't seen her in in a while and for which she's willing to overlook the eavesdropping.
"He should be fine, yes."
Johanna rolls her eyes. "Come on, Cam, you've got to give me more than that to work on."
"I'm afraid I can't do that."
"You were a lot more fun before you decided to organise a résistance unit. And a lot more trusting too."
The words sting. "I do trust you and you know it."
"I'm teasing, ice princess – sort of." She catches the indignant look on Camille's face and abruptly changes subject. "So, Xavier, huh?"
That gets Camille to snap her mouth shut. "No, Jo."
"Christ, you're in a delightful mood today. Have you tried talking to him?"
"The same way you told Simon how you felt before he left for Paris, you mean? No, I have not."
"Well, you always claimed to be smarter than me," Johanna tamps down on the pain Camille's words send flaring up, "so you might have."
"Shit, that was out of line, I'm sorry."
"You really aren’t, you meant every word. I don't want to argue with you and I need to head back, so good luck on tomorrow's mission, focus on killing Nazis and not Xavier, and for the love of God heed my advice and talk to him before he's deported as well, yeah?"
The wind is cold, despite the bright sun, and whips at Xavier's face mercilessly. Next to him, he can sense Camille's tense body, holding onto his arm from as far as she can, while still close enough to pass for an enamoured girl, walking around town with her fiancé. In Xavier's right hand is a cane, necessary prop that justifies his presence in Caen instead of in Germany or on the front.
"There he is," Camille murmurs, pointing to a lonely figure a few metres in front of them. Xavier eyes Jean's uncle critically: he is fairly small, almost insignificant with his briefcase and dull brown coat. Getting rid of him should be reasonably easy, Xavier reckons, as no one pays him any notice.
They follow the mayor silently, unseen among all the other passing people who are enjoying the rare sun.
"Patrol," Xavier warns suddenly, "look at me and laugh at something I have just said."
Camille immediately presses her body closer to Xavier's, turns her face to him and lets out a discrete peal of bell-like laughter, while Xavier nods at the passing troop in acknowledgement.
Once the noise of their boots weakens, Camille's face hardens again, and she moves aside slightly.
"I didn't want to be here, I hope you're aware of this fact."
"Neither did I," Xavier replies icily. "Now let's do what we have to do so that we can get this mission done with and it can stay a bad memory."
"Just like everything we've ever had together," Camille snaps, managing to keep a contrasting happy smile plastered on her face.
Xavier stops in his tracks at her comment, staring disbelievingly at her. "You can't say that."
"We've always been happier separately," Camille tugs on his arm and resumes walking. "I can't remember us other than arguing or not speaking to one another."
"What about the time I took you to Le Havre?"
It is Camille's turn to falter, but she shakes her head. "That didn't mean anything."
Le Havre, France, 1937.
Two adolescents on a beach. Her hair is flying around her face, wildly teased by the wind; his dark eyes are twinkling merrily.
"Xavier, stop," she laughs as he grabs her hand and breaks into a run towards the lighthouse towering in the distance.
They stop brutally in front of a weathered old door with its decaying paint peeling of, and Camille looks up in awe, craning her neck toward the skies.
"Are we allowed?"
"Does it matter?"
In response, Camille pushes down the twisted metal handle, making the door creak open. She pulls her wand out of her pocket, mutters 'Lumos' and sweeps the beam of light over the rusty stairs.
"Après vous," Xavier bows formally with amusement, letting Camille pass first.
He does not let go of her hand until they have reached the top. They stand side by side behind the cracked window pane, watching the sun drop down behind the horizon until it is swallowed by the black waters. Camille leans against Xavier's frame, melting into his chest. He surrounds her with his arms, his chin on the top of her head, and she sighs contentedly.
"Je t'aime," she whispers into the air, her eyes half-closed.
Xavier kisses the top of her head. "Moi aussi."
"If my mother finds out I'm here instead of at Johanna's, she'll kill me."
"Why would she find out? Johanna won't say anything and no one else knows we're here."
"Mmhm. It's still inappropriate," Camille shrugs, unconvinced.
Xavier kisses her hair again. "No one knows we're here, and there's no reason for them to ever find out."
Camille beams and turns around, knotting her hands together behind Xavier's neck. She moves in slowly, closing the distance between them, and presses her lips to his. Xavier smiles against her mouth, darting his tongue against her bottom lip.
"Completely inappropriate," Camille whispers, laughter dancing in her eyes, before kissing him again. When he pulls away, she startles at the intensity with which he stares at her. "What?"
"I'm hopelessly in love with you, Camille Faure, and I think you should marry me."
Simon glances over his shoulder anxiously. Left, right, nothing in sight – his barrack companions were not lying about this zone being unguarded. He creeps up to the barbed fence and peers into the women's camp, observing the still area with a wary eye.
If his calculations are exact, the door he spots just across from him leads to the latrines, and he is precisely within earshot of anyone coming out.
Simon does not have to wait very long. Two thin, wispy silhouettes – far too skinny for a fifteen-year old and a thirteen-year old – have just made their way out the door, black fuzz scattered over their heads.
"Esther!" Simon calls quietly. "Sarah!"
They look up with worry, but the expression is soon replaced by one of joy as they recognise their brother despite his hollow cheeks, shaved head and stubbly jaw.
Simon thrusts his hands through the holes between the wire, and his sisters clutch them with all their might, expressing all their fears through this limited contact. A barb catches on the skin of his wrist but it matters not, better him than them, always.
"Are you all right?" Simon questions.
"We've seen better, certainly," Sarah attempts a feeble smile. "But we manage to eat every day and we have each other."
"What do you mean, manage to eat every day?"
"Some of the girls with us don't get their ration all the time," Esther explains in hushed tones, "because our Kapo doesn't give it to them. Apparently, they are unworthy of it."
"Why are these girls there?"
"I don't know. They have a black triangle."
Simon breathes with relief. There are no chances of Esther and Sarah ending up with one of those, which means that they will continue to benefit of the minimum they are granted.
"Listen, we haven't got much time. I'll try to be here once a week if I can. Never come close to the fence if I haven't called you, and don't talk to anyone about this. Okay?"
They nod, and Simon brushes away a tiny tear that has just appeared at the corner of Sarah's eye.
"Be strong, both of you," he advises. "I'm still trying to get us out."
With a few last murmured words, the Ziegler siblings part ways. Simon watches Esther's arm slung across Sarah's shoulders, their heads leaning together for small comfort as they walk away, and he cannot help but fear that they will not meet again.
"Change of plans," Jean announces. They are all sitting around the table, a map of the streets of Caen lying in front of them. It is covered in red scrawl, arrows, annotations, comments about Jean's uncle's habits scribbled into the margin.
"Again?" Johanna rolls her eyes. They've been trying to put together a fool-proof plan for what feels like ages, plan that she has to catch up on at night because she, unlike others who only spend their days merrily murdering the occupant, has a day job and a side activity that consists of poking into other people's brains. She downplays how exhausting it is to sift through memories that are not your own, how emotionally trying it is to feel emotions that belong to others and how much harder it is to fight someone when you realise that they're the same as you are. So she continues to be big-mouthed and big-breasted Johanna, being loud and brash and inappropriate to Camille and Jean's necessity to think and rethink and over-think every little detail of everything. It may be what keeps the little group alive, but some days Johanna isn’t sure she's going to be able to live with herself after what she's doing.
Jean and Camille ignore her comment – those two, honestly, they never squabble in front of the others and the united front they present is irritating – though the latter looks like she agrees with Johanna's input. Hah!
Astrid sighs, and places her hand on Jean's, that has begun to inch towards his wand. It's a nervous tick of his, always has been. "Enough. You keep changing your mind about this mission, are you still sure it's a good idea?"
"Of course I'm sure," Jean bristles. However, Astrid's touch seems to have had its effect. "Anyway, as I was saying, there has been a change of plans." He turns to Astrid only. "You will not be using Avada Kedavra as we had decided originally."
"Then what? Will she shoot him down in the middle of the street?" Xavier asks. "That does not seem like the most discrete option."
"No, much simpler than that." Jean extracts a small vial full of clear liquid from his coat pocket. "We're going to be using Veneno Sanguis."
"Veneno Sanguis," Camille explains to the other three, "poisons the body from the outside. It progressively destroys the layers of skin, leaving only the first one untouched."
Astrid looks horrified. "You mean it only leaves a skin envelope?"
"Exactly, the inside of the body is dissolved."
"And you want me to carry this around? What if the vial breaks in my pocket?"
"It won't do anything to you," Jean reassures her. "What is specific about this potion is the fact that you can add a person's blood into it, thus making the potion murderous for only one person."
"And you mean to tell me you walk around with stocks of your uncle's blood?" Johanna demands sharply.
"I attempted to stab him once when I was sixteen, and scraped his arm," Jean replies calmly. "The blood caked onto the knife, and we scraped it off the blade."
Jean's words don't surprise Johanna that much – she knows that Jean's uncle belongs to a shadowy part of his past, a part nobody asks about because it makes him shut down and erect walls that everyone has worked painstakingly past. What does surprise her, however, is Camille's look of fierce protectiveness, because once upon a time, Johanna could read her best friend like an open book, but right now she has no idea where that look is coming from.
Lord this chapter was a monster to edit. I'm rewriting the characters and their relationships and it's an absolute mess to have to go through everything I'd written beforehand, so yes. Um. I apologise to anyone who read this story the first time around (if any of you are reading this now) for how long it's taking me to edit, let alone post new chapters, but if you stuck around, kudos to you, you're awesome! Historical explanations and tidbits can be found in the original A/N right below, feel free to ask for specifications (also I originally wrote the dialogue between Simon and his sisters as referring to a pink triangle, not a black one, which explains all the rambling about colours below).
Shutting up now because I have no idea whether any of my blabbing makes sense, please leave a review?
Original A/N: Hello dear readers! First of all, I'd like to thank you for the amazing feedback I've had on chapter one. Seriously, you're the best.
So. What did you think of this chapter? Did it satisfy your expectations? Again, I repeat, if there's anything that seems off, go ahead and nitpick, it's what allows me to improve!
The pink triangle is what made homosexuals distinct from other prisoners in concentration camps. Red triangles were for political prisoners; green for criminals; black for antisocials; brown for Romani people; purple for Jehovah witnesses; and the yellow star for jews. These were sown onto prisoners' uniforms.
EDIT: I was told recently that gay women did not, in fact, wear the pink triangle. After some deeper research, I discovered that lesbians were not deported solely for their sexual preferences due to deeper sociological motivations that will make this A/N even longer than it already is, hence why they were not set apart with the pink triangle. Instead, they wore the black one of the antisocials (which comprised also the long-time unemployed, alcoholics, drug addicts, the mentally handicapped, prostitutes, and women who used contraception).
The Kapo was a prisoner (generally a green triangle) in charge of other prisoners, and this system is also referred to as 'prisoner self-administration'. They were known to be brutal, this violence completely accepted by the Nazi system, for whom it reduced the number of SS personnel.Kapos wwere spared hard labour and physical abuse; they had access to certain privileges such as civilian clothes and individual rooms; and, sometimes, a reduced sentence. If a Kapo did not do his job properly, he went back to the status of 'normal' prisoner, and was subject to other Kapos.
For several camp survivors, Kapos are described as having been chosen because the only thing that mattered was their personal survival, whereas political prisoners, most of them communists, would have put the group's well-being forward instead of the individual's. I'm not quite sure how valid or biased this explanation is, but I felt like a bit of background information couldn't hurt.
Le Phare. The Lighthouse.
Que tout le monde la ferme! Everybody shut up!
Après vous. After you.
Je t'aime. I love you.
Moi aussi. Me too.
Veneno Sanguis. Poisoned Blood.
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