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Jacob's Ladder is a short story written about how Nicole Sonatta met Descole in the first place, and how she adopted her persona. It takes place shortly before the events of Last Specter.
Part One -- "The Deal"Edit
It had been about a year since that day, which was probably cause for my paranoia--I was extremely on edge and alert, and I had a good reason to be.
I hadn't been burned like some other agents had--no one had found out about me. Well, I take that back. Some one did, because they caused the 'incident' --which horrified me to even say its proper name out loud--but it wasn't my fault.
I decided to get some fresh air to calm myself down, though walking in the dark, deserted streets of London at midnight wasn't probably one of my best ideas. After walking quite some distance, I sat down on a bench and looked around.
There was literally no one out there. No cars, no people. Silence. Except for, of course, the black two-horse drawn carriage, which was just ever-so suspicious at this time of night. But no, I was too absorbed in my own issues and the view of the lifeless city to even notice it approaching me. A masked man emerged from the chariot and grabbed me from behind, but not like a typical assailant would. The caress of his hands was light and soft, so I knew he wanted me alive.
He practically carried me into the carriage, which was a bit smaller than I had anticipated. I had no choice but to sit uncomfortably close to the man.
"Wh-who are you?" I asked fearfully.
He hushed me. "Everything's going to be alright."
"Yeah, I don't think so, buddy!" I snapped. "I'm not sure I trust you."
He chuckled. "A lot of people say that."
Forced to be taken against my will, I decided I would size up my competition. I had been trained to analyze simple behaviours, and take their meanings into account.
He didn't want to force me into the carriage, therefore he's not going to torture me. At least, not for now. He didn't try to physically soothe me when he saw my discomfort, only verbally. And he's trying very hard to be nice to me, for reasons unknown. What in the world is he up to? All these things I could tell from spending only a few moments with him. I silently thanked my trainers for my skill.
After a moment of sitting in silence, I asked, "So, are you ever going to tell me who you are? Or why you've taken me? Or where we're going?"
He smiled. "I admire your curiosity. All your questions will be answered at my mansion."
I don't know who this guy is, I thought, but I think I like him.
"Is there anything I can get you, Miss?" asked the chauffer of the carriage.
I was a bit surprised by his offer. "Oh, uh, no thank you."
Good God, don't call me 'Miss', I thought. At least show some respect and say 'Soldier' or something.
"Please, make yourself comfortable." The man with the feather-boa gestured gracefully toward a chair in what I assumed was his office.
I seated myself apprehensively. "I'm your captive audience now, so you might as well tell me everything."
"Of course. I am Jean Descole, and I have chosen you, Nicole, because you may prove helpful to me."
"Now, hold up for a second!" I said. "First of all, how do you know my name? No one's supposed to know who I am. And second of all, how in the world am I going to help you?"
"It's amazing what information I can obtain in my position," he said. "Furthermore, you display extensive knowledge in artillery, martial arts, espionage, and the like, all of which will benefit me greatly."
"So...you brought me here, just so I could teach you what I know?" I asked. "What's in it for me?"
"A monthly paycheck, and of course room and board is included."
"Well, I appreciate the offer, but isn't there a catch?" I asked. "A loophole, a trick, or something I should know about?"
"No. It's as simple as that," he said. "However, you'll also receive protection, just to make sure your little accident doesn't happen again."
I gasped and found that I couldn't look at him as I put my hand over my now-healed wound, my eyes finding the floor. "You really aren't supposed to know about that..."
"Let's just say I heard about it through the grapevine, but my lips are sealed," he promised. "So, do we have a deal?"
After some thought, I said, "Well, if I get to live here, and you won't kill me or anything, then...ah, why not? Yes, it's a deal."
He nodded. "Good. Raymond?"
"Prepare sleeping arrangements for the lady tonight."
"Of course, Master."
After his servant left, I asked, "So, we shall start tomorrow, then?"
"Correct. If you have any questions, I have no doubt you won't hesitate to ask."
"...So, how should I address you?" I asked.
" 'Jean' will be fine."
I had instantly warmed up to the idea of this (living with a proposed criminal and all), and so that morning, I got up and--like a typical kid would do--slid down the banister of the grand staircase.
I laughed. "I haven't done that since I was a girl!"
Jean seemed not to take notice of my immaturity. After breakfast, I asked, "So what's on the agenda today?"
"You'll have to wait and see," he said, leading me to the courtyard in the backyard outside.
Set up was a table on which weaponry of all kinds sat.
"Jeez, you've got a small arsonal here!" I said.
"None of these guns are loaded," he said, "but they're not here for you to play with, I'm afraid. You have a job to do."
I nodded. "Alright, then let's start with this one." I picked up a steel blade. "Your common double-edged sword, as I'm sure your familiar with. Mainly for use in close combat sword-fighting. Try not to stab anyone with it."
"Oh, what a lovely surprise!" I chirped, lifting a bow and single arrow up. "My personal classic weapon of choice. If the arrows are sharp, and you aim in just the right spot, then you could easily kill someone with this."
He nodded. "When did you learn how to shoot?"
"I used to go hunting with my father when I was young, and he tought me. First with a bow, then with a gun." I aimed at a thin tree branch quite a distance away and shot, severed it off and watched it plummet to the ground.
"You're quite the sharp-shooter, aren't you?" he asked.
"Quite literally. And yeah, I could kill you right now if I wanted to. But I won't, of course." I added quickly.
And on I went down the line, explaining guns and swords and daggers, as well as admitting I had never seen some before.
"This one's a Glock .22 caliber, American made. The kickback isn't that bad as long as you're using the right stance," I explained. "And if you're a bad shot, then you'll probably run out of bullets quickly."
Yeah, like you'd ever handle a gun, I doubted.
"Lastly we have a...hey, where'd you get this?" I asked. It was a sniper rifle. "I know that they're used mostly for long-distance shots, from eerie personal experience."
"Did you know this one is special?" he asked.
"Uh, no, I didn't. Why?"
"It's the same type that was used against you."
I backed away from the table. I felt like running back into the house and hiding, but I knew he would never forgive me for that.
He acknowledged my fear and said, "It's alright. I'm not going to use it. No one is. I assure you of that."
"Promises are meant to be broken," I said, retreating even more.
He came from around the table and put both hands on my shoulders. "No one is going to hurt you. Trust me on that."
Over the course of the next several weeks, I had almost completely forgotten about the little trick Jean had played on me--though it wasn't necessarily a trick, only an effort to help me overcome my fears. I had finished teaching him some of the more complicated maneuvers in all areas he asked me to.
I have to admit that by this time, I was falling for him. It's inevitable when you're living that close to someone, once you get over the slight akwardness. Little did I know, he loved me too, he just hadn't told me yet.
Then, payday came for the first month.
"Here," said Jean, handing me an envelope. The sum of money was quite handsome, I'll say.
"Thank you, but I simply can't accept this," I refused, handing it back. "I don't need it. Room and board should suffice."
He sighed, as if he wanted me to take my pay. "If that is what you wish, then so be it."
Later that evening, Jean requested me in his office.
"What do you need?" I asked, sitting down across from him.
"You are becoming even more an asset to me," he said.
"I'm helpful? Really?"
"Quite. I have decided to promote you to a higher position."
"So, what'll I be doing now?" I asked.
"You'll be helping me mainly with some of my bigger, more time-consuming projects, even designing and engineering and such. You'll act as my assistant, more or less."
"Will any of these get us--I mean, me, in trouble?" I asked.
He seemed like he didn't want to admit it. "They are all somewhat illegal, but the trick is not to get caught. To do that, you'll have to adopt a persona, as I have. I'll leave it up to you to design."
I had no problem with that, and presented my fully-functional and practical idea to Jean within just a few days.
"Here's what I've been thinking--" I began. "My cover name would be 'Jeanne Descole', and I would be your pretend fiancée. That would explain my presence nicely. Of course, we'd just have to look the part; we wouldn't really have to be engaged or anything..."
"Interesting," said Jean. "What do you have in the way of appearance?"
"Oh, I was going to dye my hair or wear a hair piece or something, and have a mask kind of like yours. I 'd also wear my old Navy uniform--I'm sure it'll still fit."
He sat back and pondered what I had just told him. "I believe that could work."
Part Two -- "The Confession"Edit
"So, what do you think?" I asked a few weeks later, showing off my donned guise in the full-length mirror. "Too... risqué?"
He opened his mouth, probably to say something witty, but I cut him off. "Don't answer that."
I could tell he liked my new look, but maybe a little more than he wanted to let on. I tried so hard to refrain from saying something inappropriate, like the classic, "My eyes are up here."
"I think you look stunning. You're completely unrecognizeable."
"Are you sure?" I said, smoothing out the creases in my sleeve. I looked down at my waist. Hmph. I don't remember my hips being that...wide....Must be the uniform. "I just don't want to come across wrong."
"Absolutely. No one will know it's you."
"Good," I said, "because my uniform's tighter than I remember. I like my red hair, though."
He smiled. "Now, onto your faux personality, only because your disguise isn't as complex as mine," he said. I wasn't about to ask him how it worked. "You need something that counteracts your true self."
"So...you want me to act like a total bi-otch with PMS?"
He laughed. I don't think he was supposed to. "If that's what you want to act like, then go right ahead."
"Oh, well, of course I wouldn't treat you that way." I winked.
"Chardonnay, or are you more of a champagne girl?" he asked, finishing preparing the table, though I figured Raymond would've done that.
"Uck, neither. Spare me, and dear God, make it a bottle of beer, I beg of you." There was just some slight hesitation, for I hadn't drank since who-knows-when.
So much for my sobriety, I thought.
"You don't drink Dom Pérignon, either?"
"It's an acquired taste," I said, "but I can handle tequila pretty well, though."
He seemed quite astonished at my taste in alcohol, giving way a little to my tom-boyish personality.
"Yes, you heard me right. I can shoot pretty much anything. Now hand me over a Carling before I slap you."
Needless to say, I got what I ordered.
"Can I ask you something?" I asked, once I had seated myself across from him at the dining table.
"Why did you really bring me here?"
"I told you why."
"But isn't there always an ulterior motive?" I asked. "And am I the first woman to be in this specific position?"
"Yes and no."
"Why do you have to be split on your answer!"
"I wasn't. Those were my respective answers."
"Oh," I said. "Wait, did you just say that I'm not the only one? Who was she? Wife? Girlfriend?!"
"Your curiosity may get you into trouble this time," he said impatiently.
"Do I look like I care? Just tell me!"
"Later. I'll tell you later."
"Yeah, that's code for: Never. I'll tell you never."
I thought I saw him grin at my grammatical inaccuracy. We ate in silence before I spoke up again. "Here's a stupid question."
"Do I... irritate you?"
"Do you what?"
"Well, I just thought I might get on your nerves because I talk so much," I said.
"You must be insane," he said. "I never thought that. Truthfully, I..."
I knew what he was going to say, even before he said it. "Aww, you have a little crush on me, now don't you?"
He looked embarrassed. "I wouldn't call it that..."
I jumped up from my chair and pointed at him. "I KNEW IT! Me and Raymond were takin' bets on when you'd finally 'fess up!"
He looked at the old man who had just entered the dining hall. "Is this true?"
I couldn't contain my laughter. "Nah, I'm just messin' with you," I said. "I wish we would have, though-- I would've won!"
Apparently, my laughter was contagious, but after we brought ourselves to our senses, Jean said, "Well, you know it's no surprise."
That much was true. Nearly every day since I had even got to where I am now, he'd always send some kind of sign of his affection, which I thought was really sweet of him. Usually, it wasn't much--a glance, a quick smile, the classic "whoops-I-didn't-mean-to-brush-against-you-on-purpose-but-secretly-I-did" maneuver.
I had always accepted his hospitality, I just thought he was being extremely nice to me, which went against all theories and stories I had heard about him. And over time, his 'signs' became more apparent, and I started reciprocating them. Nevertheless, I found myself feeling seventeen again, with the giddy feeling and the butterflies that we all felt and went through in high school.
I giggled. "I know, I just didn't think you'd ever admit it."
I found Jean reading in the den after dinner, though no lights were on except the glow from the fireplace.
Good God, that's got to be terrible for his vision... I thought.
Waiting for him to say something, I plopped down on the sofa next to him.
"...Are we...you know--? I mean, do you think we're-- oh, how do I ask this?" I questioned myself out loud. For the first time in my entire life, the words of a simple question eluded me. "You know what I'm trying to say, don't you?"
He suddenly seemed uninterested in his reading material. Closing his book and setting it aside, he tucked my golden locks that had fallen out of place behind my left ear, for I wasn't wearing my disguise anymore, and leaned closer.
Now, I'd hate to brag, but he's a damn good kisser. There's no doubt he's long since perfected that art.
Pulling away, I murmured, "I'll take that as a 'yes.' " I curled up close to him, tucking my feet up on the couch, and laid my head on his shoulder. The faint scent of his cologne lingered as he put his arm around me and ran his fingers through my hair.
We just sat there, watching the orange haze of the fire in silence.
"You do realise what you've gotten yourself into, don't you?" He seemed to be blankly asking the fire before turning to me and continuing. "You won't be able to do everything you once had. You can't be seen in public unless I specifically instruct you to do so."
"I know. They're tough restrictions to cope with, but I'm willing to learn," I said in a voice I had never heard in over a year. It sounded too professional to fit me. The old me, making a reappearance. "And forgive me if I seem...immature at times. I'm a bit rough around the edges. It's how I was raised."
"It's alright," he said. "But you also need to swear to me that you'll keep my identity private, and I'll return the favour."
"I'm sworn to secrecy, but since we're on the track of promises, I need something from you, too."
"Promise me you'll never leave me, and...and that we'll take this slow."
"That is one I'm sure to never break," he vowed, kissing my forehead gently, yet lovingly.
Raymond had come in through the door behind us, probably wanting to check in on us or something, and when he saw this, back-tracked without a word, thankfully, out of sake of privacy.
It was so comfortable sitting there, and it was getting late, so I decided to close my eyes for just a moment. But the next thing I knew, it was apparently really early in the morning. I had woken up, but Jean was still asleep.
"Hey, wake up. Wake up," I said, shaking him slightly. "We fell asleep."
He smiled groggily. "Sorry," he mumbled.
"It's fine, dear." I poked him where I had been laying. "But your arm probably went to sleep."
Part Three -- "The Sweet Mistake"Edit
"Um, Jean? Can I ask you something?" It had been only a week since that little episode in the den.
"Aren't you already asking me something?" he countered.
I laughed half-heartedly. "Funny. But, uh, my sheets are in the laundry and they won't be dry 'til tomorrow."
He stared blankly at me. "Your point is...?"
"Well, I've got two choices: I could either A) sleep in the other guest room all the way across the house. You know, all alone. Or B) Sleep...with...uh...you." I said. "Oh, you don't have to if you don't want to, I understand," I added quickly.
"No, it's fine. You can," he answered quietly.
That came as quite a shock to me. "What? Oh, um, alright. Thank you, I suppose."
The only thing I shouldn't have done was let him drink so much before bed, let alone myself.
"Thanks for letting me sleep here tonight." I yawned sleepily. I saw him standing in the doorway, yawning inadvertantly because I had, and tried to just look at his face. "Woah, you look different. You know, not being your usual self and all."
"Oh, you've never seen me as my 'usual self,' " he said, climbing into bed next to me.
"That's okay. I'll probably forget who you are in the morning, anyway." I laughed and turned out the light. "G'night."
I just laid there on my back, staring at the ceiling, waiting for my eyelids to close, when he leaned over and kissed me. For a really long time. To the point I probably would've suffocated if we had gone on. But I didn't care.
And when I say 'leaned over', I mean, 'climbed on top of me'. My cheeks burned, and I really hoped he couldn't see me blushing cherry-red.
I wanted him. He obviously wanted me. This can't possibly end well, I thought.
I imagined we were on the same wave-length. "Are you truly thinking what I'm thinking?" I asked, still trying to regain my breath. He rested his forehead against mine.
"I'm certain of it," he breathed. After tossing literally all the bedding aside, he kissed my neck, as if he couldn't wait any longer.
I gasped with delight. Why would I want this to stop? I mean, it already felt good and long-deserved--his soft, velvety hands all over me. But I still couldn't stop my mouth from saying, "But wait."
Shut up, Nicole! Just let him do what he wants and enjoy it! You're gonna screw everything up! Do you really want that?
No. No I don't.
"Wouldn't the world end if we did?" my mouth continued quietly. "I mean, it could be a huge mistake."
He paused from the task at hand and looked at me with eyebrows raised, as if he wanted me to shut up, too. He whispered, "I think the world would end if we didn't."
He was so very right. And that was easily the best mistake I've made in years.
I wasn't sure what I felt when I woke up the next morning. Confusion, for one, because I had no idea what had happened. The room seemed to be tilting forward and spinning in slow circles, and I felt sick to my stomach. I squeezed my eyes shut tightly to block out the world and get a grip on things.
I'm definitely hungover, I thought. That much I know is true.
I took a deep breath and opened one eye, glad to find that the room had stopped moving. My judgement was still foggy, but I knew I hadn't slept in my own bed. Vague memories of the awkward conversation that got me in here swam through my thoughts.
Sheets. Laundry. Intoxicated. Heavily. . . . Do I regret it? Why should I? What happened last night that I'm not aware of now?
The ten o'clock sun glared at me through the window panes, and that only made my headache worse. I sat up and almost got out of bed to draw the curtains closed, when the fabric around me slipped, exposing a bit more flesh than I wanted to, and it finally clicked.
I frantically pulled the silk up over me again. Letting out a sigh of agitation, I flopped back on my pillow.
So that's what happened, I thought.
And if I was feeling this crappy, he couldn't be much better off.
Where is he, anyway? I looked to my left, and found that he wasn't there, much to my dismay. A pang of something hit me like a lead brick in the chest, and I knew exactly what it was, the minute I felt it.
If I hadn't been so out of it, I would've argued with myself whether this was heart-warming or aggravating.
I didn't know why, but I wanted him there next to me. To lay there and just soak in his warmth with his arms wrapped around me. I needed him. I missed him. Genuinely. Does that mean I love him? I wondered.
Who am I kidding? He most likely doesn't even care what I think, I thought dismissively. This simple phrase made me feel used. Vulnerable, weak, cheap, easy. This felt all too much like a one-night-stand to me, and I didn't like it. Didn't want to even think about it.
Is this is what it's like to come down from a high? I asked. Of course it was metaphorical.
What I wanted was to sleep in. Avoid seeing him. Pull the covers over my head and drift out of consciousness and into oblivion. I wasn't quite lethargic, but I was certainly feeling lazy.
Keeping a sheet wrapped tightly around me, I forced myself over to the dresser and stared, perplexed at the sight of my own neatly-folded uniform.
Oh, I realised, I'm not Nicole. My name's Jeanne.
I overheard Raymond and Jean talking after I had finally gotten up and around. I hid just out of sight on the stairs and eavesdropped, trying to figure out how he felt about it.
"How did you sleep, Master?"
"Hardly at all."
I bit my lip to keep from laughing.
"Why is that?"
There was a long pause, and then Jean blurted out, "Nicole and I had sex last night."
I peeked around the corner to see Raymond, shooting a look as if he were to say, What the hell have you gotten yourself into? My teeth dug into my lip with such force that I tasted a drop of blood, and clamped my hands over my mouth.
"What were you thinking, Master?" asked Raymond. "It was definitely uncalled for."
"I really don't know what came over me. And I must have been absolutely wasted, because I remember waking up with a headache and a sense of nausea."
I couldn't take it anymore. Bounding down the stairs, I said, "That's what happens when you're drunk and left in a room alone with me, dear." I poured myself a cup of coffee.
"So much for taking things slow," he said, coolly picking up his newspaper to read.
"I like it better this way." I casually sipped my scalding cup of liquid caffeine. We acted like we didn't even know Raymond was there.
"So do I," he told me.
I leaned over and whispered in his ear, "Next time, we'll both have to try not to drink so much."
He grinned. "Next time...?"
I nodded, and picked up my coffee again.
I'm pretty sure he doesn't regret it, I thought, and left the room with a sly smile on my face.
And from then on, he'd always be lying next to me when I would wake up. And I was glad for that.
Later that day, he called for my assistance. "Care to help me?"
"Isn't that what I'm here for?" I said. "Whaddaya need?"
"I can't seem to figure out how to join several of these machines--they're massive escavators, truth be told--into one 'master' contraption," he said, pointing to the well-illustrated sketches.
I stared blankly at the drawings before asking, "These are going to move independently from each other, right?"
"Ok, so you press a button or flip a switch or something, and then they all start heading towards a given point, or escavator, in this case," I said. "Then, their digging appendages retract, and then they attach to that given point. You'd probably just want to use electromagnets. Strong and they won't let go."
"Ah, I hadn't thought about that," he said. "Thank you."
"Don't mention it. Everybody has a creativity block now and then," I said. "Glad to help."
Then, a few months later, I helped him design this gigantic castle that turned into a massive structure he called the "Detra-Giganto." What he planned to do with it, I wasn't sure at the time, but it obviously had to be built on site, on this beautiful little island.
And that's how it went for the next year. Everything was going fine and well--Jean and I were obviously closer than ever--until of course, Jean didn't come home one day when he said he would.
He and Raymond went out to God knows where, and Jean told me they'd be back in about two or three days. I had assumed it was about those Aslant things--he had tried to explain them to me, but no matter how hard he tried, I still couldn't manage to comprehend it.
I waited as the days passed with no sign of either of them.
He's fine. They're both fine. They're probably on their way home right now, I told myself over and over, though I couldn't surpress my doubt.
After almost five days, both came through the door at about four in the morning. I had been waiting for them all night--when I'm nervous, I can't sleep--and when I saw Jean, I jumped up and hugged him.
"You had me worried sick! Where were you? And where the hell is your mask?!"
He groaned in pain, causing me to let go immediately.
"Master was involved in an altercation with Reinel," said Raymond, speaking for him. "Reinel tried to reveal Master's identity."
"What did I tell you about this?" I said. "Did he discover who you are?"
"No, but he kneed me in the ribcage."
"Oh! Here," I said, leading him to a chair, "sit down. Deserée!"
The thin, dark-skinned girl came quickly to my call. "Yes, Soldier?"
"Can you get him some aspirin or something?" I asked. With a curt nod, she left and quickly returned with a small white bottle. "Thanks."
As I handed him the painkillers--I had guessed that at least one of his ribs was bruised, if not broken, and this was probably true--and a glass of water, I said that I did some research on Targent whilst they were gone.
"Did you find anything?" he asked, gulping down the pills.
"Well...I think Reinel did have something to do with my incident."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" He grimaced as he readjusted his position.
"I don't have any concrete evidence, but I'll work towards finding some," I said. "You're still going to be sore for a few days, so you're going to take it easy, you hear?"
About a little more than four years--yes, four Godforsaken years--after I had first been taken away by Jean, he popped the question. The honest-to-goodness question, to which I obviously said 'yes'. Unfortunately, Raymond and I didn't take bets on that, either, but now Jean and I were actually engaged. Although we had decided we were just going to sign some papers, we didn't have to pretend, anymore. And I was glad that he had finally made a move.
And now we're up to almost-current time. I'll be sure to be taking care of Detective Earnhardt, sooner rather than later.
Special thanks to:
- SophiaDescole13 and her story, Long Lost,
- DoubleChocoholic and her short-story on her blog at the Layton Wiki, Run Away,
- My favourite TV show, Castle,
- And my own sick mind,