The wind howled, rattling the shutters to Jules’ garret window. Somewhere below in one of the other rented rooms, a baby started crying, howling in response to the wind that spooked her. He looked up from the paper on which he scribbled hurriedly—a paper for class, for once; he’d woefully neglected his studies of late, and his parents would not be pleased with him if he failed—and wrapped his coat closer around him. He hoped the shutter would hold closed. It didn’t provide much protection against the draft from the poorly-constructed window, but it helped a little, and he was tired of getting up to fix it.
The room was dim, dirty, and sullen. Jules sighed and went back to his work.
Ten minutes later, there was a thunderous crash against his door, uniformed men swooped into his room, the baby downstairs howled even louder, Jules shouted and demanded to know what the hell was going on. And then somebody plunged a needle into his skin, something cold entered his bloodstream, and Jules Verne knew no more for a long time.
“Fancy meeting you here.”
Jules looked up but did not move from the cold stone floor on which he sat. “It’s not that unusual,” he said tiredly. “You’ve been here off and on all week, Fogg.”
“Oh?” The Englishman quirked an eyebrow and glanced back at his cousin. Rebecca stood in the cell doorway, looking outward, a pistol in either hand. She wore her leather catsuit. She glanced back into the cell once, as if feeling Fogg’s gaze. She looked worried.
“Yes,” Jules said to Fogg. “All week, right here, with me. You’ve said some very unkind things, by the way. I really don’t appreciate it.”
Fogg blinked. “Yes, well, I can be a trifle blunt on occasion, I suppose,” he reflected.
“Phileas,” Rebecca said in a low voice. “Much as I’m sure you’re both enjoying your little chat, I rather think it would be a good idea to keep moving before they discover us.”
“Quite right, Rebecca.” Fogg bent over and bodily pulled the slight Frenchman upright. Jules did little either to help or hinder; he remained upright of his own volition but did not move or take any particular interest in the cousins. Fogg frowned. “Verne, we need to go.”
“Where is there to go?” Jules still sounded tired and a little disinterested. “I’ve tried already, Fogg. There is nowhere to go. Nowhere…”
Rebecca shoved her pistols into her cousin’s hands. “Watch,” she snapped at him and maneuvered around him to put her arm around Jules’ shoulders. Fogg obliged her by taking her place as sentry in the cell door. “Jules,” she said quietly, “I’m sorry we didn’t get to you sooner, but you have to believe me, it really is us. Not some drug-induced figment of your imagination. And we are here to rescue you and pull you out of this mess. But you have to help us, Jules, you have to work with us. Alright?”
Jules pulled away from her slightly, a tiny frown drifting across his face. “You’re not going to tell me I’m useless again, are you?”
“I never told you that.” She put both her hands on his face, framing it. “Whatever you think I said, Jules, you know in your heart it wasn’t me. Jules, please, Jules, this is really me and I am begging you to leave here with us!”
Jules sighed. “Alright, Rebecca,” he said, sounding weary. “If you insist.”
“This way.” Fogg led them out of the cell and down the corridor of the ancient, near-ruined Alpine castle the cousins had tracked the League down to, with their prisoner. Somebody caught sight of them, of course, but Fogg snapped his neck before he could cry out. They ran across a patrol of two guards soon after that, but Rebecca let go of Jules and took care of them with almost as much speed as Fogg had handled the one man, a beautiful whirlwind of kicks and punches and red hair. Jules frowned a little as he watched her.
“It really is you,” he said, the faintest hint of wonder in his voice. “Only Rebecca fights like that—god, you scare me sometimes, Rebecca,” he added and then clamped his mouth shut. “I wasn’t going to tell you that.”
Something flickered across Rebecca’s face, a sort of grief mixed with affection and laughter, and she kicked the already-unconscious man lying at her feet. “That’s alright, Jules,” she said lightly, “I won’t tell anyone you said any such thing.”
“Thanks.” Jules’ voice cracked a little; he staggered and held a hand out against the wall to support himself. Fogg caught him up before he could slide downward. The Englishman looked across the corridor to his cousin; she looked as worried as he felt. There was a look dawning on Verne’s face, slowly, replacing the exhaustion and apathy. It was fear. “Can we go now please?”
Rebecca started to reach out, as if she would have taken Jules’ hand. But she stopped herself, schooled her features, turned away to stride down the corridor again. “Of course,” she said. “Let’s go home, Jules. Let’s go home.”
Passepartout waited for them outside the castle with a large coach. “But where—?” Jules murmured, sagging now, and Passepartout hurried forward to take the other Frenchman off his master’s hands, so Fogg could bring out the pistols again to guard their escape. Rebecca already had her own pistols out and ready, standing on the other side of the coach to watch.
“Aurora not far, Master Jules,” Passepartout assured him as he pulled Jules into the coach. “Wanting discrepancy, us.”
“Discretion,” Fogg snapped. “Hurry up, Passepartout, we haven’t time to dawdle.”
“Hurrying, master,” Passepartout said, tucking Jules into the seat with a heavy blanket all around him. “Ready, master!” he added, and Fogg and Rebecca both jumped into the coach even as it pulled away from the castle. More guards streamed out of the gate through which they’d just escaped; apparently the bodies had been found, or the emptied cell discovered. Rebecca and Phileas fired their weapons. Passepartout pulled a very large gun—or a very small canon; it was all a matter of perspective—out from under one of the seats and also took up position to fire.
Jules huddled in his corner and stared at nothing.
“This has to stop,” Fogg was hissing when Jules woke up. It could have been hours or days later for all Jules knew; but he did know they were on the Aurora, in one of the bedrooms.
“What exactly can we do?” Rebecca whispered back.
“We have to—we have to do something, Rebecca.” Phileas sounded as if he were pacing. “This has gone on long enough.”
“Would you have us leave him in Paris?” A swish of skirts; she was back in her camouflage, then, of being a properly brought up English lady. “Would you have his memory of our time together wiped completely? It would be the only thing that would stop him from tracking us down, you know, and demanding to know why we don’t return his calls or letters.”
“No, don’t be ridiculous.” A huff from Rebecca at that, and Fogg immediately said, “I’m sorry, cousin. No, we need—we need to give him proper training. A regulated and systematic course in physical combat and intellectual—”
“When have you ever done anything systematically or allowed it to be regulated?” Rebecca snorted. “Your own training before you left the Service, Phil, was hardly—”
“As if you’re a one to talk! My father was outraged to discover you had flouted all regulations to—”
“He should have known better than to stop me.” The tone of her voice stopped Fogg from answering, and Jules suddenly remembered exactly what he had said to Rebecca in that castle when she and Fogg came to rescue him. He groaned aloud in remembered embarrassment.
Jules opened his eyes to find Phileas and Rebecca Fogg hastening to his bedside, one on either side of him. He tried to smile at them both, though he was unsure if his mouth cooperated. Everything felt heavy, sluggish. His mind was wrapped in cotton. He had a feeling he should be more worried, or angry, or scared. Something more than the leaden feeling pervading him.
“How do you feel?” Rebecca took his hand in hers and smiled at him.
“You’ve been asleep for positively days, Verne.” Fogg rested a hand on Jules’ shoulder. “Surely you’ve had enough by now?” But he smiled as he said it, even if his eyes looked worried and his voice held that mocking tone.
“I didn’t tell them anything,” Jules said. The Foggs glanced at each other over his bed. “I didn’t,” he insisted, thinking they didn’t believe him. “I don’t really remember much about what happened—they gave me something every few hours, either to get me to talk or to keep me compliant, I’m not sure, perhaps both—but I didn’t tell them anything about—about the future. About my drawings or stories or ideas, anything.”
The cousins’ grips on his hand and shoulder tightened, almost simultaneously. Jules tried to keep his eyes open, but already he was tired, so tired, again.
“We know, old chap,” Fogg said quietly. “We know.”
“The drug is working itself out of your system,” Rebecca added, and her voice was as soft and warm as another blanket. “It’s going to take some time, the doctors tell us, and they wanted you kept under observation. I’m afraid it will be a few days yet before we can get you back to Paris.” She smiled at him again, benevolently like an angel, and that Jules very definitely would go to his deathbed before he would tell her.
He thought of his garret, cold and barren with its rattling shutters; he thought of his classes and assignments and professors making demands of him. He managed a tiny half-smile before his mouth muscles gave up and slackened again. “’Sokay,” he said, his head turning of its own accord into the pillow. “I like it better here.”
If and how the cousins reacted to that, he did not know.
A couple days later—Jules was aware enough now to keep track of the passage of time—he sat on the observation deck of the Aurora on a comfortable chair placed there expressly for him by Passepartout. He didn’t really need it, he could stand and walk and all the rest quite comfortably, but it was a chilly morning and it was comforting to sit there with a blanket wrapped around him. Even if he did look like an invalid. It reminded him of rare occasions when he had been sick at home, his mother leaving him alone in bed with a book or notebook, coming occasionally in the middle of her work to check on him, caress his forehead to feel his fever. It was nice to let somebody else on occasion fend for him.
The world spread out below him, mostly browns and cobalt blues and greys on this winter morning, but still beautiful for all that. He had his notebook in his lap, but it remained unopened. He still didn’t feel too energetic.
They had drugged him, and he had imagined his friends, jeering at him, mocking him for his uselessness. He had also imagined his parents disapproving of his life choices, his professors admonishing him for not taking better care in his classes, and his Parisian friends sneering that he was a talentless waste who didn’t deserve to share their wine and friendship, and it had all hurt, but the worry that he was useless, a hindrance, had cut the most. And so he had refused to say anything to anyone, whether they were his friends and family or the League demanding that he give up his secrets. He had shut himself down, and now it was taking him a little while to wake himself up again.
“You’re not useless, Jules,” Rebecca said from behind him, and Jules startled upright in his chair. She stepped forward to catch his notebook before it could fall to the ground, kneeling next to him. He stared down at her, wide-eyed and breathing hard. She smile and slipped his book back into his lap before standing.
“When did you start reading minds, Rebecca?”
“Oh, ages ago,” she said dismissively, with another bright and impish smile. She leant against the railing, facing him, her hands holding onto the rail behind her. She wore a shawl over her shirtwaist, a frivolous thing that would do nothing to keep out the cold. He thought about offering her the chair and blanket, but a woman less in need of coddling Jules could not imagine.
Suddenly, he really did feel a bit like an invalid.
“You have never been useless,” she added more softly and more seriously. “And Phileas has never thought that either.”
“No, but he has mistrusted me,” Jules said. “He has put a gun to my head.”
“My dear fellow, he’s done that to everybody he knows,” Rebecca sounded comfortable. “His time in the British Secret Service did nothing to lessen his natural paranoia.”
“Thank you, Rebecca, for that complimentary summation of my mental failings.” Phileas Fogg himself joined them, his tone acerbic. He stood over Jules, studying him. Jules did his damnedest not to shrink under his blanket. “How are you feeling today, Verne?”
“Better,” Jules answered quickly. “Much better. Really.” He looked between the two cousins. “What?”
“We worry about you,” Rebecca said simply.
“You must admit, Verne, you have never been properly trained to handle the sorts of situations you find yourself in more and more often these days.” Fogg paced to the end of the deck and flipped around, leaning against the railing in a position eerily mirroring his cousin’s to his left, though his arms were folded in front of him. Jules looked between them and was once more grateful that they were on his side; they were quite formidable when bent on a unified cause. “Not like Rebecca or myself.”
“Or even Passepartout, for that matter,” Rebecca added.
“Passepartout?” Jules blinked.
“We feel something should be done,” Fogg went on, ignoring them both. “We discussed dropping you off in Paris and never seeing you again—”
Jules’ heart stopped.
“Impractical,” Rebecca said, and Jules breathed again. “The League—and others—already know about you, and they know how to find you. You ought to consider moving,” she added as an aside, and the thought of so much effort right now made Jules want to go back to bed immediately. But enough self-coddling, Jules thought wryly; in the end, you always have to fend for yourself, sometimes even against well-meaning friends.
“Did you consider I might have a say in this decision of yours?” Jules said to the cousins with as much dignity as he could muster sitting down with a blanket around his knees.
“We did,” Rebecca nodded.
“Which is why we’re here today,” Fogg said. “You’re strong, Verne. You are far stronger than most people give you credit, and that underestimation has served you well so far.” Jules blinked, not quite believing his own ears. “But eventually people will realize that a little fellow such as yourself is capable of far more than they would believe, and you will no longer have that element of surprise.”
“What?” Jules said. “I’m sorry, I don’t—what?”
“Oh come, Jules,” Rebecca smiled. “You said it yourself, the first thing you said when you woke up on the Aurora two days ago. ‘I didn’t tell them anything.’ You never do, you know.”
“I underestimated you at first,” Fogg said with a rare, nostalgic smile, “d’you remember? I thought you were nothing more than a cad bent upon the destruction of the English monarchy. And you proved me wrong at every turn. You’re an awfully stubborn fool sometimes, but you’re intelligent and resourceful too, Verne, I will give you that.”
“And with a little help, you could be even moreso.” Rebecca left the railing, glided over to Jules’ chair. He looked up at her, a little wary despite himself, his glance sliding back to Fogg for a moment. “Combat training, knowledge of mental tactics and preparation—”
Jules shook his head a little. Rebecca put her hand on his shoulder. “Jules, we worry—”
“I know,” he smiled up at her, apologizing wordlessly for cutting her off. She took a step back, clasping her hands in front of her, a contained gesture of disquiet that she sometimes made. He wondered if she was aware of it. Probably; this was Rebecca Fogg, after all, whose training in observation had been no less stringent than in any other discipline she needed for her profession, and whose self-knowledge could probably sometimes be a pain. Fogg huffed out a breath, and Jules looked at him too. “I know you do. I worry too—about you, and Passepartout, and yes, sometimes even myself. But I—I don’t want to be like you.”
“Because we frighten you?” Rebecca quirked her eyebrows, and Jules looked down. “Jules, Jules, it’s alright.” She knelt next to him again, took his hands, looking contrite. “I’m sorry; I promised you I wouldn’t say anything about that, didn’t I? But my dear fellow, I don’t want you to be like us either.”
“Rebecca—” Fogg took a step forward.
“Oh hush, Phileas,” she said over her shoulder. “Would you have him know three dozen different ways to kill somebody using—using the cutlery one finds at the dinner table?” Fogg flinched; so did Jules. She squeezed his hands, let go with one of her hands to hold it out to her cousin. He stepped closer, taking her hand hesitantly, and she linked them there.
“We would not change your spirit, Jules,” she said, looking into his eyes earnestly. “We would protect it. Is that so wrong?”
Jules closed his eyes, even as his hand tightened on Rebecca’s.
“Fencing lessons,” Phileas Fogg announced firmly, and Jules opened his eyes again to look up at the Englishman in confusion at the non sequitur. Fogg was looking him over appraisingly. “Definitely fencing lessons.”
Jules laughed. “I’d like that, I think,” he said shyly, and Rebecca kissed his hand before catching herself, standing up and taking a step back, breaking her grip of Fogg as well, brushing down her skirts demurely. She bestowed a smile on both men before leaving the observation deck. Fogg’s eyes glinted a little, but he clapped Jules on the shoulder before heading back into the ship as well.
“We shall start tomorrow,” he called over his shoulder. “Simple exercises, I assure you, Verne, but we shall have you a fencing master in short order, I’m sure of it.”
“I look forward to it.” Jules grinned up at the sky, the clouds around him, the cold winter morning that seemed a little warmer now, somehow.