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Just three words could be used to surmise the annual Fundraiser noioso alla Galleria degli Uffizi: privileged, posh, and long.
Although events at most establishments of its caliber (world-class) tended to follow a strict timeline, the fundraiser was famous for lingering well past the witching hour - a fact one of its guests, a familiar brunette who had spent most of the evening lingering on the outskirts of the crowd, found entirely unnecessary.
Clad in a reasonable black dress for the affair, Ana Helden wiled away the hours with a smile painted on her lips. She'd flown across the pond almost entirely to make her appearance that night at the gala, and nowhere else - the usual fashion photographers that haunted these affairs hadn't even gotten a shot of her until she'd stepped onto Uffizi property officially, and even then, she'd stopped only long enough for her name to be crossed off the list at the door.
She was one of the fortunate, not the famous, and as such, the paparazzi had pressed no further.
Coming without a date probably wasn't ideal, even in these days, but there was no one she felt comfortable appearing with at the time, particularly given her most recent clientele. Keeping a low profile was more important than maintaining perfect social graces, and as such, she'd waved off questions throughout the night by stating she simply "hadn't found" her date yet, but would consider "working on it." Socializing with the type of people who attended this gala was tiring on your own, however, and by the time midnight came around, she found a reason to excuse herself from the crowd gathered in the main gallery.
Security was extraordinarily tight that evening, but a few soft words and an honest excuse - that she just needed to take a moment to herself - had convinced one guard well enough to let her slip off into one of the halls (plus, a public women's restroom was around the corner). A little bit of forced empathy went a long way.
Once she was more or less by herself, she stopped amid the marble and let her shoulders drop with a heavy sigh. Twenty-four hours to go; that was all she had to endure without falling in love with the sensation of knowing no one in a strange place, and then she'd be on her way home again.
Or, well, at least to New York.
With a lift of her chin, she took a few steps forward and... realized she'd been walking for at least a few minutes, now. This wasn't the sort of place you just got lost in - it'd be hugely embarrassing if anyone found out, and worse, she'd probably be questioned, which would lead to scandal that would inevitably drift back to her patients. She glanced around, half-turning, and then brought up her phone in the hopes that she could just Google Maps her way back to the party if she had to. It was as her phone loaded her location that she thought she heard a faint sound - maybe the footsteps of a guard? - and took a hasty few steps back herself.
This was a terrible decision, because the tap-tap of her heels echoed nicely through the hall's stately arches.
She very nearly cursed. At the last second, however, her prey instinct settled in (Ana was quite used to having to hide), and she instead started to turn to head in the opposite direction, careful to lean her weight on the fronts of her soles rather than the heels as she moved.
It was a series of events so precisely planned it could've been a musical montage.
At 8:00 PM precisely, a tour group wandering around the Piazza della Signoria had lost one of their members - a smiling Frenchman in rimless shades and a fashionable snapback that matched his polo and chinos. He'd gone missing somewhere around the Palazzo Vecchio, and they assumed he'd simply gotten distracted by the local color. This was....technically true, in a very distant sense.
At 8:04, the Frenchman in question had finished his infiltration of the palazzo, aided by several security personnel having been distracted by a stray dog that turned out to not actually exist, and was standing atop the Belvedere, humming a song from the sixties and unpacking a pair of cutting-edge AIM grapple gauntlets from his backpack. He tossed the bag aside, strapped on the gauntlets, stepped up onto the balcony railing, and said: "E.V.A.? Glider, my dear, if you'd be so kind."
At 8:06, the Florentines milling about the square completely missed the unusually fast cloud flying overhead towards the Uffizi Gallery.
At 8:06 and thirty seconds, the mysterious Fantomex glided up to a top-floor window at the Gallery, latched onto the wall with one of his gauntlets, activated a signal jammer for the window's alarm system, sliced through the lock with his free hand, and slid through the open window. He reaffixed himself on the other side, then shut the window to make sure the alarm didn't go off once the signal returned.
By the time 8:08 had rolled around, the gauntlets had allowed him to rappel down the side of Hall 14, currently closed for renovation. He weaved nimbly between a grid of emerald lasers, twisting and turning all the way down to fit through the maze of motion-detecting sensors, until at last his boots tapped down onto the tile. Jean-Philippe turned, glancing at the spot on the wall where Boticelli's Primavera had once hung (it'd been moved to Hall 41 during the renovations) with a wistful sigh. Ah, another time, perhaps. He opened the door to his real destination - Hall 15.
At 8:15, the Adoration of the Magi had been deftly removed from its frame while E.V.A., transmogrified into a comically large canopy, had blocked the view of the security cameras. The casual outfit and gauntlets had likewise disappeared into a backpack, replaced with fundraiser-worthy formalwear. Inserting the rolled-up painting into a cardboard tube, he adjusted the studs on his tuxedo and then - as if it were the most natural thing in the world - stepped out of the exhibit and back into the Gallery's halls, fully intending to simply walk out a side door. A very specific side door, in fact, one he'd picked out while looking at a blueprint. (A true professional planned meticulously, after all. Making things up as you went, while exciting and indicative of a certain savoir faire, was not a recipe for longevity in this business.
It was 8:18 and he was nearly at the exit when the telltale tapping of shoes echoed around the corner from him. Jean-Philippe hesitated, checking the telescoping baton in his right pocket, and then did the most counter-intuitive thing possible - he strode cheerfully around the corner, directly towards the sound. It wasn't as suicidal as one might think; he was fully ready to play the Gallic fool who had wandered off the path during the fundraiser. After all, it was just so difficult to resist the allure of such good art, a man could hardly be blamed for going astray. Sometimes drawing attention to yourself was the best way to avert other kinds of attention - the essence of misdirection.
As it turned out, though, it wasn't security at all. It was a dark-haired beauty in an equally dark dress. Ah, c'est bon! Staff, perhaps? The cloying fool act would still serve him well. He grinned abashedly and raised a hand in greeting.
"Ah, mi scusi! A thousand apologies, madame, I seem to have wandered off the beaten path during the festivities. Would you be so kind as to point me in the direction of the open bar? I was on my way there and, wouldn't you know it, a Da Vinci distracted me."
Technically not a lie.
"Ah, mi scusi! A thousand apologies, madame..."
By all appearances, the sudden apparition of a third party failed to phase Ana in the least. A stranger unfamiliar with her ticks and habits would have said she'd seemed perfectly fine as she turned around for the second time in as many seconds, locking eyes with the strange man who had popped out of nowhere seeking directions back to the bar. There was, however, less than a full second's pause between the moment of recognition and the arrival of a polite smile on her lips - the only sign that something was amiss, but telling, if anyone really knew her. Her shoulders lowered ever-so-slightly as he started talking.
Considering that weaving languages was almost always in vogue, especially in Europe, the man's abrupt switch from Italian to English to French English (without even bothering to ask if she spoke any of them) felt perfectly natural, and she didn't question it. What did puzzle her, however, was the fact that the footsteps she'd heard just moments prior had come from the opposite direction.
This man had made no such announcement of his presence. He'd practically materialized. A perfectly manicured brow raised just a hair.
Hunched shoulders say harmless, bowing his head. He's trying to show he's a friend, but we don't even know each other's names. Over-eager, or just earnest?
"I would love to, if I could," she replied. Her voice was soft, even as the inescapable knowledge that she was now alone in a foreign country with a man she didn't know settled in. The thought that the entire gallery had to be rigged with high-definition cameras then crossed her mind, but then again, security had been lax several years in the past. She kept her hold on her clutch. "But I'm not where I should be, either."
Her smile faltered, a sign of quiet humility. In a blink, she examined him; just long enough for it to look like a flutter of her lashes. He seemed like the sort of man who belonged at the fundraiser, but she knew most everyone on the list by sight, and he didn't match a single one. Upcomers were a dime a dozen these days, though, and it was entirely possible that he was new money that had minted just enough to be invited to proper galas. Maybe he was someone's cousin.
Regardless, it wouldn't do to be rude to him, and so she put on her mask and set to resolving the situation.
"If you'd like, I'm certain I heard some footsteps down the hall - there's probably a security guard, we could ask for directions..."
She was several steps ahead of him before he could get a word in; out of arm's length, specifically. Explaining her predicament to a guard with company in tow would be much less embarrassing than if she'd been caught alone, though some might question who she was with. It was a bit of a gamble, but the light bouncing from the guard's flashlight at the end of the hall promised rescue.
In the streets outside the Uffizi, a beleaguered tour guide gave up on a head count.
It was probably fortunate that he hadn't worn his 'white ghost' ensemble to this little affair, or else it would have been necessary to hit this fetching lady over the head and stash her behind a Donatello original.
Thankfully, no such measures would be needed here. The woman he'd stumbled over was totally unbothered by his sudden appearance, almost uncannily so. Calm under pressure, at least (a quality he shared and could, on some professional level, admire in another person). And even better, she wasn't part of the staff, which meant he hadn't been spotted by anybody with authority yet. As far as getting made went, this was a pretty good deal.
"Well, perhaps that is not so bad, no?" Slinging the bag (and within it, the tube containing a multi-million-dollar painting) over his shoulder with a roguish carelessness, Jean-Philippe waved his other hand in half a shrug. "Look at how many people are right where they should be, but ah, they groan, they complain - they have all the problems. You know? It's good to abandon the plan sometimes, go wandering, see the world--"
She was now striding, with no small measure of determination, towards the end of the hall and what was almost definitely a security guard's flashlight beam.
"--but how nice for us that you found someone to ask," he exclaimed, barely cognizant of the tightening sense of agitation in his chest as he trotted after Ana. No, this would not do at all. "Really, who wants to go wandering? Overrated, as they say across the Channel. Yes, perhaps this gentleman can show us the way out," and with that, he took a short breath and concentrated....
Ana rounded the corner to discover that there was no security guard and no flashlight, only a defective spotlamp for one of the exhibits, hanging loose on a cable and bobbing forlornly next to Birth of Venus. Meanwhile, the security guard (who was absolutely there, for the record) saw nothing. One of the curtains shifted slightly, but he chalked it up to the air conditioner.
"Ah, c'est triste." Jean-Philippe sighed, a bead of visible perspiration rolling down his forehead. "We were misled by hope, it seems, like a man seeing a mirage on the edge of the desert. Although not quite as thirsty an experience, I'm thinking." He put a hand to his chin as if thinking, and then glanced off towards the other end of the hall, far away from the guard where he wouldn't have to keep his misdirection running any longer than absolutely necessary. This was followed by a self-effacing smile. "I'm afraid it seems you must suffer my inglorious and shabby company for a while longer, Miss, ah....?"
The security guard, unbeknownst to either of them, let out a frustrated sigh. It had been a very boring shift for him so far, and he felt that it was not liable to liven up anytime soon, what with being stuck on the other end of the gallery from the charity gala.
Fortune smiled upon Philippe in that he couldn't see Ana's expression as she strode steadfast away from him. She blinked coldly while he spoke, like a lizard evaluating a cricket.
He was talking without saying anything. Just because he had an accent didn't make it interesting, or even charming, as she suspected he thought himself to be. For just a moment, she let herself slither into despair, an ugly thing inside her telling her how his voice was like nails on a chalkboard getting worse and worse until she reached the corner and... saw that there was no security guard.
The dark look that had overcome her features disappeared in an instant, replaced by the focus of someone trying to figure out a puzzle. She had heard the footsteps, had she not? But there had only been one pair, and acoustics carried strangely in buildings as old as these; maybe they had been the strange man behind hers after all. Her lashes fluttered once atop her cheeks, and then she looked over her shoulder at the Frenchman - Parisian, of course, now that she listened to him.
In the near distance, a peel of laughter rang through the halls. Someone must have been giving a speech. Or, well, making it; no one ever accepted one willingly, so it was a shoddy thing to give.
"Helden," she replied once the noise had died down, a small smile intruding upon her expression out of habit. "Ana. It's... a pleasure to meet you, of course. And you are?"
Everything about his posture told her that he wanted her to come the other way, but she stood still for several seconds, her gaze having been drawn back to the now-empty hallway. No, it was always empty. The strange warmth she felt a moment ago had been a figment of her imagination, or maybe she'd just been standing underneath a heat source. She pursed her lips against her own smile and turned to take a cautious step after the gentleman encroaching upon her evening.
... Whom she was now obligated to follow, all while still playing nice. This, despite the fact that he'd stumbled upon her out of nowhere, delved immediately into classical Parisian musings, had yet to take off his coat or set down his bag, and appeared to be sweating.
What's he carrying? Can it hurt me?
"Monsieur, I don't mean to point it out, but I can't help but notice a little shine on your forehead," she remarked as she settled in stride. "The staff used to be so much better at taking people's bags... I hope it's not terribly heavy. What is it you do? A jeweler?"
Well, this was far from ideal, but Jean-Philippe had salvaged much worse situations, and by 'much worse' I mean some of them had involved explosives, assault helicopters, and/or being tied to a death machine. All things considered, if it meant just having to hold a semi-complex misdirection for a minute or so, it was definitely a cross he could bear - particularly with a lady involved!
"I'm Jean-Philippe," he offered with a little 'ta-da' gesture and a nod that was almost half a bow. "The pleasure, of course, is all mine, Madame Helden. I hope that perhaps, with you as my co-adventurer, we might escape this very nice labyrinth, yes?" This was followed by a genteel chuckle and a very calculatedly casual stride towards the other end of the corridor, well out of sight of the security guard. "You know, it just occurs to me, I believe there is a side entrance over by Hall 29. Perhaps we can make a trip over that way and see if it is unlocked."
There was, in fact, a side entrance near there. It was his backup plan, just in case he needed to slip back into the gala and blend in all the way out the front door. Not exactly something he wanted to spend a whole lot of time doing (the longer he hung around, the more likely that somebody would recognize he wasn't actually on the guest list), but a good enough thruway if the original exit was unavailable. Which, thanks to this woman, it was.
All of this would've been a real effort to a person with one brain, and even with three, the strain was steadily mounting as he thought through the plan while simultaneously holding the illusion. It must have showed, since Ana recognized that he was beginning to perspire and inquired about it even as they were reaching the outer limits of where he felt it would be safe to stop concentrating.
"Ah, excusez-moi," he exclaimed, mopping obligingly at his forehead with a silk handkerchief. "You must forgive my impoliteness, as the heat in Italia jives with my constitution. Plus I have, as you say, the heavy bags - I am one of the photographers, you see." Unzipping the top of the bag, he pulled forth a large camera, and the end of a tripod peeked out after it. (Directly next to them was, of course, the painting, rolled up in a tube.) "It's not so glamorous as people say. Moving the equipment, yelling at the talent, heh heh, there are many drawbacks."
As they approached Hall 29, Jean-Philippe glanced toward the stairwell. Hopefully not locked, or else he was going to have to come up with something quickly.
"And you, Madame, what industry are you currently gracing?" His hand gripped the doorknob and turned it. Locked. Merde. E.V.A. could pick the lock, but...
Well, time to play it cool.
"No, do not tell me - ahhhh, public works, perhaps? Policymaking? I would've taken you for a supermodel, but in two minutes of conversation it's clear you're too smart for those types, no?"
He continued trying to manipulate the doorknob, as if it would somehow unlock, and formulated his distraction. Just needed another second or so....
Jived with his constitution? A perfect brow rose, and he saw it, but kept talking all the same. Ana suspected that this was a theme commonly applied to her erstwhile companion's interactions. She kept up with him, much quieter, and remarked when she had a chance,
"Paris must be colder than I remember." There was a glint of amusement in her eyes, however well she tried to disguise it, and maybe the corner of her lips twisted with amusement when he pegged her with several very complimentary careers. He was good at misdirection, not unlike some of her patients. A bit tacky with the supermodel line, though. "I'm flattered, but I'm a therapist." They turned into the hallway, just as Jean-Phillipe had directed, and she added on a lark, "You may need my card at the end of this, assuming we make it through.”
He was extremely handsome, although unsettling for reasons she couldn't yet describe. Maybe if he played his cards right, he could take her out for a cappuccino before she returned to the States - and nothing more.
Even so, watching Jean-Philippe struggle with the door was about as entertaining as having hairs pulled from your head one at a time by a person absolutely determined to annoy you. Her brows knit together and arched upwards in a look of confused sympathy as he jangled the knob, and then, after another moment of suffering, she gently ushered him aside with a brush of a hand over his arm and sidled up in front of the lock herself.
Without even having to dig through her clutch (she was very organized), Ana produced what appeared to be a sleek, black credit card with notches along its edges, then slid it between the lock and the door frame and strategically moved it up and down, pushing it in every so often until there came a quiet click. The door was unlocked.
"It's a multi-tool," she explained while swiftly stowing the item back in its place. "I keep it on me in case I get into... well, situations like this one." Brown eyes rose to meet his, insistent, but not challenging. "Plenty of people have them."
The less that was said about that, the better, and so Ana, the picture of composure in spite of her unusual display of know-how, stepped back to allow Jean-Philippe to open the door for her. Once he complied, she side-stepped ahead of him before the door was even fully open and slipped back inside the main hall, where speeches for the fundraiser were in full-swing. Before he could catch up to her, and with her back still turned to him, she allowed her eyes to shut for just a few seconds and drew a long, shaky breath, steeling herself before she turned to him with another carved marble smile. She looked her best in that moment; poised and reserved, her dark beauty stark against the crowd behind her.
"This is where you make your fortune, isn't it? Good luck, Mr. Jean-Philippe--"
And then, the alarm went off, and the sprinkler system with it.
The plan had been very straightforward: get Ana distracted momentarily, misdirect her down the hallway, and then pick the lock, which would take about three of the ten or fifteen seconds he would probably get. An easy, simple arrangement.
"Ah, a lady of the sciences!" His tone was steady and impressed as he 'experimented' with the door. "Well, as a connoisseur of good company, I can hardly turn down your card, now can I--"
She nudged him aside and began picking the lock.
Decades of DGSE and SHIELD experience came together in a valiant effort to make sure Jean-Philippe held a totally straight face the entire time. Honestly, apart from the irony of the situation, there wasn't that much to laugh at - for an amateur, Ana was doing a very impressive job at jimmying the lock open. The Parisian managed a very practiced solemnity, and then nodded gravely when she admonished him (perhaps a tiny bit defensively, he thought). "Ah, of course. It is, how you say, ah....forewarned is forearmed."
They stepped through, and on the way past the door, he slipped a silk handkerchief from his breast pocket (monogrammed with a little ghost) and gave the lock a quick swipe. By the time he was returning the item to his coat, they had reached the outskirts of the gala once again, and Ana had turned to him, presumably to say goodbye. Jean-Philippe took a moment to contemplate how delightfully austere she looked, dark-eyed and frosty amid the all revelry like Tisi's Minerva, and just as he was about to wish her a delightful stay in Firenze, a klaxon went off and the entire sprinkler system followed.
Fait chier. He wasn't quite as concerned about the state of his clothing as the dismayed, shrieking masses (although this was a nice suit). No, what immediately leapt to Jean-Philippe's attention was that the two of them hadn't set that off. He'd studied the Galleria's security systems extensively. The only way that would've happened is if there had been an actual fire (which there wasn't, from glancing around the room), or if somebody had wanted a distraction to--
"Guardie!" a nearby security officer's radio crackled. "Un ladro è qui!"
Ah. Competition was here.
As he and Ana rushed over to an alcove to get out of the downpour, he chuckled aloud. "Well, this is not exactly how I expected to dry-clean this suit." An exaggerated smoothing motion followed, as if the damage was easily fixable, which it wasn't. Despite being on high alert, the officer next to them snickered. "My sincere apologies, Ana, it seems some dastardly thief has made his move. I can't imagine who would commit such a nefarious crime - E.V.A., close the security shutter, please--"
The guard was the only other person in the alcove besides the two of them. Jean-Philippe was already moving as the shutter descended, blocking them off from the ballroom; a quick elbow to the chest put the guard up against the shutter, and then a jab to the throat dropped him, writhing in pain, to the floor. The Frenchman stepped back, dusting his hands off, and opened the door back into the Galleria's halls.
"Ahhhhh, this is not ideal, Madame Helden, but I think perhaps we should start moving quickly," he offered demurely, "lest the polizia arrest us for a breaking & entering other than the one we committed. Which would, of course, be unacceptable."
This was followed by an 'after you' gesture. How gallant.
Of all the mishaps that evening that could have garnered a genuine reaction from Ana, the cold splash of myriad droplets on her skin was the first. She retreated into herself for a second, cringing with her hands over her brow, and her gaze turned upward while she was beset by situational bewilderment. Just as quickly as the fright arrived, however, she recomposed, her attention drawn readily when Jean-Philippe gestured toward sanctuary in an alcove.
They had scarcely made it under cover before he was back at it again, joking as though they'd known each other for years (and the guard, possibly, too). Ana smiled graciously, although she was more concerned by how wet she was than what humor he had to offer. Now that she had a moment, she looked over herself - her dress would probably fine, considering it wasn't fur, and her makeup would be in place since it was waterproof, but her hair was a loss, drenched curls framing her face.
"... Excuse me? I'm sorry, I think I misheard y--"
The first thing she'd remember about what came next, thinking about it much later when she was safe at home, was that it was quiet. One moment, Jean-Philippe was just another guest trapped with her in an awkward situation, and the next, he'd completely disabled the guard that had been in the alcove with him - the same man that had actually chuckled at the Frenchman's joke just seconds prior.
Ana flinched physically away from Jean-Philippe, but she didn't hide behind her hands (which were raised) or avert her eyes (which were focused keenly on him). Hell, by the looks of things, the petite brunette before him was more intent on fighting him than she was running from him - and then she stumbled back cautiously, one hand feeling along the wall behind her, and realized he'd shut the door to the ballroom. She froze, still staring him down, and it took her longer than usual to respond to what he'd said to her; she was far too occupied by a mixture of fear, shock and figuring out how she could get away from him as quickly as possible, before he hurt her, too.
Logically, the first thing she said was, "What?"
A fluttering of her lashes, and then she looked to the door again, lips parted. She had to weigh her options now, and there wasn't any time to think things through. She didn't even know what was happening; was he kidnapping her? Was she going to be raped here, in this alcove, and discarded just like the guard? Had she made the alarm go off? She'd picked that lock, after all, and he had said something about them breaking and entering, although her brain had initially disregarded it as nonsense.
Think. You've survived worse, you can get through this.
Whatever the case might have been, if she tried to open that heavy door on her own, Jean-Philippe would get to her. He was clearly trained in close-quarters combat and willing to lie to her ("photographer" indeed). He did not, however, know about the Taser in the clutch she held, or the fact that she'd used to run track and had national accolades. She could make it out of this alive - she just needed him to lose focus on her. Knowing that that wasn't about to happen anytime soon, she fixed her gaze back on him and took off her heels, then, with every instinct of her screaming against her, held them out to him.
"Find a place for them. If this is how my evening is going, I'm not doing it in heels." She breathed deep, in and out. Make him think you're on his side. No. Be his cohort as long as you need to. Your obstacles are shared. "This place is crawling with guards, you aren't going to make it far if I'm struggling with the cobblestones."
Beyond the door, back in the ballroom, one of the fundraiser organizers was making a very valiant effort at being heard on a loudspeaker over the klaxon.
While she could hardly be blamed for being alarmed at the sudden, drastic shift in their situation, Ana was in basically no danger from Jean-Philippe. Unless, of course, you counted the danger that came from being next to him during a security sweep of a building he'd just pulled a heist on.
....Which was considerable.
To her credit, she only froze momentarily and was in full fight-or-flight readiness within an instant - good instincts, he thought, impressed. Quite a few people would've either frozen completely or gone hysterical (in a gender-neutral kind of way - he'd seen more than a couple middle management gentlemen that'd burst into tears as soon as he'd started politely waving guns around). Instead - despite being clearly startled - she was pretty much ready to go. He could practically see the risk assessment spooling itself out in her brain.
And then the decision was made, and the good doctor was stepping forward and handing him her shoes, jaw set in grim determination. She was really quite lovely when she was serious like this, although from what little he'd seen of it so far, Jean-Philippe rather preferred her smile.
"Very pragmatic, madame," he agreed, accepting the heels and stowing them in his bag next to the Adoration. "Although I must say, it seems quite uncouth to make you run on the cobblestones without them. E.V.A.? Trainers for la belle dame, please."
The size 8s that subsequently materialized on the bewildered Ana were fluorescent green and glowing, but remarkably comfortable, which was good since Fantomex took off down the hall a moment later, leaving her to jog alongside him.
"Ah, that is my nervous system you're wearing, so please tread lightly," he added, in the kind of tone one would normally use to discuss an unseasonal shift in the weather, or the results of a football match. "I prefer to keep her as intact as I can."
In the wake of this massive non sequitur, they passed two exhibit halls and came to an emergency exit stairwell. The alarm was already blaring, and so he took a step back, smoothed his drenched hair back into something approaching an acceptable coif, and then kicked it open. Stepping through, the master spy held the door for Ana and then motioned upwards towards the next floor.
"Right now, I'm thinking we get to the roof, and then go a couple buildings over - which I can handle, not to worry. I can set you down there - somewhere far from the scene of the crime, eheh - and then be on my merry way to my destination within the hour, probably. How does that sound--"
There was a cacophony of tromping boots in the hallway. Oh, damn. The guards were chasing the other thief, and the chase was leading them right this way. Who was leading these idiots on such a wild goose chase? Only a professional operator like himself would dare to hit such a high-profile target, so it had to be someone he knew...
"----aaaaaand no time for democracy, we're off."
Ten seconds passed, and no harm had come unto Ana.
That did not mean in any way that she was safe, but the longer she went without being assaulted, the more confident she became; genuinely so, rather than the mimicry of brashness she'd displayed when she'd handed Jean-Philippe her heels. She'd just taken her first few steps, leading him, when he overcame her and babbled something to that same... thing again - E.V.A.? She'd thought he'd called her Evie at first, but now she heard him clear as day.
Although she spent a significant amount of her time conversing with, analyzing and interpreting for "extra-human persons," as the term du jour deemed them, there was no sense of pretense one could acquire when someone used their powers on you for the first time. This was due to the range of powers possible being basically, well, anything so far, and as such one experience to the next could be vastly different - case in point, she'd never had anyone conjour up a pair of perfectly fitted tennis shoes on her own feet before.
And then tell her that those shoes were part of his nervous system.
The shoes were also glowing, by the way.
She felt as though she were high. Thinking about it made her feel worse, and so she tried to put it out of her mind. Ana touched a hand to her forehead as she struggled after Jean-Philippe; the dress, being sewn quite far down the figure on its sides, was restrictive regardless of footwear, and the best she could do was to hike it up and gather it in one hand while she jogged.
"I don't - your nervous system?" she protested, and in her surprise scuffed the toe of one shoe against the stone floor when they came to a stop at the stairwell. He deserves it, but don't pay it attention. Don't provoke. It was an accident. "That sounds much more impractical than finding a door, or a second-floor window, if you must!"
What was surely to be an impassioned argument was interrupted by footsteps, and this time, they were an unwelcome sound. Ana bristled for all of a second, thought of the Taser, and even still, was through the doorway and awkwardly making her way up the stairs before Jean-Philippe finished his one-liner.
Acknowledge his power. He's superior, let him know it.
As she struggled along, she continued between breaths, "So what is it, you can make matter out of nothing? You don't take anyone's picture, I can tell that from what you did to that man down there."
Eventually, the old marble and stone gave way partially to new, steel architecture, and Ana stopped at a locked metal door enshrined in ancient stonework - this time struggling to get her multi-tool out, as one of her hands was already occupied with the dress.
For the most part, Jean-Philippe's 'dashing, somewhat silly gentleman rogue' thing was a carefully constructed persona. He was a talented operative, and a pragmatist at that - he'd seen firsthand many times that unnecessary theatrics usually caught you a bullet sooner or later. Everything he did on the job, even the eccentricities (well, most of the eccentricities), was calculated to have a specific effect that he could exploit.
With that said, you couldn't do all this without having something of the showman in you, and he definitely snuck a pleased little grin at the sound of Ana's startled exclamation. Ta-da.
"Yes, nervous system," he answered as they hurried towards the stairwell, just in time for a tiny twinge of discomfort to shoot through him as she scuffed a shoe on the cobblestones. "It's really a rather long story. Ow. And trust me, if they're chasing the thief through the Gallery, it's probably best to hit the rooftops. Last place they'll expect, after all."
Three flights of stairs later, they'd reached as far as this particular spot was going to take them. Ugh, why did these old buildings never just have a simple rooftop access system? At least it'd just be a short jaunt to the other end of the exhibits and they'd be basically home free. Ana was already making a move towards unlocking the door - Resourceful woman, he mused with a hint of admiration - but Jean-Philippe gently nudged ahead of her, snap gun in hand. Time was sort of a factor here, after all.
"Allow me, please."
A half second later, the rapid-fire click-click-click as every tumbler in the lock simultaneously fell into place signified that it was time to get moving. He led the way, keeping an eye out, until about halfway through the Renaissance marble exhibit, at which point Jean-Philippe paused and held up a hand, signaling to Ana. There was the alarmingly-close sound of a chase going on, and a whole pack of security guards coming their way. With a quick sweep of the arm, he ushered the annoyed psychiatrist over to one side of the exhibit, focused momentarily, and....stayed right there while the guards approached.
And went right past them, pointing guns and chattering in low voices about the thief being 'somewhere around here'.
"What I can do," he explained, making sort of a 'six of one, half dozen of the other' gesture, "is....ehhhh, complicated, you may say. I have many talents, and not all of them are unnatural. The ones that are, though, I think those are the most interesting. For example, these fine Florentines searching for our gate-crasher? As far as they can see or hear, you and I are statues in this fine exhibit." A pleased grin followed. "For the record, Madame Doctor, they're very fine statues. I tried to do justice to your delightful smile, although I must admit I'm growing quite charmed by that little frown you do when something agitates you."
"Ah, there it is."
Quick, quiet and forgettable though it was, Ana did take the time after Jean-Philippe's "ow" to utter a "sorry" to him in turn. Maybe it was just out of reflex for her, but it certainly couldn't hurt to hear.
Operating on the risky assumption that he heard her, of course - they were both moving fairly quickly, despite the way her dress hampered her, and by the time he'd finished explaining his condition to her, he was already putting his burglar's tools to work.
Ana furrowed her brow, closed her clutch, and stowed it between her breasts in her dress; a somewhat perilous fit, but it would do. When Jean-Philippe glanced at her next, she fitted him with a close-lipped grin that was slightly too warm, given the rest of her behavior thus far, and then dashed after him into the hall - and wondered if this was her moment to flee.
Strategically, it was sound. Jean-Philippe was ahead of her and similarly looking where he was going, meaning she could dart the other way and it would take him a second or two to catch up - long enough for them to make noise and the guards to hear it. But... the guards might be trigger happy. They might have seen her with him already, and she wouldn't have a good enough lead to get away from them both. She blinked, time resumed mid-step, and the way was clear.
She swallowed a curse and ducked after the Frenchman as directed.
What she experienced next infuriated her.
It wasn't the injustice of watching a possible rescue stalk by her and her captor like they didn't even exist; it wasn't the self-satisfied look on Jean-Philippe's face as he explained why this was all possible. No, it was the realization that earlier, when they'd first met, Jean-Philippe had used this exact trick to turn a guard who could have helped her away from her. Had she been just a few steps closer in her approach around the corner, maybe she could've been returned to the party with just a scolding, but no - a Parisian who thought he was charming had cast this.... illusion and changed her fate without a care.
Needless to say, yes, she frowned. She's finally lost her temper, at least for the time being.
She also gathered up her skirt, kicked off the trainers, and started walking down the hallway in the opposite direction as the guards.
"If you can make the world see it however you want it to, and create something out of nothing, then you should be able to just keep doing it as we go, correct?" she called over her shoulder, her voice steadily rising into a half-shout that the guards would definitely be able to hear if he didn't keep up his gimmick. "HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO KEEP IT UP?"
Her voice echoed thunderously through the arches. She turned, walking backwards now that she'd made a stand for herself and pointed out that some things simply will not be tolerated, even while being pseudo-kidnapped, and pointed up at a sign for a few steps before she turned back around and resumed storming off toward the next stairwell.
"The sign says roof access is this way."
He really should've been giving Ana more credit. Once she knew he could create illusions, it really wouldn't take that much of a leap of logic to realize what had happened to the security guard at their initial meeting. Which, of course, she did.
Admittedly, the agitated frown continued to be as charming as ever, and the lip-pursing expression of dawning rage that accompanied it bordered on the adorable. A few seconds later, though, when she pushed away and kicked off the shoes ("Ah! Again, nervous system!"), Jean-Philippe began to consider the possibility that he could get totally sabotaged here. Misdirection was strictly audiovisual, after all; it didn't affect anything tactile, so if she chose to shove one of the guards it was very possible he would end up in a pitched gunfight, considering how trigger-happy these guys seemed. That was unacceptable. Casualties meant more heat on him, and the less of that, the better.
Then she started shouting.
Ohhhhh, hell. Of course, that meant he had to focus harder on keeping the illusion active while they crossed the exhibit, which meant that the dull ache of blood thundering in his ears was starting to become more and more pronounced. Headaches like this were a common side effect of intensive misdirection, and judging from the way a vein bulged next to Jean-Philippe's right eye, it was clear he had a pretty respectable one coming on.
"First of all, rude," he answered, striding towards her with a straight-lipped look of 'really, this shit, right now?' It was clear Ana had gotten to him at least a tiny bit. "Second of all, it requires just enough concentration that, if you do not wish to get both of us ventilated by the hired help, you would be well-advised to--"
A flat, dark circle, about two meters wide, opened in the air behind him.
The man who leaped through was...baffling, to say the least. Dressed head-to-toe in stark white (a choice Fantomex could always appreciate), he was splotched all over with splatters of black, like some kind of strange bipedal dalmatian. It was impossible to make out much in the way of details, faceless and featureless as he was, although his musculature was reasonably impressive under the bodysuit. The man twisted in midair as he emerged from the portal, kicking one of the guards in the head and sending him sprawling. And then, just as he was about to hit the floor, another portal opened underneath to catch him....followed by another on the other side of the guards, which he promptly launched out of into their midst with a shocking amount of wormhole-based momentum.
"Mon dieu, it's this imbecile," Jean-Philippe exclaimed, dashing towards Ana with renewed urgency. The gunshots had already started behind him as he hurried her into the stairwell and slammed the door behind them. It wouldn't stop a stray bullet, but it did mean he could drop the misdirection. Finally. Thank god.
"Well, as an expert in the mental sciences," he mused, "I suppose you are well-poised to appreciate a man who dresses as a Rorschach test."
What ensued for the minute before chaos resumed was a classic, chest-pointing argument. Literally, in fact - Ana jabbed her finger in Jean-Philippe's chest when he accused her of ill manners, finding the mere concept of her as the evening's aggressor to be utterly preposterous.
"Rude? Mr. Jean-Philippe, you have abducted me, and you didn't even have to," she retorted, albeit now in a hushed undertone. Despite her recent outburst over Jean-Philippe's showboating, she didn't seem as though she'd lost all her composure; her brows were twisted and she was showing a bit more teeth when she talked, but she's dropped back down to an inside voice in record time. "You could have just, earlier... Do you even realize that this is not normal? You tricked me, you brutalized a guard, ordered me to start running, and now there's some sort of military police in the gallery and you're telling me there's 'another thief.'"
The look in her eyes was severely unamused - clearly, she didn't believe that there was anything else at play here other than Jean-Philippe's misbehavior. Even so, as he started to rail on her about how dangerous her actions were, she looked off to the side, brows drawn together with worry, then started to plead with him, "I know, but I was..."
She was what, angry? She could have gotten them killed - he was right, even if the situation he'd put them in was objectively wrong. "It won't happen again. Please, whatever it is you've done--"
The world erupted into sound. First, a black void appeared behind Jean-Philippe, mostly obscured to Ana by his frame, and then, suddenly, violence. They were in the stairwell before she had a chance to even figure out what happened (were those gunshots? those were gunshots), and then, as though they hadn't just been fighting in the middle of a world-famous gallery, Jean-Philippe started making witticisms in her direction again, and then they were back off up the stairs - for a heartbeat's span.
Right as they started on the first few steps leading up to the roof access door, another black portal emerged between them. Several things happened in rapid succession: there was a quiet yelp of alarm, a man's voice starting to say, "Now, what's befallen this beautiful lady, to have to follow this fro--", and a rapid burst of electrical firing. The Frenchman could have turned around to see Ana practically leap to the side onto the railing to avoid getting toppled onto by.... The Spot, who appeared to have been tased.
Right in the chest, at point-blank range. It wasn't clear by the way he fell if he was conscious or not; he just sort of crumpled, twitching and gurgling, and slid awkwardly down the steps. There was a non-real chance he was actually dead as he hit the landing, and the way his head bounced off the concrete made Ana grimace visibly. Well, at least he probably wouldn't remember them, if he survived...
"... He does look like a Rorschach test," she murmured quietly to herself, then dropped down as a bullet pierced the wall beside her. There was fear in her eyes when she looked up at Jean-Philippe, not knowing how she was going to cross the angled, terracotta roof just beyond the door, or if she, too, was now a criminal.
Judging by the voices outside the stairwell, they didn't have time to think about it.
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