Father Brown puttered around his kitchen, barely paying attention to the radio as the broadcast about the Pelagius Cross came on.
“…the Papal prelates will visit the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Liverpool and Gloucester before arriving…“
Father Brown froze.
Gloucester. The Pelagius Cross was coming to Gloucester.
Excitement zinged through Father Brown as he realized that such a rare holy jewel would surely draw the attention of—
Reason caught up with Father Brown. Flambeau had proven time and time again that he was a menace, selfishly pilfering from the Church for his own amusement. Father Brown had no business looking forward to dealing with such a scoundrel.
No matter what… appealing qualities the alpha may possess.
Father Brown did his best to tamp down his traitorous thoughts, thoughts that had plagued him more and more with each run-in with Flambeau. Thoughts he usually had no trouble repressing. Now was not the time for such ridiculousness. Danger was coming, after all. The police and the papal guard needed to be warned and Father Brown would see to that.
Still adorned in his apron, Father Brown hurried out of the kitchen, decidedly un-happy.
Lazy tufts of smoke coiled up from a pew in the middle of the church. Flambeau would have panicked but for the familiar scent of that cigarette brand.
His pulse quickened. Ridiculous, he told himself. He was expecting this very thing—expecting, not hoping.
Flambeau had finally come to taunt him, just as he’d done at the Gallery. What nerve…
Father Brown sat in the pew behind the trail of smoke. “This is getting tedious.”
“Just paying my respects. One would think you would be pleased to see me in a church.”
“If you were being respectful, perhaps I would be.”
Flambeau chuckled and sat up, flicking ash to scatter on the ground below. His grin widened at Father Brown’s moue of distaste. “As much as I enjoy our visits, I’m here on a personal matter of some urgency.”
“Not for ‘business’?” Father Brown asked as he took the photograph Flambeau handed to him over the pew. He frowned at the image of a lovely young lady, gagged and posed with this morning’s newspaper.
“An old business matter made personal. Her captor is demanding the Pelagius Cross in exchange for her life. Or he’ll kill her. And he will.”
Father Brown listened patiently through Flambeau’s history with Nero Hound, suspicious of the alpha’s story and motives all the while. This was a strange ploy to use for a heist. “Forgive my saying, but you aren’t the altruistic type,” Father Brown said slowly, confused. “Why would this Hound person blackmail you like this?”
“She’s my daughter.”
Some small, fledgling feeling (he dared not call it hope) shrank inside him as he stared at the photograph and only at the photograph, unable to look at Flambeau just yet. Amazing how such a small thing could change everything. “Well, it’s good to know that even a master thief can be caught, even if it isn’t by the law.”
“Oh goodness no, nothing like that,” Flambeau said dismissively, taking a long pull at his cigarette, sighing it out in a sizable cloud. “No, Marianne is merely the result of a brief pas de deux, an inconvenient heat I fell prey to after a job in Paris. The beta female and I went our separate ways soon after.”
“I see,” Father Brown finally said after several beats of silence between them, his voice remarkably level despite his growing distress. “I suppose it should be of no surprise that you would have little regard for keeping a mate longer than necessary.”
He wasn't sure why that realization hurt. Not all alphas were true to their mates and offspring. But lumping Flambeau in with such negligent ilk was, apparently, what Brown had been avoiding up until now, despite the lying and the thieving and all the other indecencies Brown knew him capable of.
A strong hand gripped his arm, squeezing firmly until Brown finally looked up into those steely blue eyes, eyes he was surprised to find were watching him with a fierce glint.
“You judge me too harshly.” The words, spoken softly, were belied by the hard tone in Flambeaus’ voice. “If the prize is truly worth the effort, I fight for it. And I keep what is mine.”
Unconsciously, Father Brown swallowed at that, a warm unfamiliar feeling filling him up as he all but drowned in those eyes.
The same eyes that had likely charmed and lied to who knows how many others.
What am I doing?
It took considerable willpower to tear his gaze away, focusing once again on the photo, studying it (certainly not hiding behind it).
Could Father Brown really trust anything the alpha said? What if this was yet another con?
But it was the young woman’s eyes that made him believe. It was Flambeau’s steely will, the same conviction, the promise of retribution that Flambeau’s held when he spoke of Nero Hound.
She was his daughter.
And she was in danger.
“What do you want from me?”
“I need your help.” Flambeau said, finally letting go of his arm. “I need access to the jewel.”
“You want me to help you steal it.”
“I need you to help me save a young woman’s life. Surely God would forgive such a harmless sin if it meant saving someone?”
Father Brown stared at the photo, at the defiance in those eyes. He’d already made up his mind to help Flambeau. The real problem was how to get him near the jewel when Father Brown himself had already volunteered to be on the lookout for the thief. And then there was the small matter of preventing yet another priceless holy relic to fall into Flambeau’s hands…
A subtle wave of pheromones reached Father Brown, the lulling scent drawing him from his thoughts.
Indignation surged within Father Brown. Did Flambeau think him so easily swayed? “Now there’s no need for that,” he said, giving Flambeau a stern look over his glasses.
Not only were alphas commanding and persuasive in bearing, there was a biochemical aspect to it as well, special pheromones they could produce to make others susceptible to suggestion and, thus, more submissive and accommodating, a subtle bending of the mind and will by making others want to please “their” alpha.
Flambeau had just tried to coerce him through scent alone.
A dirty trick.
And the wretch had the nerve to grin at the scolding.
“Can’t blame me for trying. I’m prepared to do anything necessary to free my daughter from that- that fiend.”
Father Brown’s moral compass felt more askew than ever. What was he doing? Plotting to aid a theft - and from a church, no less? But a life was at stake, if Flambeau was to be believed. And Father Brown did believe it, but he couldn’t just let the thief get away with the jewel.
If he could do both, help save the girl and retain the Cross -
And maybe he could.
A plan began to take form in his mind.
Father Brown cleared his throat. “We’ll need help, of course,” he said calmly, in an offhand sort of way, as though discussing the weather. Because why not? What were a few more accomplices to this shotgun heist?
“I beg your pardon -”
“Yes, help.” Father Brown nodded, more to convince himself than anything. “No time to lose. I’ll gather my troops. Probably best if I speak with them alone first, soften the blow -”
“Absolutely not, I will not leave my daughter in the hands of - of-”
“You wanted my help, yes?”
“Your help, yes, not -”
“This is my help. You can choose to either accept…or find another way. Your choice.”
Silence fell as they stared at one another, locked in a battle of wills, gamble against gamble, until Flambeau slouched back in his pew, a wry grin on his face. “You aren’t like any omega I’ve ever met. Bending me over a barrel to get me to do my crimes your way...” He shook his head, mirth in his eyes.
Father Brown felt his face heat with embarrassment. The nerve of this alpha, making it sound like Father Brown wanted this, the absolute nerve.
He may not have asked to be in this situation, but he wouldn’t let the alpha bully him around. A meek sacrificial lamb, Father Brown was not.
Flambeau took a long final drag of his cigarette. “I’m going to regret this,” the thief sighed, stubbing it out the pew despite Father Brown’s protestations.
“This is lunacy. I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” Flambeau groused as Father Brown let him in through the back of the rectory.
“I don’t recall you needing that much convincing, actually.”
Mrs. McCarthy, Lady Felicia, and Sid on the other hand, had needed some persuading. His head still ached from the effort.
“But they’ll do it?”
Flambeau cocked his head, staring at Father Brown with a strange smile that made his stomach feel rather odd. “Vraiment remarquable…”
It took Father Brown a moment to mentally translate, but when he did — “truly remarkable” — he felt a blush coming on. Instead of embarrassing himself further, Father Brown chose to skirt past the alpha, leading the way down the hall.
Retreat was the better part of valor, after all.
Lady Felicia stepped close to Father Brown, voice low to avoid being overheard in the swiftly-filling display room for the Pelagius Cross. “Are you alright?”
The question, though innocent enough, gave him pause.
“As well as one can be, I think, given present circumstances.”
“Only…” Lady Felicia hesitated, “I know you sometimes bend the rules a bit, but this does beyond the kind of- shall we say assistance? -that you’ve given before.”
“I know it’s…irregular… but if I wasn’t sure the cause was worthy-”
“No, no, I meant it before when I said I believed him,” Lady Felicia whispered hurriedly even as she smiled and waved to an aging socialite across the room. “It’s curious, that’s all. Someone of his sort seeking you out, coercing you into-”
“Coercion? No, absolutely not. There’s nothing of the sort involved.”
“No,” Father Brown quietly emphasized, smiling and nodding genially to a passing clergy member.
“Me thinks the priest doth protest too much.” Father Brown gaped at her, fully prepared to continue his protestations when she blindsided him again. “Or perhaps you’ve made a positive influence on him. Well, anyway, something keeps him coming back, that’s for sure.”
“Yes, things he wants to steal keep finding their way here.”
“Yes, of course. How silly of me to think there could be anything more to him. He is, after all, doing this completely for himself.”
Father Brown would have gladly rebutted the lady alpha’s insinuations, only Flambeau had just entered the room, bedecked in a Bishop’s cassock and all other thought promptly left him.
The only thing worse than an angry alpha was a worried alpha, and currently Flambeau was both. He was anxious and battle-ready and the pheromones he was exuding were quite nerve-wracking for Father Brown to deal with (being an omega made him more scent-sensitive than alphas and betas, even while being on suppressants). He was doing his best to ignore his own anxiety rising within him, making him itch to fidget or try to sooth the raging alpha.
But Father Brown knew the only way he could help Flambeau now was to find the missing cross and he just couldn’t concentrate, not in the veritable stew of mingling pheromones the kitchen had become.
“-so the Cross could still be in the Bishop’s Palace,” Mrs. McCarthy was saying.
“A palace with over one hundred rooms,” Flambeau countered her before rounding on Father Brown.
“You’re being unusually silent-”
“Let the man think,” Sid said, and astonishingly, Flambeau fell silent with the rest of them, which was terribly helpful because Father Brown felt the answer to the mystery was so close, so simple.
Count on good ol’ Mrs. M to be a rock in a storm. Still in the palace — now that made more sense than someone getting past two very dedicated sets of guards. If the Cross never left the Palace, then where would it have been moved to? Had it been moved at all-?
Access to the jewel was tightly guarded, not even a master thief like Flambeau had been able to get around it so fast. No one should have been able to get it out of the box, let alone out of the safe and only two knew the secret combination to open the safe…
Limited access to a box made especially for the Pelagius Cross, which had disappeared from said box as if by magic -
Not magic, no. A trick.
And Cardinal Bonipogio, son of The Great Marvel, would know all about illusion, wouldn’t he?
An inside job indeed.
Father Brown needed another look at that box.
Then the phone rang and everything started to go wrong again.
It wasn’t often that he indulged in base sins like pride, but when a push of a hidden button revealed the ‘stolen’ Pelagius Cross, Father Brown couldn’t help but feel quite satisfied for seeing through Cardinal Bonipogio’s sleight of hand.
But there was no addressing that now.
After Bishop Reynard’s phone call about Bishop Cormac, the police arrived, giving Father Brown precious little time to convince Flambeau to hide in the rectory until he came back with the jewel. D.I. Mallory had held him up for so long after storming in to interrogate him, all hot-temper and insults-a bullying bulldog of a beta if ever there was one- that all of the others wound up going to bat for Father Brown. Eventually, Mallory and his constables left, leaving behind the acrid stench of angry beta…and even less time to work with.
His mind on the increasingly late hour, Father Brown rushed out of the display room, forgetting, in his haste, to keep a weather eye out for-
“I do hope you have a good excuse for your oversight.”
He froze halfway down the hall. The newly stolen jewel felt heavy in his pocket, completely hidden but that much more obvious to Father Brown, who turned to face the approaching Bishop Reynard, his stomach churning unpleasantly from nerves.
“Bishop Cormac has been found - the real one, at least — which means we played host to the thief himself and you didn’t even bat an eye. Explain!” The alpha barked out, the whole hall ringing with the command.
Part of what made alphas so powerful was their ability to combine will and pheromones to get their way, the result being pure domination. It kept wayward mates in their place and rivals toeing the line. Nowadays it was a lingering reminder of a more primitive time when alpha was synonymous with pack leader, with all the connotations therein.
It was no coincidence that most of the upper ranks within the Church were alphas, using their ‘gifts’ to shepherd their flock.
The force of Bishop Reynard’s command was very strong, the force of it hitting Father Brown like a load of bricks, compelling him to answer, to fulfill his alpha’s desire.
But the only master Father Brown submitted to was the Almighty and this priest had tangled with his share of problem alphas. It took some effort, but Father Brown regained control over himself, shaking off the sick, woozy feeling that fighting the Bishop’s pheromones induced.
“I can only offer my sincerest apologies,” he said. “It had been so long since I last saw Bishop Cormac. I’d forgotten the similarities between the two. And, frankly, I hadn’t thought Flambeau so bold as to add kidnapping to his repertoire.”
The best lies were held up by truths, and the excuse slipped off Father Brown’s tongue all the easier because it wasn’t a lie at all.
“Yes, well.” Bishop Reynard looked somewhat mollified, if a bit confused -Had the alpha expected blubbering? Prostration? - “All the same, your blunder has cost the Church a priceless gift, and for the Queen, no less! If the Cross is not recovered, I will do my best to make whatever punishment I receive for this debacle visit you tenfold.”
And with that, the Bishop turned on his heel and left Father Brown to gape after him.
He wasn’t sure if he should feel lucky to get off with such a brief scolding or concerned about his fate should the jewel slip away with Flambeau.
Father Brown jolted out of his shellshock and raced down the hall.
If he made it back to the rectory by six, it would be a miracle.
“It’s a bit conspicuous for you, isn’t it?” Father Brown asked, raising his voice a little to be heard over the throaty growl of Flambeau’s car.
Once he had returned to the rectory with the jewel, Father Brown had all but forced Flambeau to take him along, unwilling to hand over the Pelagius Cross, the way Flambeau maneuvered the bright red car, practically flying down country roads at speeds people had no business taking, Father Brown began to regret his stubbornness. Everyone thought Flambeau behind the jewel’s disappearance already, what would it hurt (Father Brown and Bishop Reynard’s careers aside) if Flambeau really did make off with it?
His stomach turned uneasily at a particularly hard turn around a bend, trees flashing by as Flambeau accelerated into the curve.
He really should have let the alpha march off on his own.
“Aren’t you worried about drawing attention?”
Flambeau flashed him a toothy grin. “That’s exactly why I have it. People see something that screams power and money and they look the other way. Instant validity, hardly questioned. It’s the ones who try to hide that get caught, in my experience.”
“Is that why you wear all those fancy suits?”
“Partly.” Flambeau’s grin took a sly, almost seductive turn. “But mostly it’s because I look damn good in a tailored suit.”
Father Brown looked around at the passing countryside.
It was a very interesting countryside. Full of trees and fields and such. Absolutely mesmerizing.
“What? You don’t think so?”
Of all the gloating egotistical alphas to get stuck with…
“When it comes to all things ‘criminal’, I defer to your expert opinion,” Father Brown smartly replied, still not quite looking at the thief due to the blush on his face.
“It’s hardly criminal to be good-looking, my dear priest.” Flambeau chuckled and fell silent for a while until- “I’m still baffled how you found the damn thing.”
“Luck and old fashioned ingenuity, I’m afraid.” There was no way Father Brown was going to tell him a Cardinal stole the Cross. He’d never hear the end of it.
“You’d have made an excellent thief in another life - or in this one, still, if the Church ever stops being your bag.”
“Why? Has the game gotten so routine that you’re actively seeking competition to spice things up?”
“The game is never dull. But sometimes…Well, a good partner is something everyone wants, is it not?”
“Partner?” Farther Brown looked round at Flambeau, disbelief flooding him, drowning out all previous embarrassment. “Helping you steal in the name of saving a life is one thing, but to do so absent morality altogether or consideration for your fellow man is not only perverse, it’s lunacy. How you could possibly delude yourself into thinking-”
“Forget it.” Flambeau tersely cut across Father Brown’s affronted tirade just as it was gaining steam, and it punctured the balloon that was the omega’s indignation.
Father Brown stared at Flambeau’s profile, frowned at the clench of his jaw, at knuckle-white grip on the steering wheel. The alpha stared ahead with a deadly seriousness that made his prior mood seem as different as night and day. To all appearances, Flambeau was upset and, for the life of him, Father Brown couldn’t see why. Flambeau regularly criticized his faith and morality, it wasn’t like the alpha actually cared about what he thought.
“A tasteless joke, that’s all. Forget it.”
Still that same tone and body language, all tension. And the faint, acrid scent of alpha distress, there and gone again, snatched away by the wind.
Something Father Brown said had actually stung.
He floundered, at a loss for how to console Flambeau when it was he himself who seemed to have done the damage.
In the end, Father Brown said nothing. He slumped a little in his seat and turned away, looking vacantly into the passing countryside, not due to embarrassment this time but shame. And he wasn’t even sure why.
There was nothing but silence until they reached their destination and that was probably for the best.
Flambeau clearly didn’t want Father Brown’s consolation or platitudes anyway.
Whatever doubts Father Brown may have still harbored about Miss Delacroix’s parentage were erased now. She was the thief’s spitting image, as well as intelligent, resourceful, confident, beautiful.
Father Brown sat silently at the rickety kitchen table, watching the young woman, her gun trained on Flambeau with a steadiness that worried him. Alpha though she was, he wondered at the strength of self she must possess. She had already outwitted and overpowered two experienced criminals. Father or not, could Marianne really shoot Flambeau? She might have studied his criminal exploits, but as she’s said herself, she didn’t know Flambeau from Adam and it was quite clear that she felt aggrieved by precisely that, filling the air with distress pheromones that Flambeau seemed keen to match as well.
Too much tension in too small of a space.
He couldn’t take it anymore.
“I’ll make us some tea,” Father Brown volunteered, desperate to calm things down before something unpleasant occurred. “Please don’t shoot me.” He wandered towards the cupboards in search of a teapot, half-expecting to hear the telltale bang of a gunshot.
“Is the priest real?” Marianne asked.
“Very, so I advise you to watch what you say,” Flambeau said, a faint warning in his tone.
Father Brown didn’t know what to make of that. Priest though he was, pure as the fallen snow he was not.
There we are. Father Brown smiled to himself as held a dusty tea kettle that had seen better days. He gave it a quick rinse under the tap before filling it up.
“You stole the Cross for me,” Marianne started, only Father Brown felt best to nip that particular issue in the bud.
“I stole the Cross,” he said with his back still turned to them. “And if I don’t bring it back, I will spend the rest of my days in Coventry.” Visions of Bishop Reynard stationing him in the most dilapidated, inhospitable hovel he could find sent a tiny shiver down Father Brown’s spine. He’d gotten comfortable in his country parish, he supposed.
“I hear some parts of Coventry are quite lovely.” Flambeau quipped. “I hear they are rebuilding the church.”
“Ha ha,” Father Brown intoned, deadpan, carrying the now full kettle to the stove.
“A pet priest,” Marianne mused, “You keep strange friends.”
Pet? He was no one’s pet and Father Brown would have said as much only-
“He’s no friend of mine.”
It was so dismissive and cutting that it made Father Brown pause in his search for the actual tea. “I thought we understood each other rather well,” he frowned, hurt.
Had he misread the alpha so badly? The trading of favors, the battle of wits, the secrets they kept-did that not make some level of camaraderie, if not a friendship?
Or all of this just another game to Flambeau? A means to an end? It hurt Father Brown more than he’d like to admit, thinking it was all a lie, being used like Flambeau’s former accomplices.
Father Brown thought on his outburst in the car. Was this retaliation against the accidental snub?
Flambeau made no response to Father Brown, didn’t even look at him, his attention focused on Marianne, who still had her gun trained on her absentee father. He sat so still, his coiled strength held tight under control.
Perhaps picking a fight now was not the best idea.
“A pet priest stealing from his own…why would he do that for you?” Marianne cocked her head a little to the side, squinting at Flambeau as if he were some little puzzle she couldn’t figure out.
She was welcome to try, Father Brown thought, busying himself with the tea again. He’d interacted with the man several times and never before had Father Brown felt as wrong-footed by the alpha as he did now. “Moral blackmail,” he offered. It was as good an answer as any (and mostly true, to boot).
“He really is a priest.” Marianne eyed him now, more bemused than wary.
“My God does not value material possessions.”
“Your God is a killjoy.” Nero Hound stepped into the kitchen. His hand was held to his chest and bleeding through the towel wrapped it. The gun in his other hand, trained on Marianne, was steady. “Put the gun down, if you would be so kind.” He spoke calmly, but there was a harsh edge to his voice that spoke of pain and barely contained violence.
Father Brown felt quite sure this man could kill everyone in the room and not lose a wink of sleep over it.
The room was dead quite, Father Brown and Flambeau holding still as Marianne complied, slowly lowering her gun to the floor, kicking it away towards Hound for good measure.
Smart girl, indeed, though it probably wouldn’t prevent further bloodshed.
Three angry alphas in one room.
If it was uncomfortable before, it was unbearable to Father Brown now. Even with his suppressants, he struggled to control the urge to whimper and prostrate himself, fighting his own omega instincts to submit, to soothe the negativity flaring in the room. He clutched at the countertop behind him, knuckles white as he tried to ground himself, so close to losing control. His head swam. He was barely aware of Flambeau and Hound growling threats at each other, hackles up.
Hound’s back was very nearly turned to Father Brown, clearly dismissing him as a threat whether by his garb or scent. Was the faux beta musk wearing off?
Hound pinned Marianne’s hand to the table, gun pressed to it, intent quite clear.
Then the tension in the room snapped, like the breaking of a rubber band, everyone moved.
Flambeau flipped the table, disrupting Hound’s threat to Marianne’s hand. Marianne flinched away from Hound, fear in her eyes, but Hound re-aimed the gun at Flambeau instead, the bigger threat.
The fear within Father Brown was immediately drowned by the urge to protect. Omega instincts were powerful in their own right and they had seized control of Father Brown’s sense of reason and self-preservation, driving him to fight when he otherwise would not fall to violence.
He dove forward towards Hound, swinging the umbrella he didn’t even remember grabbing along the way, driven by pure instinct to protect his family. It didn’t matter that this family wasn’t even his, it didn’t matter that this wasn’t even really a family, but none of that mattered, when Hound’s gun took aim center mass. Father Brown swung true, catching Hound under his arm, redirecting his aim up and away just as Flambeau charged Hound, the gun going off as the thief tackled him to the ground. Both tussled on the ground for dominance, wrestling for the gun.
The fight was short-lived. Flambeau gained the upper hand. He knelt half-astride Hound, gun aimed at Hound, who laid on the ground, grinning fiercely for all that he was winded and clearly beaten. Flambeau cocked the gun, nothing but steel in his eyes.
The scent of blood mixed with the alpha musk heavy in the air and it helped clear away some of the fog from Father Brown’s mind, reason gaining hold over his hind brain as the danger didn’t so much as recede but change fronts.
“Flambeau, no! Don’t do this!” Father Brown pleaded.
“Back off priest, this isn’t your battle!” Flambeau snarled. Blood stained his upper arm where the bullet struck. The gun shook a little in Flambeau’s grasp, though Father Brown didn’t think it was because of his injury.
“Hercule.” Father Brown took a cautious step forward. Then another. “Hercule, please. Don’t kill him. He’s not worth your soul. Don’t let him take that from you.”
The gun stayed aimed at Hound’s snide grin, but didn’t go off. Flambeau breathed hard, teeth bared at the threat that was no longer a threat, not backing down.
Father Brown had spent most of his lifetime on suppressants and, as such, he couldn’t use his own natural pheromones, he couldn’t make his voice ring with the urge for peace, he couldn’t ease the harsh scent of battle in the air with his own sweet musk. Long ago, he had made peace with his decision to hide his true nature, to virtually hamstring himself with suppressants and present himself as a beta in order to live life his own way and not just how society dictated, refusing to settle for a life just above slavery, in many cases.
Never before had he come so close to regretting that choice.
Father Brown couldn’t use any tricks to change Flambeau’s mind and defuse the situation.
But that didn’t make him helpless.
He came a little closer and reached out. Gently as he could, Father Brown placed his hand on Flambeau’s shoulder, being careful not to jar the wound or startle the man. He felt the faint quiver running through the muscles there, as though Flambeau were holding tight control, but just barely.
Flambeau didn’t speak, didn’t move.
Neither did Father Brown.
Gradually, the trembling under his hand eased, the harsh breathing subsided into deeper, more controlled breathing.
“Fine,” Flambeau spat. Quick as a flash, he lashed out, striking Hound squarely across the forehead with the gun, knocking him out.
Unconscious was better than dead.
Father Brown flinched back at the final display of violent dominance, stepping back even more when Flambeau staggered to his feet, looking thoroughly unhappy in his victory.
“Thank you,” Father Brown whispered.
Flambeau either took no notice or ignored him completely. He snatched up the Pelagius Cross from the floor, knocked free from Hound’s grip during the struggle for the gun. He left the room without a word.
Father Brown and Marianne stared after him, equally unsure of what to do.
Father Brown took a seat next to Flambeau, having sent Marianne off for anything resembling bandages. Loosely held in his hands was an old bottle of liquor. It wasn’t an ideal choice to sanitize Flambeau’s wound, but it was better than nothing.
Flambeau watched Marianne made her way back to the house.
“You need to let her go,” Father Brown said gently. He was fairly certain that the alpha was entertaining no notions of the sort.
Flambeau’s attention snapped to him, going rigid with indignation. “And why should I do that?”
“For the same reason you stayed out of her life as much as you have so far.” He gestured at the bleeding arm the alpha was cradling. “Because the life you choose to live is dangerous.”
Flambeau gave him a wry grin. “I think she’s proved quite capable of holding her own. She’d make an excellent pupil.”
“She’s an amazing young woman full of potential and doesn’t deserve the stain the life you live would put on her soul. She’s innocent. How long until her heart is hardened? Until she can’t love or trust for fear of the very shadows she’ll walk through?”
“If you have any love for her at all, you’ll spare her of the sins of her father. Let her go.” Father Brown urged, desperate to change Flambeau’s mind.
The day flashed through his mind– Flambeau, desperate to find a way out of a mess of his own making. Conversations at gunpoint. Flambeau’s finger on the trigger, so close to pulling it, so close to throwing his life and everything he was away for pride of all things. Marianne going after the man she couldn’t really call ‘father’, the man who had put her in danger in the first place, after Flambeau fled the kitchen, apparently intent on abandoning her again.
“I think you know you wouldn’t be good for her.”
Something shifted in Flambeau’s face, turned his prideful grimace into a somber mask. “Because a man like me isn’t good for anyone.” It was more of a statement than a question. He didn’t move, didn’t hunch or recoil on himself, but all of a sudden Flambeau seemed smaller, seemed…less.
Father Brown’s heart ached at the trace of resignation in his voice. He reached out and gently clasped the shoulder of Flambeau’s uninjured arm.
“There’s still good inside you. You did everything you could to save a young woman’s life. You spared the life of a man instead of taking it. You can be a good man, when you choose to be. But there is a difference between what you want and what she needs. Being a father means choosing the latter, even if it costs you. What you need to ask yourself is this: Do you want to be her father?”
Flambeau glared at him with mulish resentment. If he had any reply to give, it was held back as Marianne strode back to them with strips of torn bedding.
Father Brown rose to allow her to tend to Flambeau’s wounds.
Perhaps it was cowardice or a result of the tumultuous day, but he very much needed to be away from Flambeau, if only for a moment.
The emotions the man stirred within Father Brown made him feel confused, unstable. He was quite used to knowing who he was, but whenever he was around Flambeau everything felt…amplified, as though a volume knob was turned and everything grew louder, more intense. It was as electrifying as it was infuriating, more so as he both enjoyed the man’s company in some strange way even as their differences in lifestyles and ideologies chaffed. And he didn’t know what to do with any of it, especially when Flambeau brought out tiny doubts in his mind.
It had been a very trying day, in his defense.
Perhaps checking in on Hound and his goon would distract him a little from the anxiety coiling in his chest, the added worry for Marianne’s soul as well as Flambeau’s—
The roar of an engine startled Father Brown from his troubled thoughts.
He dashed back down the path and down the drive, but he knew he was too late.
Flambeau drove off, a smug grin on his face, Marianne beside him. The red car was soon lost to sight by the cloud of dust it kicked up from the road, and lost even more when it rounded the curve in the country road.
They were gone.
On some level, he supposed he should have seen it coming. That didn’t mean he wasn’t bitterly disappointed. For as much as Flambeau had changed Father Brown, he had hoped the same could have been said in reverse. Loss settled heavy in Father Brown’s gut as his own resignation hit him.
It would be several minutes before he realized the Pelagius Cross was gone as well.
Sitting at his kitchen table, Father Brown stared down at the letter and white handkerchief embroidered with a red letter ‘M’.
It seemed that Marianne had done what Flambeau could not—return the jewel. He stared down at the handkerchief that worried him (the possibility that Marianne might follow in her father’s footsteps) and at the note that gave him hope (the conscience she yet possessed).
Marianne was her own person and would make her own choices. He could say his prayers, but in the end, there was nothing he could do, no sway he held over her to influence the path she took in the world.
If the same could be said for Flambeau, then why did Father Brown feel so helpless and lost?