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Providence of the Broken [m]

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Nicholas Abbey lay awake in his humble bed and stared up at the ceiling.   His glasses were on his night table, along with the book he had been reading, left folded open after he had turned off the light.  Since he was a boy he had always slept with the windows open.  The cool evening air and the silvery light from the crescent moon were his friends in the late hours.  If he closed his eyes, he could imagine he was anywhere.  Tonight however, his usual tricks didn’t work.  Each time he closed his eyes, he went to the same place.  Unlike the sleepless nights that had come before, it wasn’t a scary place or a lonely place that haunted him.  Instead it was a good place.  The only place his mind could think of no matter how hard he tried. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever been special,” she had said.  “Well, not to anyone who was good to me.”

“You’re special to me,” he told her and truly, he meant it. 

His hand lifted from his side of its own accord, fingers coming to his lips with a featherlight touch.  It was almost as if he was afraid to wipe away the taste of her kiss, the memory of her lips gently pressed to his.  Closing his eyes, Nicholas returned once again to that moment beneath the stars.  Nothing in his life had ever come sweetly or gently, not without a secret serrated edge.  But Miss Alice, she was different.  Tonight was different.  For the first time in what seemed like ages, Nicholas himself felt different. 

She had asked him to forget her gesture, with bashful breathy laughs and a shyly averted gaze.  He had lied and told her that he would, but he couldn’t.  More than that, he didn’t want to.  The Abbeyshire, his home, had always been naught but strangling vines and stabbing barbs for her youngest son.  Yet, on the rare occasion, Nicholas would find a rose among the thorns.  Those flowers he clung to.  He couldn’t help it, they were always so few and far between.  But Miss Alice, well he would be seeing Miss Alice on the morrow.   

Smiling to himself like a little boy, Nicholas turned on his humble bed, curling into the sheets.  He had been unwilling to surrender to sleep, refusing to be parted with this warm feeling in his chest.  Then again, the sooner he went to sleep, the sooner the morning would come.  Then, the sooner he could see Miss Alice again.  For Nicholas Abbey however, the sleeplessness of his nights had only just begun. 

The sharp knocking at the door alerted the young doctor at once.  Having already been awake he sat upright in his bed, pausing briefly, as everyone does upon being disturbed during a conventionally peaceful hour.  When the knocks came again, this time faster and louder, the young man pulled back the covers and rose from his bed.  Collecting his glasses and securing them onto his face before flicking on the light to save him from groping in the dark for his cane, Nicholas reached for the door as the knocks began for a third time.  Swinging open the door to his simple quarters, the woman on the other side swung a fist into the air before catching herself and casting her gaze downward. 

“Chairman Abbey, I’m sorry to disturb you like this,” her voice came, hushed and panicked. 

“Sister Beatrice, what are you…” Nicholas Abbey wasn’t given the chance to remark upon the fact that the Sister of the Church of Saint Christopher stood before him in naught but her nightdress and a cloak.  He was far too distracted by the sight of the familiar little girl at her side. 

“Helen?” He muttered, reeling to put together the pieces of the present circumstance.  “It’s the middle of the night, Sister.” Nicholas continued, turning his attention back to the pale-haired woman before him.  “Why have you pulled Helen from her bed?”

“I had a nightmare.” Helen Blue supplied quickly. 

“You had a nightmare?” The Chairman of the orphanage repeated, his gaze now turned to one of its children with a raised brow.

“Please don’t be upset with Sister Beatrice.” Helen began, her voice becoming frantic.  “I had a nightmare and I couldn’t sleep, so I begged Sister Beatrice to come see you.”  As she spoke, Nicholas Abbey lowered himself before her onto his good knee, his hand gripping the cane beside him tight.  He put his other hand upon her shoulder and gave the muscle a gentle, comforting squeeze. 

“I’m not upset with Sister Beatrice,” he explained calmly, which made the little girl before him exhale with relief.  “But, why did you want to see me?” He asked. 

“I just…” Pausing she flicked her gaze to the Sister at her side before looking back at the Chairman who crouched in front of her.  “I’m scared and I don’t feel safe when you aren’t around.”

There was a beat of silence, then two before Nicholas’ stern expression gave way to a soft smile.  With a pat upon her shoulder he told her, “alright.”

As he rose from his crouched position, Helen Blue stepped forward to wrap her arms around his middle. The lurch threw his balance but she clung to him tight enough to hold him up straight all on her own.  In a breathless, muffled voice she said, “thank you,” into his stomach.  The way she gasped after getting the words out made it sound like she might be crying. 

“Thank you, Chairman.” Sister Beatrice said, directing the gaze of the young man whose not-sleep she had disturbed back to her. 

“Yes, well let’s not make a habit out of this, alright?” He answered, having a hard time taking a scolding tone when a crying little girl held onto him as fiercely as he had held onto his cane when falling into the river hours ago.  “And we’ll have to speak tomorrow about this,” he added.

“Of course.” Sister Beatrice answered, nodding with humility as she backed away.  “Thank you, Chairman. Truly it is the One God’s work that you do.” The sentiment perplexed the young man who stood in the open doorway, caught in the middle of a situation he didn’t understand.  “Thank you,” she offered one last time before hurrying down the dark hallways of the hospital residence.

The One God’s work? He couldn’t help but wonder.  Over a nightmare? Such contemplations would have to wait until there were less pressing matters to attend to. 

“Alright, come on then.” He said to Helen Blue as he patted her back, ushering her inside his small, quaint apartments.  Nicholas Abbey guided the little girl to his bed and sat her upon the edge as he hobbled his way to the closet on the opposite wall.  She sat in silence as he pulled out the cot from where it was stored along with a few extra blankets to begin setting up an impromptu bed. 

“So,” he began in the quiet of the late hours.  “What was this nightmare you had?” He asked her.

“Well,” she started before stopping, biting at her lip and looking towards the wall.  “I was asleep, and then someone came into my room and pulled me from my bed…”

“Who?” Nicholas asked.  “Was it a monster?”

“Yeah,” she answered, albeit without much conviction.  “It was a monster.”

“And why did this monster pull you from your bed?” Nicholas inquired further as he pressed his weight against the cot to test it before pivoting on his good leg to reach for the spare sheets. 

“He was going to take me somewhere.” Helen replied in a quiet voice, her gaze having turned to the hands that fidgeted in her lap. 

“Where?” Nicholas asked carefully. 

“Somewhere I didn’t want to go.” She whispered. 

“Well,” the Chairman of the Abbeyshire orphanage began, finishing with the cot and lowering himself onto it so that he sat across from the small, scared girl before him.  “You’re safe now.  I’m going to be right here, so no one is going to be able to get to you without going through me first, alright?” His assurances brought a tiny wrinkle to her delicate brow and she lifted her gaze to meet his. 

“I thought I was sleeping there,” she mused quietly, pointing to the cot upon which the Chairman sat. 

“Oh no,” he began as he rose from his seated position, heaving himself up with the help of his cane.  “You’ve had a hard night, you get the big bed.” The blond haired man told her. 

“Really?” She asked, her previously shaken demeanor replaced with one of delighted surprise. 

“Really,” he affirmed as he stepped forward to pull back the sheets.  “Now, go on.  Get yourself tucked in.” She scooted herself beneath the plush covers, wiggling into the soft mattress as the Chairman lowered the covers over her and brought them up to her chin.  “Is that better?” He asked.  The little girl beneath him nodded against the sheets that cradled her face.  “You’re safe now, alright?  It was only a dream.”

She pulled a face at his words but the moment passed as quickly as it came as she settled in, uttering a soft, “goodnight, Doctor Abbey.”

“Goodnight, Helen Blue.” He whispered back. 


Almost done.  Any minute now he would be done shelving these stupid, non-sensical children’s books that the airhead doctor who haunted his every waking moment had ordered.  Just a few more, and they would be on the shelves.  The moment they were properly arranged in their neat, alphabetical lines he would be headed straight for the door.  He wouldn’t even bother to return the cart.  Let one of the other Hands do it, one of the fools who saw their new position as a gift and not a burden.  Dashielle carried more than enough weight for all of them on his shoulders. 

The instant that the last book had slid so tidy into place, Dashielle’s quick feet carried him past the stacks and straight for the door.  It was a miracle that he’d made it through the morning without the four-eyed idiot happening upon him and cornering him into some conversation or another about his thoughts and feelings or worst of all his non-existent dreams.  There was truly nothing worse than when the bastard took a sincere interest in him.  It would be so much easier if he could bring himself to hate the man as much as he hated the silver spoon with which he had been handed all that any one person could ever want from life. 

“Ah, Helen Oak,” came the all too familiar voice ringing out like a song and echoing into every corner of the room.  “How are you today?”

Shit.

At the sound of the Chairman’s voice, Dashielle slunk himself behind the nearest shelf.  He was quick, having dived low fast enough that the young doctor must have just missed the sight of the top of his head by a fraction of a second.  Frustration beyond comprehension consumed the handsome orderly as he reigned in his breathing and hid from the kindly doctor like prey from a wolf.  He had to get out of here.  He had to…

“Actually, it’s Helen Banana now, I think.” The little girl answered him matter-of-factly. 

“Helen Banana,” the Chairman repeated, testing the name upon his tongue.  “It does have a certain ring to it.”

“Yeah,” the little girl said quickly, rushing to play what the Hands had begun referring to as the name game with the man who had started the time consuming endeavor.  “And it’s really pretty, in the picture it has leaves that go like this,” she paused, likely making some obscure gesture with her hands and arms to illustrate her thoughts.  “And they come right out of the top.”

“I can’t say I’ve ever had a banana.” Doctor Abbey said back, easily carrying out a silly conversation with a silly little girl like the silly man that he was. 

“Me either.” Helen Banana said back.  “Can we get some?” She asked, hopeful. 

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Nicholas Abbey began, always finding an easy way to explain privilege to the underprivileged children in his care. “They only grow in a few places and those places are very far from here.  They’re very expensive.”

“Oh,” the little girl conceded, disappointment in her small voice.

“What about plantain?” He asked her. 

“Plantain is a pretty name, but Sister Eunice says I have to keep the Helen bit.” Helen Banana-Oak-Whatever explained stupidly in that confident way that children so often did. 

“No, a plantain is a kind of fruit.  It’s like a banana but not a banana.”

“So, it’s a banana?”

“No, it’s a plantain.”

“Like a kind of banana?”

“Well, not really, you see… oh — Dash!” The orderly had been attempting to slip past the Chairman as he discussed fruits with the little girl that had only been able to temporarily occupy his attention.  “There you are, I’ve been… what are you doing on the floor?”

“Oh, I — I thought I dropped something.” The brunette answered offhandedly as he rose to his full height, dragging a hand through his messy locks in anxiousness.  “Did you need something?”

“Yes, I’ve been looking for you.” As he spoke, Nicholas Abbey gestured towards the doors.  It was the universal indication that Dashielle had come to understand meant he wanted to speak beyond the prying ears of children.

Shit.

“I’ll be back in a bit, Helen Banana.” The Chairman said, excusing himself politely from the orphan he had been entertaining. 

“Helen Plantain.” She corrected with a small finger pointed in the air, as matter-of-fact as when she had done it the first time. 

“We’ll talk about it.” Nicholas added sweetly over his shoulder as he followed Dashielle so casually out of the very room he had been attempting to escape. 

Pulling his hands through his hair again, he let out a misplaced sigh followed by an involuntary nervous laugh before clearing his throat and crossing his arms.  Forcing himself to meet Doctor Nicholas Abbey’s gaze he shrugged in what he hoped appeared to be a nonchalant manner as he asked, “so what is it?”

“Have you seen Sister Beatrice?” The Chairman asked. 

Shit.

“Uh, no, not today, no.” He answered quickly.  Perhaps too quickly.  “Why do you ask?” He ventured cautiously. 

“I’ve been looking for her all day and I can’t seem to find her.” Chairman Abbey mused, shifting his weight beneath his cane and pushing his glasses up his nose.  “I had to ask Sister Penelope to lead study because she didn’t show up and she never misses lessons with the children.” There was concern furrowing his blond brow and in spite of himself, Dashielle couldn’t help the urge he felt to quell that pain of worry for the young man standing before him. 

“Well, maybe she’s busy at the Church.” He offered. 

“No, I already checked there.” Nicholas replied, easily batting aside the only excuse Dashielle had in his repertoire as if he hadn’t spent all morning trying to come up with a better one.  “I really need to speak with her,” he went on before lifting his thoughtful gaze to the orderly with whom he spoke.  Pausing, the concern on his face seemed to change not only shape, but also direction.  “Dash, are you okay?” He asked. 

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Dashielle said at once. 

“You’re sweating.” The Chairman pointed out.  “Are you feeling ill?” As he asked the question, he did as all doctors do, reaching out a back-turned hand to press against his forehead.  Dashielle managed to expertly dodge the gentle gesture, ducking out from under his extended arm.

“I’m fine,” he said again.  “I’m fine, I just… I just didn’t sleep well last night.”

“Me either.” Nicholas spoke out of the corner of his mouth with that friendly half-smile that so often tricked Dashielle into an hour spent sitting in shade talking too much about too much.  No, he was not going to ask Nicholas what had kept him up.  No, he was not going to bend a listening ear to the stupid man who had treated him as nothing short of an equal from the first.  He already knew enough.  He already knew too much. 

“I should uh, I’m just going to go rest for a while.” Dashielle stuttered, gesturing awkwardly down the hall towards his intended path of flight.

“Yes, of course.” The Chairman said, nodding and even bringing a kind smile to his face.  “If you see Sister Beatrice, will you let me know?” He asked.

“Sure…” Dashielle uttered, quiet and clipped. 

“I hope you feel better.” The young doctor added tenderly, patting a hand against the orderly’s strong arm.

“Thanks, Nick.” Dashielle offered in return as he watched the blond haired man turn from him and return to the little girl who sat in wait amongst the stacks, a book about trees open before her.  In all his months working at the orphanage and all his years living there, he had never flown so fast from the wretched place as he did now. 

Finding a secluded corner in the shade behind the Abbeyshire Orphanage, Dashielle pressed his hands against the weathered stone and took a moment to catch his breath and collect his thoughts.  The thoughts he collected, unfortunately, were the very thoughts he was struggling to keep himself from thinking of.  With a spin he pressed his back to the wall and slid down its length until he was sat in the dirt.  Lifting his knees and resting his head within his arms he willed away the guilt that ate through his stomach as it rolled.  Dashielle had never been good at lying, not even to himself. 

“Do you have any idea the lengths I had to go to keep my clients happy last night?” She had raged at him from within her red velvet rooms.  “When someone shows up with a very specific request we do our best to accommodate that request as quickly as possible,” as she had spoken she gestured with her hands, making the smoke rising from the end of her cigarette spread around the room. 

“A very young request.” Dashielle had corrected, unable to stopper his insolence even as a boy, even as a man, even knowing the repercussions. 

“Let me remind you how this works,” Lady Abbey had stepped towards him then, pinching her cigarette between her lips as she snatched and stretched out his arm, lifting his shirt sleeve.  “You are my eyes, and you were on the evening shift.” She had explained as she plucked her cigarette between her fingers once more, though still holding his arm with her other hand.  “We know the girl slipped away from the Handlers but we don’t know how she made it to the hospital residence, so let me ask you again…” Pulling the cigarette from her lips after a long drag, she held the burning end over the vulnerable flesh just below the crook of his elbow.  “Who else was there that night?” She had asked and when he had hesitated to answer, she hadn’t hesitated to press the burning cigarette into his arm. 

“Sister Beatrice!” He had cried out.   When she had let him go he flinched away from her, holding his arm to his chest.  “I saw Sister Beatrice there but look, she wouldn’t be stupid enough to…”

“Thank you, Dashielle.” Lady Lucretia Abbey had said quickly and sternly, gesturing to him with a dismissive hand.  “You can go, now.”

Sitting in the shade behind the orphanage, Dashielle turned over his arm and lifted the sleeve of his shirt to inspect the tender, pink burn.  It had already started to heal, as he had expected.  All the burns she had given him healed quicker and quicker over the years.  He had endured her and he had fooled himself into thinking it had made him stronger.  Yet, as he touched at the delicate flesh, he had never felt so weak.  As a lump caught in his throat he pressed down on the burn, digging in his nails and twisting in his own anguish.  He deserved it, after all.  He deserved worse. 

The thing that hurt the most, that twisted worse than his nails and burned worse than cigarettes, was that he actually liked Nick.  It would have been so much easier if Nicholas Abbey had been all, or even any, of the things that Dashielle tried to convince himself that he was.  Yet, he wasn’t.  Not even close.  That hurt worse and made it all so much harder than Dashielle had thought it would be. 

“Shit.” He muttered to himself. 

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She woke far before dawn, when it was barely light enough for her to make out the face of her pocket watch. Rousing herself, she sat perched on the mattress, turning to let a cursory gaze sweep over the rows of prone bodies curled up under white sheets. The hour had been late when she’d returned to their shared quarters, but had she ever slept so well before? Surely, it had been the sweet sedative of victory that had lulled her off to a land that was more of dreams than nightmares. If she licked her lips, she knew she would still taste it there.

Hiding a smile from nonexistent eyes, she dressed quickly in the morning chill, buttoning up her uniform and tying the ribbon into place around her neck. The rest could come later. Stooping, she crouched next to her bed and pulled out the box that sat under it, along with a lamp. With the two items in hand, she padded her way to the windowsill, sequestering herself behind the heavy curtains. After lighting the lamp, she turned her attention to the box, setting the lid neatly underneath it as she picked out the items she wanted. The usual collection of metal bits and tools came forth, but what came after a moment of hesitation was a piece of folded paper. Carefully, she unfolded it, propping it up against the windowpane. It was a worn picture of the sprawling sky and an endless grassland below it--a picture she had come upon in a tome as a child and had ripped out without a second thought. It wasn’t her homeland, but it was perhaps the closest thing she had seen. Releasing a breath she hadn’t been aware she’d been holding back, she let her gaze fall away from the creased picture and down to the tiny gears and bolts spread before her as she set to work.

It’d always been a useless little hobby of hers, a way to fill what little time was left to her. It was easier to fill that time with some sort of activity, to keep herself occupied, rather than to let the silence fill up with things that were better left buried six feet under. Today, however, there was something different buzzing in her head as she pieced the delicate clockwork parts together with a careful eye--it was the achingly clear feeling of the wind rushing through her hair and the coolness on her skin that filled her thoughts. As the morning bells rang to wake the Shire, she hurriedly twisted a final bolt into place, dropping the half-finished clockwork animal into the pocket of her apron as she tucked the remaining tools and parts into the box.

She couldn’t recall a time she’d left for work with a light heart, and yet, her body felt like it weighed nothing as she made her way to the hospital. The buoyant feeling stayed with her even as the morning continued, and though she wasn’t one to be read easily, her high spirits did not go unnoticed by a certain young woman.

“What’s happened?” Evangeline began, sidling up to the dark-haired nurse as she walked down the hallway, clipboard in hand.

Alice glanced her way, her brows lifting bemusedly. “Hmm?” she hummed, even as the corner of her mouth curled knowingly.

“Don’t play dumb,” the other nurse chided cajolingly. “Something good’s obviously happened.” At her continued silence, Evangeline leant in with a staged grin that would’ve been a grimace if she hadn’t been the skilled actress she was. “Is it Nicholas Abbey?” she whispered, her eyes glittering.

At that, Alice finally gave her a reaction, scoffing as she rolled her eyes. “Come on, Evie, you know I’ll never be a milkmaid in spring,” she deflected.

“And that’s why I’m so curious. Tell me everything!” she pressed, and the Greenlandian nurse came to an abrupt stop, a certain expression coming over her face.

“Since when have you been so interested in the details?” she pointed out, having picked up on the sound of desperation in Evangeline’s voice. It wasn’t like her. Of course, it was very much like her to want more and more, to climb that teetering ladder of power, but it was well-known that Evangeline was already at the top, with no room to clamber any higher. So what was it that she wanted so badly? Her tone remained benign as she continued, but her eyes were as sharp as ever. “What do you really want?”

The strawberry-blonde heaved out a sigh, though her tightly-laced corset allowed little give. “Okay, okay, you’ve got me,” she confessed, holding her hands up in a placating manner. Leaning close, she whispered her sheepish words, designed to evoke sympathy. “I couldn’t help but wonder if he spoke about his father. Y’know…” she trailed off, eyeing the other nurse.

“Ah, yes,” Alice replied, nodding thoughtfully. Unfortunately, if Evangeline had been expecting a divulging of secrets, she wouldn’t get it. “Hate to let you down, Evie, but he’s never spoken to me about his father,” the dark-haired nurse explained. “But if he does, I’ll let you know.”

Just as Evangeline opened her mouth to pry a little further, an orderly coming down the hallway seemed to catch the Greenlandian girl’s eye. “One second,” she muttered, before stepping aside to subtly intercept the brunet orderly known to Evangeline as the favorite of the Abbeyshire’s mistress. She stood, craning her neck as far as she could manage without looking too obvious, desperate to catch any shreds of conversation she could. The handsome orderly looked rather jumpy, and the moment Alice had spoken to him, something had crossed his face, something almost like dread. The exchange was brief, stiff, almost, especially on the part of the young man, and soon Alice was back at her side, looking almost pleased with herself.

“It’s rare to see you speaking to an orderly,” Evangeline remarked, trying to be coy, but it was all-too-easy to catch onto what she was actually saying.

“I asked him to tell the Chairman that I won’t be able to help out at the orphanage this afternoon,” Alice answered nonchalantly.

“Now why would you do that?” the strawberry-blonde could not help but blurt out, her frustration momentarily getting the better of her.

This time, it was Alice who offered her the knowing smile. “It’s the game, right?”

“Right,” Evangeline echoed hollowly, not knowing what to say. As she tried to muster a way back to the topic she had been so intent on, a doctor leant out of a room, flagging down the Greenlandian nurse with a cursory, ‘you there.’ As Alice bid her goodbye with a quick glance, the pretty young woman was left standing in the busy hallway to stew in her frustrations. However, it wouldn’t last long; it wasn’t in her nature to accept defeat so quickly, after all. Evangeline turned on her heel in a sharp movement, striding down the corridor with a renewed sense of purpose driving her quick steps. She travelled all the way down to the front lobby of the hospital, sliding past the doors through which she could see a familiar girl behind the desk.

“Lucy!” she called, and the angelic-looking girl glanced up, her large blue eyes wide. Evangeline encroached upon her, grasping her soft white hand with a syrupy smile. “I need to ask you a favor.”




As the sky above swirled in dying oranges and pinks, Alice made her way up through the dirt-packed road, approaching the large wooden building standing high at the end. Her shift at the hospital had ended for the day, and soon her other profession would be calling with the tolling of the bells. Instead of finding her way to the secluded corner of the gardens, however, today she had walked in the opposite direction, toward the stables and the sprawling pasture that housed the Abbeyshire’s horses. As a child, she had taken every chance she could to sneak off to see the creatures, and even as she had grown into the horrors of womanhood, she had taken solace in watching the horses before heading off to her nightly duties. In time, however, her visits had grown more and more infrequent as the naivety within her had been eaten away, until at last, her visits had stopped altogether. It’d been years since she’d last stopped by.

The horses within raised their heads as she stepped within, snorting quietly at the sight of her. A small smile spread across her lips, her eyes lighting up as her gazes landed on a familiar horse, a black stallion. She stepped up to it slowly, extending a hand towards the great black beast. “Hi. Hello,” she whispered with uncharacteristic gentility, stroking the nose of the stallion. The horse snuffled at her palm, seeming eager to seek out some oats or carrots--and it would not be disappointed for long. It was half an apple she produced from her apron pocket instead--the other half, she had consumed on her way to the stables. After all, she wouldn’t have much time to eat supper after stopping by at the stables. As the horse ate happily, she crouched down to the floor, peering through the space under the stall to the legs of the horses.

Reaching back into her pocket, she brought out the clockwork toy she had been working on in the morning, a miniature horse just like the creatures surrounding her. She hummed in quiet concentration, eyeing the way the joints of their legs moved as the horses shuffled about within the stalls. Try as she might, it was difficult to replicate the movement of a galloping horse, especially purely from memory. Seeing it right before her certainly helped…

The creaking sound of a door brought her to attention, and Alice rose with a start, the clockwork horse tumbled off of her lap and onto the floor of the stable as she whirled about. Though she hadn’t had a particular perpetrator in mind, the person she came face-to-face with was definitely a surprise. “Chairman,” she uttered, brows arched high, but soon a hint of a relieved laugh tinted her voice. “I didn’t expect you to be here.”

Indeed, she hadn’t expected to see the young doctor today. After all, she had explicitly pulled strings to make sure she wouldn’t--or rather, to make sure he wouldn’t see her. While it was true that Alice had never had an interest in playing the game Evangeline so favored, she understood seduction just as well. It was a dance of push and pull, of want and wanting. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there this afternoon,” she apologized evenly, reflexively pushing away the strands of her hair that had come undone. “I had to cover for another nurse. Hopefully, you didn’t have your hands too full?”

His response was gracious and warm, as she had expected--but Nicholas Abbey, attentive to the little things, had caught sight of another act of kindness he could extend. He crouched down, brushing aside the straw at his feet to pluck the unfinished metal miniature from dirt, and Alice couldn’t help but feel something within her cringe. She had hoped that he wouldn’t notice. “Oh, um…” A small embarrassed laugh escaped her, a flush of red rising to her cheeks. “Don’t mind that, it’s nothing.”

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“He’s not going to talk to you,” Doctor Finnegan said as he followed Dr. Abbey down the halls of the hospital.

“So, you’ve said.” His young colleague replied, still limping past the rooms, questing for one in particular.  “Many times.”

“Yeah,” the older doctor replied in his ever-casual cadence.  “But you don’t really seem to be hearin’ me.” He had a funny way of talking, Doctor Finnegan.  He possessed both the diction and necessary vernacular in order to converse like any other educated, land-owning man.  Yet, he kept silent for the most part and when he did deign to speak he did so with the drawl of a commoner.  He had never told Nicholas as much, but the cripple could surmise from what he had observed about his colleague that he was low-born, having clawed his way to his current place of position.  Surely, Doctor Finnegan’s would be a most interesting story, if Nicholas could ever manage to pry it from him. 

“Look, I’ve seen this kind of thing before…” Doctor Finnegan started when it seemed that the youngest Abbey son was intent on ignoring his words. 

“As have I.” Nicholas answered, casting his gaze towards the man who followed him, his stride hesitant to keep pace with the man at his side.  “Where were you stationed in the draft?” He asked. 

“I didn’t make the cut.” Doctor Finnegan answered, making Nicholas’ limping gait come to an abrupt halt.  “Asthma.” He added, gesturing to himself with a vague wave towards the weak lungs hidden beneath his broad chest. 

“So you’re telling me that you’ve seen this kind of thing here before?” Nicholas asked pointedly, feeling his heartbeat quicken from within his frail frame.  When Doctor Finnegan nodded his head solemnly Nicholas squared himself to him, frantic as he demanded, “tell me everything you know, right now!”

“We can’t do this right now.” Doctor Finnegan said discreetly, keeping a pleasant, passive expression as he put a hand on Nicholas’ shoulder and urged him forward down the hall with a staggering push.  “Not here.”

“Why?” Nicholas’ insisted.

“You know why.” Doctor Finnegan hissed back, just the tiniest drop of scorn dripping into his tone.  “C’mon Nick.” He chided, shaking his head but keeping his hand on the young doctor’s shoulder.  “You know.”

“My mother?” Nicholas tried, his voice suddenly weak. 

“Warmer.” Doctor Finnegan answered with a sigh and a shrug as he brought them both to a pause before one of the hospice rooms near the end of the hall.  “Y’know, Nick?” He started as he let his hand fall away from the young man’s shoulder and find rest instead within the pockets of his white doctor’s coat.  “I think you might very well be the dumbest, smart person I have ever met.”  Nicholas Abbey had nothing to say to that.  Instead, he could only blink mutely at the man before him who he had begun to think of as a friend.  First Dash, called away twice in one week whilst they had been tucking the children in for bed, always by household staff insisting that the young man had scheduled chores to attend to.  Lady Abbey’s orders…  Then, both Sister Beatrice and Miss Alice had left him in the lurch this afternoon with the children.  Now, even his favoured doctor was giving him the cold shoulder.  Was Nicholas Abbey truly the dumbest boy ever fathomed by the One God’s design?  He had convinced himself that he was doing good things for good people and that somehow that would make everything better.  Once again, he was reminded that at the Abbeyshire things only ever got worse. 

“Well, go on then.” Doctor Finnegan said, gesturing with a jerk of his chin towards the door to the hospice room behind Nicholas.  “But don’t say I didn’t warn ya’.”

Doctor Nicholas Abbey pressed his lips together in a thin line and turned away from his colleague, turning the handle to the room behind him and limping his way inside.  The door swung closed behind him and both the patient and the doctor standing within his room flinched at the sound.  Round, dark eyes slid towards the skinny blond man standing with a cane at the threshold before rolling away again, hollow and disinterested.  Ever the example of impeccable bedside manner, Nicholas smiled and inched his way towards the young man who lay surrounded by all manner of monitoring machinery.  They whirred and beeped, white noise for whom those sounds were so familiar.  The young Doctor Abbey checked the charts hanging at the edge of the patient’s bed before moving idly to the intravenous drip at his side.  His intention was to give the young man a moment to acclimate to his presence in the room, giving him the opening to speak or ask questions.  Instead, the handsome Africannis boy just gazed out the window with that same hollow look in his eyes. 

“How are you feeling today, Khalil?” The patient didn’t answer.  “It is a nice day outside, I can see you’re enjoying the view.”  He pressed further helplessly.  “Shall I open the window for you?  The breeze is rather pleasant.”  The young man who lay entangled with tubes and wires said nothing but as Nicholas opened the small window and a gentle breeze that smelled like grass came wafting into the room, he closed his eyes.  At the very least, he looked like perhaps he was just a little bit more at ease.  Doctor Abbey watched the patient’s closed eyes as he took the seat at the young man’s beside, resting his cane against his good knee between his legs. 

“Khalil, I’d like to talk about what happened to you.”  At those words, round eyes shot open.  Dark, empty holes stared at Doctor Abbey with endless unfeeling as he said, “I believe you have suffered a grave injustice and I think those responsible should be punished.”  Whatever Nicholas might have been expecting, it was not what came next.  It began as a low rumbling, a slight parting of the lips.  A heartbeat later and the patient was laughing, tilting his head back and howling at the dark humour of the comedy Nicholas had not been meaning to conduct.  “I can help you, Khalil.” The young doctor continued, lifting his voice to a shout over the roar of the patient’s haunting laughter.  “My name is --”

“Doctor Nicholas Abbey.” Khalil finished for him.  The laugh on his tongue had dried up into nothingness as abruptly and disturbingly as it had been summoned.  In place of his hysterics, rage rose up to fill the void.  He glared at Doctor Nicholas Abbey, glared at him with all the hatred he could muster.  “I was almost free and you pulled me back.”  He seethed at the young man who had the audacity to insult him with his presence.  “Why would you do that?” He demanded.  “Why?”

“I couldn’t let you die.” Nicholas answered, his own voice adopting some of that hollowness that rang out in Khalil’s.  It was almost as if his despair was contagious. 

“Is this better?” He asked, gesturing to the smelly, yellow bag attached at his pelvis. 

“This is a temporary measure, while you heal.” The young Doctor Abbey explained.  “In a month or so we’ll perform another surgery to --”

“Put my asshole back together?” Khalil interrupted, crude and vulgar and razor sharp in his contemptuous tone.  “Why?  So I can be useful again?”

“What are you…? ” Nicholas stuttered, stunned into a quiet stupor.  “Why would you say that?”  He asked, but Khalil had gone vacant behind the eyes once more, turning his head back towards the open window.  “Khalil, who did this to you?” He asked, some of the desperation he felt bleeding into his tone.

“I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”  Khalil muttered.  For the first time, Nicholas Abbey found himself utterly defeated.  As he rose from the chair, the boy before him muttered one last sentiment under his breath.  “Next time, just let me die.”





He hadn’t been expecting to run into Miss Alice in the stables.  In fact, when he had wandered his way to the barns at the edge of the Estate property, he had been headed there with the explicit intention of being alone.  That wasn’t to say he wasn’t glad for his little moment of good fortune, for in fact, the moment that he saw her his heart leapt and in that moment; he forgot all about his busy afternoon, his tiring day.  He dismissed her apologies as politely as she had offered them, wondering the whole time if she could hear the rhythmic thudding in his chest for all the loudness with which it echoed in his ears.  He remembered this feeling.  He remembered it very well.  The sweat in his palms, the tightness in his chest, the ease in each step as he limped closer, and closer.  He had heard it in the music and read about it in the sonnets, but until now, he had only felt this feeling once before.  The poets would say that he was smitten, the philosophers might say he was bewitched.  Either way, she had him.  Miss Alice, by the One God’s love, she had him. 

So much so in fact, that had she not remarked upon the trinket he had stooped to collect for her; had her cheeks not flushed and that shy, embarrassed laugh not passed her lips, he might not have noticed it at all.  Instead however, he did.  Looking down at the mechanical miniature in his hands, he turned the piece of craftsmanship over in his hands.  The design was familiar to him, very familiar in fact.  With his eyes still on the toy held between his fingers his lips parted to utter a quiet, “did you…”

“Did one of the children give this to you?” He asked with a quirk in his brow and a smile.  She returned his grin with one of her own, a sigh that almost sounded like relief passing her lips.  “I have a dog and a rabbit in my office just like it.” He remarked, a little laugh upon his tongue as he extended the toy towards the woman to whom it had been given.  “You’re tinkering with it.” Nicholas noted as Miss Alice took the miniature into her capable hands.  “Now I can see why you were so impressed with my old hideout.” The smile she gave him was infectious and it only made him smile wider. 

There was a silence that followed, as she pocketed the toy and tucked her hair behind her ears.  Sometimes, Nicholas wondered if Miss Alice let him linger in that silence on purpose.  It didn’t matter if she did, because just as it had been since he had met her that day in the hospital and then later that night in the garden, he was ever eager to fill that silence.  If only to hear her speak her sweet words back to him. 

“Have you ever ridden?” Nicholas asked her and of course, she had.  Though, not for a very long time.  “I never cared for riding, until I was stationed in the Eastern Dominion.”  He watched her face as he spoke.  It was the first time he had ever mentioned his military career to the hospital Nurse and Hand of the orphanage.  Yet, there was nothing in her expression that gave hint to her thoughts as he went on saying, “there was just something so effortless about the way they do it… Like breathing.”  His gaze drifted away from her then, lost in another memory, another love, another lifetime.  When his brown eyes found hers again, he was smiling once more, though more quietly this time. 

“It was the only thing I really liked about being out there.”  Perhaps it was in the way she looked at him, her stern eyes sliding up and down his broken figure, that made him want to tell her more.  Tell her everything.  It was as though when she saw him, she truly saw him.  It was as though tearing himself open and letting her run her fingers over the scars, somehow validated what he hoped he recognized in her eyes when she looked his way.  The very same thing that made him feel as though he could very well die each time she looked away. 

“They say the most important part is appropriately matching a rider to their horse.”  Nicholas said as he stepped towards Miss Alice, reaching a hand across her to stroke the nose of the black stallion at whose stall she had stopped.  “Maximus here, is my brother’s favourite.” He pointed out.  Retracting his hand and taking a measured step back, he inspected the horse in a satirical fashion as he said, “he seems a bit self-important, don’t you think?”  He asked.  Miss Alice waited until the Chairman laughed to laugh along with him. 

“My horse was always Little Red, down here.” Nicholas gestured with his cane before padding his way down the length of the stables towards one of the less self-important horses kept within the warmth of the stalls.  If Maximus, the stallion, was a picture that illustrated Nicholas’ older brother, then certainly Little Red offered equal insight into the character of her rider.  She was long in the tooth and crooked in the knees.  A beautiful chestnut mare resigned to a life as a work-horse merely because she was smaller than the others, though no less sturdy.  Her eyes were closed, her legs tired, but when Nicholas approached her stall a white, patched nose inched forward and poked out over the edge, eager hooves carrying her neck out after.  She reached for the young Chairman’s touch as he extended it. 

“She’s a working lady,” Nicholas explained as he dragged his hand across her face.  “But she wants to run, I know it.”  He paused then, his eyes turning back towards Miss Alice.  “I can’t ride her anymore though, of course…” As the words fell off the edge of his tongue her gaze followed his own, down to the cane upon which he rested most of his weight. 

“Miss Alice?” Nicholas asked the woman standing at his shoulder, making her cast her enchanting stare his way once more.  “Could I ask you for a favour?”

Nicholas Abbey had guided the young woman in his company out around the side of the stables, where a wheelbarrow was leaned up against the side of the barn.  The cart was brimming with all manner of metal and matter, leather straps tangled in iron coils, tossed upon cuts of sheep’s wool.  Miss Alice looked to the wheelbarrow and then to the Chairman and her gentle smile spoke in tender understanding for what she knew Nicholas would ask next.  Even so, he looked to his feet as he said, “would it be a bother if I asked for your help, bringing this in?”

“You, there!” The voice came from across the lawn.  One of the household staff, clad in his dapper footman's uniform, marched towards them.  “You’re late.” He said in a brash tone, gesturing towards Miss Alice.  “Let’s go.” Nicholas didn’t like the way the words fit into his ear as they floated across the evening fog to the woman at his side.  They sounded like an order. 

“Now, hold on just a minute.” Nicholas said, extending a halting hand to Miss Alice beside him.  “What is it, exactly, that Miss Alice is late for?” The Chairman asked next, his brown eyes becoming dark as both hands settled, folded atop the handle of the ornate cane before him. 

“She is scheduled this evening for chores.” The footman answered passively. 

“Well, forgive me for asking, but I make up the schedules for the orphanage and the hospital so, pray, tell me what is this elusive auxiliary schedule that I know nothing about?” There was a halting quality to his tone, something that Miss Alice would have never heard from him before.   Though he was aware of the feeling of her probing gaze, the back of his head would yield little to her by way of answers.   

“I’m sorry, Chairman Abbey, I’m just supposed to collect Alice --”

Miss Alice.” The Chairman interrupted, a sudden sharpness in his voice. 

“Miss Alice,” the footman corrected himself, though it looked as if it pained him physically to do so.  “For her scheduled shift.”

“You know,” Nicholas said into the quiet of the evening mists after a moment or two of prolonged, uncomfortable stillness.  “I grow very tired of having the same conversation with you, Conrad.” He said to the footman.  “Especially, since it is so one-sided.” Another moment of tension passed, before all at once, the warm honey had returned to the young Abbey son’s voice.  “Tell you what, you can go let whoever sent for Miss Alice know that you will be covering her shift this evening.”

“What?”  The footman said, stumbling back a pace as though he had been struck.  “I can’t… I… Mister Chairman, Doctor, sir...”

“Is it cleaning toilets?  Polishing floors?  Dusting the chandeliers?  What task is Miss Alice scheduled to complete tonight that is so beneath you?  Hm?” Nicholas gave the young man before him only one, fleeting opportunity to provide him with an answer before he carried on, waving a dismissive hand towards him as he said, “run along, then.”  When he hesitated, Nicholas added a quiet, “shoo.”  When once again, the footman failed to move, the Chairman of the Abbeyshire orphanage crouched quickly to grab a stray horse-shoe from the hay beneath his feet before lobbing it lamely at the footman who vexed him so.  It was a poor attempt, but close enough to make the brute stumble back a stride or two for good measure. 

“Go on!” Nicholas urged, this time a little more harshly.  Finally, dumbfounded and confused, Conrad the footman turned away from the Chairman and his favoured Hand, headed back towards the Estate.  “So anyways,” Nicholas said with a forced casualness as he gestured to the wheelbarrow.  “If you could help me…”

Miss Alice pushed the gathered materials as instructed into the barn and an empty stall where only a wooden stand and half-finished saddle occupied the space.  He waited in excited anticipation for a time, admiring the way that Miss Alice regarded the creation before her.  The way it had been changed, the pieces that had been added, the fashion in which it was all melded together.  When her eyes found his again, he was already smiling at her.  “I’m trying to figure out a way that I could ride again,” he explained, impatient to answer the questions she hadn’t even yet bothered to ask.  “I can’t use this leg to get into the saddle,” he went on, gesturing with the tap of his cane towards his crippled knee.  “But I also can’t swing it over if I were to use the other.” 

With his limping stride following behind his cane, he regarded the saddle he had been tinkering with for the past few weeks before turning his warm eyes back onto Miss Alice.  “I can do it with help but, I’d like to be able to do it myself.  Then of course, there’s the issue of staying in the saddle.” There was a sparkle in his eyes as he asked her, dared her, “any ideas?”

« Last Edit: May 04, 2021, 03:12:46 AM by Reigning King »

King Kade - Reigning from the North


Character limits kill my vibe...