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Providence of the Broken [m]

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Alice regarded the young man as he thanked her over and over again, a sharp curiosity hiding behind her helpful demeanor. It was strange to hear him spout such gratitude when he was an Abbey. He’d been handed the world from the moment he’d been born, raised in luxury without a single want. The result of such an upbringing was quite evident in the likes of the lordlings that she’d encountered, especially the Shire’s own Christopher Abbey Junior--spoiled and endlessly entitled, never satisfied with even the grandest things or gestures, seeing the likes of her as nothing more than trinkets to be possessed and toyed with. Those traits seemed strangely absent in him, and she thought back to the night prior when they had spoken across the fence. A socialite who hated parties. An Abbey with a bleeding heart for children’s wellbeing. A lordling who showed gratitude. He was quite the walking contradiction, this Nicholas Abbey. How very interesting.

“Yes, tomorrow,” the nurse echoed back with a charming smile of her own as they faced each other in the hallway. “For those.” She watched him hurry off eagerly, though he refused to disappear before thanking her one last time. Curious, indeed. “It was nothing!” she called back, making sure to sound like a contented angel wanting nothing more than to aid those in need. Even when he turned the corner, the smile remained--though it was a grim one. It was a pity she would not be there to see the result of this gamble firsthand, but she dared not be present and have it be known that she had a hand in this; it was too soon to be seen as a threat...not to mention the thought of stepping foot back into that hellhole made her feel ill.

Turning from the empty hall, she too scurried off hurriedly in the opposite direction. Night was falling, and she could not spend too much time here; if she wanted to eat anything for the rest of the evening, she would have to do it now, and quickly.




The young noble struggled hastily into the last few items of clothing, his green eyes expressing some of the panic he was feeling. “I’ve got to go now, or Father will have my head,” he was muttering--whether to her or himself, Alice could not tell. She watched him with an amused expression from the rumpled covers of the bed, not a bit affected by his anxiety. The third son of a Lord and barely old enough to be a man, but he was already somewhat notorious among the nighttime workers as a frequent visitor--much to the displeasure of his father. She had little doubt that he had made it a goal to sleep with all the girls they had to offer, if he hadn’t already.

“I’ll be back, love,” he promised, nodding at her as he threw on his coat.

“One last kiss, then,” she purred, catching him by the shirt and tugging the young man back down against her mouth. Though they were both spent, there was more than enough passion in the heated kiss for the young man to reach for her again. She broke away, lounging back against the bed with a cheeky look in her eyes. “Ah ah ah,” she reminded him, tapping a finger against his mussed shirt. “You have to go, remember?”

“You don’t make it easy,” he murmured ruefully, his hands lingering on her.

“I never make anything easy,” she retorted with a careless shrug, her reddened lips twisting into a sly, feline smile. “It’d be no fun otherwise.”  

“I’ll be back,” he repeated somewhat breathlessly, reluctantly stepping back from her. “Soon.” In a flurry of movement he was gone, slamming the door behind him. Alice let out an exhale, slumping back unceremoniously into the pillows like a marionette with its strings cut. She peered up at the canopy blankly for only a moment, her earlier playful demeanor replaced by the numbness creeping over her. It was over. She was done.

For the night, anyways.

Mechanically, she rose from the bed and began to pull on her clothes. All she wanted was to leave this accursed gilded altar and scrub herself clean until she couldn’t feel their kisses on her flesh or their hands roaming her body. A hopeless task, really. By now the sensations were burned into her nerves, ghostly chills sweeping over her when she least wanted to feel them.

A sudden knock at the door rang out, interrupting her thoughts, but before she could even respond, the door swung open to reveal a slender woman dressed fetchingly, though not as scandalously as the girls. She had not yet quite reached middle age, and she certainly made an elegant and beautiful sight, but there was a certain look hidden behind her pointed grey gaze that made her seem ancient and world weary. Alice didn’t like to let herself meet her eyes for long, lest she see how her own bitterness might appear to others.

“Get yourself freshened up,” Madame Sylvia announced matter-of-factly, scrutinizing her state of undress with nonchalance. Neither of the women were fazed by Alice’s nakedness--such things were just another usual sight to them. “Patrons are waiting for you.”

Alice bristled at the words, raising her chin and levelling a defiant gaze at the older woman. “That was my last for the night, check the books,” she retorted coolly--she wasn’t about to be tricked into taking more customers tonight. The young woman was hardly a newcomer to this, and surely Madame Sylvia knew that Alice was not a naive ninny.

“I’m well aware,” the madame began crisply, “But there’s been a...development, and so we've acquired more patrons.”

“A development?” she repeated, the edge still quite present in her tone.

“That’s none of your concern. Now get to it, Lord Almsworth is waiting in the suite three doors down,” Madame Sylvia instructed. Lord Almsworth--that was one of Evangeline’s regular customers. Strange, she’d seen Evangeline present when the girls had been first gathered… The older woman’s voice returned at her silence, sharper this time. “Unless you feel the need to be escorted?” The threat was delicately worded, but it was a threat all the same. Alice knew she had no real choice in the matter--if she resisted, she’d be dragged away all the same by ‘kindly gentlemen escorts,’ as some liked to call them.

Snatching up the remainder of her clothes, Alice only offered the older woman a frosty silence as she strode out of the room and towards the powder room. Undesirable, yes, and very annoying, but it was only one more man, and one who liked meek and willing women, if she remembered correctly. “Oh, and Alice,” she heard the madame say, and her footfalls slowed to a halt. “There are two more gentlemen waiting for you after you have tended to Lord Almsworth. They’re already a bit frustrated, so do try not to keep them waiting too long.” Her voice was not malicious, or even petty. No, Madame Sylvia did not have such vices; in her tone there was only a detached desire for efficiency, and now that she had delivered the message, she disappeared to no doubt say something similar to another unfortunate girl.

A slow, dark dread began to creep up in her at the thought of the night ahead, but she shook the thought, ignoring the way her body cried out in protest. There was no use in throwing a hissy fit here, was there? It would not get her anywhere. Swallowing, she forced her legs back into motion, numbly dragging herself into the powder room.

Inside, many other girls were ‘freshening up’ before the mirrors, trying to hide their fatigue and misery by adding another dab of rouge to their cheeks or tending to their mussed curls. Every one of them were beautiful creatures, not one lacking in grace, looks, or charm--but none of them were whole.

Squeezing in between the other girls, the dark haired young woman began the process of rebuilding, her movements quick and purposeful, practiced. Though the powder room was often filled with the idle chatter of the other girls, feasting on gossip to distract themselves from the wretched truth, tonight she realized that it was particularly abuzz.

“She said he hit one of the handlers!” the girl nearest to her was saying, a redhead she recognized as a nurse in the pediatrics ward--Ada? Adeline?

“No, that can’t be. He’s skinnier than I am,” her friend, a lithe girl from Africannis called Celeste, interjected. “Him, taking on a handler?” She gestured flippantly, a powder puff in hand. “Now that’s got to be rubbish.”

“I don’t know, would they dare hurt him?” a brunette chimed in, and Alice’s hand paused for a moment before lurching back into movement. Could they be possibly talking about…?

“Well, he had one on the ground, I heard,” Ada-or-Adeline defended, adjusting the laces of her corset to display her ample bosom.

“Did you hear what Flora said?” the dark skinned girl interrupted, her dark eyes gleaming with the idea of scandal.

“Which Flora, nurse Flora or kitchen maid Flora?” the brunette questioned, all while dabbing some perfumed oils into the crook of her neck.

“Kitchen maid Flora,” Celeste clarified, plucking the bottle of perfume from her friend to partake in it as well. “She came in late because of the fuss at dinner.”

“Oooh, what fuss?”

“She said,” Celeste’s voice dropped into a secretive whisper, and Alice had to strain to make out the words. “He came in all furious-like, going on about the children and demanding things be done about the orphanage. She said Dr. Abbey was absolutely beside himself.”

“No…” the red haired girl uttered, a streak of glee in her hushed tones. “Is that why Evangeline got called away?”

“Probably,” Celeste shrugged. “She had patrons tonight, but he takes priority--she gets to traipse off to his bed, while we have to pick up after her.”

“Must be nice,” the brunette sighed enviously, twirling her curls into place. “Y’think I might be able to land me one of the Abbey boys? The older one’s a looker, don’t you think?”

“Oho, you don’t want to get tangled up in his sheets,” Ada-Adeline cautioned, the beginnings of a story in her tone, but Alice wasn’t quite listening anymore. If their gossip was true...No, the anomalies--the ‘development’ Madame Sylvia had spoken of, the extra patrons, Evangeline’s absence--they fit in too well to be a coincidence. The bare bones of their chatter had to be true, and if that was so, that meant that her creeping suspicions had been spot on. The Abbeys were--or at least, had been, keeping their golden child blind to their methods for profit. Was it because of his softness? Because of his affinity for children? She could only speculate for the time being, until she got a chance to prod at his mind in person.

As for Evangeline--Alice had no doubt that she would’ve been over the moon to see that her gambit had worked. Though it came at her own expense tonight, the dark haired girl could be patient for her own reward. She was more than willing to make sacrifices if it meant she could see the Abbeys crumble to ash along with their precious legacy.

Until then… The young woman tightened the laces of her corset, taking one last look in the crowded mirror at her reflection, pulling her lips into a well-practiced smile, sweet and promising. Until then, she could keep going, make the promise of revenge her lifeblood, the air in her lungs.  

Besides, she thought to herself as she toyed with the ribbon around her neck, what could three more men do to her that she hadn’t already suffered through? What more could they take from her? The vultures had stripped her bones clean long ago, after all.

There was a dark, twisted sort of comfort in that, and Alice could not help but smile bitterly to herself as she strode down the hallways to the suite. If this all was indeed a result of her handing the keys to Nicholas Abbey, this was something she had brought upon herself. For once, it almost felt like it was her own choice to walk into the lavish room and let the wolves ravage her--for once, it was not despair she could taste on her tongue, but the heady tang of rebellion.



As the sun began to rise over the Abbeyshire, Alice woke from her depths of her dreamless sleep. Blinking blearily in the hazy, weak light, she fumbled for her pocket watch, pulling it out from beneath her pillow. She’d woken a full forty-five minutes past her normal waking time. Groaning softly to herself, she closed the watch with a click and forced herself to sit up despite the dull aches pulsating through her. She slid back the sleeve of her nightgown to reveal a familiar sight--a mottled bruise blossomed around her wrist. Blowing out a weary breath, she reached down and prodded gingerly at her hip bones to confirm that they too were bruised, but bruises were often the least painful souvenirs from a particularly long night. She winced as she pushed herself off of the bed, staggering slightly before she could steady herself with a palm against the wall.  

Though she had overslept she was hardly late, for she typically rose an hour earlier than the morning bells rang to spend some time alone--well, as alone as she could be in a room filled with nineteen other girls. Her gaze passed over the tight row of metal frame beds, each housing the prone form of a girl. She didn’t like the look of it--it was all-too-reminiscent of the way the dorm looked at the orphanage. Hardly surprising, seeing that more than half of the girls in the same room as her had also been in the orphanage.

Her gaze fell to the box sitting under her bed, a flicker of longing briefly passing over her features. It housed the few things she owned--mostly broken clock parts she’d salvaged, along with her tools and her creations, but there were a few more other oddities shoved away to the side, untouched. Normally she would sequester herself behind the curtained window with the box, splaying out her tools and spare parts to tinker away in the light of dawn, but today she had slept away that time.

She washed and dressed as quickly as she could with her battered body, replacing the thick collar of her nightgown with a simple ribbon she typically wore for shifts at the hospital. Just as she tied on her apron, the morning bells rang out, rousing the girls around her. Her body wanted nothing more than to stay in bed, but such a thing wouldn’t be tolerated, they all knew that--and all too soon she found herself at the hospital, running around at the beck and call of the doctors.

It too was lively with whispers, much like the powder room the night prior. Everyone loved gossip, and as far as she could pick up, the rumors were all variants of the story she had overheard--a small bright spot for her to cling onto. She was in the process of taking charts back towards the labs when a familiar voice stopped her.

“Alice,” Evangeline sang as she came up to her, clearly in high spirits--but her brows quirked as she gave her a once-over. “You don’t look so good,” she remarked knowingly, eyeing her pale face and strained expression.

“You wound me,” Alice returned with a scoff, shrugging the notion off. It really wasn’t something she ever wanted to discuss, not when they both knew the reason behind her pallor. Besides, it was hardly the worst she’d suffered in her years--not even close. While it was more than a little painful to be working in the hospital, she was much more concerned with how painful it would get once night fell. “I happen to be in perfect health,” the young woman insisted flippantly.

“Right,” the strawberry-blonde said, poking at the other nurse’s hip with a finger. Alice barely held back a flinch, and Evangeline shook her head, a smirk on her lips. “Stubborn. Anyways, Ethel just sent me over to make sure you’ll return what you borrowed yesterday. She won’t stop bothering me about them every other hour.”

“Tell her I’ll have them back soon,” Alice sighed, adjusting the charts in her arms. “After I run these to the lab, I’ll go get them.”

“I’ll tell her,” Evangeline nodded, though there was a gleam of curiosity in her green eyes as she turned away, No doubt she was trying to figure out her reasons for her strange actions, actions that had led to the most recent scandal they gossiped about. What would the ambitious girl think if she realized what her intentions were..?

The raven haired nurse drew in a quiet breath as she continued through the crowded corridors. hoping that the young doctor would be in office. If she had to, she was ready to wander from ward to ward to find him, but it didn’t sound terribly appealing. She glanced at her faint reflection in the windows as she passed by, trying to bring some life back into her face by pinching her cheeks. Just like with any other man she had to seduce, she was going to have to push back the fatigue and pain to put on an act meant to enchant and ensnare. Perform, she reminded herself as she donned a smile that was more his than hers, warm and sunny. Be the queen of pretend.
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The quiet, isolated office in the pediatrics ward that the young Dr. Abbey had claimed for himself had been transformed from the morning into the afternoon.  The drawings which had previously cluttered one messy corner of his desk now hung proudly upon the muted walls, made colourful and bright.  His mood, which had been sour and tense in the early hours of the day, had settled into a mild-mannered contentment more suited to the kindly young man.  The whim began in an unassuming way, with Nicholas thumbing through the various works of art his patients had gifted unto him in an effort to lift his dampened spirits.  The practice had proved so effective, that Nicholas decided the only reasonable course of action to take was to paper the walls of his office with the source of his joy.  He had been balancing himself precariously upon a stool, reaching into the high corners of the room when a knock echoed from the threshold of his office.

“Ah, there you are.” Nicholas Abbey said, turning to face the orderly who had knocked gingerly against the open door before inching his way inside.  “Do you mind?” The young doctor asked, gesturing to the parchment he attempted to pin. 
 
At his behest, the orderly stepped forward and placed a steadying hand upon the page so that the curious cripple could secure it in place.  “Thank you, Dash.” Dr. Abbey, the younger, said gratefully as the brunette offered an extended hand in help.  There was no shame in accepting such aid, and the frail young man allowed his body weight to rest on the strong arms that assisted him from his perilous perch. 

“You’re welcome, Dr. Abbey.” Dashielle replied, a polite and rehearsed quality about the words. 

“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times…” Nicholas started.  While the words might have sounded threatening coming from any other man, with the youngest Abbey son’s light and airy voice, they were echoed in jest.  “Call me Nick.”

“If you insist Doc -- I mean, Nick.” Dashielle returned pleasantly. 

“Please, sit.”  The blond encouraged politely, gesturing to the chair across from the stool he seated himself upon.  “I’m glad you came, though I’m sorry to take you from Dr. Finnegan.”

“It’s no trouble.  There are plenty of orderlies on staff within Dr. Finn’s unit.”  Dashielle replied, his tone even and measured as he sat himself in the designated place.  There was suspicion lurking in his brown eyes, making his soft face look serious.  Nicholas, true to form, carried on as though he didn’t notice the narrowed quality of the young man’s gaze.  Clearly, Dashielle had yet to make his mind up about Nicholas, even if the young doctor beamed at him as though they were long time friends. 

“I’ve heard very good things about you, you know.” Nicholas continued as he moved a large stack of files around on his desk, questing for one collection of documents in particular.  “Everyone speaks highly of you, especially Doctor Finnegan.”

“Really?” He asked in a sheepish voice. 

“You’re surprised?” Nicholas mused, quirking a brow as he looked over at the orderly who sat in his office, at last finding the file he had been searching for. 

“Honestly, I’m more surprised you were asking after me at all, Dr. Abbey.” With a pointed, playful look from the blond, he was blushing and casting his gaze to the floor.   “Sorry… Nick.” The orderly corrected himself.

“Well, as you know, I’ve taken over as Chairman of the orphanage.” Nicholas Abbey began, paging through the folder before him, the contents of which had captured Dashielle’s attention. “I didn’t realize you were one of our own.” He added thoughtfully, opening the file at an aged intake form, pinned to which was a small, black and white photograph of the scruffy brunette boy who had first arrived to the Abbeyshire, not much different from the man who sat across from Nicholas now.  “I’m afraid I can’t speak for how things ran during your own years at our institution, but I have to say; I’m not very pleased with the current state of affairs.”

“Oh?” Dashielle inquired carefully, doing his very best to keep his expression even. 

“It is my intention to make some changes at the orphanage, Dash.” Nicholas explained.  “I’ll be starting with matters of staffing…” He continued thoughtfully, flipping to a section of the young man’s file devoted to his particular history of employment within the Shire.  Dashielle’s personal file was not unlike others he had looked through, missing what appeared to be many years worth of data scattered between months of poorly kept documentation and several completely blacked out sections.  “I was hoping you might be interested in working with me.”

“Oh.” Dashielle replied flatly. 

“There’s no need to rush things.” The young doctor added quickly, reading the apprehension in the orderly’s changing expression.  “I won’t ask you to make a decision this very moment, but do think about it.” He scribbled something at the bottom of the page in the illegible short-hand he had learned from medical school, a tiny question mark left alongside the scribbles.

“Uh, Nick?” Dashielle started, the informal name fitting awkwardly in his mouth.  “Why me?” He asked once the young Doctor Abbey had lifted his brown hues to meet his gaze. 

“I have a good feeling about you, Dash.” He answered, sunnily.  “I think you might be someone I could trust.” Something flashed across the orderly’s face at those words.  Shame?  Bashfulness?  Humility?  Whatever it was, it pulled Dashielle’s eyes from the doctor who addressed him long enough for Nicholas to gather up the file and return it to the piles of organized chaos that crowded his desks. 

“I’ll have to think about it.” Dashielle answered him distantly. 

“Well, either way…” Pausing, Nicholas Abbey leaned forward onto his cane to bring himself to standing, extending a polite hand to the orderly.  “I hope to see you around, Dash.”  He nodded in subdued gratitude as he shook the young doctor’s hand.  As he turned to leave, he was halted once more by the curious Abbey-born boy who seemed determined to pour a little more sunshine onto the orderly’s cloudy mood.  “Wait, just a moment.” He called.  “Take this.” He said, extending a white napkin wrapped around a square shape that must have been a sandwich.  When Dashielle looked from the offering to the young man who put it forth to him, Dr. Abbey uttered a gentle, “take it,” in encouragement.  “Dr. Finnegan mentioned that you had to skip your lunch break to accommodate our meeting.  My trays are delivered to my office so I ordered a second one for you.  Find a quiet place for a few minutes and I’ll cover for you.”

Dashielle tilted his head to the side like a child and stared blankly at Dr. Nicholas Abbey.  He had been told it would be easy but he didn’t think it would be this easy.  Whenever he encountered a man who behaved as the blond before him did, Dash always asked himself one question: what do they want?  Yet here, for once in his life, he couldn’t fathom an answer.  He had never before met someone like Nicholas Abbey.  Someone who was goodly and kind simply by virtue of being so himself.  How could someone so pure exist within the long suffering nightmare of the Abbeyshire?  How could such a person be birthed from its womb and exalted by the nurture he received at its bosom?  The answer of course, was simple… He couldn’t.  The young doctor, Nicholas Abbey, was either a fool or the best player Dashielle had ever encountered in the great game. 

“Dashielle?” Nick asked gently, pulling the orderly from his thoughts.  “Are you alright?”

But maybe, just maybe…

“I’m fine, Nick.  Thank you, and thank you for this.” He said in a cautious, measured tone as he took the wrapped sandwich from the cripple’s hands. 

“You’re welcome.” The youngest Abbey son said warmly, patting a hand against Dashielle’s shoulder.  “Tell Dr. Finnegan that I’ll have those test results back to him later this afternoon.” He added offhandedly in a conversational tone as he lowered himself back down into the stool before his work and rested his cane against the corner of his desk.  “And leave the door open on your way out, I’m expecting someone.” His gaze lifted to Dashielle’s curious eyes and then drifted past them, over his shoulder.  “As a matter of fact,” he began as a smile broke over his face.  “Here she is.”

“Good afternoon, Dr. Abbey.” Dashielle said quickly as he darted from the room, leaving the young doctor no time to correct him.  He didn’t acknowledge Alice or even spare a glance in her directed as he strode from the small room.  Pausing outside the doorway, the orderly leaned against the wall just a reach away from the open door to Nick’s office.

“Thank you again for letting me borrow these,” his voice said as the sound of jingling keys danced across the threshold and into the hallway.  “I finally managed to find a pair of my own… would you sit?  I wanted to ask you something…” Papers rustled and Dashielle smirked to himself as his gaze fell heavenward.  The next words were expected.  “As you know, I’ve taken over as Chairman of the orphanage…”

“Fool.” Dashielle decided, muttering under his breath as he tucked the sandwich into a fold of his uniform and fell into the stream of nurses and orderlies in his quest for a quiet space to enjoy his lunch. 



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As Alice rounded into the hallway, she found herself greeted by another familiar figure standing in the doorway--Dashielle, the orderly she had run into in this very corridor just the day before. It seemed that the younger Abbey son had taken a liking to the brunet young man. There had to be some sort of irony in the fact that the doctor was fond of the orderly that was rumored to be his father’s younger replacement, but Alice had better things to focus on at the moment--like trying to keep her effortless smile intact.

It didn’t take long for the young Abbey doctor to notice her presence, a smile breaking over his face like dawn over a calm lake. She smiled back as Dashielle made himself scarce, brushing past her quickly and stepping out into the hall. He did not give her so much as a nod or a glance, but that was more or less to be expected, the nurse also offering him no such niceties. She stepped into his office, her dark gaze making a cursory sweep of the room. It had changed again in the span of a day, the piles of children’s drawings no longer littering his desk, proudly lining the walls instead. There really were quite a few…

“Thank you again for letting me borrow these,” the sound of his voice regained her attention, and Alice looked back down to see him offering her the ring of keys.

“Oh, it wasn’t any trouble,” she waved off his humble gratitude, casually checking that they were in order before slipping them into the depths of her pockets. “Though, it sounds like you were the one who stirred up some trouble, if the gossip’s to be believed,” she quipped lightly, her brow arching almost teasingly. Though most would have balked from any sort of teasing with an Abbey, gentle or otherwise, Alice had ambitions loftier than to be simply overlooked or deemed a good worker. If she was to pry her way into his head, his heart, such barbed humour was important in moderation; it made it seem like they were chums instead of merely superior and subordinate.

“...Would you sit? I wanted to ask you something,” he remarked. She feigned surprise, though she’d suspected a request of the sort. Pulling out the chair in front of her, she took a seat, graceful despite the pain that came along with the movement. “As you know, I’ve taken over as Chairman of the orphanage,” he began, pulling out a folder that had been sitting next to him. She nodded along with his words, but the moment he opened the file, her focus slipped completely.

There was a photo pinned at the very top of the stack of papers within, a black-and-white rendering of a little girl glaring up at the camera. Her black hair was in tangled braids, a stark contrast to the perfectly starched white pinafore she was dressed in. Though she knew at once that this was a picture of herself, she could barely recognize it to be the truth. Was that really what she’d looked like? She hadn’t seen that face reflected back in the mirror in years and years, a river of time that had surged on so that it seemed like a lifetime ago. If there’d been a mistake and someone had accidentally swapped her photo with one of another girl from her homeland, would she really have known?

It was hard to say, and yet, she remembered that day, the first day she’d come to the Abbeyshire. They’d taken their clothes from them while they were made to bathe, putting them into stiff white dresses and shirts once they’d washed. If she’d known they were going to take her clothes, she would have kicked, screamed, clawed--anything to keep her last trace of home from their eager hands. Her mother had made that dress by hand for her nameday, lined with leather, ivory, and fine cloth her father had hunted and traded for. She’d seen her mother carve out the beads one by one, soaking them to made the engravings stand out. She’d loved that dress, vibrant greens and blues and a spark of red, colors she’d seen every day: the wide plains, the endless sky, the sun setting over it. It had been a little loose, she remembered, the hem doubled up and sewn into itself. She’d meant for her to grow into it…

The young woman struggled to rein herself in as his words slipped in as if from far away. Something about changing things at the orphanage and the way that it was run. Her file had large parts of it blacked out, just as any of the nighttime workers’ files were, but her documents were sparse in general. Even though she’d never seen her records before, she knew why. After all, he might’ve been their most important customer even to date. It wouldn’t do to have such sensitive information at risk. Her hand twitched, instinctively rising to her neck.

“I was hoping you might be interested in working with me,” his voice came, and this time the proposition was enough to snap her out of her jumbled thoughts. 

Swallowing, she looked up to meet his warm brown eyes. “Oh,” Alice found herself remarking, whether in surprise or dismay, she could not tell. Work with him? In the orphanage? In that hellhole? Her gaze was drawn back to the photo, the dark sullen eyes of her old self. Surrounded by children, all with that look in their eyes? Finally realizing that she was fidgeting with the ribbon at her neck, she jerked it away before placing her hand nonchalantly back into her lap. “I don’t know why you’d think of me, but I’m flattered,” she managed to recover, adding in a bit of a laugh. Breathe, she commanded herself. Relax, focus. The pose in which she’d been frozen in loosened and melted, and the nurse cradled her chin in her palm, elbow propped on the armrest, looking thoughtful.

Of course, she didn’t want to work in that dreadful nightmare of a building. The very thought of seeing it again, being in it again--well, it sent unpleasant shivers down her spine. If she never had to see that blasted place again, it’d still wouldn’t be enough. But, that wasn’t the only thing, was it? This wasn’t just about where she’d be working in, but who she’d be working with. What was a little sacrifice for something greater? Hadn’t she already proved willing to pay such a price just the night prior? Yes, what more could that hellish place do to her that it hadn’t already?

“I’m afraid I’m not the most experienced when it comes with children,” she began quietly--which was a severe understatement. “So I may need your guidance.” Meeting his eyes again, her serious expression gave way to a hint of a twinkling smile, as if it were a secret just between the two of them. “As long as you’re alright with that, I’d love to work with you.”

« Last Edit: July 01, 2019, 06:27:38 PM by nevermore girl »
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Dashielle lay on his back, his eyes cast to the decorous ceiling above him.  An intricate illustration of the heavens rolled overhead, clouds carrying cherub wings on the wind, surrounded by detailed moulding crowning the room.  He had memorized each sweet smiling face of each perfect angel long ago, counted the clouds and made a personal archive of all the various of colour used by the handsomely paid artist.  Sometimes he even thought of it when he lay in his own bed at night, trying to chase away the memories with a sleep that seemed to elude him in the same way it did all the other broken toys of the Abbeyshire.  When she finished and rolled off him, he reached for the silky smooth sheets of red that surrounded him, pulling them over himself in superfluous modesty.  He kept his gaze heavenward as long pale arms reached across his chest for the rectangular gold case she kept on her night table.  Sitting up in bed, she struck a match and held it against the end of the neatly rolled cigarette she produced from the gold-plated stash and held between her lips.  Dashielle hated the smell and closed his eyes against the smoke that drifted in the air around him.  She always had one afterwards.  “A ritual,” she called it.  “Like praying.”  Doctor Finnegan had told him once that smoking was a disgusting habit afforded to the rich aristocracy so that they may kill themselves slowly in lieu of any real suffering. 

“What are you smiling at?” She asked him. 

“Nothing.  Just a silly joke that I remembered.” He answered.

“Tell me.” She pressed, rolling onto her side and holding her head aloft by the open palm at the end of an elbow crooked upon the pillow.  Red hair fell in messy, loose ringlets around her shoulders.  The moonlight streaming in through the windows cast her pale skin aglow.  Subjectively speaking, she was a beautiful woman.  In fact, she was the most beautiful woman that Dashielle had ever encountered in his entire life.  This did not change the fact that Dashielle would love nothing more than to see the beautiful, sadistic bitch dead. 

“You wouldn’t like it.” He replied sweetly. 

“Fine.” She conceded, pulling on her cigarette.  “Then tell me something else.”  There was a playful smile on her full lips, like a wolf toying with its food. 

Dashielle paused for a moment before letting his eyes turn to the hellish creature whose bed he shared.  “I don’t want to work for your son.” He told her. 

The coy expression she had been wearing iced over as she sat up, sighing heavily.  “We’ve already been over this, Dashielle.  Your position is critical.”  As she elaborated, she slipped to the edge of the bed and found her feet.  Moving to her vanity chair and snatching the satin robe which hung on its back, she covered herself as though to do so would be representative of some kind of punishment for Dashielle.  Nothing however, could be further from the truth.  “If you’re worried that your proximity to my son is going to have some kind of affect on our appointments, I can promise you…”

“It’s not that.” Dashielle interrupted. 

“Then what is the issue?” Lady Abbey asked coolly, putting out her cigarette and crossing her arms over her chest in that purposeful fashion with which she always did. 

Dashielle sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees he looked down at the floor beneath his feet.  “Nicholas is a good person.”

“He is.” Lady Abbey confirmed sternly.

“What you’re asking me to do, to betray the trust of a good man, is that not a sin?  You’re asking me to knowingly do a bad thing, to stain my soul…” Dashielle had meant to go on but his train of thought had been derailed by the sudden sound of Lady Abbey’s laughter.  It chimed like bells and echoed through the lavish room, stunning Dashielle into silence as he stared at her, slack in the jaw. 

“Oh, you sweet, simple boy.” Lucretia Abbey cooed when she caught her breath, moving towards her ravaged prey and coming to stand over the brunette.  “The amount of times you’ve been run through and used up?  The things you’ve done?  The sort of stains on you, sweet boy, cannot be lifted through prayer or penance.  You’re already bound for the pit.” Leaning forward, she stroked her long red-painted nails through his hair and dropped a quick kiss upon his cheek.  “We will not have this conversation again.” She told him firmly.  “Put your clothes on.”

As she stepped away from him and turned her back to the center of the room, busying herself with some other task, his lips fell into a hard line and he looked to her thin neck.  She was looking down at some files spread out upon the plush seating area that surrounded a hearth.  Being in the summer seasons, it remained empty and cold.  Most nights, he would imagine himself pushing her into it.  Tonight, he pictured himself coming up behind her and throwing an arm around that long pale neck of hers.  It wouldn’t take long, even less so if he gave her throat a good jerk in one direction.  Yet, like all other nights, he merely watched her as he slipped back into his utilitarian “play clothes” as they called them.  Just another identifying uniform so he could be picked easily from a crowd in a pinch.  As he tucked the short-sleeved button down into his beltline, there came a knock at the door of the mistress’s rooms.  Without any sense for propriety, she ushered them in at once. 

“Come in.” She beckoned.  She had already lit another cigarette, holding it pinched between her long dainty fingers.  Though unquestionably beautiful, everything about Lady Abbey was elongated and thin, giving her a haunting elegance.  She liked to think of herself as a wolf, but in Dashielle’s nightmares she always appeared to him as a spider. 

It was her son who entered the room, at once halting in his tracks at the sight of what was clearly a post-coital scene.  Had it been her youngest, Dashielle might have very well thrown himself from the moonlit window.  Fortunately, it was her eldest born, who received nothing more than a pointed look and a brow flicked up in quiet challenge from the orphan slut who had just had his mother.  As Christopher Abbey Junior turned as crimson as his mother’s hair, he uttered a restrained, “I’ll come back later,” from behind gritted teeth.  Dashielle maintained eye contact with the heir to the Abbeyshire as he finished tucking in his shirt, smoothed out his pressed pants and then sat himself once more to take his time putting on his black, polished shoes and tying the laces. 

“If it’s about the orphanage, I’ll have it now.”

Biting down against the bile rising in his throat, Christopher Abbey Junior tore his gaze away from the young man who dressed himself at his mother’s bedside.  He crossed the room to the seating area, making himself comfortable on the couch across from the woman who addressed him.  She flicked ashes into the glass tray on the coffee table that separated them, holding out an expectant hand into which Christopher obediently placed the files he had brought with him.  There was no hesitation as she dove into the contents, spreading out the budget plans so that she could review them in their entirety.  As she sucked on the tobacco rolled into a neat length, pinched between her lips, engrossed in her reading material, Christopher cast his gaze back towards Dashielle, only to find him looking right back at him.  They stared one another down for a moment before the orderly broke the quiet. 

“Lady Abbey…” He began. 

“Yes, yes.  You’re dismissed.” The mistress of the house said quickly, waving a dismissive hand at the young man, letting ashes fall on the expensive carpet beneath her slippered feet.  “Show yourself out, Dashielle.”  The boy did as commanded, but not before sliding one more smug expression Christopher’s way. 

When the blond-haired man’s gaze fell back to his mother, her features had hardened into something serious.  “Interesting,” she mused as she perused the documents.  More at ease now that her bedfellow had made his exit, Christopher leaned back onto the plush couch and crossed his arms over his chest.  The Lady Abbey was likely drawing the same conclusion that her first born had when reviewing the proposal.  Lessons, structured schedules, Governesses and Groundskeepers to hire, repairs to make; all of it would interrupt the nighttime goings-on of the Abbeyshire, throwing a wrench into the well-oiled machine of their family enterprise.  It would only make sense for his mother to reject the proposal. 

“I’m going to approve the proposal.” She informed him suddenly. 

“What?” He asked her, an incredulous laugh upon his tone.  His mother however, maintained the same serious expression upon her lovely face. 

“Christopher, what is it that you do here?” Lady Abbey asked of her son, puffing on her cigarette before blowing the smoke across the table and into his face. 

“I keep the books,” he said, closing his eyes against the stinging cloud that wafted towards him.  “I keep things running.”

“Yes, you do.” She told him in a gentle voice.  When Christopher opened his eyes again to look at his mother, her face told a story he didn’t care to hear.  She was smiling at him, but not in the sweet way that he loved.  Her cheeks were full with amusement, but her eyes were angry and hollow.  “Tell me, have you finished with the accounts for this month yet?” She asked, though she already knew the answer. 

“Not just yet.” Christopher admitted, his head bowing before an impending verbal lashing from his family matriarch. 

“And what about the cheque books have you gotten around to those?” She pressed further.

“No.” He confessed hopelessly. 

The cigarette was held aloft by manicured fingers at the end of a crooked elbow, smoke billowing from the orange-glowing tip in thin wisps.  Her other hand came to land upon the detailed proposal laid out before them.   As she fixed her son with her wolf-like stare she elaborated through gritted teeth saying, “Your little brother did this in one night.” She watched the accusation leveled between the lines land hard and heavy upon her first born, her pleasure growing as his heart sank.  “You know how I feel about useless things, Christopher.” She told him as she pressed the end of her cigarette into the ashtray and rose from where she had been perched on an artisanal high-back chair.  “I’m going to approve this proposal, and you are going to keep things running.”  Lady Abbey explained as though the matter was a simple one.  “That’s what you do here after all, isn’t it?  You keep things running.” When she repeated the words back at him, they sounded more like an insult. 

“But… but how am I supposed to…” He stuttered.

“You’ll figure it out.” She snapped, her voice rising before softening again.  “Because you’re useful, aren’t you Christopher?” 

“Yes, mother.” Christopher Abbey Junior returned obediently, pathetically. 






The Abbeyshire orphanage had already begun much changed in the weeks since Nicholas Abbey had taken over as Chairman.  The plumbing had been fixed, the leaks in the roof and holes in the walls patched and mended.  Even the staircase had been repaired now glistening with smooth clean wooden steps that wouldn’t splinter for a hundred years if the carpenter who made them was to be believed.  The most notable change however, was in the children themselves.  For some within the Shire, it was an inconvenience to daily life.  The happiest children are often the loudest ones, always shrieking and laughing, playing and talking.  For the new Chairman of the Abbeyshire Orphanage, the noisy cacophony sounded like music, the melody of laughing children his most favourite sound. 

“Look!” Said one little boy, whispering as he came up behind his friend.  “She’s right there, it would be so easy!” He pointed a grubby finger at a fellow orphan, the brown-haired girl was leaning over the pond’s edge, trying to reach a sunning frog with her net.  They had been conspiring to push someone into the murky waters all afternoon, and finally their moment had arrived.

“We can’t.” The other boy said simply.

“How come?” His friend retorted, brow furrowed.

“Miss Alice…” The boy warned his friend, reminding him of the presence of the mysterious and intimidating young woman who had become a fixture in their routines.  She sat upon an unstable and perilous looking perch across the small body of water.  She was watching the lily-pads swaying in the wind.  “If you push her in, Miss Alice is just going to send you in there right after her.”

“Shoot.” His comrade hissed.

Miss Alice was part of a select group that had quite suddenly appeared within the orphanage.  Some of them taught special lessons and others had more administrative duties, but mostly they were responsible for watching after them in the way in which they had previously fended for themselves.  They made sure they woke up in time for breakfast in the morning and that they brushed their teeth at night.  They walked with them to their lessons and chores, guiding them by the hand as they familiarize themselves with their new, busy schedule.  They joined them on their outings and supervised them while they played in the yard, separating the children who fought and entertaining the ones too shy to engage with the others.  They were different from the Sisters who taught them their lessons or the Handlers who sometimes still stalked their halls at night.  Chairman Abbey called them, Hands.  When asked why, the gentle-hearted man had answered, “Because I needed a few extra.”  They all had their favourites among the staff who were ever present and predictably returning, rotating shifts between each other as needed.  Few favoured Miss Alice.  She was aloof and unapproachable, but they listened to her and behaved relatively well when she was around.  Perhaps, it was for this reason that she seemed to always be the chosen Hand to accompany Chairman Abbey on his outings with the children.  He would take them in small groups, alternating different groups with days of the week.  It seemed he was making a point of trying to get to know each child individually.  Today their outing had been to the pond at the edge of the meadow beyond the orphanage.   

“Wow!” Someone shouted from nearby. 

“Everyone, come look.” Nicholas Abbey called to the children who played among the wildflowers and quested curiously within the pond.  At the sound of his beckon, the two boys who had been quietly conspiring together abandoned their mission, bounding through the tall grass to the young man who called them forth.  He stood beneath a tree, holding a large leaf over their small heads.  By the way he was handling it, the leaf played host to something delicate that he wanted to show the inquisitive children who swarmed him like moths to a flame.  “Do you remember our lessons last week, when we talked about butterflies?” He asked the group.  When they chorused back their affirmation he lowered the leaf for them to look at the caterpillar who squirmed upon it’s smooth, green surface.  It was blue, with yellow spots and fuzzy hairs all over it. 

“So that thing’s gonna’ be a butterfly?” One child asked. 

“Some day, yes.” Chairman Abbey affirmed.  “Be careful.” He advised them.  “Don’t touch, just look, that’s right… step back, thank you John… Give everyone a chance to see.”

“It doesn’t look like a bucker-fly.” Another child noted bluntly, careless of the finger rooting for the itch in his nostrils. 

“It’s gotta’ go in its coon first, right Chairman?”

“Yes, Helen.” He affirmed before adding quietly, “cocoon.”

“Cocoon.” She repeated.  When he nodded to her, she beamed a smile up at him. 

“Okay, we’re going to let Mr. Caterpillar go back home now.  I think we’ve bothered him quite enough for one day.” As he spoke, Nicholas leaned his weight against his cane and set the leaf against the tree behind him, watching the bug wriggle off and onto the bark of the trunk. “And now, it is time for us to go back home as well.” He told them. 

“Can we race?” One pond-pushing-plotter requested hopefully.

“I don’t know…” Nicholas started, humming to himself and stroking his chin in thought as he turned to Miss Alice.  “What do you think?” He asked her.  The boys then turned their wide-eyed stare to the Hand accompanying the Chairman on this particular outing, looking to garner some type of sympathy from the stern guardian.  At her affirming nod and the Chairman’s passive, “Oh, alright,” the two boys took off running, bumping into each other as they went.  The rest of the children joined them, eager to be a part of the fun.  Nicholas Abbey watched them as they kicked up grass through the fields of white and pink wildflowers.  For a moment he allowed himself to feel that familiar melancholy yearning, wishing he could be a little boy again, running after them.  That feeling fell away however, when Miss Alice stepped up beside him.  Her presence at once pulled him from the trance and he rested his hand on her shoulder, grateful for the soft place to rest some of his weight.  Together they walked through the meadow that separated the orphanage from the village, like they always did; at a gentle pace with his hand upon her shoulder as he hobbled forth each determined step of the way. 

“I think they’re warming to you.” Nicholas remarked of Miss Alice as they strolled through the tall grass and sweet smelling flowers.  “They were standoffish at first, I’ll admit, but I think you’ve quite grown on a few of them.”  Being unfamiliar with children had put the young woman at a disadvantage, but she was a quick study and it didn’t take long for her to figure them out.  Soon enough, they would adore her as they did their new Chairman.  “Have they grown on you?” He asked her. 

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Alice squinted in the bright daylight as the children went rushing off into the sprawling meadows before them, shrieking and shouting the whole way. Their keepers, on the other hand, began the typical leisurely pace back to the orphanage. This was in part, of course, due to the Chairman’s crippled leg preventing him from moving much faster, but the dark-haired nurse noted that the youngest son Abbey never seemed to mind it much in her company--at least, that was what she dearly hoped. Together, they strolled through the swaying wildflowers, his hand placed at her shoulder as it usually was when the footing became more treacherous. His touch was always careful and nothing but polite, which Alice found a touch of humor in--men had been touching her for years and years now, even as a child, and yet she couldn’t think of a single instance prior where a touch hadn’t turned lewd somewhere along the way.

“I think they’re warming to you,” the young doctor began, distracting her from her thoughts, and she turned her head to glance at him as he spoke. “They were standoffish at first, I’ll admit, but I think you’ve quite grown on a few of them.”

“Oh no, say it isn’t so, Chairman,” she quipped back without missing a beat, a sharp little smile flitting by on her lips. “I have nightmares about the children gazing up at me with adoration, clambering all over me as they do with you.” Her smile grew into a tart grin for a moment, then it loosened back into a comfortable neutral expression as she turned her eyes back to the children ahead of them, highly visible against the foliage in their starched white clothes. Though it was far from being an adequate recreation of the plains she and her family had once roamed, she liked the meadow. It was certainly better than the cramped orphanage she’d once lived in, or the hospital wards with its white, white walls.

“Have they grown on you?” he asked next, a question she should have expected.

“Perhaps,” the nurse answered flippantly, a matching, careless tilt to her head. She paused, her brow creasing slightly. “Maybe.” There was another reluctant beat before the words were finally mumbled. “...Just a bit.” She met his eyes again, her lips twisting ruefully, as if she’d confessed an embarrassing secret. “Don’t you dare tell them,” Alice said to the young lord with mock severity, joking with him as if the vast abyss between their stations did not exist at all.

If there had ever been a clear line of propriety between the two of them, it’d since been crossed. Of course, she was careful when there were others about, but now that she worked directly with him on a regular basis, their time together had increased. With it, she traipsed freely about that line of propriety without even so much as a coy ‘may I?’ whenever she got the chance. Nicholas did not seem to mind it--rather, she had figured that what he wanted was to be seen as a friend to his subordinates, if his warm energy and dogged insistence on being called by his first name was to be proof. Alice knew that the key to any seduction was to find what one most desired, what their ideal was. With the right words she could become anything, everything. Nearly all her life, she’d been a monstrous shapeshifter, catering to each customer’s fantasies. If Nicholas Abbey wished for a friend, so be it. It was all at once the easiest and hardest role to play, she found. Unlike some of the other things she’d been forced to become, there were no drastic behavioral changes required of her, but for Alice, who’d never had much of a friend or been one, ‘friend’ was a fantasy she had limited experience with.

As for the job--she supposed that though she held little enthusiasm for the children, she didn’t hate them or find them unbearable. The first week had been an absolute jaw clenching nightmare, despite the children being quite even-tempered whenever the young doctor was around to charm them. Being in that building had been bad enough, and it had taken every bit of willpower within her not to flee that wretched place like bloodthirsty hounds were on her heels. Even now, with all of the fancy new renovations, Alice didn’t like being stuck in there very much. There were too many ghosts still lurking about, too many things she’d rather not remember still steeped in the walls. She could only be eternally grateful that the children no longer much resembled the faces she’d once been surrounded by, and a crying child was almost uncommon. The young woman might have leapt at the chance to work with the Abbey boy, but she knew better than anyone that she wouldn’t have been able to bear it for long otherwise.

“Y’know, I don’t think I would mind too terribly if they ended up disliking me,” she found herself musing out loud. At his quizzical gaze, she went on to explain, her tone carefree. “Well, somebody has to be the stern, boring adult, no? We’ve all got our parts to play, after all. You can be the hero, of course,” she turned to him, her onyx eyes twinkling with a playful spark. “As for me--I think I’d make a fantastic villain.”

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“You can be the hero, of course.” She told him as they strolled through the meadow together.  “As for me -- I think I’d make a fantastic villain.”

“Well, that won’t do.” He told her.  When she looked back at him over her shoulder, he was smiling at her with his usual sunny expression.  “Then who would be my sidekick?” He asked her playfully.  “Every hero needs one.”

That word; hero.  It was a word which twisted awkwardly in the Chairman’s mouth and left a stale taste upon his tongue.  This word in particular had been thrown around many times in the last few years of Nicholas Abbey’s charmed life.  He had been revered as one, acknowledged as such by both the Archbishop and Emperor, honoured before the masses in the Capitol, Londinium.  In spite of this however, the man Nicholas saw staring back at him in the mirror looked no different to him than the little boy he had once been.  He had never seen a hero, or even a brave man in his reflection.  He had never gazed upon a likeness of himself and thought of a personnage who could be a scholar, a doctor, a soldier.  That is, in spite of the fact that he was in actuality all of those things.  Humility was not a choice for Nicholas Abbey, but rather a sentence to which he had been condemned from boyhood. 

The children fussed and squaked amongst each other as the shifts between Hands changed over.  Dashielle was among those trying to sort the children into groups.  Some had chores while others had lessons, but they were rambunctious and difficult to settle down after the thrill of their outing.  As Alice and Nicholas drew closer, one dark haired head broke away from the pack and rushed up to the Chairman she, along with many others, had come to trust.  As she approached, she extended a hand that the Chairman took readily.  She looked up at him with the wide-eyed stare with which most regarded him.  “Hello Helen.” He said to the young thing at his side as he staggered his way towards the clustering children. 

“I think I’ve decided on a name.” She told him.  Ever since the first Helen had begun insisting that everyone refer to her by her new moniker of ‘Blue,’ the others had taken it upon themselves to find their own name by which to stand apart.  “I think I should like to be called Helen Tree.” She told him.  “I like trees.”

“What kind of tree?” He asked in return. 

“There’s different kinds?” Helen inquired thoughtfully, her gaze becoming distant as the possibilities began bouncing around within the head beneath her long brown braids. 

“Oh, sure.” Nicholas informed the little girl.  “There’s spruce and aspens, or oak, or maple…”

“I don’t know…” She mumbled, thinking hard on the subject. 

“You could ask one of the Sister’s for a book from the library and then pick your favourite.” The Chairman suggested. 

“Okay, I will.” Helen affirmed.

“Nick?” Came Dashielle’s asking voice over the tops of the children’s heads.  “There’s someone here to see you.” He informed, a tired quality to his voice. 

“Thank you, Dash.” Nicholas returned sweetly.  “Go on, now.” He urged, giving Helen’s hand a gentle squeeze before she darted forward to join the others.  Turning to the young woman at his side he offered Alice a warm smile.  “I have rounds at the hospital tonight.  Will I see you there?” He asked her.  At her words his smile stretched a little wider.  “Until then.”

The cane at his side hobbled at a gentle pace next to his ruined knee as he moved through the front foyer to an adjacent waiting room.  Within he saw a woman whom he immediately recognized.  “Uma?” He asked.  When the smartly dressed woman lifted her head from the book she had been reading, his smile exploded across his face like the sun at dawn.  “Uma!” He exclaimed as he rushed forward.  He nearly tripped but he was caught by strong ebony hands that instantly pulled him into a firm embrace.  “Uma, it’s so good to see you.  How long has it been?”

Pulling away from their hug, holding him before her at arm’s length, the woman before Nicholas regarded him with kind brown eyes.  She looked just as he remembered her, with full pink lips and doe-like round eyes fitted onto the glistening smooth skin of her dark-complexioned face.  “Too long.” She replied sweetly. 

“Come, come… we’ll speak in my office.” Etiquette would dictate that it was the duty of the gentleman to place a gentle guiding hand onto her back, but instead the roles were reversed.  Unable to help herself, she extended one hand ahead of Nicholas though she carried in it a small case of luggage.  An old habit she hadn’t yet shaken. 

“You’re walking much better these days.” Uma observed. 

“Thanks to you.” Nicholas returned, his smile still beaming.  “Oh, Alice…” He started, noticing that she still lingered in the foyer with Dashielle as he attempted to reign in the children and hand them off to their respective guardians as the shifts changed from one Hand to another.  “This is Lady Uma Dubois.  We met each other in service to the Empire.  She was a medic like myself, though she had been stationed at one of many hospices.  She’s our new governess.”

“Now, now…” Uma tisked in a light-hearted tone.  “I haven’t made any decisions just yet.”

Nicholas didn’t acknowledge her words.  He knew that if she hadn’t been interested in the position, she wouldn’t have bothered to make the trip to the Abbeyshire.  “Uma, this is Miss Alice.  She is a nurse at the hospital but also one of our Hands here at the orphanage.”

“Pleasure.” Uma said in a curt but polite tone as she extended a hand to the young woman who faced her.  She spoke with a slight accent and though her usage of the common-tongue was flawless, it was obvious that she had been raised in the region of Gaul.  Her appearance however, highlighted the distinct features of her Africanni descent.  “My, my, aren’t you a pretty one.” Uma remarked of Alice as she shook her hand.  “You certainly have a type, don’t you, Nicholas?” She inquired playfully, arching one black brow over the other as she slid the young man at her side a queer look.  Nicholas barely had time to flush at the insinuation before his attention was being pulled in yet another direction. 

“Nick!  Could I get some help here?” Dashielle asked, drowning in the cacophony of shrieking children, one of them tugging on his neck as he tried to flag down the Chairman who had hired him for the exhausting role of Hand. 

“Of course,” he answered Dash before turning to the women he stood with.  “If you’ll excuse me just one moment.” The Chairman offered them politely as he limped away. 

“So…” Uma started casually.  Her eyes followed Nicholas as he stepped amidst the thrall of small voices and clamouring hands before turning to the Greenlandian girl who stood before her.  “Do you enjoy your work here?” She asked.  There was something cold about her calculated cadence that didn’t match the warmth with which Nicholas had welcomed his mysterious new guest.  She stood out like a sore thumb, but not because of her distinctive foreign origins, but rather the pride with which she carried them.  The potential governess was dressed in fine, pressed cottons, an expensive hat adorned with a flower completing her smartly tailored ensemble.  She held her luggage case in front of her with both hands, regarding Alice in a manner which was not cruel or unkind, yet unsettling nonetheless.  “He certainly seems to enjoy it.” Uma noted offhandedly, her eyes returning to the cripple who sent off the hoards of tiny noise-makers.

“Get your finger out of your nose, John.” The Chairman scolded one of the stragglers.  “That’s it, now hurry and catch up with the others.” With a pat on the back the boy was on his way. 

“By the One God…” Dashielle swore under his breath, his hands coming to his hips as he released a ragged breath.  “You make that look so easy.”

“Take a break before your next shift.” Nicholas told him, straightening the collar of his uniform maternally.  “My lunch tray is still waiting in the kitchens, take it for yourself.”

“You’re too good to me.” Dash returned with a wry grin. 

“Nonsense.” Nicholas replied at once.  “Now off with you.” He patted the orderly on the back as though he were another orphan to whom he was giving direction.  Dashielle didn’t have to be told twice.  “I’m sorry about that.” The youngest Abbey son said politely as he hobbled back towards the two women he had left in each other’s company.  “Now, where were we?” He asked thoughtfully. 

“Your office… for our meeting…” Uma offered patiently. 

“Right!  I’m sorry, Uma, of course.” Nicholas pushed his glasses up his nose and gave his head a gentle shake, as though he meant to jostle the pieces of his busy mind back into place. 


“You haven’t changed a bit, Nicholas.  You still apologize too much.” The ebony-skinned woman reprimanded playfully as she returned her gentle, guiding hand onto Nicholas’ back. 

“Good afternoon to you, Miss Alice.” The Chairman bid his favoured Hand a sweet farewell as he turned to lead Uma down the corridor that would take them to his offices in the orphanage.  As colourful and bright as Nicholas had made his small space within the pediatrics wing, his office at the institution was even more so.  Drawings papered the walls, lumpy sculptures and other such wondrous art projects lined his shelves.  The room paid respect to all the different little lives that had stolen Nicholas’ gentle heart.  Upon entering, Uma set down her luggage case and pulled a tin from her pocket. 

“Can I smoke in here?” She asked. 

“By all means,” Nicholas returned accommodatingly as he limped his way to the chair that sat on the other side of his desk.  Relieving his crippled leg of the weight it bore as he sat himself in the comfortable leather seat, he fixed Uma with the warm smile she remembered across the years.  “Tell me that you’ve accepted my offer.” He encouraged playfully.

“Let us discuss specifics.” The woman who seated herself across from him began.  She crossed one leg over the other as she pulled on the rolled tobacco she brought to her lips.  “Your childhood home is just as beautiful as you described it.”

“What would you like to know?” Nicholas asked.

“Everything.”



« Last Edit: November 17, 2019, 09:47:43 PM by Reigning King »

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Alice regarded the tall, dark-skinned woman before her. So too did the woman, whom Nicholas had referred to so affectionately as ‘Uma’, look back at her, dark gazes meeting as if to see which one would buckle first. “So...Do you enjoy your work here?” she posed the innocent-sounding question, though the look in her eyes seemed far too calculating for it to remain innocuous. “He certainly seems to enjoy it,” she added, glancing at the form of the young man tending to the children.

“He most definitely does,” the young nurse agreed, her own gaze resting on the youngest Abbey son for a moment. When she turned back to the other woman, however, she found her looking back at her once more. “I find it rewarding,” the nurse answered. “I admit there are difficult moments, but it is easy to be long-suffering when one looks to the future.” It was a response that was much closer to the truth than she typically would’ve given to a stranger--if this woman should join their staff, there was no point in trying to pretend that she was one to live and die for the sake of the rambunctious children. One look at the way she behaved with the children would have made it clear that she was stern rather than indulgent, an aloof figure watching over them rather than the type to mingle amongst them like the doctor she worked under.

Before either woman could interrogate the other any further, however, the crippled doctor made his way back to their side. Hurried as he was in his eagerness to escort his old friend to his office, he did not fail to bid her goodbye with a warm smile. She returned a smile in turn, excusing herself, but as the pair turned and began to make their way to the young doctor’s office, Alice paused in her stride. Subtly, she watched the way they walked together, flint eyes narrowing in thought.




“So, when are you going to tell me what game you’re playing?”

Alice didn’t bother looking up at the question, her brows only quirking up along with a bemused hum as she tucked the white, white sheets into the metal frame. Evangeline clicked her tongue in turn, leaning over the mattress with a teasing look sparkling in her sharp eyes, silently demanding an answer. “I don’t know what you mean,” the dark-haired nurse denied again, though a hint of a smile played on her lips. 

“You know exactly what I mean,” Evie accused with a huff, even as her fingers busily worked away at the hem of sheets on the other side of the bed. “Are you going to make me beg? And here I thought you liked me.”

“Liked you?” Alice echoed, pretending to be aghast. “I think it’s time we checked you into the mental ward, Evie.”

“Ha! As long as you’re right there alongside me, straitjacket and all!” the strawberry-blonde shot back gleefully, her pretty lips twisting into a wicked grin.

“Oh, naturally. Who’ll pick up after you if I don’t?”

The two nurses dissolved into stifled snickers, eyeing each other mischievously--and for a moment they looked like nothing more than two carefree young women sharing a joke. At the sound of the head nurse pointedly clearing her throat, however, they quickly finished up the bed they were working on and moved onto the next. Obediently, they continued to fixate on their mindless task--but the moment the head nurse strode off, Evangeline had returned to her interrogation.

“No, but really,” Evangeline continued, looking as amused as she was mystified, “I never thought I’d see you--of all people--minding children in that orphanage.”

“Why in the world would that come as a surprise?” Alice retorted wryly, though it was hardly meant to be a serious attempt at denial.

“Oh, please,” the pretty young thing immediately scoffed, rolling her eyes. Leaning in conspiringly, she smirked knowingly at her. “So, Nicholas Abbey, eh? I didn’t think you were the type.”

Alice shrugged. “Maybe I finally decided to get ahead by taking a page from your book,” she remarked nonchalantly, unfurling the bundle of sheets in her arms. Evangeline caught the other end of the linens with expert timing, the two working perfectly in time like two cogs in a well-oiled machine even though they paid little attention to their hands.

“Now you’re getting the idea,” the fair-haired nurse said, coy approval in the curl of her lips. “You’ve slept with him, then?” she went on to whisper the brazen question without a hint of hesitation, her pretty eyes glittering at the idea of hearing something scandalous. Evangeline was to be disappointed, however, for just as Alice parted her lips, a cry went out as the main doors down the corridor burst open. “I need help!” came the bellow, and gossip-hunting forgotten, both young women abandoned the pristine white sheets that they had been holding and rushed out to meet the new emergency admission. They were two of the first three nurses to reach the chaos as orderlies laid the slight figure of a teenage boy onto a stretcher, and they hurriedly checked his condition.

“Pulse is weak,” Alice reported to the head nurse, who was trying to find the source of the large amounts of blood soaking his clothes through with little success.

“Pupils are dilated, unresponsive,” Evangeline hissed, drawing back from the boy’s bloodless face. He seemed lost to the world, unconscious. There were all too many possible reasons for that--the loss of blood for one, but it could be trauma to the head, or even things like alcohol or opiates.

But as the boy’s head lolled back, Alice recognized him. Not by name, of course--never by name. He was a fetching young thing, but of course he was; he had to be. Her gaze snapped upwards, away from the fading boy and to the lobby through the glass. Even among the milling crowds, she immediately picked out the figure of a Handler disappearing back outside. Alice met Evangeline’s gaze, the silent conclusion passing first between the two and then to the older nurse with them with lightning speed. The source of bleeding, perhaps, had been obvious from the start.

“Take him to the FT ward,” the head nurse immediately barked, and the flurry of motion began all over again.
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They stood around the broken young man, who lay sprawled and lifeless on a gurney in a pool of his own blood.  The long, drawn out beep of the monitor registering the poor boy’s heart rate came to a sudden stop as Doctor Tulip reached over and pressed a manicured finger against the command board.  With a sad expression upon her handsome, serious face, she brushed the locks of dark curls from his face and closed his sightless eyes.  This was not the first time the studied woman of medicine had lost a patient.  In her years, working in the Female Trauma Ward of the Abbeyshire hospital, she had seen many beautiful boys and girls come across her table.  Not all of them had been given the reprieve of a painless farewell as this young man had.  The drugs kept him placid and unfeeling.  They had carried him on a cloud into the worlds beyond where he would come face to face with the One God.  She had cared for him in her ward before.  He was stronger than the others like him, braver too.  The sweet-mannered boy had withstood the violence that others could not, until at last, his strength gave out.  A heart full of courage could not keep a soul bound to the earthly confinements of life when it stopped beating.

“Time of death?” Doctor Tulip asked, looking up from the young man before her to the nurses who stood within the white walls of the surgery room.  It was a Greenlandian girl who pulled a pocket watch from the folds of her uniform.   As she parted her lips to answer the Doctor who addressed her, another figure burst into the room.  It was an orderly, someone that Doctor Tulip recognized as Lady Abbey’s favoured prize.  He took a quick look around the room before leaning out the door and shouting down the hallway.

“Nick!” He called out.  “In here!”

Before Doctor Tulip had any time to react, Nicholas Abbey suddenly came stumbling into the room, coming at once to the young man’s side.  “Dash, compressions!” He barked as busy hands came to the cart before the head surgeon of the FT Ward. 

Taking a moment, she permitted an expression of gentility to wash across her pointed features.  “Dr. Abbey…” She began, but the young doctor wasn’t listening. 

“Three milligrams of epinephrine…” Doctor Abbey prattled on, an instinct in the surgery room, despite the fact that none of the assisting nurses were taking note of his medical proceedings. 

“Dr. Abbey… the patient is lost…” Doctor Tulip continued. 

“That is not your call to make.” The young blond answered sternly as he finished filling the syringe in his hand and moved to the patient’s side.  “Not yet.”  With the practice of a battle-trained medical officer, he quickly found a suitable vein within the young man’s pale, limp arm and injected the epinephrine where it would find the most direct route to the heart.  Dashielle stood over him, the orderly pressing his hands against the patient’s chest and applying pressure rhythmically, counting under his breath.   

“Dr. Abbey, this is the Female Trauma Ward, you shouldn’t be here.” She followed him as he moved about the small room, though he wasn’t listening to her.  “Dr. Abbey, this is my patient and--”

“He is a child of the Abbeyshire.” Nicholas snapped, the eyes that peered over the frames of his glasses were harsh and narrowed.  “That makes him my patient.  Now, either help me or get out of my way…”

For a moment, Doctor Tulip stood frozen.  The glimmer shining within his eyes was something she had lost within herself a long time ago.  It was fire, it was passion; the relentlessness of a will set on playing God.  In medical school, they had all shared that same purpose, that same burning flame.  It had been years since she had seen a colleague for whom it had not been smothered by failure, by loss.  Suddenly, she lurched into motion. 

“Evangeline, get the EKG back on.” Doctor Tulip directed, a newfound urgency to her voice and movements.  “Alice, get the defibrillator…”  As the women around them moved, the two individuals who bore the title of Doctor upon their name tags acted as one as they came to the boy before them. 

“Status.” Doctor Abbey requested.

“Patient has gone into shock, haemorrhaging from the rectal artery…”  Doctor Tulip answered, updating her assisting physician and surgeon. 

“Rectal artery…” Doctor Abbey repeated thoughtfully as Alice stepped forward, wheeling the machine that she handed off to the blond haired man before her. 

“Cardiac arrest, two minutes and counting…” Doctor Tulip continued. 

“Charging defib…” Doctor Abbey added, lifting the pads from where they rested within the machine as the sound of the rising charge began to drown out the monitors that echoed around them.   As the flashing light turned green, the young doctor brought the pads to the patient’s chest.  “Clear!”

Dashielle pulled his hands back from the boy’s chest as Doctor Abbey lowered the pads, sending a shock coursing through his limp body.  Bringing his fingers to his neck, the brunette resumed his compressions.  “No pulse!”  He said, the adrenaline coursing through his veins making his voice louder, panic rising.

“Increasing voltage…” Doctor Abbey said, turning to the machine before him as the whirring recommenced. 

“It’s been too long,” Doctor Tulip uttered quietly.

“Clear!” Doctor Abbey called again, once more bringing the pads to the young man’s chest as Dashielle pulled his hands back.  His body arched off the table and when it landed back flat, the electrocardiogram echoed a steady beep, followed by another and another. 

“We have a pulse.” Dashielle said, triumph painting a smile across his lips. 

“Prepare for surgery.” Doctor Abbey continued, never halting in his actions as practiced hands moved to position the patient. 


It was nearly three hours later when Doctor Nicholas Abbey emerged from the surgery room.  The front of his gown was stained with crimson, gloves soaked to the elbow.  He slumped against the wall, pulling the protective garments from himself.  He blinked against the fog of his mind as blood dripped onto the floor.  Bundling the tools of his practice and discarding them in a nearby bin, he pulled his surgical mask from his face and breathed deeply.  Holding his hand out before him, he watched as with each breath, the tremor returned to his steady fingers. 

“The patient is stable.” Doctor Tulip said as she followed the young doctor out of the room, letting the door swing shut behind her.  “That was… well, frankly what you did was impossible.” There was a laugh on her lips as she spoke the words, but when she turned her smiling face to the young man at her side, there was no victory to be found in his distant gaze.  “He’s lucky you were here.” Doctor Tulip pointed out.  Arterial surgery was no small venture.  Even Doctor Tulip, will all her years of medical training and practice could have never pulled off what Nicholas Abbey had achieved. 

“Lucky?” Nicholas repeated, at last turning to face the Doctor who was responsible for the very private Female Trauma Ward.  “You do realize what happened to that young man, don’t you?”

“You should rest, Doctor Abbey.” Doctor Tulip said, stepping forward to place a hand upon her colleague’s shoulder which was quickly shaken off. 

“He was raped, Doctor Tulip.” The youngest Abbey son snapped, a manic sort of disbelief touching upon his fragile voice.  “Raped to death…”

“No, he wasn’t.” As she spoke, she reached out again to place her hand upon Doctor Abbey’s shoulder.  This time, he allowed her hand to remain where it landed so softly.  “You saved him.” She reminded him. 

“Someone should be held responsible for this…” Nicholas Abbey replied, his gaze once more becoming distant. 

“You should rest.” Doctor Tulip repeated.  “Doctor Abbey…” Her voice carried off as she noticed the young doctor’s eyes flicking back and forth, touching upon room after room, drawn curtains keeping secrets not meant for the faint of heart. 

“What is this place?” He asked quietly.  “Why was that young boy brought to the female trauma ward?”

There was a pause as Doctor Tulip folded her hands in front of herself.  The young man’s blood was still smeared across her front, dripping from her gloved grasp as she interlocked her fingers in a fashion that called to mind images of the scolding Sisters of the Order of the Innocent.  With her lips pursed she spoke the only words she was capable of uttering, “I’m not sure I’m the one to tell you that, Doctor Abbey.”

As she looked away from the young man before her and began her practiced motions, disrobing her medical garb, she added, “perhaps you should speak to your father.”

“I will.” Nicholas Abbey replied. 


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As they had rushed into surgery without much time to prepare, both girls had been attending to the doctors before Doctor Tulip’s favored assistants could come and allow them to take on a more diminished role. It’d been a grueling three-hour battle that they had been witness to, and at last, it was over. The boy, who had died, was once more among the living.

“Alice, Evangeline--would you take care of the equipment?” the female doctor began distractedly. Unlike the overwhelming majority of the doctors at the hospital, Doctor Tulip knew most if not all of the names of the girls and boys that play-acted at being nurses and orderlies. Alice imagined that it was difficult not to when they were as often her patients as they were under her command. The dark-haired nurse nodded curtly, watching the doctor head out of the room to join the young man who had excused himself moments prior. Ignoring Evangeline’s knowing smirk, she crept to the swinging door to catch what was being said between the two doctors.

“--lucky you were there,” Doctor Tulip was saying.

“Lucky?” Nicholas Abbey echoed incredulously. “You do realize what happened to…” His voice faded off into muffled noises as the door closed, and Alice reluctantly turned away, back towards the task at hand. Wordlessly, she joined Evangeline as they went about cleansing the many tools that had been used to wrench the dead boy back from the clutches of death.

She shared the young doctor’s sentiments, if only for a different reason. That pretty young lad would have been better off dead. When he woke, it would hurt worse than when it happened--it was always worse the morning after. And even if he should be pumped full of drugs to fend off the pain, his fate was to eventually suffer the same fate again--or worse. Grimly, Alice gripped the scalpel, keeping her movements controlled as she disinfected the blade. She wanted nothing more than to finish up and leave this room, no, this blasted wing itself. She’d been here often enough as it was.

It was Evangeline who broke the silence, seemingly relatively unaffected by their environment. It was perhaps to be expected. After all, the pretty girl who had been Doctor Abbey’s favored bedmate for most of her career had never been treated in the FT ward except for the mundane check-ups to ensure that she was clean--nothing but the best for the master of the Abbeyshire. “Well, that was quite impressive," she commented. Her expression was a bit sour, her words more begrudging than not.

“So it was,” Alice acknowledged, moving onto a pair of clamps. He had salvaged a life that all the doctors in the hospital would not have been able to save, though whether or not the boy had truly been fortunate would be proven in the coming months.

“I thought you’d be a bit happier,” the fair-haired girl remarked, raising her eyebrow. “The higher he climbs, so do you.”

“Is that how it works?” she returned vaguely. Impressive achievement aside, Alice was chewing on the information that had crept in between cracked doors. She had suspected it, of course, but by now it was rapidly becoming clear that Nicholas Abbey, the precious hero-son of the Abbeys, might be wholly unaware of the disease that festered in the Shire--from the secrets of the orphanage to the true occupations of the fetching young things that seemed to be in ample supply in every corner of the sprawling property.

“Yes,” Evangeline shot back as if in shock, her tone firm as she turned to face her, and at last Alice was forced to turn her thoughts to the matter at hand. “What game are you playing?” she questioned, her sparkling green eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“Yours,” Alice reaffirmed, feeding her the lie without a hitch in her voice. “At least, that’s what I’m trying to do,” she clarified, smiling wryly. “But perhaps I’m not as well-versed in it as I thought.”

To that Evie let out a peal of laughter, her qualms swept out along with it. “I should’ve known! Goodness me, Alice, wee lamb!” she exclaimed teasingly, bumping her hip against hers. “Don’t you worry, I'll take care of you. I’ll make a master player out of you yet!”

Alice smiled back, her lips twisting into a sharp little grin. “I’ll hold you to that.”

 




“I’ve got it.” The words were expelled into the air by the lanky youth lying by her side, and Alice looked up to meet his gaze.

“Got what?” she prompted, though she already knew what was to come. It was a game they played each time he came around. He was young--younger than her, that was for sure. His friends had brought him as some sort of birthday prize several months ago. Despite having been mortified the first time, he had returned of his own volition, again and again. This marked the fourth time he had come to see her, and the fourth time he would hazard a guess at the reason that she would never take off the ribbon at her neck.

“It’s a trick. There’s no real reason for it.” He smiled triumphantly, though his dimples caused the expression to veer more boyish than anything else. “You just want to keep me guessing.”

“Do I look like someone who does something for no reason?”

“Absolutely,” he told her at once, garnering a sharp laugh from her. There was an earnestness in him that she didn’t often see in the likes that frequented their perfumed sheets, something disarming that made it easier to humor him--though the fact that he was only the first customer of the night likely helped as well.

“Ah, but there is a very good reason,” Alice disagreed, the beginnings of a smile in the corner of her lips.

“Is there?”

“Perhaps it’s a trap,” she whispered, a wicked smile on her face as she leaned close. “To keep you coming back for the mystery. A gimmick, so you’ll never figure me out and tire of me.”

He looked at her thoughtfully. “I don’t think I’ll ever figure you out.”

“Good, it’s working,” she remarked, falling back against the silken sheets to stare at the chandelier above. She would have to leave soon to fix herself up for her next appointment, she thought to herself. Her view and thoughts were soon to be obscured, however, as the young man hovered over her, eyes eager.

“Am I right, then?” he asked, gleeful anticipation heavy in his voice.

“Maybe. Maybe not. It’d be silly to tell you, don’t you think?” she teased. With that she roused herself from the luxurious bed, reaching for the clothes that littered the floor to dress.

“Do you have to go?” he posed the forlorn question as he sat up, looking reluctant to send her off. He always stayed to the last minute, often forcing her to be the one to leave first.

“Yes,” she answered simply, “I have more patrons.” It was a truth that was almost always unspoken because it was unnecessary and often ruined the atmosphere. The men who bought them understood how it all worked--and yet this one apparently needed to be reminded.

“Oh.” His blue gaze flicked away, but in that moment he must have found some foolish courage within himself.  “Do you ever...don’t you wish you could leave? It’s just, I could--” he began nervously, and Alice watched him bumble, eyes like flint.  “I don’t have a lot, but it’d be enough. And I’d find a way to make more...” Many years ago, when she had been just as young and hopeful as he, she would have loved him for those words alone and agreed to all his silly plans with breathless ardor. Now all she could muster was a worn-out pity for the poor boy as he spoke his foolish dreams. “We could go far away, just the two of us--”

Reaching over, she kissed him hard, startling him out of his words. When his mouth melted against hers, she pulled away, staring him in the eye grimly. “Sweetling, you should never fall in love with a whore. It’ll be your undoing.” The lad only blinked, stunned, while she continued to speak as she dressed, pulling a stocking over a knee. “Now, no more of this nonsense. You’ll spoil the fun.”

“No, listen,” he began again, reaching for her as he forced himself back into her line of sight. “I can take you away from this horrid place, I could sav--”

“No, you can’t,” she cut him off, her voice now cold as midwinter as she tore herself out of his grasp. The young woman was no stranger to promises of freedom, each and every last pledge of eternal love just as false as the facades she donned. She’d thought that she hated those men for their lies, but now that she was met with those promises without a drop of deceit, with wide innocent eyes that would never understand, she realized that she hated him more. She hated him in his naivete--she hated him for thinking that she could be plucked whole and clean from the clutches of the Abbeyshire, for thinking that she would be free just by stepping outside its boundaries. Alice knew better. She could never be taken away from this place--she could be taken to the farthest place from the Shire, and still, the moment she closed her eyes, she would always be here. “You should go,” she told him, not even bothering to spare him a glance as she finished dressing with a quick and practiced efficiency. “And if you should come back, don’t ask for me.”

“But I can’t do that,” he insisted as he scrambled to his feet to stop her, giving her a shaky smile meant to charm, to cajole. “I have to find out the mystery of the ribbon, remember?”

Stone-faced, she turned to him and snatched the ribbon from her neck, watching as his eyes grew round in shock, horror settling into his youthful face. “There you are,” she announced hollowly. “Satisfied now?” As expected, there was no reply. Wordlessly, she tied the width of cloth back into place, slamming the door shut before heading for the powder room as if hellhounds were nipping at her heels.

The room was a bustle of girls and energy, as usual. Dragging her heavy feet to the mirror, she tried to collect herself even as nausea and panic flooded her. She’d done something stupid, something she shouldn’t have. Numb fingers tightened the fastenings of the ribbon again and again, as if the fancy ornament would suddenly begin to slip now that it had been tugged loose once. It'd been years since a living soul had been privy to her secret; she'd never once let someone come close to it, and yet she'd let her bitterness get the better of her--

“One down?” the voice came from behind her, casual and familiar, but it nearly caused her to jump out of her skin. Whirling around, she came face to face with Evangeline, who seemed equally startled by her reaction. “That bad, eh?” she remarked knowingly, though there was little trace of sympathy there. If they wept and wailed over each others’ unsavory customers, there’d be no end to it, and so the girls did not bother.

“You don’t look so pleased yourself,” Alice managed to toss back as she collected herself, eyeing the way Evangeline plopped herself down before the mirrors, wordlessly forcing the girls on the bench to scoot over without a care for the way they glowered.

“Nonsense,” the fair-haired beauty sniffed, leaning forward to apply a fresh coat of rouge to her pouted lips.

“Mmhm,” Alice acquiesced, not about to press any further in accordance to the silent rules of their relationship. She reached for the comb instead, brushing out her mussed hair so that it would lie slick as a raven’s wing once more. After all, she had a good guess at the cause of her irritability. In this one way, the scheming girl was quite predictable--she was annoyed to be working a regular night instead of being whisked away to the bed of Doctor Abbey.

And then as if on cue, the door to the powder room opened, and in strode Madame Sylvia. Evangeline’s eyes snapped to the figure reflected in the mirror as it approached them, a smug smile passing over her pretty features. “Your appointments have been cleared for the night--you’ve been summoned by Doctor Abbey,” the older woman delivered the news in her typical matter-of-fact, clinical tone, and Evangeline turned to rise from her seat, looking like the cat who got the cream. “Not you.” Madame Sylvia clarified pointedly, her grey gaze moving to the dark-haired young woman instead. “Doctor Nicholas Abbey.”

Both girls wore a similarly stunned expression, though Evangeline’s was tinged with humiliation. Still, she turned to Alice, giving her a smile that did not quite hide the jealousy in her eyes. “Looks like you don’t need my help after all,” she commented, pinching her side as Alice stepped forward.

“Quickly, now. He’s been looking for you,” the madame snapped as they left the powder room, gesturing to where the handler would be waiting. At no response, she turned to find the young woman struggling into clothes that were decidedly not the scandalous clothes befitting her night-time profession, but the soiled plain white nurse’s uniform. She only arched a single eyebrow, refraining from questioning the action. After all, she was a discreet woman when it came to the tastes and fancies of the Abbeys.

It was a short while after that Alice found herself herded into a certain place. It was not his office or the orphanage, as Alice had guessed--nor was it his bedroom, as Evangeline and Madame Sylvia would have assumed. No, of all places, the door that the handler had brought her to was the one that led to the Female Trauma ward. The bulky man ignored the nonverbal question in her eyes, giving her a rough prod as he jerked his chin towards the double doors once more. Knowing he wouldn’t be telling her again, she passed through the doors, reluctantly looking about the ward for a sign of the doctor who had called for her.

Spotting him sequestered in a corner absorbed by what appeared to be charts in his hand, Alice quickly made her way to his side. When she was upon him she cleared her throat to catch his attention. “I don’t think you’re allowed to be here, Doctor,” she began with feigned sternness. It soon fell away as she joined him in his hiding place, leaning against the wall with a teasing smile. “What will you give me if I keep your secret?” she asked with playful ease, as if this scene was one they’d traversed a hundred times over. It didn’t matter that despite being in her typical uniform, her hair was loose and perfumed about her shoulders, her features polished by subtle brushstrokes and powder. It didn’t matter that her fingers itched to make sure the ribbon tired about her neck was secure, and most of all, it didn’t matter that they were in this cursed ward--or at least, that was what she was trying to tell herself.


« Last Edit: April 10, 2020, 12:09:29 AM by asterin »
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“Nicholas,” Dr. Christopher Abbey Senior began patiently as his son fumed, pacing in spite of his cane and limp, the length of his elegantly decorated study.  His son wasn’t listening to him, however, but instead continuing on with his tirade as though his father hadn’t spoken at all.  The behaviour was unbecoming of Nicholas.  Emotionality and fits of rage were his older brother’s area of expertise. 

“We should call the police…” He prattled on.  “They will be able to conduct a most thorough investigation and find the fiend who did this…”

“Nicholas,” Dr. Abbey tried again.  The voice he spoke with was gentle and patient, yet his brown eyes were cold and narrowed into slits of stern indifference. 

“We can’t allow this sort of thing to go unpunished, the Abbeyshire is meant to be home to men of God…” There was a franticness climbing up his throat as he spoke.  It reminded Dr. Abbey of his eldest son.  It reminded him of his wife. 

“Nicholas…”

“He’s only a boy and yet…”

“Nicholas!”

At last, Dr. Abbey had lost his patience, barking sharply at his son.  Both men halted, their shared gaze a mirror image of surprise and horror.  As Dr. Abbey looked on at his precious son, the only thing within this wretched world that he truly loved, the ice melted from his gaze into something warmer, something more paternal in nature.  The expression into which his features twisted could have been mistaken for pity.  He took a breath and then paused, furrowing his brow and casting his line of sight to his son’s shoulder.  When Nicholas failed to notice the pointed way with which he stared, he let the words fall from his lips quietly. 

“Nicholas, you’ve ruined your shirt.” Dr. Abbey observed. 

The youngest Abbey son followed his father’s gaze to his shoulder where a handprint of crimson had turned muddy upon his clothes.  For a moment, Nicholas was left frozen, recounting the most recent events of his day to determine when such an assault was made upon the fine cottons of his blazer.  The realization dawned upon him and painted itself across his face as he muttered, “Dr. Tulip…” beneath his breath.  The doctor had still been wearing the gore of surgery upon her person when she had reached out a comforting hand to the shaken young man.  Was she so accustomed to the blood of innocents that she hadn’t noticed it upon her own hands?  Had Nicholas been so distracted by the circumstance of his practice that he hadn’t noticed the stain left behind by her affectionate touch? 

After a moment of stunned silence, Nicholas grunted in disgust as he moved quickly to peel the offending garment from his person.   Throwing the bloodied blazer onto the floor of his father’s study, Nicholas turned to the man who stood there so casually.  With anger in his voice he asked, “what is the purpose of the Female Trauma Ward?”

“I already told you, Nicholas…” Dr. Abbey began as he stepped around his desk and moved across the room.  “It is a Ward for our female patients, to provide them with privacy and discretion in their treatment.” As he spoke he circled his son, coming to stand before the bar at the rear of his study. 

“Right, that’s what you told me.” Nicholas agreed, turning to his father.  Dr. Abbey kept his back to his son as the bottles he jostled clinked together, selecting an expensive vintage and two glasses.  “So then, why was a male patient brought to that ward?”

“Dr. Tulip was the only surgeon on staff aside from yourself.” Dr. Abbey explained as he poured the aged bourbon into the two glass receptacles he had laid out.  “A simple conclusion would be that he was taken to the nearest doctor who could treat him.” He turned back around with a glass in each hand, offering one to his son.  Nicholas didn’t even bother to look down at the refreshment but instead kept his gaze held hard upon his father’s passive face.  Shrugging, Dr. Abbey placed the glass on the nearest surface before sipping from his own, returning to his desk.  “You’ve had a very trying day, why don’t you stay here tonight?” He suggested. 

“No.” Nicholas answered at once. 

“Nicholas…” Dr. Abbey started patiently, but his favoured son was interrupting him. 

“I don’t know why you’re still lying for her, but whatever it is you’re hiding from me, I’m going to figure it out eventually.”

“I’m sure you will.” Dr. Abbey answered calmly, seating himself once more at his desk.  Leaning back in the comfortable leather of his chair he continued to sip at his drink and watch his son.  “Good luck.” He added nonchalantly, lifting his glass as though the words were a toast made in his war-hero son’s honour. 

“Goodnight, father.” Nicholas said coldly before striding from the room, leaving Dr. Christopher Abbey Senior to his bourbon. 





“I don’t think you’re allowed to be here, Doctor.”  The voice came from down the hallway and Nicholas turned to see Miss Alice approaching him.  She looked different than how he usually saw her.  Raven locks fell down her back instead of being wound in the tight knot in which she normally wore them.  Her delicate features were emphasized by subtle strokes of rouge, her cheeks dusted with powder.  “What will you give me if I keep your secret?” She asked coyly. 

Nicholas couldn’t help but smile playfully in return.  They had established an amicable repertoire, long hours spent at the orphanage and the pediatrics wing making them fast friends.   He liked her as well as he liked any of his fellow hospital staff or his carefully chosen Hands, but he also liked her a little more than just that.  She made him nervous in an exciting way instead of the dread-filled way to which he had grown so accustomed.  Thus it was with ease that he rose to meet her pleasant demeanor with one of his own.  With an impish grin he replied, “well, that depends on what price your discretion can be bought for.  After all, it was so good of you to offer to cover Dr. Tulip’s rounds tonight.” As he spoke he handed the charts over to Miss Alice.  The realization dawned on her as he watched her look over the amended schedule.  Indeed, he had given Dr. Tulip the night off and replaced her name with that of Miss Alice for the evening hours. 

“I’m sorry, Miss Alice.”  He said quietly, his voice taking a sudden and serious turn.  “I’m afraid I’ve put you in a compromising position, asking you to lie for me like this…” There was remorse upon his face now, the previous playfulness falling away to the wind like leaves in the fall.  “I just have to know what’s really going on.”

When her gaze returned to his, the expression she wore on her face was one he had never seen her display so openly in his presence.  Sure, he had noticed the sidelong glances, the passing twitch of her lips, but never like this.  “You’re surprised?”  He couldn’t help but remark, his own surprise obvious in his hushed tone. 

“Come now, Alice.  You’re a clever woman.  You must have noticed that something isn’t quite right here in the Abbeyshire.”  They held one another’s stare for a beat or two.  Only the distant hums and beeps of monitors throughout the ward filled the silence that stretched out between them.  “I have to know.” He told her, desperation touching upon his voice now.  “Will you help me?”

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She hadn’t known what to think or expect when her destination had revealed itself--or rather, she had stopped herself from extrapolating lest the dread overtake her. She barely managed to hide her feelings as her gaze travelled over the charts the young man handed to her, his words sounding rather far away. “I just have to know what’s really going on,” he insisted, something intense running through his tone. It was enough to make her meet his gaze, too soon to mask the confusion in her eyes. “You’re surprised?” he asked, sounding rather startled himself.

“Yes,” she answered, knowing that she couldn’t deny what he had already assessed. Of course, that wouldn’t prevent her from twisting the truth into something more advantageous. “Mostly that you would seek me out, instead of Doctor Tulip or your father. I don’t have much to do with the FT ward--”

“Come now, Alice. You’re a clever woman. You must have noticed that something isn’t quite right here in the Abbeyshire,” he reasoned seriously.

Had she been a woman with any less control, she would have burst into side-splitting, tear-inducing hysterical laughter. Not quite right with the Abbeyshire? Not quite right? Oh, if only he knew! If only he knew what festered in the heart of this despicable place! However, Alice knew how to hold back such reactions with convincing ease. She met his somber gaze without flinching, without as much as a twitch at the corner of her lips, and she was greeted with the eyes of an earnest man desperately fumbling in the dark for the elusive truth. “I have to know,” he said firmly. “Will you help me?”

For a heartbeat she was silent, wordlessly peering into his pleading eyes. When her lips finally parted, it was to heave a resigned sigh. “Of course I will,” she answered, glancing down to the chart in her hands. When she looked up again, however, the mischievous spark in her almond eyes had briefly returned. “What kind of friend would I be if I said no?” she remarked playfully, shooting him a rueful little smile. It was a precarious gamble to dare to claim that she and the young master of the Abbeyshire could be friends--even more so to presume that they already were--but tonight would be the night for such risks, it seemed. If anything, it would at least distract him from the reluctance with which she had forced herself to accept his plea for help.

Squaring her shoulders, she offered the young man another quirk of the lips, which came off more nervous than she would’ve liked. To him it might’ve seemed innocent enough, what with the amount of grief that might fall upon her if they should be found out, but she couldn’t have cared less about that. No, that wasn’t it at all. “Come on, then,” she breathed, turning and starting off towards the first wall of white, white curtains before he could distinguish anything more from her expression.

She had spent many years doing things that she reviled with a willing face, but that was a horror she had grown exceedingly used to like all of her fellow playthings. At times, a particular customer would require things that would shake even the most seasoned of the night time workers. Nicholas Abbey, as it was turning out, was one of these difficult types. Already she had tossed herself back into the horrid orphanage for a chance to get a little closer, and now, here she was, willingly embarking on a lovely frolic through another place steeped with ghosts.

The Female Trauma was always the same to her. It was the same as it had been the first night, seemingly endless white hallways with endless white curtains. The sounds were always the same. Delirious mutterings of drug-addled souls, the occasional wail or shriek, the cold beeping of the machines, the sobbing. The sobbing was the worst. It was always the worst.

She was going to be sick.

Many of the women were already asleep when they arrived at their bedsides--or at least, pretending to be. She understood the instinct well--the last thing one wanted when in this wretched place was to be asked questions and be treated as if they actually cared. A few were disturbed in their slumber, tossing and turning in the fitful tides of their dreams. “Lock the door...mam, lock the…Don’t let...” a young woman mumbled as they slid the curtain aside. Gretchen, the chart informed the two intruders.

The next woman was awake. She did not flinch when they pushed the curtain aside, didn’t say a thing. She only looked up at them with sullen eyes, hollow and black as the abyss, her gaze enough to burn holes through their heads. She was familiar in the way every one of the workers was to her. She’d seen her about, of course, but the look in those eyes was more than enough. Lyra, she noted silently to herself as they glanced over her chart, though she knew that the name would slip her mind the moment she left this horrid ward.

Despite never having had the medical training or education that the young doctor beside her had, it wasn’t difficult for Alice to put together the list of procedures, medications, and symptoms listed on her chart into a clear picture of what had happened to the poor creature slumped before them. Of course, this came from repeated personal experience and nothing more. That was the case for most of the charts they came across as they flitted solemnly from bed to bed, asking quiet questions to each girl who was awake and could be deigned to answer, which were far and few in between. Many simply stared at their sheets, terrified to raise their gaze to look upon the Abbey son, while others glared.

The tenth bed they approached appeared blissfully silent at first. “Flora,” she started to inform the doctor, “In recovery from--”  But just as they stopped by the foot of the metal cot, the young thing woke with a start, pretty brown eyes unfocused.

“Where..?” she began groggily. As her surroundings settled within her addled mind, however, her confusion drained away, swiftly filling up with pure panic. “Get away from me,” she blurted out frantically, attempting to claw herself up and away towards some escape. “You’re not taking my baby away, you’re not,” she babbled. Unfortunately, the drugs still kept her weak, weak enough for a simple hand at her shoulder to keep her at bay. “I don’t want money. I just want--”

“The procedure is already over,” Alice interrupted, her voice holding little more than a clinical weight.

“What? No, no,” Flora stammered, trying to fight through the fog of drugs. Soon enough it would all fall into place, the dull throbbing of a procedure carried out--and a horrible wail came from her thin frame as she doubled up, pretty fingers clutching at the belly that no longer housed the spark of life she had so treasured. She screamed and screamed, a creature swallowed whole with grief.

“Shut up!” a sharp, gravelly cry came from across the room, joined by a few other complaining voices. Though Alice refrained from joining in, merely standing by with a stony face, her own sentiments weren’t so different from the coarse shout that had gone up. She’d seen a few girls like her before--heard the occasional rumor, too, about how one had foolishly believed that she could escape their prison, only to be hunted down and dragged back to the Shire. She’d been such a fool once, but she would have never done so for the sake of some ill-begotten offspring. It was laughable. It was all laughable. The thought that they could escape, the thought that they could be whole again if only they could leave--the thought that they could be mother to a child and have some storybook ending. It was foolish and idiotic, and she’d accepted that a long time ago. Those who didn’t often had their hearts so thoroughly broken by hope that they didn’t last long, wasting away like overwatered plants.

As the bereaved mother continued in her tirade of loss, she glanced over to the young man. He was the doctor, after all. “Shall I get the sedatives?” she asked, sounding nothing but calm.
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Dr. Nicholas Abbey watched in horror as revelation landed heavily upon the young woman before him, as it twisted her features along with the knife in her empty belly at which she grasped hopelessly.  The young doctor had seen a man gasping for breath with a hole in his chest so large you could see straight through it.  He had seen villages put to the torch and innocents dragged from their beds to be murdered en masse, left in the dirt.  The Chairman of the Abbeyshire Orphanage had seen bodies piled so high a man could watch the sun set over their stinking horizon.  Yet, in all his time upon the battlefields of war, he had never seen such misery as what lay broken and weeping before him now. 

“Shut up!” A voice barked from a neighbouring bed.

“Shall I get the sedatives?” Miss Alice asked. 

The voices all fell away into the background as he looked upon the young woman before him.  His feet carried him on staggered cane and limping stride as he approached her bedside.  Until now, he had lingered in the doorways and hidden himself behind the shadows of white curtains.  For most of them, his mere presence was nothing short of an insult, nothing less than an open threat.  This particular woman was no exception.  In spite of this, Dr. Nicholas Abbey could not help himself.  He brought himself before her, uttering her name softly upon his careful lips. 

“Flora?” He began solemnly. 

“You…” She muttered as dark eyes fell upon him.  “You!” The grief that had made her delirious sharpened into a sudden focus, as she sprung from her hospice bed and swung an offending hand at the young man before her.  He took the blow, flinching only slightly. 

“It’s alright.” Nick said, extending a halting hand to Alice as she took a step towards him.  “It’s alright…” He repeated, this time he said the words to the girl before him.  Flora.  Breathing heavy, with fire in her eyes, she cast one more nervous glance towards Alice before striking the Abbey-boy again, and then again.  Each swing came harder and faster than the last, growing more confident with each strike.  Her open palm slapped around his face and head before she curled her fingers into a fist and began landing blow after blow into his arms, his shoulder, his back.  The glasses were smacked from his face, a split in his lower lip and bruises lining his thin, fragile frame before at last he caught her hands. 

“Flora…” He repeated again.  As though her name were a magic-spell, the curse was broken and blinking away the fury from her gaze, her lips began to tremble as she brought her hands up to her face in horror. 

“Oh, what have I done?” She asked no one in particular, save for the darkness that surrounded them.  “Dr. Abbey… I’m so sorry…” She started shakily. 

“It’s alright.” The young man said again, as he righted his broken, crooked body to meet the eyes from which tears began falling freely.  “I’m sorry.” He told her.  “Flora, I’m so sorry…”

At last the young woman collapsed beneath the weight of her grief, a sob escaping her as she fell forward limply into Dr. Nicholas Abbey’s arms.  One hand held both their weight upon his cane while the other wrapped around her shoulders and held her head to his chest, her back heaving along with the sorrow that left her in gasps.  As Nick lifted his face from her curls he noticed that Alice no longer stood alone at the end of Flora’s hospice bed.  At the sound of the commotion, some of the other girls had left their white, curtained rooms to investigate.  They had lingered, made curious at the sight of an Abbey-boy willingly accepting a beating from a lowly household servant, then holding that same girl in his arms. 

“I’m sorry,” he told them, for he knew not what else to say.  “I didn’t know.”

“Well,” came the curt, unforgiving voice of one girl amidst the rest.  She was dark-featured like the others yet her malice stood out even among the misused girls who surrounded her, all wearing the same white, white hospital gowns.  “Now you do.” 






The children of the Abbeyshire Orphanage filed into the Church, standing tall and righteous upon the highest point within the Shire.  The men who had built the cathedral in antiquity had believed that the One God had guided them to the place with divine intention.  They had built their place of worship and the accompanying abbey to house the men and women of God who had made the pilgrimage.  The individual who had given them refuge upon his land had been but a humble farmer in those days, the first Christopher in the long line from which the Chairman of the Abbeyshire Orphanage had been born.

The Chairman followed the children under his care into the Church, always the last to arrive, collecting the stragglers and redirecting them from their wandering distractions.  He helped them find their seats within the congregation, separating the noisier ones from each other and ensuring the quieter ones had all they required to enjoy the Sunday Service.  He had the luxury of taking his time with the little ones, reminding them of the rules and handing out the Holy Word of the One.  Those who could read would follow along and assist those who could not.  The children too young to understand the sermon were given coloured pencils and parchment to keep them busy, preventing them from disrupting those around them.  When he was finally finished settling the children Abbeyshire Orphanage into place, there was a seat waiting for him.  Nicholas Abbey found Miss Alice among the rows of young ones, as with the Sundays that had come before, there was a place at her side waiting for him. 

“Chairman, oh my!” Sister Beatrice exclaimed upon noticing the blemish that marred the young man’s face.  “Are you alright?” She asked in a hushed tone. 

“I am very well, Sister.” He said as he took his seat beside Miss Alice, amongst the rows of Abbeyshire children beneath the care of the Order of the Innocent.

“Oh…” Sister Beatrice muttered demurely, the curt tone coming from the warm-mannered man enough indication that the matter was not one open for discussion.  She handed off a copy of the Word of the One, the Book of the Many to Chairman Abbey who passed it along to Miss Alice beside him before holding his hand out for another expectantly.  “I’m sorry, Chairman…” Sister Beatrice began timidly.  “That is our last copy.”

“That’s alright, Sister.  Miss Alice and I will share.” Nicholas answered easily, lowering his hand into his lap and scooting himself closer to the Greenlandian girl at his side, leaning his shoulder into hers as he looked down at the open text in her lap. 

“You will?” Sister Beatrice asked, one blonde eyebrow quirking higher than the other. 

“Certainly,” the youngest Abbey son answered, his gaze flicking briefly up to the Sister who stood over them.  “After all, we’re friends.” He said the words as his eyes found those of the young woman at his side, sharing a secret smile between them. 

“Of course,” Sister Beatrice answered sweetly.  As she turned away from the pair and strode down the aisle to join her fellow Sisters, she cast one final gaze over her shoulder.  Whilst Chairman Abbey was engrossed in the Word of the One held out before him, the dangerous creature who sat alongside him met her narrowed, curious gaze with an even, knowing look of her own.  At once, Sister Beatrice’s mounting fears were confirmed.  She had him trapped in her snare. 

Silently, Sister Beatrice took her place among the other women wearing the habit of their given Order within the Church of St. Christopher.  Quietly, she uttered a prayer for the young Chairman, Nicholas Abbey. 

“May you see fit to bless him with wisdom and strength…” She whispered. 

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She’d always disliked the Sunday service. As a child, it had been the experience of it, being made to sit still and pay attention, to keep her mouth shut and be a good little girl; it had been in those moments where she had never more felt like the Abbeyshire was succeeding in civilizing the barbarian. Of course, young Alice had always chafed against rules such as those. She’d been at the mercy of the sisters’ rods week after week, sometimes a mere warning smack on the knuckles for fidgeting, or something much more severe for times such as when she’d dared to shove the Word of the One off her lap to make a break for the door.

Well, she would be doing nothing of the sort anymore, she thought idly as Nicholas Abbey took his seat by her side, exchanging quiet smiles with the young man. The pretty blonde sister who came to pass out the Holy Word would get no such warmth from the girl, however. By now Alice was familiar enough with Sister Beatrice. She was lovely of face, and with her golden blonde hair and large eyes, she might have even rivaled the pure innocent beauty of Lucy, but she’d never been the sort to be taken by things like that. Alice only watched in detached silence as the sister apologized, revealing that the book currently laying neatly in her lap was the last one.

“That’s alright, Sister.  Miss Alice and I will share,” the younger Abbey son assured her.

“You will?” the sister remarked, clearly surprised--and though the words had come unexpectedly to her as well, Alice was not one to expend her attention on the blonde’s reaction and risk missing out on such a choice opportunity. Instead, she turned her body towards him accommodatingly as he leaned closer to her, her own response to Sister Beatrice’s question a nonverbal but defiant one.

“Certainly. After all, we’re friends,” Nicholas Abbey answered, catching her eye as his lips quirked into a smile meant only for her. Alice only smiled back slyly in response, the two sharing their secret smiles like children smuggling sweets.

The young sister only agreed demurely, as her kind was wont to do. She walked off as the sermon began, but Alice followed her slender figure with her eyes. When the pretty thing happened to turn, she was only met with her steady dark gaze, cool and unfaltering. It seemed to unsettle her, and the blonde was the first to look away and hurry off down the aisle.

What did the pious sister see when she looked upon her, Alice wondered. A threat? A black-hearted temptress with an even filthier soul, jaws open wide? Or perhaps she was simply pitying how defiled her soul was, knowing what her true profession was. That would’ve earned a hearty laugh from the raven-haired girl.

After all, it was notable that amongst the many sisters that were part of the order, young Sister Beatrice was a rare beauty--the only beauty, in fact--which was by no means a coincidence. It was known that pretty girls were never allowed to take the cloth, no matter how pious and devout they might be. Beatrice had simply won in a complicated lottery of genetics, saved from nighttime labor by the grace of an unbecoming appearance in childhood. Well, if she thought that she was somehow different from the rest of the working girls in the Abbeyshire, she was wrong. The Abbeyshire ruined everything it touched; nothing within its clutches was whole. Sister Beatrice might be somewhat unsullied, yes, but to what end?

Putting aside her jeering thoughts, Alice turned her gaze obediently down to the text she shared with the young man at her side. Using the action of turning the page in the book as an excuse, she leaned in a bit closer so that their sides brushed together, enough to sense the warm flesh underneath. After a fleeting moment she shifted back away, straightening up and trailing the droning voice reading the Word with a delicate finger. Her dislike of the Sunday service had changed in nature as she had grown older. Oh, the experience was as dull as ever, each sermon as repetitive and filled with needless flourishes as the one that came before it. If young Alice had disliked the sermons because she hadn’t understood what in the world they were trying to get across, as an adult, she disliked them because she did understand.

While she wasn’t unique in her distaste for the teachings that had been instilled in them since their ill-fated arrival to the Shire, it certainly didn’t mean that all the displaced children from the far-off lands that had been conquered by Britannica turned their backs on the One. Far from it, many took solace in His teachings, some becoming so devout as to dedicate their lives to it. Even amongst the youth of her homeland, quite a number had chosen such a path; Chryssa, in fact, would have been happy to live out her days in a sister’s habit if she’d been allowed it. Chryssa had liked Sunday services, actually read the Word, and prayed daily. In one of their talks, whispered in the dark in a tongue forbidden, the older girl had explained to her that she believed that The One was just another name for the Great Sky Tengyr. She had said that even if they were far away from their birthplace, torn from Aesse, Mother Earth, the sky still watched over them. They were not orphans.

Alice had found that daft. Tengyr was the sky above the steppe, the plains of their homeland. Tengyr was home. Tengyr was not a person, Tengyr did not speak or write books. She had told Chryssa as much, spoken witheringly in the mother tongue that had not yet faded from her mind. If the One really was Tengyr, He wouldn’t have let their home be destroyed. He would have left them all alone on the plains, instead of letting the Empire kill their families and bring them to this horrible place. In fact, whether it was Tengyr or the One, Alice had continued furiously, she would rather accept that she was an orphan than to call whatever creature that had allowed her to be orphaned in the first place Father.

Chryssa had only told her that she would understand when she grew older, even though she herself would forever remain frozen on the cusp of womanhood. Alice had grown older, older than when Chryssa had told her so--and what she understood now was still nothing like what the gentle girl had spoken of. Where Chryssa and a number of the doomed souls in the Shire might have found comfort, Alice had found nothing but the void.

Whether creators divine truly existed or not, there was no god she could claim as her own. The Great Sky Tengyr and Mother Earth Aesse, the forces her own parents had taught her about once upon a time, had proven either inept or blind in allowing their people to be butchered and taken away. Perhaps it was to be expected; they were powerful, but without paltry human things like emotions. Nature was powerful, it could be benevolent, but it could be equally cruel. It did not matter either way. Ripped from the plains she called home, she was cut off from Tengyr and Aesse, in a realm far from their reach. Her gaze trailed subtly to the poor boy she had deemed her revenge, the sides of their knees bumping together innocently. As for the One--well, even if he was exactly what all the sister claimed he was, she, a Grassblood whore with nothing left in her but a thirst for revenge, without a single soft or redeeming virtue, was sullied beyond repair.

They reached to flip the page at the same time, hands colliding, and they shared smothered snickers, half-apology, half-inside joke. Perhaps she would have it no other way, she thought as she smiled at the Abbey boy. All the better to drag him down along with her into the pit to which she would be condemned.






Sitting at the elongated vanity, Evangeline impatiently tapped the powder from the puff, lips pressed together as she applied the fine white to her porcelain skin. It wasn’t difficult for the other girls to note her tense mood, and they naturally gave her as much as a berth as humanly possible on the crowded bench. However, when the door to the powder room opened and a certain Greenlandian girl entered, all obvious signs of impatience were tucked away as quickly as an offending accessory. Still, her impatience couldn’t remain completely hidden as Evangeline’s gaze met Alice’s dark eyes in the mirror with false surprise. “Alice, I almost thought you weren’t joining us tonight,” she smiled coyly, moving over in her seat to offer her space.

“Why Evie, are you confessing to missing me that badly?” the other girl retorted, continuing their usual tradition of verbal sparring. She was still dressed in her nurse’s uniform, having returned to a hospital shift after the Sunday service.

“You? Of course not,” Evangeline laughed. “I just, well...assumed you’d be off spending time with your special friend.”

“Alas, duty calls,” was all the dark-haired girl said in response, seemingly ignorant to the intense green gaze fixed upon her as she seated herself at the mirror to brush her hair out.

“I mean, the two of you made quite the picture at the service this morning,” she insisted. She made a show of nonchalantly dabbing on perfume, forcing herself to keep the sharp sting of jealousy from her voice. Not once had she ever been allowed to sit next to Lord Abbey, up on that balcony. Of course, that was to be expected of a man who already had a wife, and so Evangeline had forced herself to be content with her seat among the masses. That was the rightful place of any Abbey mistress--or at least, that was how it had been until now. “Why, sitting like two peas in a pod surrounded by little ones, you almost looked like a darling family!” she jabbed, keeping her voice light and teasing as if to speak in jest.

Now that seemed to catch her attention. Alice began to laugh, sounding thoroughly amused, but Evangeline was not to be so easily fooled. “Me, a doting mother and wife,” she remarked, rolling her eyes as she continued to snicker. “Can you imagine?”

Evangeline giggled along, but there was not a whit of merriment in her narrowed eyes.

Yes, she thought grimly. Yes, I can.

When the fetching strawberry-blonde had first taken interest in Alice, all the girls who flocked about Evangeline had found it strange. She was a capable nurse, that was to be sure, but she was unfriendly and cold, and had no interest in kowtowing to authority or status, nor did she provide favors to those who attempted to suck up to her. She was left alone by the other women--some feared her sharp tongue, while others ignored her, thinking her to be of no particular use.

Evangeline, however, had not clawed her way to the top by being like most women. She knew to never overlook a potential advantage, was never foolish enough to underestimate someone’s use or threat--and it had become very clear to her soon after encountering the other young woman that Alice was not one to be underestimated. She recognized a razor sharp mind at work, another predator in a flock of silly preening geese when she saw it. Not only that, for being such a keen mind, Alice had a peculiar quality that Evangeline had welcomed, though it was one she could never quite understand--the girl had no hunger, no ambition for power, for status, for anything, it seemed. In that way she had always been an enigma to her. When one knew what another desired, they became easy to predict, to manipulate, and with Alice, well--the closest thing she’d ever figured counted as a desire to the dark-haired girl was to have things running smoothly and to have work done correctly, all so that she could be left alone far away from other people and crying children.

So when Alice had suddenly turned her gaze to Nicholas Abbey, Evangeline hadn’t been concerned. In fact, she’d been ready to help her--after all, it was advantageous for her to have an ally with a modicum of power. Of course, she had never thought that her own power would be undermined by the other nurse. Now, the conniving girl saw that she had made a grave mistake--the very same one that she had known from the beginning to avoid.

She had underestimated Alice.

The door behind them opened, and in that moment, dread crept up her flawless back like a chill. Even before she turned to see Madame Sylvia standing there, even before she heard those horrible words falling from her thin lips, she knew. Somehow, she knew that it wasn’t she who was to be called away, but the dark-haired girl at her side, the girl she had believed held not an ounce of ambition for more.

“Come on now,” the madame was beckoning to Alice, but her gaze seemed to be on Evangeline. It was as if she could smell her fear, her very thoughts. Your time is up. Here is the new mistress to the Shire. With a quick goodbye Alice hurried after Madame Sylvia, her nurse’s white skirts swirling about her legs, and in that moment she looked to Evangeline nothing less than a maiden in bridal regalia, pacing down the aisle.


« Last Edit: May 30, 2020, 05:43:02 PM by asterin »
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“Do you have them?”

Nicholas Abbey sat astride his clunky motorbike.  Once it had been shiny and new.  It wasn’t just frequent use that had aged the means of transport for the young Chairman but also the many modifications he had made throughout the mechanics and functionality of the machine itself.  He had always had a mind for the workings of machines but cared little for flashy aesthetics.  After using a high-powered torch of his own design to secure copper piping, he hadn’t bothered to smooth out the edges.  After bolting the straps for his weak leg into the siding, he hadn’t painted over the rusting fastens.  After modifying the engine, he hadn’t cared to investigate the noisy sputtering.  Nicholas had always believed in function over form.  This much was proven when Alice, standing before him at the steps of the Abbeyshire Hospital, lifted the white skirts of her uniform to reveal the utilitarian boots she now donned in place of the delicate flat laced shoes she typically wore. 

“Good.” He said with a satisfied smile.  “I was worried they wouldn’t fit.”  As he spoke, Nicholas lifted his helmet onto his head and began to fasten the straps under his chin.  Once they were tugged tight, he produced a second helmet from the cache in the rear seat and held it out for Miss Alice.  She looked surprised at first, as though she thought perhaps the young man were teasing her.  He couldn’t help but smile as her asking expression turned into one of delight.

“Well, come on then.” He encouraged, shaking the helmet he held out for her.  “We don’t have all night.” Tucking her hair behind her ears as she descended the stone steps leading to the hospital, she took the helmet from him.  Looking up at her from his seated position upon his motorbike, he reached up to help her with the straps beneath her chin before patting an inviting hand on the rear seat behind him.  Miss Alice gathered her skirts around herself as she swung one leg over the bike and positioned herself upon the passenger seat to his rear.

“Hold on.” Nicholas advised as he prodded at the switches at the front of his motorbike, before kicking up the stand and revving the engine to life.  As he lifted his strong leg from where it held the motorbike upright and tucked it into place, the wheels turned and surged them forward.  Miss Alice’s hands came to his hips, arms wrapping around his middle and Nicholas felt a curious warmth fill him up at her touch.  The smile lingered on his pleasant visage as his motorbike carried them away from the hospital, past the orphanage and the estate, following the Short Road through the Abbeyshire. 

The sun was setting behind the rolling hills of the shire, bathing the summer sky in a glow of oranges and pinks.  Nicholas Abbey had never found his home particularly beautiful.  It was only ever when he was driving away from it that he could find it in his heart to appreciate the spectacle that his ancestors had built.  The trees danced in the evening breeze while the village folk brought in their linens from the clotheslines outside.  The smell of a freshly served dinner wafted from every open window, candles being lit as the sun hid herself behind the horizon.  The dirt kicked up behind them as they traversed the Short Road through the shire, the engine of his motorbike sputtering and jolting with each bump and turn.  Nicholas didn’t mind, and it seemed that Alice didn’t either.  He felt the nurse who sat behind him pulling on his ribs, redistributing the weight as she leaned back.  From behind his brown, strapped goggles he watched her through his small rearview mirror.  Her eyes were closed, her head tilted back and what might have almost been a smile of sweet serenity was painted across her pretty face.  He had never seen her look like that before.  In fact, he was so distracted by the sight that he almost missed their turn past the monastery. 

Miss Alice straightened herself out and held a little tighter onto the Chairman who guided them upon this motorized stallion as he turned the handlebars to veer them off the road and onto the uneven, grassy terrain.  They were a ways into the trees before he finally brought his motorbike to a stop and used his good leg to kick out the stand before pulling the keys from the ignition.  Nicholas waited for Miss Alice to dismount from the rear seat, before pulling the helmet from his head and pocketing his keys into the brown, canvas service jacket from his time in the Imperial Forces that he wore when riding.  Stretching out his good leg, he reached along the side of his motorbike and unlatched his cane from where it rested, letting the piece fall into his waiting hand.  Once he had his cane upon solid ground, his own dismount from the motorbike became an easier task, though not without his usual awkward gait making it more laborious than Miss Alice’s agile swing of the leg.  When he stumbled, she was there to catch him with a gentle hand upon his elbow. 

“Thank you,” he told her, breathless and smiling shyly as he straightened himself.  He took care to tuck their helmets away neatly in the rear cache of the motorbike before giving her an encouraging nod of the head.  “This way,” he offered cryptically.  “Where we’re going is just ahead.” 

As they had done a hundred times before, he placed a hand upon her shoulder as they navigated the root-tangled, rocky ground surrounding the stream that flowed past the monastery.  They walked together in silence for a time, the only sound that echoed this far out from the shire was the rhythmic tolling of the bells from the Church of St. Christopher.  The clergymen and women who served the One God would be making their way, in orderly lines of soft-hued habits, to the abbey that housed them.  There they would pray over their evening meal before retiring while the rest of the shire would be toiling away into the night.  With the ringing of the bells giving melody to the symphony of the wind rustling through the trees, the music of the distant Abbeyshire served as the backdrop to their stroll along the stream. 

“When I was younger, I was a sad, pathetic little thing.” Nicholas said suddenly, interrupting the quiet they had cultivated between them with a story that sounded more like a confession.  “I was always crying.” He continued.  “Day in and day out.  My brother teased me mercilessly about it.  He was always stronger than I was, made of tougher stuff I suppose.”  Nicholas had to look to the ground beneath their feet as he spoke, mindful of each uneven surface upon which he placed his cane to hobble forth.  Miss Alice however, sure of foot and graceful in her stride, watched the man who held her shoulder.  There was both patience and curiosity lurking behind her features as she listened, but also a deeper knowing that Nicholas couldn’t quite place. 

“I used to try to find quiet places where I could cry without anyone around; the kitchens, the servants hall, the gardens…”  He went on, shame touching upon his voice even after so many years.  “I cried almost every day of my life, until trying to find a peaceful place to fit and fuss became a kind of adventure.  I found this place when I had two good legs, but I haven’t been back in years.  I’ve never taken anyone here before, but I can’t make it there anymore… at least, not on my own.”  They reached the edge of the stream, the bridge that connected the Short Road to the Long just past the monastery towering over them.  With his hand upon Alice’s shoulder, Nicholas used his cane to gesture to a collection of stones that differed from the rest.  They were smooth and pale, heavy steel rods jutting out haphazardly in places where reinforcement had given way to rubble.  Carved into the shape of a narrow rectangle that once served as a doorway, they stood hidden yet inviting. 

“That’s where we’re going.” Nicholas explained.  Letting his sunny smile spread across his face he fixed Miss Alice with a playful expression as he told her, “I must inform you that my old hideout has a strict ‘no girls allowed’ policy, but I’ll make an exception just this once.” As they shared a laugh between them like children swapping silly jokes, he stretched his crippled leg beneath him in preparation.

“Would you like to see it?” He asked.  At her affirming nod of the head his smile stretched even wider.  “Then let’s go.”


The pathway to the opening was dangerous, the footing precarious.  As a young boy Nicholas had skipped his way across the rocks with ease.  Now, as a man without only one good leg to keep himself steady, the journey became a more treacherous affair.  Alice moved with all the agility and efficiency that could be expected from a brave young woman.  She was not the sort to grow faint in the face of heights or fearful each time an uneven boulder slipped out from under her booted feet.  She caught Nicholas by his jacket more than once, steadying him against the jagged wall of the stream.   She cried out only once, when they had nearly reached the opening within the rocks and Nicholas’ leg gave out.  Calling out his name as he slipped down the side of their sharp-stoned perch, her fingers missed the sleeve of his jacket as he fell.  He caught himself, but only just.  The mechanics of his cane hummed to life, a blue light pulsating down the length and fixing him into place by the magnetic pull emanating from the base.  Miss Alice seemed to hesitate for a moment, her attention tuned keenly onto the mysterious cane that sat firmly at an impossible angle, defying the physics of Nicholas’ fall. 

“Miss Alice,” he grunted.  “If you would please…” She moved into action at once, taking his hand and leaning her weight back, pulling him up until he could get his good leg beneath him.  His thin arms held fast onto his cane until at last he was upright and with the press of a button the blue glow faded and the whirring stopped short.   The momentum carried them forward, pitching them into the darkness of the opening as they fell on top of one another on ground that was suddenly smooth and flat. 

“Thank you,” he had said the words countless times as they moved slowly and carefully along the narrow ledge of the stream walls, but this one was spoken in breathless earnestness.  Had it not been for Alice, his strength would have given out and he would have tumbled headfirst into the shallow, rocky waters below.  It was a fall he likely would not have gotten up from.  “Thank you,” he said again as she rose and offered him a hand by which to stand. 

“It will be worth it, I promise.”  He told her as he righted himself and brushed the dirt and dust from his trousers. 

They walked a ways into the darkness, Nicholas now offering the guiding hand to Miss Alice as they moved forth blind into the cavernous passageway.  The Chairman offered her the quiet instruction of “wait here” as he stepped forward alone, navigating by memory to a small room with glass walls wherein he found the familiar handle of a large switch.  Flipping the rusty mechanism upward, having to throw his weight behind both hands, the chamber suddenly became illuminated by long tubes of faintly glowing light that blinked to life and buzzed quietly around them.   With a grin akin to an excited boy on Christmas morning, Nicholas stepped out from the glass booth and encouraged his companion forth eagerly. 

“I found this place in my second last year of elementary, before I went off to boarding school.” He explained in a hurried voice brimming with pride.  “It’s from the time of the Old Ones, before the Great War.”  The world has been naught but rubble and ash before the Empire of Britannica had set to rebuilding the civilization that had been destroyed.  Even the air had been poison in those days, when warring countries rained fire from the heavens down upon one another.  Nothing and no one survived from that time to remember the ways of the Old Ones, so the Empire had started new.  When considering the cathedrals and castles and strongholds that had been built after the Great War, the cities that had sprouted up from the debris of those that had fallen, the structures of the Old Ones seemed almost plain in nature.  Smooth, pale stone surrounded them, only a few sealed lines here and there separating the differing blocks from which this chamber had been carved.  Though some areas had caved in and lost their function, the chamber was still clearly square in shape.  Pillars spaced out in mathematically divided sections held the ceiling from which the tube-shaped lights glowed aloft. 

“I have searched every corner of this place and I’ve never been able to figure out what powers those lights.” Nicholas elaborated as he stepped further into his secret hideout.  “It’s not steam, or coal, but something else entirely.  I suppose that knowledge was lost to us along with everything else when the Great War began.” 

In the years since Nicholas had discovered this particular gem of antiquity, he had turned the hidden chamber into a workshop of sorts.  Tables were cluttered with machinery of every kind.  Blades and gears cluttered one surface while another was crowded with sawed off pipes and wires.  There was a corner where Nicholas had stripped the connecting chords that were wired to the curious lights overhead bare, tapping into the unseen energy source that illuminated the chamber.  Everything was coated in a thin layer of dust.  The last time that Nicholas had been in this chamber had been when both his legs were in perfect working order.  Time had done its work on this place as it had with all other ruins from the Old Ones.  They were their ancestors, yet they were too far beyond reach to understand.  The words painted onto the wall in yellow letters were of the Old Tongue, and though Nicholas understood them individually, they made no sense when strung together. 

Concourse B
No Overnight Parking

“Oh, look!” Nicholas exclaimed excitedly as he moved to one of the rudimentary work stations he had left untouched since having left for war.  “Do you know the pedal-powered shears that the gardeners use to trim the hedges?  This is the first one.” His hands were bigger now than they had been when he had designed the tool, holding aloft the prototype he had created in his youth. 

“And here, this was how I figured out the ventilation system for the new kitchens…” He went on.  “Oh, and this was my first bike…” Nicholas rushed to and fro around the chamber, acting every bit like a little boy showing a new friend all the secret toys within his hidden clubhouse.  As he stopped in front of a small blue bicycle, fixed with an engine and a frontal range lined with rotating blades, his expression became thoughtful.  “I was trying to make a plow that could be powered by steam, instead of pulled by the oxen.”  Gentle fingertips stroked along the jutting gears and bolts, copper fixtures fastened in place by whatever he had lying around at the time.  Though Nicholas Abbey had taken every possible opportunity to flee the Abbeyshire, he had unknowingly written his name into every nook and cranny of this dreaded place, just like the Abbeys who had come before him. 

“Once I found this place, I stopped crying and started building instead.”  Nicholas mused, looking about the chamber and all the projects he had left unfinished when he had left for medical school and then, not long after, war.  “It was always my little secret.”  Turning to Miss Alice he offered her a smile, not quite his usual grin of sunshine and sweetness but something more meaningful. 

“Now it can be ours.”

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She hadn’t been sure exactly what to expect when she’d been handed a pair of boots by Madame Sylvia on her way out. Indeed, even the Madame had looked as if she didn’t quite know what to make of it--possibly silently remarking to herself on how both the Abbey sons had peculiar tastes. The Greenlandian girl did not fail to find a bit of humor in the thought. Still, perhaps Alice had assumed somewhere in the back of her head that whatever was to be required of her tonight would be something unpleasant, going by the event of the previous night. What had laid in wait for her, however, had been the very opposite.

A thrill streaked through her as the motorbike sprang to life, and as they jerked into motion, her hands found his waist more out of instinct than anything else. Of course, she wasn’t one to be oblivious to the perfect excuse for long, and as the bike picked up speed, she leant forward to sit against him a little more snugly, her arms wrapped tight about his body. She didn’t fail to notice how he did not shy away from her touch, and a smirk flitted by her visage. Soon, however, the young woman found her attention drifting away from her sole purpose in spite of herself.

The Abbeyshire was bathed in the warm glory of a sunset; the sights they passed were as they always were, the estate that was both sprawling and yet nothing short of a cage for its inhabitants. While others might have admired the scenery, the quaint village life, the arching trees, or even the beautifully dyed expanse above, Alice chose to close her eyes to it all, lost to a different sensation. Leaning back, she allowed herself to be buffeted by the wind--it tugged at her, the skirts of her uniform, the tendrils of her hair--it swept over her, a feeling so achingly familiar, the taste of something she’d forgotten long ago. I remember you, the wind seemed to sing, I remember you, Yuuka, and oh, so did she.

She remembered the feeling of being on her father’s stallion, fingers tangled in the mane of the great black beast. The wind would catch in her hair, sweeping through her sleeves, begging to be given into--and she could almost recall the voice of her father scolding her when she'd inevitably let go to spread her arms wide like a bird ready to take flight. There had always been warm laughter seeped in his tone, even though he meant to be stern. As long as she could keep her eyes closed, she could cling a little longer to the stolen memory. A little longer, just a little longer, something within her pleaded, even as she knew that nothing good was ever allowed her for more than a fading moment.

The young woman begrudgingly opened her eyes as she felt them turn onto a different path, correcting her posture as the terrain grew rougher. They were off the main road now, heading into parts that were unknown to the girl who’d never been able to roam much farther than the heart of the Abbeyshire’s operations. It was in these remote woods that the younger Abbey son brought them to a stop, leading her deeper into the wild. She went along without a hint of fear, though had she thought him to be someone of less virtue, she would have half-expected him to be luring her off in order to leave her carcass for the scavengers. As they forged on, the distant toll of the bells reached her, and Alice hid a grimace. The nighttime Shire was open for business.

“When I was younger, I was a sad, pathetic little thing,” the young man she was assisting spoke abruptly, and she turned her gaze accommodatingly his way. “I was always crying, day in and day out.” Alice said nothing, though her demeanor was nothing less than that of a sympathetic listener as he went on to explain that he’d look for places to cry alone and undisturbed. While Nicholas Abbey spoke as if he was revealing an embarrassing secret, to Alice, this was hardly new information. She knew, of course. He’d been crying the first time she’d ever laid eyes on him, sobbing into lacy sleeves. She’d hated him immediately for it, for being so free to cry over what she imagined was the most perfectly privileged life, for being able to cry when she could not.

His expression was boyishly sweet as he gestured to his hideout in the distance, his words playful as he informed her that she’d be exempted from his ‘no girls’ policy, just this once. She laughed, watching the way his eyes crinkled and shone with a carefree light, the way his smile brightened as she indicated that she would very much like to see his secret haven. Yes, years ago, she’d despised him in the very moment she’d laid eyes on him, but regarding him now, Alice found little of the same vitriol she’d felt for him as a young girl. He was a pure soul, that much was clear to her--he was a good person, unlike every Abbey who had come before him, and she would ruin him for it, poor boy.

The climb to this so-called hideout had proved to be much more precarious than appearances would have indicated, and yet by the time the pair entered the darkened structure, her head was abuzz and her pulse was quick--not out of fear, but from the excitement of having flirted with danger. A breathless laugh tumbled out of her as she nodded to his instructions of ‘wait here.’ The rush of breath, however, would soon be retracted in an inhale of awe as the ceiling above flickered to life, bringing the space to a brightness more fit to daylight. The cave, it seemed, hadn’t been a cave at all, but a ruin from the days long gone by--something the young man was eager to explain and speculate about as she turned this way and that, her eyes roving the ancient structure from ceiling to floor in wonder.

She had never seen ruins such as these in the plains her family had roamed. Chryssa, who had been older than her when she’d been torn from her homeland, had told her that the plains and the steppe were free of such traces, though such ancient cities still lay slumbering underneath the earth in the far west and east of their borders. It had never been their way, from the time of the Five Sister Queens and even before them. Their people did not build stone walls and great castles to protect them, instead embracing the elements that had shaped them; their legacies lived through people, not houses. What would happen to that legacy now, it was hard to say.

“Oh, look!” came an elated cry, and Alice’s attention returned to the young man in her company within the fraction of a second. He was holding up a strangely familiar contraption, and her brows furrowed as she tried to figure out where she’d seen it before. Moreover, what were all the dust-covered tables for? “Do you know the pedal-powered shears that the gardeners use to trim the hedges?” he asked, to which she nodded dumbly. “This is the first one.”

The first one..?

She watched, struck uncharacteristically speechless as Nicholas Abbey excitedly rushed about the dusty corners, pointing out what turned out to be his projects, inventions and tools and the like. Drawn in by his indomitable energy, she made her way to his side, her sharp gaze missing not a single detail as he introduced each project.  “..You made all this?” she found herself saying, unable to hide the amazement from her voice as she drifted along with him from desk to desk and invention to invention. Not only that--as a child? There was little wonder now why he was such a gifted doctor. How could he not be?

They stopped in front of another strange machine, one which seemed to pull the young man into muttered contemplation. “I was trying to make a plow that could be powered by steam, instead of pulled by the oxen,” he explained thoughtfully, his touch gentle and almost affectionate as he ran his hands over the dust-covered mechanism. Alice cocked her head as she also regarded the bicycle attached to an engine, trying to picture it in the fields, but a much simpler picture had bubbled up in her imagination.

“Well, what if you just made a steam-powered ox to pull the plow?” she suggested, the words slipping easily out of her as the thought dawned on her. It wouldn’t be so different from her clockwork animals, just bigger and fixed to a proper engine. “It would take some sturdy steel and heavyweight gears, but the walk cycle shouldn’t be too complicated. The steam power would easily pull the load of two oxen, if not three.” So caught up in her theoretical idea was she that Alice didn’t realize her mistake until she turned to meet his gaze. Immediately, the expression that had been nonchalant stiffened with embarrassment, a rush of heat rising to her cheeks as she quickly turned away. “I mean, it’s probably a silly thought,” she hurriedly added, worrying her lip. “Oh, what’s this?” she asked, pointing at another unfinished project in the hopes of distracting him.

It took a good deal of time, but when the whimsical tour of his old workshop had ended, the youngest Abbey son stood at her side, his gaze surveying his beloved space. “Once I found this place, I stopped crying and started building instead,” he confessed to her. “It was always my little secret.” He turned to her and smiled, which she mirrored without missing a single beat--but her expression would soon change to surprise as he uttered his next words. “Now it can be ours.”

“Ours,” she echoed, something pleasant overtaking the surprise in her voice as she gazed up into his warm brown eyes. “I’d like that.”

The hours flew by yet again as they explored the secret hideout, Alice lending an attentive ear to his ideas as he explained what had gone into his finished projects and what had given him his inspiration. She played such a role to many customers in the past, for they could be rather talkative. However, unlike the drivel those men so often spouted, it wasn’t at all difficult to listen to Nicholas go on about his beloved inventions--in fact, if anything, it was perhaps the easiest conversation she’d had. She didn’t need to force herself to follow along, nor did her interest have to be play-acted, as she had swiftly gathered that his tools, while a great deal bigger and fancier, were not so different from the tools she used to craft her little trinkets.

When they finally stepped out of their shared secret, it was clear just how much time they’d spent within. The crescent moon was high in the sky, while the ink-blue sky shimmered with the stars. “Look,” she murmured, pointing at the sight. Eyes still fixed firmly on the celestial display, she sat down in the rubble without a care for her white skirts. How long had it been since she’d last seen the sky like this? Surely, she’d had plenty of occasions. After all, while she might have gone into work at sunset, she left at an hour late enough for the stars to be twinkling. Despite that, the sky here looked different, as if a piece of Tengyr had materialized over this ancient ruin. Here, the sky looked like the sky above their yurts, the same sky she had gazed up at with her brothers. There, she could see the Celestial Maiden and the Cowherd, there--she could make out the stars of the Five Sister Queens. Just like her mother had pointed to…

She swallowed, the child-like wonder that had momentarily washed over her fading quickly as reality filtered back in. This wasn’t time to be caught up in nostalgia for a life that had been ruined--ruined by soldiers, by the Empire, by the Abbeys. She glanced up at the visage of Nicholas Abbey. No, this was not the time for that at all, but something more important.

“Am I really the only person you’ve brought here?” Alice asked, breaking the silence that had fallen over them. At his affirmation, she went on, a mischievous twinkle in her dark eyes. “Does that mean I’m special?” At once, she let out a laugh, waving away her question with a seemingly good-natured hand before he could quite answer. “I’m just teasing,” the young woman assured him, looking back out to the darkened scenery spread before them. “Though...it’d be nice, to be special--I don’t think I’ve ever been special,” she went on, her tone light-hearted and yet all at once as contemplative as a girl knelt for a confessional. “Well, not to anyone who was good to me,” she added belatedly, before she could catch the words from slipping through her teeth. It didn’t matter, she told herself, taking the mistake into stride without a flinch. After all, that was her gambit, wasn’t it? Real skin turned into a mask, a mask inverted into skin, too authentic to separate from a lie.

“Thank you for bringing me here--for everything about tonight,” she told him, her arms looped casually about her knees. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt more alive.” The dark-haired girl turned to the young doctor at her side once more, a rare radiant smile brightening her expression. “In fact, I…” she started, only to trail off into silence as her gaze met his star-lit eyes.

For a moment there was only stillness, but if the Abbey boy thought to ask her what the matter was, he wouldn’t get the chance. Leaning over and bridging the gap between them, she brought her lips against his, catching them in the full softness of her own mouth. Though the kiss was very much unlike the kind she had learned to give, sweet and innocent as a kiss could be, it was still meant to be a deadly snare--a noose about his darling neck. It was over as abruptly as it started, however, when Alice pulled away, her expression that of one who had been jolted back into their right senses. “I’m sorry,” she uttered immediately, her hands coming up before her apologetically. An embarrassed laugh left her as she ran her fingers through her raven tresses. “I’ve clearly forgotten myself. Could we--could you pretend that didn’t just happen right now?” she asked, her eyes flicking up to look up at him through her lashes, a shy smile complimenting her red cheeks. “Keep it a secret--but y’know, from yourself, too?”
« Last Edit: June 12, 2020, 05:26:26 PM by asterin »
.。*゚+.*.。bury me in the stars +..。*゚☾+