Evan wasn't entirely certain how he'd wound up whirling Miss Cartwright around the dance floor. He swore he'd decided against allowing himself to do any such thing after the second time she became engaged to Cappie, this time officially, but when she had walked across the ballroom at Dobbler's and curtsied, then said, "I believe you requested this dance," he found himself unable to turn her down. He consoled himself with the thought that if the dance were to become unbearable, it would be far worse for her reputation should he desert her in the middle of the floor than had he given her the cut from the beginning.
"Eva— My lord," she said, correcting herself, leaving Evan thankful that she'd misread the longing on his face as displeasure at the familiar address. "I wouldn't have bothered you, not after..." she looked away and there was an awkward pause before she continued, "But Cappie is missing and you're the only one I can think of who could help."
"The only thing Cappie ever was reliable about was being unreliable," Evan said smiling, pleased at the wittiness of his rejoinder.
"It's not like that," Miss Cartwright said, pleading. "I think he might be in danger."
Evan let her talk without agreeing to anything, something he'd learned from his parents, and when the dance ended, he was not ungrateful to be swept away from Casey and the headache she was causing.
The problem was, Evan couldn't stop thinking about what she'd said. There was no way Cappie would forsake Casey, not after all he'd done to win her over, and after the ball he found himself following the byzantine route to the Amphora building, instead of heading back to his club as he'd planned. Even if Cappie was hiding from Casey or playing some sort of game with her, he wouldn't trifle with their Amphoran brethren. Not when to do so could risk the security of the order itself.
But he did not find Cappie's name in the book, nor had Duke Bowman any idea of Cappie's whereabouts. Evan was left no choice but to give credence to Casey's worries. Something was wrong with Cappie.
He tried to pretend that it had no more effect on him than it would if it were any of his other brother spies. The best decision would be to simply wait, secure in the knowledge that Cappie was involved in a plot Duke Bowman felt required secrecy, or that, if Cappie were truly in danger, Duke Bowman would have already arranged for some sort of rescue. If that were the case, then Evan ought not involve himself lest he end up embroiled in whatever debacle Cappie had cooked up this time. After all, the last time he'd interfered against his better judgment, he and Cappie had been forced to flee France in female attire to avoid the notice of the legionnaires. He'd spent an entire week as Evana, Lady Capucine's maid. How they'd managed to escape without the French noticing that their aliases were startlingly similar to the names of the escaped spies, Evan did not know. What he did know was that he had no desire to undergo such a masquerade again; Lady Capucine was surprisingly demanding with regards to the maintenance of her wigs.
It shouldn't have had any effect on him, not anymore, not after that night. Cappie had made it perfectly clear that after what Evan had done, he no longer considered Evan a friend.
Still, his attempt to maintain an appropriately stiff upper lip seemed futile especially when he kept imagining he saw Casey in the crush of every party he attended, her face worn with concern for Cappie in a way he was sure it would never appear for him. No matter how he gamed and danced and drank, it did not suffice to drive the memory of her pleas from his mind, nor did it dismiss the lingering sense that there was something altogether peculiar about the manner of Cappie's disappearance.
It wasn't that Evan thought it would be unlikely for Cappie to disappear, but any time before, he'd always left hints for Casey or Evan or both, little notes that eluded to whatever he was undertaking, as if everything from secret soirées to great matters of state were a sort of lark. Evan didn't attribute it to any concern that they would be worried. No, it was that Cappie simply couldn't take pleasure in the cleverness of his plans when no one else knew of them.
Given the severance of their relationship, Cappie couldn't be expected to confide in Evan any longer and there were some things that one simply didn't say to a lady, even if she was of an especially understanding nature.
And though Evan, somewhat unwillingly, still thought quite highly of Casey, understanding was not an adjective he would pick to describe her at the best of times. There was still, however, one group of people who Cappie could have confided in: the members of his club, the Kappa Taus. Unfortunately, they had blackballed Evan a few years hence, and afterwards, he had chosen to enroll in a club— his father's club— that had quite a strong rivalry with them, straining his and Cappie's friendship, but more importantly at the moment, making him most unwelcome should he attempt to inquire as to Cappie's whereabouts at his club.
Evan fell backward down the stairs, his posterior hitting the pavement with a most undignified thump. He hadn't exactly expected better from the Kappa Taus— they were noted for being depraved, ill-mannered louts, some of them even American!— and he'd had more than a few encounters with them himself, enough to realize that they were far from gentlemen, but he'd thought they'd give him a chance to speak before descending on him. A chance to explain that he was merely looking for Cappie. They had always let him speak before; he had forgotten that Cappie had always been there to intercede. This time he hadn't been, or at least Evan hadn't caught a glimpse of him before the Kappa Taus descended. It probably hadn't helped that the last brawl between Kappa Tau and Omega Chi had led the deportation of several Kappa Taus. Evan wasn't sure why they were upset; he'd heard that they were doing quite well in Australia.
He limped off, wiping a drop of blood from his temple and considering his next move, when he noticed the alley next to Kappa Tau. He remembered having to stop there once, when he and Cappie had been on speaking terms, so that Cappie could pick up a disguise before they made their way on to Amphora. Perhaps... he glanced about, to see if anyone was watching, and then ducked furtively into the alley.
Cappie's hiding spot proved well-stocked; there was a large greatcoat and a hat with an exceptionally floppy brim, both of which appeared to have seen better days. Evan looked them over and wondered what manner of bugs might be inhabiting the fabric, as he held them an arm's length away, between two fingers. The drop in the dust at a noise from the establishment had no noticeable effect on the state of the clothes, but, despite his reservations, he forced himself to don the jacket and then the hat, taking care to angle the brim to block his face before entering through the servants' entrance.
He made it all the way to the second floor unchallenged, only to be greeted by a warm exclamation of "Cappie!" as he tiptoed down the dimly lit hallway.
Evan stopped stock still and pulled the brim down a little further before waving a greeting, hoping that whoever it was wouldn't press him further.
"Cap, remember how you said to let you know if anyone stopped by asking about you?"
Evan nodded and hoped that Beaver was as slow as he remembered, even if he couldn't imagine anyone who knew them both mistaking him for Cappie.
"That Lord Chambers was here before. Do you think he found out that you were spying on him?"
Evan's elation at his success was cut short when he thought about what Beaver had said. Spying? On him? Evan couldn't think of a reason for Cappie to spy on him, not after he'd written Evan off completely. He hadn't even taken enough notice of his actions to challenge him to a duel and, though Evan hated to admit it, there'd been more than one occasion on which that would have been an acceptable response. No, there was no reason he could think of for Cappie to be spying on him. It didn't make sense. Belatedly, he shrugged, then took a step back, as Beaver stepped towards him.
"Beaver!" someone shouted from downstairs. "We need you."
Luckily, that stopped him before he stepped any closer. He turned to leave then turned back and said, "Don't worry, Cap. We won't let him get the best of us again."
Evan managed to hold back his laughter at the irony of that statement long enough to make it to Cappie's room. It looked exactly as he expected it; littered with an assortment of food and books and clothes. A wig he remembered tending with great care was slung over the headboard, and there was a corset which must have been Cappie's, given that it was obvious that when laced at its tightest, it would remain loose around Casey's waist. Evan moved it aside to join the other items he'd discarded as irrelevant to Cappie's disappearance, not allowing himself more than a moment to linger on the times he'd been called to lace Cappie into similar accouterments in their attempts to infiltrate the enemy undiscovered. He ran a finger over one of the stays, recalling the contrast between Cappie and the corset and the confusion he'd felt at the juxtaposition of the two, before moving it and inspecting the mess underneath, as if the age of the food on the plate could serve as a measure of how long it had been since Cappie had eaten there rather than a measure of how long it had been since he'd allowed anyone in to clean, before moving it aside as well.
He continued searching, to what end, he wasn't entirely sure. If Cappie was on a mission that was secret even from Evan, he would be unlikely to leave a trail of clues no matter how foolhardy he could be, and as far as Evan could tell, everything was in place.
Evan stood and canvassed the room once more, clearing his mind and focusing only on what was in front of him, which was when it hit him. Well, actually, he hit it: Cappie's shelves. Literally. He nearly knocked them over, grabbing them just in time to prevent a thud that would be sure to have all of Kappa Tau running. A few glasses wobbled and a book hit him right where he was sure to develop a bruise from the earlier brawl, but the shelves remained upright. He bent to pick up the book that fell, only to notice that it was a copy of Commentaries on the Laws of England.
That was the exact moment that Evan realized Casey was right to be worried about Cappie. If he were on a mission there was no way he would have left his copy of Commentaries on the Laws of England behind. Oh, not because Cappie was especially interested in reading about the law; he preferred the latest French novels to anything more edifying and Evan doubted that even engagement to Casey had changed that.
No, it wasn't that Cappie would miss Commentaries on the Laws of England for its own sake; it was that this particular copy was of an extremely limited printing. The exact number was equal to the number of active Amphoras and the books served as a key for the ciphers they used to communicate. If Cappie didn't have his copy... well, Evan doubted that he'd left it behind intentionally.
He placed the book back on the shelf next to Nocturnal Revels, a volume with which he was certain Cappie was more familiar, and, with a wistful glance at the door, opened the window and crawled out to the roof. His first problem was making it down without breaking his neck; his second, how to contact Casey again.
The solution he hit upon for contacting Casey was attending parties she was rumored to be attending.. It would have been a great deal simpler to call on her instead, but Evan harbored doubt that she would receive him if he tried to call on her. Still, he hadn't seen the ceiling of his room before three in the morning for weeks, as he flitted from party to party, following rumors of Casey like a moth fluttering towards a flame, all to no avail. He was beginning to have second thoughts when he found himself elbow to elbow with Miss Howard, who appeared to be doing her utmost to look as though she hadn't seen him.
"Miss Howard. It's been quite a while since we've encountered one another," he said.
"All good things must come to an end," she said, her sunny tone hiding the barb of her words.
"Please, Miss Howard. I need to talk to—" he hesitated, unsure as to which form of address would make Miss Howard more sympathetic to him, then settled on the more formal, "Miss Cartwright."
Miss Howard gave him a long look and Evan felt as if he was being judged and found lacking when she said, "Be at Dobbler's again, tomorrow night."
"Thank you," he said, his shock lending itself to brevity.
"Don't thank me. I only told you because Casey's been looking for you every night, but believe me, if you break her heart again, I will not consider propriety of any importance when I enact my revenge."
With that she turned and walked off, instantly enveloped in a crowd of eager beaus, leaving Evan confused in her wake. It was as if Ashleigh had been speaking of an entirely different happening; he hadn't broken Casey's heart. She'd broken his when she'd chosen Cappie over him yet again, though he'd proposed against his better judgment.
He stepped toward Casey, half expecting her to give him the direct cut despite the fact that he was there at her bidding. It was possible, after all, that this entire thing was a set up, something she and Cappie had plotted to embarrass him yet again in front of his peers. She didn't, though, and he gathered himself enough to say, "Miss Cartwright, would you do me the honor," holding his hand out. The gesture evoked memories from the past, of a time when he'd held out his hand to her, when she had seemed to share his goals, and he had offered her the assistance of his name. Now she was betrothed to another, and yet still he was entangling himself in her affairs.
Casey seemed strangely focused on his temple, as if searching for something, the reason becoming apparent when she said, "Russell said you had been to Kappa Tau. He said you were asking after Cappie."
"I don't suppose he could have said something to ease my way," Evan complained. Casey's brother had never cared for him, but he'd seemed fond enough of Cappie, and if there ever were a time for putting aside meaningless quarrels, he would have thought it would have been then.
"He didn't know," Miss Cartwright said, and Evan must have betrayed his surprise because she followed it by saying, "You are the only one I've told. The only one I trusted."
Evan hated the flush that filled him at her words, how much he still desired to be trusted, and more, by Casey. They broke apart then, the cycle of the dance allowing him to regain his composure, before he was again brought to face Casey. Before she had opportunity to speak, he said, "I fear you are correct to worry."
Casey paled and said, "I was hoping you would discover I was wrong, or that he was having an affair, or anything that I had feared at first. Better that then—"
"If it were merely something of that sort, surely Russell would have lost no time in telling you. After all, he did not hesitate to tell you of my tryst with Lady Rebecca," he said, not without bitterness. It had been, using the sort of terminology the amateur scientist would prefer, the first cog in the machinery that had driven a wedge in his and Casey's relationship.
The dance was ending, so instead of continuing the argument, he said "Let me call on you tomorrow, so that we may better determine our next move," and taking her nod as acquiescence, he led her back to her party.
Evan called on Casey as early as deemed acceptable by society and found himself repenting of his haste as he'd managed to send in his card before Russell had left to do whatever insipid bores did with their days. Given his attire, Evan suspected that he'd been on his way to some sort of rough and tumble activity with the Kappa Taus. Still, he seemed content to delay his plans for the day in favor of sitting next to his sister on the settee, consigning Evan to an armchair, and glaring at Evan.
"Evan," Casey said, fluttering her fan warningly. "What a lovely surprise."
"Surprise," he repeated. Oh. She still mustn't have told Russell of her suspicions. "Well, I was in the neighborhood and I thought it would be unmannerly for me not to call and offer my news."
"News of what?" interrupted Russell, and Evan realized his misstep. Of course he could not reveal he was looking into Cappie's disappearance in the presence of Casey's brother; to do so would gather the Kappa Taus as one to thwart him.
"My news of—" he paused, hoping for inspiration to strike when Casey interrupted to say, "The weather certainly is lovely today," which really made no sense whatsoever, except that she sounded especially pointed, much like when they were partnered for bridge and she was waiting for him to catch up on her strategy.
"Yes, lovely," he assented, and then, as she stared at him, he hit upon it.
"A lovely day for a ride," he added. "Which was what I was hoping when I called, that you would do me the honor of a turn in my new phaeton?"
"That sounds lovely," Casey said, with an approving smile. "I am free this afternoon."
Evan missed the days when such forwardness was because she was eager to be alone with him for his own sake, rather than for Cappie's.
Russell's mouth gaped and he looked rather like a fish, which left Evan unable to resist adding, "I would invite you along as well, Russell. I am sure none of the Kappa Taus have anything like her, but there's only room for two. You understand, do you not?"
Russell didn't managed to gather himself enough to make a retort before it was time for Evan to take his leave with an, "Until this afternoon!" directed at Casey and a smirk directed at Russell.
"This is nice," Casey said, as Evan assisted her into his phaeton. "I like the silver."
"Yes, well, there are some benefits to being 'one of the wealthiest men in all of London'" Evan quoted her, pleased to see her blush at his words. "Or there were. I am not entirely sure how much longer I shall be able to keep it, now that I am down to a pittance. It was rather lucky that I stumbled upon the chance to take her out today."
"A pittance?" Casey asked, clearly surprised. "But you—"
"I found myself unable to continue making myself agreeable to my parents and have in turn found my funds curtailed. I am surprised you had not heard."
"I am sorry, Evan," Casey said. "And surprised."
"Don't be. Sorry that is. There are some things that are a matter of honor."
"If nothing else, it is a matter of curiosity as to what could be entrancing enough to draw Cappie away from your charms."
When Casey frowned Evan said, "It was merely a jest— a poor one perhaps. We will find him. I promise."
"Yes, well, if we are to do so, we need to come up with a plan."
"I have already checked—" Evan hesitated and then, remembering that Casey had already been entangled in Amphora business, gave up any attempt at secrecy and said, "Amphora. He's not on involved in anything for the Duke, unless it is too secret for me to know. And he left his cypher book at Kappa Tau, which I fear, leaves your suspicion of foul play even more plausible than we realized."
Casey's lips went white and pale and then she said, "Ashleigh and I checked out that pub— Gentleman's Choice—"
"You went to Gentleman's Choice?" Evan asked, astounded. For a woman like Casey, to darken the doors of such a place with only Ashleigh to chaperone her would be dreadfully scandalous.
"In disguise, yes," Casey said defensively, and that was enough to set off an entirely new set of images in his brain, of Casey with bare shoulders, her hair in disarray and her legs showing. Something of his thoughts must have shown on his face, because Casey hit his shoulder with her fan and clarified, "In disguise as men, you letch."
He rubbed his shoulder gingerly. "And there was no sign of him?"
"Then what else is there for us to do?" Evan asked helplessly. The only other lead he had was the one about Cappie spying on him and he couldn't see what good mentioning that would do; if anything, it would direct suspicion back at him.
"Watch for new developments? Make a list of his enemies?"
Evan snorted. "Most people would put me at the top of that list." Cappie would put him at the top of that list. And perhaps he would not be so wrong, because Evan couldn't help but wonder if, with Cappie out of the picture, Casey would return to him. Except even in his imaginings, that wasn't quite right. He wanted both of them, how they had been; his closest friend and the woman he loved.
"Most people don't know you as well as I do," Casey said, and he twinged with guilt at the knowledge that he was, again, holding things back from her, this time unable to even claim it was for her own good.
"One more turn around the park before I return you to the odious Russell?" Evan suggested, pulling on the reins.
"One more turn. And we should plan our next meeting, so that we can share anything we've learned."
"Apparently, there's always Gentleman's Choice. Perhaps if your disguise would be up to it, I could sponsor you at Omega Chi, and we could meet there," Evan said, pleased when his offer was met with laughter.
"I've been looking all over for you," said Calvin, as he closed the door to Evan's room behind him.
"You found me," Evan said, as he loosened his cravat and stripped off his coat. "I'm late for an engagement, though. Can this wait?"
"No," Calvin said firmly. Evan raised an eyebrow, but Calvin had yet to lead him astray; he was a true friend, honest when lesser men would chose to act as supplicants. Besides, the engagement in question was with Casey and Reverend Kettlewell, to question the clergyman as to whether he had corresponded with Cappie lately. Evan had a suspicion that Casey might be able to get more out of the good Reverend in his absence than she would otherwise.
"I know you don't care for him, but Grant is friends with Trip—"
"And the reason why I don't care for him becomes apparent. Judge a man by the company he keeps."
"Grant also keeps company with me," Calvin said. Evan shrugged, not willing to say something that would injure Calvin's feelings, and Calvin sighed, then continued. "Trip has been making cryptic comments, about the Kappa Taus and revenge served cold."
"He did orchestrate their deportation."
"Grant seems to think it's more than that and every time I walk into a room lately, it goes silent."
"Are you still being bothered?" Evan asked. There had been more than one member who'd considered blackballing Calvin based on small minded attitudes and ill-reasoned fear despite his father, but he had thought he'd dealt with them. Perhaps it was time for a show of strength.
"This is different. New. And the other day, when I hesitated before entering, I heard someone talking about Cappie. You know they think of me as your man."
"Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention," Evan said, opening the door as a signal that the conversation was over. Calvin looked from the door to him to the door again, then opened his mouth as if he were going to say something, before deciding better of it and leaving Evan alone to try and determine what to do next.
It could have be nothing, Evan reasoned as he continued changing. After all, Trip was always plotting something, and it wasn't as though a room going silent upon Calvin's entrance was unusual. Still, there was the bit about Cappie; Evan didn't think any of the other Omega Chis would care about his existence, let alone gossip about him when the only thing to gossip about was his absence. And Calvin wasn't the sort to be easily excitable; his level-headed wisdom had benefited Evan on more than one occasion.
It was enough to convince him that, when he saw Trip, the best course of action was to follow him, though he was already hopelessly tardy. And follow him Evan did; quite discreetly if he did say so himself, he thought with a grin as he paused in an alley, peeking out to check which way Trip had gone, when he heard someone say, "Well, what have we here?"
"Trip," Evan said as he turned to face him, not bothering to disguise his dislike. Trip had been a thorn in his side for quite some time; it was his fault Evan and Cappie were feuding.
"Slumming it, are we, Chambers?" he asked and, perhaps unwisely, Evan replied, "Well, I was looking for you..."
"How can I be of service?"
"I want Cappie."
"I'm afraid I don't seem to know where he is. Quite careless of him to have wandered off," Trip said snottily.
"Don't play games with me, Trip. I know you have him."
"Well, that is a shame," Trip said. It was the last thing Evan remembered hearing before everything went black.
Evan was not in his bed. It was the first thing he was certain of when he woke up. Had it been a few years earlier, he would have assumed he and Cappie had gotten up to some mischief which he was only now paying the price of, but it wasn't. His head was throbbing and he touched the back gingerly; why was it always his head?
He must have said that aloud, because he heard, "Must be because they don't think there's anything of importance there."
He turned to see Cappie and nearly jumped out of his skin. He hadn't thought Trip would be so stupid as to put them together which was probably why he blurted out, "How did Trip get the better of you?" If Cappie were to be on his guard around anyone, Evan would have expected it to be Trip, and besides, it was better than the other things he could have blurted out, like, "Cap, you're alive," or "Casey and I were so worried," or "So why were you spying on me?"
"Much like he did you, methinks," Cappie said, rubbing the back of his head ruefully and for a moment, before Cappie returned to glaring petulantly at him, Evan felt like he had his old friend back.
He look around, mapping the room in his mind like they'd once mapped parts of London together, when they'd first attempted to discover the headquarters of Amphora; what windows there were were far too small to fit his frame, let alone Cappie's, and, being subterranean, Evan thought it would take quite a bit of tunneling to escape that way. He'd been about to give up when he noted the stairs. Perhaps they'd forgotten to secure the door, he thought, and he began to climb, quickly as he could without feeling his head swim.
"Tried that," Cappie called after him, but he ignored it, and when he found the door securely latched, he took a few steps back and ran up the steps, bashing into the door. It was quite solid, he found, and the impact was enough to send him reeling backwards.
"Tried that too," Cappie said, as Evan fell down the stairs.
"You couldn't have told me before?" Evan asked.
"I thought about it."
"Then I thought about Jeremy and Ferret and Wade."
"How many times must I say I didn't know?"
"At least once more," Cappie said. Evan wanted to argue and push, to say it hadn't been his idea, but even if it had been, Kappa Tau had more than started it, but when he looked at Cappie, really looked at him, he could see how tired he was, how much his captivity had worn on him and he couldn't bring himself to push, perhaps because even then, dirt smudged across his face and his shirt shredded, Cappie could still make his breathe catch.
"How long have you been down here?" he asked, instead, pleased at the surprise on Cappie's face when he didn't push the issue. It was rare that he was able to surprise Cappie, even when they were fighting.
"About two weeks," Cappie said, his surprise enough that he gave Evan a straight answer. "You didn't know?"
"This is entirely Trip's doing. I was following him, trying to find out where you were when I was set upon. It was lucky that Casey wasn't there."
"Casey?" Cappie perked up for a moment, at the mention of her name, and Evan felt himself wishing that Cappie looked like that about him.
It was impossible though, and he knew it; Cappie had never shown any inclination towards men, and even if he had, he'd never shown any inclination toward Evan, beyond that of a good friend, or occasionally that of a good enemy.
"She was the one who noticed your absence and came to me, thinking it might be something to do with Amphora."
"It wasn't," Cappie said. "Trip caught me—" he broke off.
"Skulking around Omega Chi, like a common crook," Evan finished, quite pleased with his alliteration. He was not, however, so pleased that he didn't notice the way Cappie seemed discomforted by the allegation.
"Why were you spying on us?" he asked, pleased that Cappie was on the spot for once. Besides, his curiosity had never been settled on the matter and now would probably be his only chance to ask. He and Cappie avoided being in the same company when they could. It only made sense.
"I wasn't," he denied, tight-lipped, and Evan snorted.
"I heard it from a Kappa Tau," Evan said, scrambling to remember the name. "You're not telling me Beaver was mistaken."
"Beaver can barely manage to remember to lead when he's waltzing," Cappie retorted. "It would be more surprising if I were telling you that Beaver wasn't mistaken. Besides, Beaver would never give me up."
"He would if he thought I was you," Evan said with a smirk. He had Cappie's attention now; he saw it in the way Cappie's head snapped up and his eyes focused on Evan.
"Why would anyone think you were me?" he asked.
Evan retorted with, "Why would you be outside Omega Chi? I'll share my secrets when you share yours."
"Oh, like why you betray your friends for the sort of scum who would turn on you in an instant if it weren't for your names?"
Evan suddenly felt tired of it all. "What do you want me to say? It was too far; I didn't think they were going to go that far, but my club was all I had left. I lost Casey, I've lost my livelihood. It was all I had left."
"You had me," Cappie said, and it's more direct than Evan would have expected of him, and, as a result, more painful. "Besides," he added with a smirk, "It doesn't seem like you have your club anymore, unless this is what you stuffed shirts do for fun."
"Funny, Cap," Evan muttered, wondering why he still let Cappie affect him as much as he did.
The problem with being confined in a small space with your (former) best friend, was that no matter how little you wanted to talk to the other person, eventually the prospect of conversation with anyone won out over continued silence. Cappie broke first, a fact that Evan was thankful for.
"If this were Cyprus," he said, referring to Evan's estate, where they'd spent much of their childhood together, "we'd have escaped by now."
"Escaped and made off with tarts from the kitchen," Evan agreed.
"It's almost enough to make me wish that you were behind this, this time," Cappie said. Evan didn't have a response for that, so he was glad when Cappie continued, "You said Casey was looking?"
Evan nodded. "We were supposed to speak to Reverend Kettlewell when I was distracted by Trip. Does he know anything?" he asked hopefully, but Cappie was already shaking his head before he'd finished the sentence.
"Strange, that you were my best hope at getting free this time," Cappie said.
"Yes, strange," Evan agreed, not saying that he liked it better this way then when they were fighting.
"Let's fight," Cappie said, quite suddenly.
"Fight?" Evan questioned doubtfully even as he automatically brought his fists up to protect his face. He wasn't at all sure what good a fight would do, other than allow them to take out their frustrations on one another.
"Not now. First we'll plan it, then we'll fight to create a distraction, when they're due to bring down the food. Like when we convinced Casey we were going to duel to distract her from Amphora."
"It didn't exactly work that time," Evan pointed out, but when Cappie retorted, "Do you have any better ideas?" he had no choice but to relent, as he did not.. That was how he found himself rolling around on the packed dirt of the cellar floor as they endeavored to make enough of a commotion to draw the attention of their guard. Their plan more than succeeded. No fewer than half a dozen men stomped down the stairs to see what was going on.
"What do we do now?" Evan hissed. There were far too many to overpower as they'd planned.
"I've got it," Cappie said, as the men pulled them apart and held them to face Trip. "He started it!" Cappie exclaimed.
Evan tried to pull away from the man holding him, infuriated that Cappie would betray him. He'd trusted him.
"Why you," he began, his accusations cut short when he was manhandled so that he could no longer give voice to them.
"Not still arguing about that slattern, are you boys?" Trip drawled most insolently, only causing Evan to struggle harder. He would make Trip eat those words if it were the last thing he did.
"My betrothed," Cappie corrected, more calmly than Evan would have expected from him. "And I demand satisfaction."
"You can't be suggesting we allow them pistols?" Grant asked.
"No, no, that won't do," Trip said, pausing to think, something that surely taxed what few mental resources he had.
"As the challenged, choice of weapons ought be mine," Evan said, happening to look toward Cappie in time to catch his covert sign of approval. He should have known; Cappie had a bad habit of holding things back from him and when Evan protested, Cappie claimed that it was to allow for a more natural reaction. Evan thought it was more likely that, like many of the things Cappie did, it was purely accidental, though he had wondered once or twice if Cappie were testing him, only to dismiss the possibility as most uncharacteristic of Cappie.
"My lord Chambers?" Trip said, with a bow, using the niceties that must have once grated on him to mock.
"Swords would meet with your approval, would they not?"
Trip hesitated but then one of his compatriots said, "It'll be more entertainment than we've had in days," and then, with a shrug, he gave in.
It took them less time to procure swords than Evan might have expected, though perhaps he ought not have been surprised; Trip fancied himself more skilled at fencing than he was and had probably brought the swords along as part of the affectation.
The swords were given to Cappie and he offered them to Evan that he might pick. Evan gave them a thorough inspection, not wanting Trip to suspect that he did not care who had which weapon.
"Gentleman, I shall serve as both of your seconds," Trip said, which, while ridiculous, was certain not to be the most outlandish part of this duel, Evan supposed. "Let us pretend that I have tried to convince you to rob us of this spectacle so that we may begin with it."
With that, he dropped a handkerchief, signaling the start. Cappie said, "Hon guarde," in something he liked to pretend sounded like a French accent, and raised his sword.
Evan parried a few blows and Cappie did the same before pushing in closer and locking Evan's sword with his.
"Grab one of them, as a hostage," he whispered, as Evan worked his blade loose and jumped back. They danced closer to the wall, where their captors watched, laughing and betting back and forth. As soon as Cappie broke from the fight and grabbed one of them, Evan did the same. Evan held the man in front of him, his sword to the man's neck.
Before they could press their advantage, he heard Trip saying, "For shame, and you had given your word. Then again, the word of a Chambers isn't really worth much these days. Don't you remember when you were in your cups, and promised that Cappie would pay and the one to make him would be rewarded? And now here you are, trying to rescue him."
Evan would have taken great pleasure in cutting Trip's monologue short, if it weren't for the fact that Trip had been prepared for them to attempt to escape and had brought a pistol which he was now pointing at Cappie's head. Still, Evan held the sword steady against his captive's throat, not wanting to give up the advantage of the stalemate.
"Don't try to delude yourself, Chambers. I value his life less than I value the ruin of yours. Now let him go, and put down the sword. You haven't it in you to kill or you would have joined the militia like you threatened to."
"Evan, hold on, this can still work," Cappie hissed, but Evan really couldn't see how it could. If he pushed, Trip would have no choice but to shoot, and one of them would be dead, whether it was he or Cappie and either way, Evan couldn't live with the results. No, Trip had the upper hand and the only choice was to surrender, so that they might survive to fight another day.
The sword fell with a muted thud and the man he released joined the others as they fought to subdue Cappie, leaving Evan standing still, facing Trip.
"Same old Evan," Trip said with a laugh, opening the chamber of the gun, proving it to be devoid of shot. "A coward to the end." Then, to the men who held them, he added, "Gag them this time, so they can't make any more clever plans," before heading upstairs.
It wasn't very long after that that they found themselves blindfolded as well— though Evan was unsure what good it would do when they knew their captors all too well— before they were carried up from the cellar and out into a carriage. The windows were drawn tightly, and the only noises that Evan could hear were those of the carriage itself; still, despite the noise and the discomfort, he found himself falling asleep, drifting in and out of strange dreams, of him and Cappie and Casey being chased and then chasing one another, a dizzying circle that ended with them falling off the edge of a cliff. They were falling and falling and then there was a sudden stop and Evan found himself rolling off the bench.
"Gentlemen," said a voice from outside of the carriage. "I do believe you will find it in your best interests to run."
And run they did, or at least so the sounds suggested to Evan. Cowards. It wasn't long at all before the carriage seemed to be turning on the narrow road and heading away from where ever their destination had been, and, putting the distractions aside, Evan began once more to work at the gag that silenced him. Even if he couldn't release the irons, he could do that, and, once able to talk, he and Cappie could come up with a plan, or he could persuade the ruffians who held them that it would be to their benefit to attempt for a ransom.
Before he managed to do anything more than dampened his gag and damage his face in the attempt to rub the fabric against any rough patch he could find, the carriage bumpily slowed to a halt and the door opened, the morning's light spilling in. It was the brightest light Evan had seen in quite a few days and as his eyes had become accustomed to the dark, he automatically moved to shield his eyes, succeeding only in wrenching his shoulder as his arms were still shackled and instead screwed his eyes shut.
One of them cried Re or Rah or something of the sort, putting to mind some sort of foreign gods, then said, "Unshackle them, would you?"
"I am," someone said, impatiently, and he heard Cappie groan next to him. Evan forced himself to open his eyes, blinking to clear the light, to prepare for any chance at an escape.
Then, his eyes still bleary and smarting from the light, he watched as the leader of the bandits pulled off his hat and his mask, revealing none other than Casey Cartwright. After that, Evan did not find it very surprising when, having freed them, her accomplishes in turn took off their masks and proved to be Miss Howard and Lady Rebecca Logan.
Evan was distracted from the sight of so many young women in such inappropriate attire when Miss Cartwright gasped out, "Your faces," punctuating her words with paroxysms of laughter. "It was all I could do to not to betray myself."
"Well done, my brilliant brigand," said Cappie, pushing forward and embracing Casey, who allowed it in a most wanton manner. Evan allowed himself a moment of jealousy, though, had he been asked, he could not have said who he was more jealous of, then took a step backward, and then another, as if to disappear into the coach, but before he could, Casey has loosened herself from Evan's embrace and grabbed his arm.
"Hold on," she said, pulling him closer. "Cappie, you ought to thank Lord Chambers as well; without his help, I would have never found you."
"Help?" Evan questioned, not feigning modesty. "I merely stumbled into the trap after him; truly you have outshone both of us in the art of rescuing."
"Without you and your subsequent disappearance, I might have been willing to dismiss my suspicions. You were truly vital, for those reasons, and also for the balm you provided to my soul."
"Now see here, Chambers. It is not at all the thing to woo my woman when I'm being held a helpless prisoner by the blackguards your club lets in."
Cappie's jovial tone conflicted with his words, as did the embrace he pulled Evan into.
"I beg your pardon?" Evan asked, his words slightly muffled because his mouth was pressed against Cappie's coat.
"He means that if you wish to woo me, you should wait until he's present," Casey whispered into his ear, loud enough that Cappie could surely hear it. Evan waited for his objection, to be presented with the choice between another fistfight or pistols at dawn, but it did not come. Instead they split apart and headed back towards the coach the ladies had procured for their rescue mission.
Home and then never to speak of this again, Evan thought, doing his best to squash the small sense of regret he couldn't quite explain.
Somehow, things never worked out in Evan's favor. He had planned to make his escape as soon as possible, but instead, he found that they were to return first Lady Rebecca, then Miss Howard, until at last he was left alone with Cappie and Casey, the last two people he wished to be alone with.
At least there was finally silence; Miss Howard had talked and talked until Evan began to fear that she would wear out her tongue. The only thing more he could wish for was space. He had been forced to sit squished between Cappie and Casey, as Rebecca and Ashleigh had taken the other bench of the coach. It left him entirely too close to both Casey and Cappie, with a constant awareness of their bodies against his, even through their many layers of clothes.
He had intended to rise and move after Ashleigh had said her goodbyes, only to find himself impeded when Casey reached over him to grab a hold of Cappie's hand.
"Do you mind?" he asked finally, barely able to stand the torture of the touch, not to mention the worry that with an unexpected bump their hands would slip, leaving him embarrassed once again by his unrequited desire.
"Of course not," Casey said, but she didn't remove her hand. Instead she leaned over, her breasts pressing against him and said, "Cappie, can Evan stay with you?"
"What?" Evan and Cappie cried, nearly in unison.
"Well, he can't stay at Omega Chi, not until we know who else was involved in Trip's plot, and his parents are unlikely to welcome him at the moment, so that leaves you."
"I have allies enough at my club," Evan protested, even as Cappie said, "The Kappa Taus will kill him, Case," as if Evan hadn't spoken.
"True. And perhaps it will be better to remain outside the city altogether, for all of us, until Lady Rebecca gives the all clear," Casey reasoned, before saying to Evan, "Your parents are visiting town now, aren't they?"
"Yes," he said, seeing all too clearly where this was headed. "And no one will notice if we use the old gamesman's cottage. But Casey, your reputation—"
"Is already in shreds," she said firmly. "Let us get this thing turned around."
Evan expected Cappie to argue with her, but instead he began pounding on the roof for the coachman's attention.
The cabin seemed much smaller than he remembered it, perhaps because no matter where he looked he saw them, sickeningly in love, whispering and looking over at him and all he could wonder was, had they ever loved him like that? Or had he always been playing the fool, the cuckold?
"I'm going to chop wood," he said as he stood suddenly.
Better to take his aggression out on the wood than to ask and be humiliated. He set up a piece and swung the axe, splitting it, then he repeated it again and again, until his muscles burned and his shirt was wet with sweat, until he could no longer lift the axe. He sat on the stump he'd used to set the logs on and wiped the sweat from his eyes, glad to be exhausted enough that his mind could no longer consume itself with jealousy.
Of course that was when Cappie came and stood beside him, looking out in the forest for awhile before he finally asked, "Can we let bygones be bygones?"
Evan wanted to say, "If you would like." He wanted to pretend that he could remain friends with them and that their friendship would be enough, but he found that he had lied to himself enough. There was no way he could be friends with Cappie and Casey, not when they had something more, something he wanted for himself.
"Evan?" Cappie prompted.
"I can't, Cap. I can't watch you two and not want that for myself."
"What if you were a part of it?" Casey asked, slipping up behind him and resting her hands on his shoulders, the touch more familiar than society would have approved of.
"We do make a good team," Cappie added, moving his hands besides Casey's.
Evan could think of a thousand reasons why it was a bad idea, why it would end in misery for all of them, but none of the reasons outweighed his desire to say yes and throw his fortune in with theirs, especially not when Casey added, "I have found I've come to depend on you being there. Losing you— losing the two of you— made me realize how much."
Evan stood then without speaking, shrugging off their hands, and saw the apprehensive look on Casey's face and the wistful one on Cappie's, then said, "I have had to make due without you, and I have found that I would rather not make due, if the choice were mine."
"Is that a yes?" Cappie demanded, even as a grin flashed across his face.
"It is," Evan said solemnly before giving up the fight against answering Cappie's grin with one of his own as the three of them embraced.