Actions

Work Header

Find a Penny

Work Text:

Adelaide attended Benjamin's burial as a constable and as a caring person, but not as his wife. She had packed selectively for the trip abroad, which meant the dress she'd selected for Mrs. Weiss's funeral now served double-duty, but on this day, the fit was off, and the fabric hung on her body as if meant for someone of a more solid build. "It's rare for someone to be widowed twice by the same person," she spoke to the men who stood on either side of her. One of them settled a hand on her shoulder while the other gently placed a rock on the top edge of the turned earth. There'd be a tombstone eventually—Adelaide had seen to that, a well—though it wasn't likely to be done until after she was sailing back across the Atlantic.

"And, yet, never married," Arthur spoke, referring to the history she'd presented for the name she now used. "I presume you have no plans to mention your relationship with Mr. Graves to the Sergeant?"

"Of course she's not going to!" Harry took a step forward and crossed his arms, preparing to defend Adelaide. "If he found out that she's not who he thinks she is, he'd use that as an excuse to drum her right out of the Yard. You know he would. She's not going to tell, and neither are we."

For as long as they'd known her secret, it had never once occurred to Adelaide that her two charges would use the information against her. Still, she was gratified at the look for pure disgust Arthur leveled at Harry. "Nor do I require your threat to hold my tongue. We know the truth, and that means there is no further mystery to solve. Constable Adelaide Stratton will continue performing her duties at Scotland Yard until such time as she, and she alone, decides otherwise."

"Excuse me," she said, clearing her throat. She gestured at the grave, then bowed her head. "Mrs. Penelope Graves could use a moment." The men ceased their bickering, muttering apologies for the disrespect they'd shown, and settled back into proper supportive positions. Benjamin had never been the man she believed he was, but she'd still loved him. As she'd likely never return to America, this was her last chance to say goodbye.

Stepping onto the ship after that and leaving the continent should have felt more final than it did. Her stomach adjusted faster to the rolling of the deck and the bite of the salt air lacked some of the sting she'd felt on the way west, yet it was harder to find her balance. Every shudder and sway risked sending her tumbling. She clung tight to the railing, using the cool metal to hold herself in place, and stared out over the endless ocean. There was something she still needed to do.

Once upon a time, she'd met a man and married him.Without a thought, she'd abandoned the name she'd been raised with for his. She'd become a new person with new, more important responsibilities and obligations. And it had all felt so right and natural. Everyone approved of her choices and it was difficult not to take pride in having made the right ones. Then Benjamin had disappeared and, in searching for him, she'd once again changed her name and taken on a new role—only this one was met with resistance, even outright hostility. She was trying to be something unnatural, so many people told her, to pursue a role she lacked the essential abilities to perform. And look where that had landed her.

"Wow, those're some heavy thoughts you're carrying around. Penny for them?"

The question jerked Adelaide back to reality, and she once again felt the transition as a loss of balance.

"What did you say?" she asked. She'd heard the words just fine, only they didn't come together in her head as a complete sentence.

Houdini leaned against the railing, an elbow planted on the top bar. In plain brown trousers and a shirt, he was the most dressed-down Adelaide had ever seen him in public, though a quick glance around showed that they were the only ones on this particular stretch of deck. In front of them, the sun was beginning to set. Its dark golden light spread across the sky and settled down over them, like a protection against social impropriety. "Hey, I didn't mean to scare you." He held out a placating hand without leaving his insouciant pose. "Wouldn't want you to fall overboard. Accident like that might make the Chief suspicious. Or happy."

Adelaide turned her attention back to the setting sun and considered for a moment its inherent path: every night it went down, every morning it returned. Death and rebirth. Closure and opening. She wasn't inclined to confide in either Houdini or Doyle—it wasn't proper to be too open with her thoughts, especially with colleagues—yet, she missed having someone to talk to whom she could really talk to, like she'd done with Benjamin. Like she thought she'd done with Benjamin. "How can you be two people at once?" she asked him. "You were Erich Weiss and now you're Harry Houdini. How do you know which one you really are?"

Houdini tipped his head, the sea breeze ruffling through his curls. "That's easy!" he said. "I'm not two people. I'm one person with two names. Yeah, I'm not the same charming and friendly guy on stage as I am now, but that doesn't make me two different people. People have expectations, so I just show them what they want to see." He twisted his hand and the named coin appeared on his palm. Another twist and it disappeared. He grinned at his own cleverness.

"You really believe that," Adelaide said.

The casual response wasn't what she'd been hoping for, though it did give her something to think about. When she'd become Mrs. Benjamin Graves, she had only changed her name. When she'd become Adelaide Stratton, she had changed her whole person. She'd created a new history, new life details, new facts for the new woman. But she'd only done so because she couldn't pursue the mystery of her husband's disappearance without the resources being a constable provided. Adelaide had become what Penelope couldn't be. Now that the mystery was solved, could she go back? Did she want to?

"Well, yeah." His eyes narrowed and he looked closer at her. "Why? Are you thinking about telling the Sergeant what really happened out here?"

"I don't know," she answered quickly. Maybe too quickly. She absently rubbed her thumb over the base of her naked ring finger. "I'm sure he already knows the important part. Even with an ocean in the way, some kinds of news travels fast. I did save the President of the United States from an assassination attempt."

Houdini was shaking his head. "Take my word for it: people only think they want to know what's behind the scenes." The coin appeared again, flashing the same copper color as the sun. "I'd tell you to pick a side: heads or tails—" With a casual flick of his fingers, Houdini flipped it overboard—"but I don't think that would answer anything."

They both peered over the railing, and saw only a small splash as the coin hit the water and was immediately pulled under. There was no telling which side landed up.

"Oops," he said, with the air of someone who hadn't made a mistake at all.

Adelaide frowned. She'd opened up, asked for advice, and gotten a response that amounted to nothing except for the wasting of a good coin.

"That's a new habit," Houdini added, after a few minutes of silence. Adelaide thought he might be talking to fill the silence, but with him, it never paid to make assumptions; he was too good at using them to his advantage.

"What is?"

He nodded down at her hands which were resting one over the other on the rail. She was rubbing the naked spot again. "You'll need to break that before we get back. Unless you want everyone to notice. Didn't Doyle's alienist friend have something to say about that in that book of his?"

She didn't know. She hadn't read the book, nor had she paid much attention to the conversations Doyle and Houdini had had on it. She'd had other things on her mind. Self-conscious now, she pulled her hands apart and made a comment about the sunset in a bid to change the subject and Houdini's focus of attention.

Later, after she again caught herself indulging her new habit, Adelaide got an idea.

"What if I told them part of it?" she asked.

Doyle, now immersed in the writing of his new story, looked at her blankly until Houdini punched him on the upper arm and said, "Come on, this is the kind of thing Holmes would go crazy for."

From a pocket in her skirt, she pulled out the wedding ring Benjamin had given her. It was a simple gold ring, enough for her to sell and live on the proceeds from for a couple months, should she ever need to. She'd taken it off when she became Adelaide and now, she understood, it was time to put it back on. "I won't tell them who Benjamin was to me. As far as anyone back home will know, he'll be the man who failed to assassinate President McKinley."

"While your husband—a man who perhaps went to America to seek his fortune—also met his demise," Doyle continued. His mouth spread into a smile at the simplicity of the ruse, and Adelaide knew she had exactly the right person on her side to help her fill in any blanks that could trip her up.

Satisfied, she slipped the ring onto her right hand in the position that marked her as a widow. She could honor her marriage this way, remember Benjamin, and still keep her position at the Yard. It might even open doors. In modern society, widows had a great deal of freedom.

"So," Houdini asked, "Since you're combining your two lives, what should we call you?"

She hadn't thought about that. Going back to Penelope would raise too many questions, while staying Adelaide was no longer necessary. "I think I'm comfortable with Constable Stratton," she answered, after a moment. She caught the men's faces start to fall at the enforced distance that titles created. "Though, in private, I think Penny will work just fine."