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Astraios and Eos Descend

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"We're very pleased with Eurus' –" Aoife MacGuire paused for just a fraction of a second. " – transition thus far. Several of the young folks here tend toward anti-social behaviour immediately and maintain that for several months, but Eurus has responded well to our disciplinary system here." She opened a door, revealing a beautifully kept garden and vivid summer-green grass. Ushering them out, she led them toward a small thicket of trees.

"That's good," Siger said, patting Violet's arm. "Very encouraging." Transition, though. Transition. Not growth, not progress.

"And what is entailed within your disciplinary system?" Violet asked, her voice a little too high, too sharp.

"Very simply, Mrs Holmes, it's a reward versus punishment strategy. Our students earn house points for positive behaviour, as in school, and lose them for negative behaviour. Whilst negative behaviour doesn't result in punishment, accumulation of certain numbers of house points earns rewards. Extra treats at teatime, their choice of film on Friday evenings, that sort of thing."

Violet nodded. "How much time does she spend on her own?"

"All students are permitted alone time, but we have four hours of mandatory social interaction with students in similar age groups." Ms MacGuire pointed to a group of young teenagers sitting in a circle on the far side of the grass near a stone wall. Several adults in white, mostly men, hovered nearby. "They're quite safe. We have a ratio of one counsellor to three students."

Siger squinted at the wall. Picturesque – if one didn't look too closely at the loops of barbed wire atop it.

"Here we are," Ms MacGuire said, stopping at the edge of the thicket. "A few notes before we proceed. Eurus prefers to be called Elise nowadays."

Violet frowned. "Why on earth?"

"Apparently it's after a Norwegian noblewoman?" Ms MacGuire shook her head, clearly perplexed.

Violet let out a long, slow exhale. "Elise Eskilsdotter."

"Sorry love, who's that?" Siger wanted to know.

"She was a pirate who flourished in the fifteenth century." Violet's mouth tightened. "That's new. She was never interested in that sort of thing before."

"She was quite insistent. And frankly, Doctor O'Shaughnessy didn't see the harm in it."

"I see." Violet pulled off her pale-grey gloves and deposited them into her handbag. "Anything else?"

"Yes. She's formed an attachment to one of our other students, which we all believe is a marvellous breakthrough. We encourage children like Eurus to form bonds wherever possible. It may help them move from cognitive empathy to emotional empathy."

"She had close bonds with her brothers," Siger said. That was true, at least. There had been times when she had positively doted on the pair of them.

"That may be," Ms MacGuire said. "But Eurus is exceptionally intelligent. Brilliant. It's quite staggering, in fact. We're looking for cross-connections – well, at any rate, there is a possibility that she could have feigned the appearance of a bond in front of you to gain your approval, mimicked regret when you were angry with her, et cetera – whatever worked to her advantage."

Ice enclosed Siger's heart. "Ms MacGuire, that's just not – she's just a child, she couldn't possibly learn that sort of behaviour so young. She had no examples of that sort of dishonesty."

"Are you telling us," Violet said softly, "that our child is a psychopath?"

Siger recoiled. "Christ, Vi!"

"If that's what she's saying, I want to hear it," Violet retorted. "Well, Ms MacGuire? I've read the literature. Psychopaths are emotionless and manipulative and violent and utterly lacking in remorse. Is it possible for a young girl to be a psychopath?" She took a step toward Ms MacGuire, her hands clenched round the strap of her bag.

"We simply don't know, Mrs Holmes," Ms MacGuire said. "All children are narcissistic and impulsive. Eurus displays some of the signs of traditional conduct disorders, but she also has periods of exceedingly winning charm as well as periods of extreme rage. She often demonstrates a decided lack of emotion and, as you know, other…more violent traits."

"Yes," Siger said quietly. "You…you don't keep animals here, do you?"

"We have a barn on another part of the property," Ms MacGuire said. "It's very carefully supervised, I assure you."

"Good," Siger replied, but another icy finger of doubt touched his heart.

"We can't classify a child as a psychopath," Ms MacGuire went on. "There are ongoing studies, but nothing definitive – no long-term studies that have followed children who display tendencies such as your daughter's into adulthood. There are no standardised tests for psychopathy in children. We are doing the very best we can, but we're flying blind, to put it bluntly."

Violet's mouth thinned into a severe line. She nodded. "Where is she?"

"Right through there." Ms MacGuire pointed through the trees and began to walk. They came upon a little clearing, thick with stones and rich moss.

There she is. My little girl.

At a folding table sat Eurus, heartbreakingly pretty in a blue dress, her gorgeous auburn curls tossed this way and that. On either side of the chair where she reigned like a petite queen sat a small boy and a man garbed in white, putting biscuits onto paper plates.

The boy looked up first and poked Eurus in the arm. She turned her head and caught sight of them. Sudden fire kindled in her blue eyes, and then her face smoothed out and her mouth curved into a tiny, perfect smile.

"Darling," Siger said, his voice trembling. He held his arms out.

Eurus' smile widened. "Look what the cat dragged in."

Siger's smile curdled a bit. Just her wit – she's so sharp, never know what she's going to say. "It's so lovely to see you, sweetheart." Beside him, Violet was silent.

Ms MacGuire took a single step forward. "House points, Elise."

"I'm sorry," Eurus said quietly. She rose to her feet, smoothing her skirt, and moved toward Siger, a winsome smile wreathing her face. Clasping him round the waist, she covered his shirtfront with kisses. "Hello, Daddy."

That's my sweetheart, my little love. He picked her up – with some effort, she'd grown – and buried his nose in the soft, warm curve of her neck. His eyes filled with tears. Dear God, she smells just the same. She's affectionate, loving. There must be time to change things. Children aren't carved in stone.

Wet-eyed, trying to contain a sniffle, he slid her down. "Say hello to your mummy, crumpet."

Eurus smiled at Violet. "Hello, Mummy."

Violet reached out to stroke Eurus' hair. Eurus didn't lean into the touch, but she permitted it. "Hello, Eurus darling. It's wonderful to see you. You look marvellous. And you've grown."

Eurus went very still. She stared up at her mother, then at Ms MacGuire. "I thought you were going to tell them." She swung back to Violet. "It's Elise. Not Eurus."

"Ah." Violet's mouth tightened again, but she nodded. Eurus' pink carved lips curved upward again, that tiny smile. Siger couldn't remember that particular expression from before. "Elise. Very pretty."

The man in white rose and touched the small boy on the shoulder. "Why don't we leave Elise and her mummy and daddy to their visit?"

"No." Eurus pivoted on her heel. "I want him to stay." She turned to Siger. "We're friends. We've formed a bond."

"I think your parents might want their private time with you," Ms MacGuire ventured.

An expression of smouldering anger crossed Eurus' face. "If Jimmy can't stay, then I'm not going to sit and talk to that," she spat, stabbing a finger at Violet.

Christ. Siger struggled for a response. Oh, Christ. Violet had gone ashen, but she stood straight and unmoving.

"Five demerits," the counsellor in white said.

Eurus' face turned red. She ground her teeth and whirled toward the counsellor, but he raised a warning finger. "Count to ten."

Siger watched Eurus' body slowly relax, her fists unclench. She turned back to Violet, odd little smile in place. "Sorry, Mummy."

"Perfectly all right, darling," Violet said, and stepped briskly forward. "Have you got tea here?"

Ms MacGuire seemed impressed by Violet's composure, and she nodded at Siger. He nodded back. Oh, Vi, love….

"Yes," Eurus said. "Would you like some?"

"That would be lovely," Violet said.

Ms MacGuire nodded happily. "I'll leave you for a bit. You can find your way back to the main office whenever you like."

The counsellor jumped to his feet and offered Violet his chair. "Sit here, ma'am. I'll have a mossy rock."

"Thank you," Violet replied, and took a seat. "Sig, dear? Lovely mossy rock next to – Elise. Would you like it?"

"I would, thanks." Siger sat and accepted a paper cup of milky lukewarm tea. Sipping at it, he watched his daughter serve everyone biscuits and tea from the small card table, her movements neat and methodical. Beside her, the little boy sat in silence, occasionally giving her sheep's eyes. Oh dear. Still, I suppose it can't hurt. They're always supervised.

"How have your lessons been going, darling?" Violet asked.

"Very well, thank you. Top marks. I'm reading Henry James at the moment."

"And how are your maths?" Of course Vi wanted to know about maths.

Eurus' mouth tightened a bit. "Don't you want to hear about Henry James?"

Violet nodded, a bit uncertain. "If you want to tell me."

Eurus began to recite the plot of a story in painstaking detail, giving Siger the opportunity to look about a bit and relax. Perhaps they'd made the right decision – St. Dymphna's felt like a good place, a serene place. Ms MacGuire seemed sensible and no-nonsense, there were plenty of counsellors, the atmosphere was lovely, and so far the other children hadn't raised a fuss – certainly the little boy sitting next to Eurus (Elise) was as docile as a little lamb. The presence of the barn animals was a bit worrying, but if they were supervised as well, then surely everything would be fine. He'd been too exhausted and grieved on his first visit to make more than a cursory inspection of the grounds – the facility had come highly recommended by one of Violet's former colleagues.

Besides, they'd been low on options.

Eurus was still talking, and not eating – she was crumbling her biscuit between two fingers and sifting it back and forth, but apparently that wasn't an offence that earned demerits, because the counsellor sat placidly, drinking his tea and eating his own biscuit.

"It sounds like a rather chilling story," Violet commented, and Siger guiltily brought his attention back to Eurus, who was watching him, unsmiling.

"Not if you understand it properly," Eurus said. "Do Mycroft and Sherlock miss me?"

Siger and Violet glanced at each other. "Naturally they do, darling," Violet said.

"Why did you look at each other? Did you discuss what you were going to say before you saw me?" Eurus tilted her head to one side; her reddish curls fell to her shoulder.

"Of course not," Siger said, patting Eurus' hand. She snatched it away.

"I'll bet they don't miss me at all." A crafty smile stole across her face. She leant close to her friend. "Do you know why?" The little boy shook his head. "'Cos they said I did something awful."

Violet sucked in a harsh breath. Siger put a hand on her arm. "Steady on," he murmured.

"What?" the little boy asked excitedly. "What did you do?"

"Five demerits, Elise," the counsellor said.

"It's a secret," Eurus said. "I'll tell you later." She gazed at Violet, seeming to bask in her distress.

"Sweetheart…." Siger said. "Sweetheart, you know you're here to get better. We want to forget all of the…all of the terrible things that happened in the past. And your brothers do miss you, very much indeed. I think you know that, deep down. Don't you?" Please. Be in there, somewhere.

Eurus blinked. "But do I, Daddy? I haven't seen them in ever so long. I think they've forgot about me altogether. Why didn't you bring them?"

"We couldn't, Eurus. They're in school as well," Violet said.

Eurus nodded. She rose and fluffed her skirt, then picked up her paper cup of tea. "I told you – it's Elise, you cunt." She hurled the cup at Violet with devastating aim. Tea splattered her face, her hair, the front of her pale-grey tweed suit and silk blouse. "CUNT!" Eurus' face crimsoned; cords stood out on her neck. With blinding speed, she snatched up her friend's third half biscuit and hurled that as well, but Violet blocked it so that it ricocheted off her forearm.

Before Siger could reach out and grab his daughter, the counsellor darted forward and scooped Eurus up, managing to contain all her limbs as she struggled and kicked wildly, screaming obscenities. "Can you sit here with the wee lad a moment? I'll get herself calmed down and fetch Ms M." He strode away, talking soothingly even as Eurus continued to scream, piercing animal howls that rent the peace of the bosky still air.

Siger turned to Violet, who was wiping herself down with her paper napkin. Her face was as red as Eurus' had been, and her chest was heaving rapidly. "Darling – are you all right?"

"Yes, yes – of course."

He got up and offered her a hand. "We'll go back to the hotel. Come on. You can change your clothes, have a bath."

Violet nodded, pushing wet hair out of her face. "Yes. Maybe that's best. Just give me a moment."

The little boy handed Violet a fresh napkin. "Your neck's all wet."

"Thank you, dear." Violet took the napkin and dabbed.

"I'm sorry that happened."

Violet smiled wearily at the boy. "Life doesn't always go the way we plan it."

"She's my friend, though."

"I'm glad," Violet said, her voice shaking. "I'm glad she's got a friend here." She looked up and saw Ms MacGuire loping toward them. "Here's Ms MacGuire."

"It was nice to meet you," the little boy said.

"It was nice to meet you as well," Violet replied, getting to her feet. "Thank you very much, darling."

Breathless, Ms MacGuire held out a hand. "Come along, Jimmy. Go to the conservatory, please. Thank you." She waited until he was out of earshot. "Mr Holmes, Mrs Holmes – I must tell you it could be some time before she calms. You're at the Greville Arms, isn't that right?"

"Yes," Siger said, putting an arm round Violet's shoulders. "We're going there now, so my wife can change her clothes."

"That's best. Perhaps if you come back after the dinner hour. We'll try a bit of calming exercise and I think she'll be much better. And there's a very good dry cleaning service at the hotel – we'll take care of the bill."

"That's not necessary," Violet said quietly. "Thank you all the same." She looked down and froze. Tugging on Siger's sleeve, she pointed downward. Eurus had used her crumbled biscuits to spell words onto the paper plate.

I


HATE


YOU

 

*

 

Violet came out of the bath in her dressing gown, a towel wrapped round her head. She sat on the bed and began leafing through several of the brochures on the night table. "Thanks for dropping my things off."

"You'll have them back tomorrow." Siger straightened his tie in front of the mirror, surreptitiously watching her.

"Where should we eat dinner?"

"Wherever you like." He hesitated. "Sweetheart –"

"No." Violet slapped the brochures on the table. "No. I don't want to –" She pressed her hands to her mouth. "I can't. I can't. I can't." She squeezed her eyes shut and sobbed.

"Oh, darling, darling…." Siger sank to the bed and held her, rocking her back and forth, rubbing slow, soft circles against her back, inhaling her natural sweetness along with her favourite jasmine scent. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"She's not –" Violet sobbed again. "She's not going to change, is she? Those bloody doctors – they said that physiology isn't immutable, that there's hope for growth and…and humanity."

"You've got to give it time. She's so young –"

Violet pulled away. "This is the fourth facility in two years! If this doesn't work, where exactly do you suggest we go? We're running out of places that will accept her!"

"There's that school near Hamburg," Siger said. He frowned. "But it's so far out of the way. We'd hardly see her at all." He scrutinised Violet's downturned face. "Is that what you want?"

Violet was silent for a moment. The alarm clock beside the bed ticked, overloud and obnoxious. "No," she said at last, clasping her hands together. "Of course not."

"She's our daughter, Vi." Siger hunched over in misery.

It was another moment before Violet spoke again. "I don't know who she is."

She'd been the most beautiful baby. Hardly cried at all. Whereas Sherlock – God love him, he'd been a noisy little bugger from the get-go, hadn't he? And both of them different from Mycroft. Christ, they were all different, all of them brilliant – they all frightened him a little; maybe all children frightened their fathers a little. Raising them was a bumpy road, full of pitfalls, even when nothing really awful happened.

But Eurus…it had started early, if he was honest. But fathers gave so much leeway to their daughters. And she was so sweet, so affectionate with him, cuddling and freely bestowing kisses…. And he had thought that she'd loved her brothers. Certainly they'd loved her.

Until a few years ago. Until Redbeard.

He couldn't give up on her, though, his Eurus, his little autumn breeze. Not when she was so small, so young, so vulnerable. Not while there was still time to intervene, to make a difference.

Not yet.

 

End.