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In A Heartbeat

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Fields outside Crawley, 1854

“Who are you?” The little girl narrowed her eyes at the boy in the tree above her, seemingly watching a group of sheep.

“Shh!” was all she got as a reply, prompting her to pout before climbing up to him. As she sat on a branch next to the boy’s she had a perfect view on a flock of sheep, the shepherd, and the herding dog. Her light green eyes shifted from the flock to the boy and his brownish wild hair, intently watching the animals with a wicked grin. Eventually he turned to her, hazel eyes glinting mischievously. “Wanna have some fun?”

She didn’t care about his name anymore; she just nodded feverishly with a wide smile and jumped down with the boy, sneaking towards the herd. Every now and then the dog lifted its head, ears trying to identify the source of noise, but didn’t find it. The kids got closer and closer, until the boy put a hand on the girl’s chest to stop her. “On three … One …. Two ….” Both of them jumped out of the high grass with a predatory growl, causing the sheep close by to jump and run away in fear, bumping into each other.

“Oi, bugger off, you naggers!”

Laughing hysterically, the kids ran away, occasionally looking back to see if they were being followed. They entered Crawley and only stopped in an empty alley, panting and leaning against the walls as they shook with giggles. “Jacob,” the boy panted to which the girl frowned at him in confusion. “My name. Jacob Frye.”

Giggling anew, the girl leaned her head back against the wall for a moment. “Marian. Marian Dechert.”

From that moment on the two were inseparable, and became best friends in a heartbeat.

 

 

Crawley, 1860

“I don’t understand. He’s so … old”, Jacob scoffed, arms crossed as he watched Marian and Lucas from afar. With dark eyes, he watched and felt like throwing up when Marian giggled at something the other said; he just wanted to punch Lucas’ face. She was his best friend, not Lucas’.

Evie’s voice broke through the fantasies in Jacob’s mind. “Lucas and Marian are the same age, Jacob. You keep forgetting she’s four years older than you.” Jacob just grumbled. Evie was right, Marian was four years older than them, seventeen now, and her interest in boys was awake for some time already. The younger twin found himself feeling more and more nauseous and uneasy when the topic came up, or when he noticed Marian looking for a moment longer at Lucas.

Why Lucas? He was stupid, arrogant and sneaky. He’d stolen Marian from Jacob, engaging her more and more, so that Jacob and Marian spent less and less time together. Jacob hated it. A nudge to his shoulder ripped him once again from his thoughts. “Come on, pouty, Father is expecting us.”

 

A few months later, things improved, much to Jacob’s delight. Marian spent less time with Lucas, and more with her training. She was still occupied, but whenever the two had some free time they spent it together – they either sparred against each other in training, or got into mischief.

But one day, Marian interrupted their training to rush towards a bush and throw up. Worried, Jacob walked up to her. “You alright?”

Spitting the last bit of gastric acid, Marian wiped her mouth with her sleeve. “Yeah, sorry. I must’ve eaten something wrong …” she mumbled in a voice that didn’t convince either Jacob nor herself.

Marian knew something was off, and she had an inkling to what it was. “Oh God, no …” Scared, she looked up to Jacob, who was roughly the same height as her, despite their age gap. “Could … could you accompany me to a doctor? Ou-outside Crawley, please?”

Jacob didn’t have to be asked twice. With a worried frown, he nodded and guided his friend to a shady place to sit and drink some water.

 

Crawley, 1861

“I have to tell them,” Marian whispered, heart thumping in her chest as she sat in the cold January morning light, leaning against a stone wall. Eyes glazed, she watched the light dance on the snow crystals covering the fields around them, only here and there letting green spots of grass come through. For five months now, she and Jacob knew she was pregnant, and after a huge fight between the both of them that lasted for several days, they found themselves at a loss.

Marian’s pregnant belly was starting to show, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to hide it under shirts, pullovers and jackets for much longer. But the worst thing was her resentment towards the child. On one side, she knew it wasn’t the unborn child’s fault – it didn’t choose to be here, to grow in its mother’s womb, and yet she felt the need to protect it. On the other side, Marian didn’t choose to have it, either. She didn’t plan on all this, she didn’t even plan on the act itself. That was what had Jacob in rage most of all. That Lucas had taken what he wanted, and hadn’t accepted a ‘no’.

Now Marian was in the worst situation she could ever imagine, with the hardest decision she ever had to make. People would talk, the Council wouldn’t allow her to continue her training, maybe even not become a proper Assassin. Marian had no idea how they would react to the news. And Lucas could just go on with his life. Jacob wouldn’t have that, and he knew Marian wouldn’t want to have that either.

The younger Frye sighed, wrapping an arm around Marian’s shoulders. “We’ll do this together. And Evie would come with us, too, if you want.”

Over time, the three of them had spent more time together, and there were moments when Jacob argued with Evie about his relationship with Marian.

Evie always insisted he shouldn’t let feelings compromise his mind. He always insisted that he and Marian were just friends, nothing more, and it drove the siblings slowly apart. Yes, he was close to his twin sister, but with their struggles and differences regarding their Father’s training it was difficult most of the times. With Marian it was easy, though they clashed sometimes as well, with their temper and loose tongues.

With a small smile, the young woman looked at her friend. “You two are amazing,” she said in a choked voice, “but I have to do this alone.”

Jacob hadn’t heard of Marian, or had seen her for the rest of the day, as he was caught up with training and studying the Creed. Or better said, arguing with his Father as usual. Still fuming from their latest argument, he stomped through the streets, kicking snow until he heard a sob in an alley. It took Jacob a moment before he recognised the sound, and he rushed over.

“Mary?” he whispered into the darkness, frantically looking for her. “Ma –” Around a corner he saw her, hunched over, rolled into a ball as pained sobs escaped her. Even in the dim light of the street lamps at the end of the alley, Jacob could see she was hurt. “Hey, Giggles…” Looking her over Jacob knelt down, gently forcing her face up to inspect her face. Bloodied, bruised, she must have taken a bad beating. “What happened?” The anger towards his Father that had vaporised before started to inflame anew as he looked into the familiar light green eyes of the woman he had become close to, but there was no trace of her left. Just like that, she was gone, though he held her in his arms.

Marian’s left eye was swollen, her bottom lip split from the middle to the right side of her chin, her nose showing a strange angle. Her neck showed signs of strangulation, her clothes were torn, but Jacob saw no sign of a blade or a cut other than where the skin broke from sheer force impact.

“Jacob…” Marian sobbed, her voice barely audible. She looked down at her stomach, arms wrapped around it as she felt her legs soaked in something warm. “The baby …”

 

 

Crawley, 1868

Somehow numb, Jacob stood at their Father’s grave, the only trace left of him in this world. It felt odd to never hear him again, or see him, or argue with him. As different as Jacob and his Father were, and how less Ethan seemed to had thought of him, he was still Jacob’s Father, and somehow the loss of him left a wound. Now he only had Evie left as family. And Marian.

Marian just loosened her hold of Evie, giving her a small reassuring smile before walking over to the younger twin. “Hello, Giggles,” Jacob greeted her, an attempt to lighten the mood and hide his pain. But Marian knew, she always did, but said nothing about it. Instead she just smiled a little at him, hands in her coat pockets before she linked their arms to walk a bit.

 

They talked about the past, the nonsense they have done together, the hard times they had been through, the many laughs they had – the reason why Jacob called her ‘Giggles’.

Marian couldn’t help but feel her heart begin to race more and more over the time she spent with Jacob. He had grown into a handsome young man now, about 4 inches taller than her. After a rather nasty brawl at a pub, He came back with scars on his eyebrow and cheek. Though the latter was definitely her doing, when they had an incredibly heated fight and decided to let off steam in the training ring. Jacob won, of course, but the reason for the argument was forgotten in another one of Marian’s infectious giggle fits that Jacob joined in soon after.

Eventually, the two stopped underneath the tree where they have first met. The sun had already set, the fresh spring air was becoming a little bit chillier. Adjusting his flat cap, Jacob cleared his throat, and gently edged himself free from the woman’s grip.

Curious, her light green eyes looked up into his hazel ones, mesmerising him once more. For a moment, he just let his eyes wander over her features, taking in the beautiful woman she had become, counting every freckle around her nose. They had a tendency to spread all over her face and arms the more they were exposed to sunlight, somehow retreating in the dark winter months.

He saw the scars on her eyelid, the small one below her bottom lip and on the shell of her ear from the night she had lost the baby. Fury still stirred deep down in his belly, but it didn’t take the better of him anymore. Not after the night Lucas had shot a nasty comment towards Marian and Jacob had completely lost control, causing his Father to interfere to stop him from beating Lucas to death. Though Marian hadn’t the slightest feeling of guilt for Lucas taking a beating, she had desperately tried to stop Jacob, in the end calling for Ethan.

In their following fight, she had dropped a line that had occupied Jacob’s mind ever since. I couldn’t bear losing you. The way his heart had stopped, his breath had hitched, cheeks had burned, fingers trembled … Evie had a triumphant grin on her face later in their room, murmuring, “I knew it,” to herself. Ever since then, Jacob carried this with him, pondering if he should say something that would risk their friendship, but on the day of his Father’s funeral, he couldn’t hold it in anymore. Surely their friendship would be strong enough if his feelings weren’t reciprocated, right?

“Marian …” the Assassin started, and trailed off. Immediately his companion frowned. Jacob rarely used her name, only in serious matters. Concerned, Marian, reached out for her friend who felt anchored by her touch on his arm.

“We’ve been friends from young age and …” Jacob began. Their hearts skipped a beat, “…and to be frank, you’re the person closest to me …” Breaths hitching, minds blurring, “… And, I think … no, I know … Marian, I lo –

“I’m leaving!”

Jacob’s breathing stopped. He felt like he’d been dropped suddenly into cold water. Only when his lungs screamed for air he took a slow, shaking breath. “Leaving?” he gasped, taking a small step back from her, feeling shattered. Marian was leaving. “Why?”

It hurt her to see Jacob like this, and it hurt to have stopped what he had been about to say because yes, that’s what she had been dreaming to hear for so long now, but it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair for Jacob. “The Council assigned me to a mission to Germany. Since I’m fluent in German, and educated in their habits, they think I’ll blend in perfectly.” With a shrug, Marian shook her head. “Listen … I don’t want to hurt you, and I certainly don’t want to ruin –” she gestured between the two of them, “this. Us. But, please …” As Marian held out her hands Jacob hesitated before taking them, closing the distance a little. “I want you to consider things, Jacob. I want you to consider that I … that I’m …” The strangled voice of the usually joyful woman broke Jacob’s heart, so he lifted their joined hands to lift up her chin, giving her a soft smile. Regaining her strength Marian continued. “Consider that you wouldn’t be able to have a family with me. Ever.”

Scoffing, Jacob interrupted. “The doctor said the chance is merely –”

“Not ‘merely’, Jacob. It’s almost certain I won’t be able to have children of my own in my lifetime, and I don’t want to steal this joy from you. I don’t want you to regret your decision and leave, or worse … never say a word and fall into despair because of me. I just …. I could never forgive myself if I cause you pain on the long run.” With a trembling hand, she reached up and cupped her friend’s cheek. “I’ll be back in two months. Please, take the time to think about it.”

This was worse than being told she didn’t feel the same, but the little glint of hope that Marian hadn’t actually voiced that held the Assassin upright in that moment. In fact, Marian had just asked him to consider her infertility; she never said she wasn’t interested in him. Closing his eyes, Jacob leaned into her hand before giving a gentle laugh.

Relieved, Marian let go of him. Together, with a bit of space between them, they sauntered back home. At her doorstep Jacob took off his flat cap, fiddled with it for a moment and finally placed it on Marian’s caramel-coloured hair. “Don’t lose it,” he called out to her, and walked home. He would wait these two months to honestly think it through, and be here when Marian came back.

Little did he know that his plan would change in a fortnight.