Thaniel hesitated at the door to the house on Filigree Street, the letter burning a hole in his coat pocket and, it seemed to him, directly into his heart. It would be pointless to try to keep it from Keita; he would already know what Thaniel would do about it, if not the precise words laid out in impersonal type under a solicitor's letterhead.
At least, he hoped Keita knew what he would do about it – what he should do about it. For himself, Thaniel had nothing but scattered thoughts and wild impulses. Perhaps he should just burn the damned letter and pretend he had never received it.
He opened the door. Green notes shading into blue at the top; Keita was playing the piano, a pretty but rather formulaic-sounding air, something like a spring day with all the expected birdsong and gentle breezes and flowers in a neat border row. His hat went onto the rack, his coat below it. He took two steps towards the back of the hall, toward the green music, then went back to his coat and closed his hand around the letter. It was pointless to think about burning the thing. Keita would already know.
As he drew the letter out, the music stopped. Thaniel crumpled the letter in his hand as he walked toward the parlour.
"What was that you were playing? It was –" green, he thought, but said instead, "– like springtime."
"Green, I know," said Keita at the same time. "It's your composition. Well, you were going to compose it."
Thaniel frowned. He had hoped his compositions would be less trite. "Play it again?"
"I can't. I've already forgotten it."
Which meant that it was gone from the future, a green garden path not taken. He tried to recreate in his mind what he'd heard a moment ago; the melodic line had been lovely, and perhaps he could use it somehow in whatever he did end up composing, if he ended up composing anything at all. Though there was a bit of the chicken and egg conundrum in it, really. How could he call it his own work, when it had been Keita playing it, Keita remembering it from a version of the future that would never happen?
Though maybe that was the only way he'd manage to write music, Thaniel mused, considering how busy the Foreign Office was these days. His days were interesting, but they were long, and his plans to sit down in the evening with the piano and explore his half-formed ideas always seemed to be preempted by other things. There was Six, who seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of questions: about music, about the piano, about tea and telegraphs and anything else that popped into her young, agile mind. There was Keita, of course, and the simple joy of spending time with him.
And then there was Grace. He looked at the letter in his hand.
Keita touched the keys again, and a ripple of music poured out of the piano. There was a similarity to what he'd played before, but the texture was softer than it had been, and the green was muted, bluer, more pleasant. Lavender notes twined through the bluish-green, and when Keita spoke his voice formed a golden brown undertone to the music.
"Will you meet her, then, and sign the papers?"
Of course Keita knew what was in the letter. "Will I?" said Thaniel, a bit more peevishly than he'd intended. Maybe he'd send the solicitor a brief, polite note of regret. It would not hurt him in any real way, to refuse to go through with it, to refuse to sign. It wasn't as though he planned to marry again.
A minor key made an appearance, a shimmer of darker green. "You might." Keita was frowning, though, and he sounded uneasy.
"Will she hate me more, if I don't?" As soon as the words came out of his mouth he regretted them. It made him sound as though he cared about her good regard, when in truth it wasn't so much her hate Thaniel feared as her actions. What he should have said was: Will she try to ruin us? The world had little sympathy for divorced women, but the world had no sympathy at all for men like them.
It couldn't have been easy for her to ask him to file the petition. It meant a charge of adultery, the particulars of which her solicitor had helpfully laid out in dispassionate prose. After the required open hearings in London's High Court, it would no doubt be repeated far more luridly. But Grace had never been shy about going after what she wanted. If he refused, she might choose to petition for divorce from him – and that would complicate matters considerably. A woman petitioning the court needed to prove an aggravating factor to her husband's adultery. Thaniel and Keita's relationship would do nicely for that, and leave their lives in shambles.
A thin smile. "She will hate you regardless, you know. Though not as much as she hates me."
"I know. She will insult you, and it will make me hate her in return. What are you playing now?" The dark green had deepened and washed over the other colours, shot through now with threads of silver on the counterpoint. This was a more dramatic melody than before. Thaniel was not sure he liked it, though it was interesting. It demanded his attention in a way that the previous tunes hadn't.
Keita only looked at him, and kept playing.
"Oh," said Thaniel, the realisation hitting him belatedly. "I didn't think I'd compose anything like that, either."
"It's only the most likely of possible futures, at this point."
"But you remember it."
Keita was silent. His fingers spoke for him in dark green and silver notes.
"If I sign the papers," said Thaniel slowly.
Still Keita did not speak. His fingers hovered for one frozen moment above the piano keys, then came to rest in his lap.
"I'm to allege she's committed adultery."
"It's not untrue."
"That's not the point, and you know it. Society matrons will gleefully whisper every detail to each other. She'll be a pariah." Thaniel paused. "But if I meet her, if I sign the papers, she'll get the house. She'll have her laboratory, and the garden." And the stumps of the pear trees she'd had cut down. Maybe they'd remind her of him. He wondered if they would make her feel triumph, or shame. Or maybe she'd plant something else, and the golden clockwork pears would pass out of memory as they'd passed out of existence. "Surely she can't be too angry. She'll be able to marry Matsumoto."
"He won't marry her," said Keita. In the silence his voice sounded oddly loud and nearly golden, like and unlike the pears. "That's not something I remember. That is to say, it's not something I don't remember, either. It has nothing to do with my own life. But she's not the sort of person he would marry. His family would never accept her."
"Does she know that, I wonder."
"Do you think she'd care?"
It hadn't really been a question, but still, Thaniel considered. Convention hadn't been what had driven Grace; respectability hadn't been her purpose. Their marriage had been only a step on her pathway to independence, and her laboratory, and her research.
"Not enough to matter," he finally said. It would be a pebble in her shoe, a small thorn pricking her finger. A valuable thing she could not have, even if it was of more value to others than to her. It would be a sting she could bear. And oddly, that thought erased the childish stubbornness in his heart that insisted that he would be giving it all away, that she would get everything she wanted, that she would have won and he would have lost. He knew the depth of that sting; this was something denied them both. Winning and losing were not part of it.
It would not hurt him – not any more than she had already hurt him – to meet with Grace and her solicitor, to sign the papers. He could do what was necessary, and then leave. Keita would have told him if there'd be disastrous consequences. And then the thing would be done. It would be over, and Grace would be out of their lives, and he – he and Keita would be free.
While he'd been thinking, Keita had begun to play again. Thaniel recognized elements of the theme from the pieces he'd been playing before: a phrase here, a tonal shift there. The tune was still melancholy, but not as dramatic; a quiet blue shading into lavender, with a few chords of the same pale green that had greeted him at the door.
"I like this one," he said. "Will I write it?"
"In the most likely of possible futures," said Keita.
"Then I will," said Thaniel. Meaning the composition, meaning Grace. He went to the kitchen to make tea, the music filling his head, lavender and blue notes with a hint of pale green.