Chapter 1: Closer Than Blood
Starting off with a set of prompts from the Charloft "Winter Bingo" challenges! Each winter, the moderators would post "bingo cards" with a series of prompts. Your objective with each card was to get a "bingo" -- either by filling a row, a column, or -- if you were ambitious -- the whole card. My first winter there, I did three cards, filling in both a row and a column (along with a couple of "extra" prompts depending on where my inspiration took me); my second, just one, but I did the entire card to compensate. This ficlet is from my first card, written for the prompt "family". I knew I wanted to do something about how Victor didn't feel close to his parents – this somewhat sappy thing resulted. Miss Horrocks is the first of Victor's governesses in my backstory for him (he ends up having six), and her name comes from one of the voice actresses on Corpse Bride – Jane Horrocks, who did Black Widow and Ms. Plum. Barry is the name I chose for the Van Dort butler (hey, if the Everglots have one, the Van Dorts definitely do as well!).
When Victor had been five, he’d asked his governess, Miss Horrocks, what exactly a family was. Miss Horrocks had explained that a family was a group of people who were related and who generally lived together. “You and your mother and your father are a family,” she’d said.
“But you and Barry and Mayhew live here with us as well,” Victor had replied. “Aren’t you part of our family?”
“Certainly not,” Miss Horrocks had said, almost too quickly. “We’re not related. You can only be family if you’re related, Victor.”
“But I like you. Why can’t you be family?”
“That’s just not how it works, Victor. Liking someone does not make them family. Family is who you came from – your blood. People whom you like are just friends. You cannot make someone family – except by marriage, of course, but we’ll talk about that much later. Now, let us continue your lessons.”
And that had been the end of it. That was what Victor knew for the next fourteen years of his life – family was who you were related to. Not necessarily who you liked. (Not that he would ever admit to not liking his parents, but – but he was reasonably certain at times they didn’t like him very much.) And there was absolutely no way to change that.
Then he’d gotten his foot caught in the ladder of a flying steam train and been dragged off to Secundus. And met Marty and Doc and Alice and scores of other people. People who liked him, who accepted him, who did their level best to make him happy. People who genuinely seemed to care about him, more than his mother and father – his family – ever had.
And that was when he decided Miss Horrocks had been wrong. Family was so much more than blood, than merely being related. Family was who you could depend on, who you could be sure would stand at your back. Who you loved.
That’s why he stayed in Secundus, he realized later. Because when he’d met Doc and Marty – he’d somehow instinctively known he was meeting the first members of his real family.
Chapter 2: Not Even In The Bible
Another prompt from the first card I did for the Winter Bingo, this one "thunder snow." The instant I saw this prompt, I thought of a certain Lewis Black routine where he saw lightning with snow and said that it was, basically, a sign of the end of the world. "They don't even write about that kind of weather in the Bible!" is the line that inspired the title. Also, originally it was going to be Helen Narbon with the weather machine (since the first storyline in "Narbonic" featured one), but I decided my universe needed more "Girl Genius" in it. It's set the summer after "Secundus," shortly after Victor and Alice got married.
Victor nearly jumped out of his skin, dropping the book he was reading. “Goodness!” he said, pressing a hand to his heart. “Where did that come from?”
“I think from outside,” Alice said, looking toward the sitting room window. There was a bright flash that could be seen even through the heavy curtains, then another loud boom. “A thunderstorm must have just come over us.”
“More like snuck up on us.” Victor retrieved his book, then got up and made his way to the window. “I didn’t have the slightest inkling until–”
He stopped abruptly as he parted the curtains. Outside the window was – was – he couldn’t believe it. It was the middle of summer for goodness’s sake! And with thunder and lightning?! For a long moment, all he could do was gape. Then, slowly, he found his voice again. “. . .It’s snowing.”
“It’s what?!” Alice joined him at the window, to see thick globs of snow pelting the glass. Behind them, lightning lit up the sky again. “Bloody hell, that’s a sign of the apocalypse, isn’t it?”
“I would say so. . . .” Victor thought hard for a moment. “Wait – didn’t Lady Heterodyne bring a weather machine with her when she came to the city?”
“Yes, actually, she did,” Alice said, relaxing a fraction. “And I think she said that she hadn’t got all the bugs worked out.” She looked at the snow melting against their window. “This is – a rather major bug, I’d say.”
“I know. But she’s the Heterodyne – I’m sure she’ll fix it.”
Sure enough, after a few minutes, the storm dwindled away into nothingness, leaving wet slush in its wake. Shortly thereafter, a female voice echoed throughout the sky: “Sorry about that! Mimmoth in the works!”
Alice shook her head. “The most powerful female Touched ruler in years, and she still has things like that happen to her.”
“I think it’s all part and parcel of being a mad scientist,” Victor said, turning around. “Come, let’s go check on Ferdinand and make sure he’s not too upset.”
Chapter 3: Ordinary Life
Prompt three from Winter Bingo card one -- "hot cocoa." Just some fluff of Victor hanging out with his best friends during a snowy day, set during the on-set of winter post-"Secundus." Nothing more special than that -- as Victor observes at the end, sometimes life in Secundus really is just ordinary.
“Goodness, it is cold out!”
Victor hugged himself, trying in vain to stop his shivering. Dr. E. Brown’s 24-Hour Scientific Services did not feel like it was very well-heated today. Little drafts kept blowing in from under the door and from chinks around the windows. Victor half-fancied he could see his breath. “I do hope Marty and Doc come back soon,” he murmured, rubbing his hands together to warm them. “Then perhaps I can spend some time by the fire upstairs.”
Luck was with him – Doc and Marty appeared shortly after he spoke, cheeks and noses red from the chill. “Yikes,” Marty said, stamping his feet on the floor to remove the snow. “I don’t think we’re gonna see many customers today, Doc. It’s really goddamn cold.”
“I think you’re right, Marty,” Doc agreed, glancing out at the nearly barren streets. “It’s got to be below freezing out there. Let’s close up shop and head upstairs, all right?”
“Fine by me,” Marty said, heading straight for the stairs.
“Me too,” Victor said, following him. “Shall I make up the fire?”
“Please,” Doc nodded. “I’ll be with you boys in a bit.”
The two young men nodded back and made their way into the flat. “Did you get everything you needed?” Victor asked as he got the fire ready in the sitting room.
“Almost,” Marty said. “They were out of magnetic resonators. The guy said he’d have some in soon, though.”
“Good – then we can get back to work on the oscillator.” Victor sighed as the flames caught the logs, sending out waves of warmth into the room. “Oh, this is better already,” he said, claiming a seat on the couch.
“Tell me about it,” Marty said, leaning toward the fire and extending his hands.
Doc was rather slower to join them than expected – the reason for his delay proved to be a pleasant one, however, as he entered the room with three cups on a tray. “I figured we could all use some hot chocolate,” he said, distributing them.
“Thank you very much,” Victor said gratefully, taking the mug and gazing down into the brown steaming liquid. He warmed his hands on it before taking a cautious sip, being careful not to let the cocoa burn his tongue. It tasted wonderful, and the heat it provided was even better.
“Yeah, thanks a million, Doc,” Marty said, taking a big glug from his cup. “Aahhh. . . .”
They sat in contented silence after that, enjoying their drink and each other’s company. Victor looked at his companions for a moment, then smiled.
It was funny how normal life in Secundus could be.
Chapter 4: Care and Cleaning of Your Riding Butterfly
More from Winter Bingo Card One -- although this particular story is set in the late summer/early autumn right after "Secundus". The prompt this time was "flake,", and the very first thing that popped into my head was a factoid I learned as a kid -- about a species of moth that can shed its wing scales to escape spider webs. I did a little research on what butterfly wings are made of, remembered that Ferdy is technically part-dog, and went from there. (And yes, Ferdy has a stable when Victor and Alice move into their own house -- gotta keep him somewhere!)
Victor laughed as an eager proboscis slid over his body, searching for food. “Yes, yes, I have some nectar for you,” he said, producing a fake flower filled with sugar water from behind his back. “Here you are.”
Ferdinand made a happy noise, “licking” Victor’s face before starting to drink. Victor patted the oversized butterfly on the head behind the antennae. “How are you today?” he asked, examining the little stable he’d set up for his pet and mount. Everything seemed to be in order–
except that there was some odd debris on the floor. Frowning, Victor set the flower on a nearby shelf and leaned over to get a better look. Scattered all over the floor were large black flakes of some sort. Victor picked one up and examined it. The flake was vaguely rectangular in shape, with little notches on one of the shorter sides. It was stiff, but it had a soft texture, like a thin piece of wood covered with cloth. It also changed color as he turned it – from straight on it was black, but twisting it one way or the other turned it into a shimmery blue. “What the. . . .”
Ferdinand finished his drink and gave himself a little shake. Victor blinked as a few more flakes fell off the butterfly’s wings. The light came on in his head. “Oh! They’re your wing scales! But why are they coming off? They always stayed put before, I saw to that when–”
And then he remembered something. When he’d first made Ferdinand, he’d quickly discovered that, for a riding butterfly to be at all useful, it would have to have some mammalian traits. Being an ardent dog lover, had chosen to use canine DNA. And since butterfly wing scales were a form of hair. . . . He laughed as it became clear. “Oh dear – you’re shedding. I should have guessed. . .well, so long as they’re growing back.” He examined the wing closest to him. Yes, the scales did appear to be regenerating themselves. That was one problem averted – now, what to do about the flakes themselves? He looked down at the one he still held in his hands for a moment. It seemed far too pretty to just throw away. But what exactly could one do with shed giant butterfly wing scales?
It hit him a moment later. “Hmm. Let me get a broom, and then we’ll take a ride over to Richard’s and see if he wants these,” he told Ferdinand. “Doubtless he’ll probably find a way to make a hat out of them.”
Ferdinand bounced a little, eager for the exercise. Victor laughed and went to fetch the broom. Never a dull moment when you’re a Touched entomologist. . . .
Chapter 5: Off By The Sea
Finishing off a column in my first Winter Bingo card, this ficlet's prompt was "holiday." I decided to go with the definition of "taking a vacation" so I could do a more summery take on the prompt. (I know it's Winter Bingo, but there's only so much winter one can take!) For some reason, despite his extremely-prone-to-sunburn complexion, I like the idea of Victor at the beach. The "Mechtorian Museum" is a reference to a neat line of steampunk toys – I own Scuttler the Butler and DJ Cramo. Oh, and Chester's six and the twins three, if you're curious.
The view was just as gorgeous now as it had been eight years ago.
Victor sighed as he leaned on the balcony railing, watching the waves crash onto the beach below. He was so glad they’d found the funds to take this holiday. He’d needed a bit of a break from the hustle and bustle of Secundus. He loved his adopted city, of course, but sometimes, there was only so much mad science gone wrong he could take.
He heard soft footsteps behind him, then felt an arm wrap around his waist. “Looks to be a lovely day,” Alice commented, looking first up at the sky, then down at the sand.
“It does,” Victor agreed. He smiled and drew her a bit closer. “Remember when we first came here, on our honeymoon? Walking along the boardwalk, building castles on the beach, visiting the Mechtorian Museum. . . .”
“We did all that too?”
Victor snorted, then attempted to give Alice a severe look. “Mrs. Van Dort, I don’t think I care for what you’re implying,” he said in his snootiest voice.
“You certainly cared for it back then,” Alice replied mildly, though her eyes sparkled with amusement. “I have proof aplenty, Mr. Van Dort.”
Victor gave up his airs with a laugh, then gave her a loving squeeze. “It’s like nothing’s changed,” he said quietly, glancing from her to the beach and back again. “It’s just as it was eight years ago.”
Alice shook her head. “Not quite.”
“Yes – there’s them to contend with, for a start.”
Chester padded out onto the balcony, followed by Vincent and Lorina. “Is it breakfast-time?” Chester asked, rubbing his stomach. “I’m hungry.”
“Yes, we can go have breakfast,” Victor said, crouching down so he could address his children at eye level (or close enough to). “And then we’ll go and play in the sand, all right?”
The three grinned and nodded eagerly. Victor smiled and hugged them all tight, Alice joining in. No, things weren’t just as they were eight years ago.
They were so much better.
Chapter 6: One Door Closes. . .
Now going sideways for the first time on Winter Bingo card one, we have the prompt "Janus." Janus, for those not in the know, is the Roman god of doorways, beginnings and endings, and time. His name is where we get the month of January. This fic basically just came to me as a good way of seeing my favorite couple into the New Year. After all, it has been a very busy year for both of them -- they're allowed a bit of time to ponder it.
Alice turned and grinned at her husband as she finished pouring the champagne. “I’ve always liked New Year’s Eve,” she continued, going over and handing him his drink. “It’s an exciting moment for me, going into the new year. Everything seems ripe with possibility.”
Alice frowned. Victor didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic. He was slouched over on the couch, staring absently into space. She’d expected him to be a little excited at least. “Is something wrong?” she asked, sitting next to him.
“N-no! I–” He stopped as she gave him her best “I know you’re lying” look and sighed. “It’s just been such a strange year for me,” he admitted, looking down into his drink. “When last New Year’s came around, I thought the most exciting thing that was going to happen to me was an arranged marriage. Instead I found myself accidentally kidnapped by a flying steam train, taken to the Mad Science Capital of the World, and meeting so many wonderful people – including the love of my life,” he added with one of those warm smiles that never failed to send a tingle down her spine.
Then it vanished, leaving him with a rather haunted look. “And then – g-going Creative, and f-fighting the Queen of Hearts, and – and finding Lewis d-dead, and l-losing my parents. . . .” His eyes went to the floor as he took a deep, steadying breath. “I w-would like to say this was the b-best year of my life, but – there’s b-been a lot of b-bad in it.”
Alice watched him, feeling a rush of sympathy. She knew what he was feeling – losing Lewis had been hard on her too. He’d been her friend for ages – losing him had felt rather like losing another family member, ripping open a lot of old wounds. (Not to mention all the awkwardness and horrible things that had resulted from the events surrounding his death. . . .) And she knew what it was like to go mad, and to lose two of the most important people in your life.
Except – she didn’t, not quite. Victor’s madness was a different strain from her own. She was familiar with Touched, yes, but she had no idea what it was like to be one. Catatonia and manic creativity were about as different as chalk and cheese. And the loss of her parents had been a tragic accident. The loss of his. . .how could she ever comprehend what it was like to be rejected by one’s own parents? For something one couldn’t even help? She sighed. No wonder Victor felt a little morose.
But she knew something else – even if she couldn’t hope to understand all Victor had gone through, she could help and support him. She reached out and placed a hand on his back. “Yes, there’s been a lot of bad this year,” she agreed softly. Then she smiled hopefully. “But I rather think the good outweighs it. After all, even with everything that happened, you found a home here. You found friends who would do anything for you. And I – I found you.”
Victor looked up at her. Slowly, he smiled back and nodded. “That’s very true,” he said. “And I know as long as I have you, this new year will be wonderful, no matter what.”
Alice felt herself getting a little misty-eyed. She raised her glass as the clock in the corner began chiming midnight. “Out with the old. . . .”
“And in with the new,” Victor completed, clinking his glass against hers, before leaning in and kissing her.
Chapter 7: Better Than A Blanket
This prompt was actually of my own choosing, as it landed in the middle of the card and thus was an "Author's Choice" prompt. I chose "warmth," and came up with this bit of quick fluff for my OTP. I wanted something to balance out the prompts specifically about the cold, and something that allowed me to use my "Victor somehow is always chilly at night" headcanon. Think it came out pretty well.
Victor never knew why he tended to get so cold at night. Keeping himself a comfortable temperature never seemed to be a problem in the daylight. But at night, no matter how many covers he piled on himself, it seemed he always woke up shivering at least once. Even in summer, he generally needed at least one thin blanket. He tried hot water bottles, bedwarmers heated in the fire – even, upon coming to Secundus, one of those newfangled self-heating blankets. Nothing quite seemed to work.
Then, upon marrying Alice, he found that he was sleeping a little better than he had in the past. Puzzled by this at first, it didn’t take him long to find out the cause. His beloved wife was kind and intelligent and had a wonderful sense of humor –
But, most importantly for his bed, she was warm.
Chapter 8: An Oddity of Pigmentation
Down the row on Winter Bingo Card One again, this time with the prompt "blue." My first thought was do something related to blue butterflies, but then this popped into my head, and I decided it was a bit more interesting. Besides, it's a valid question! You can assume this takes place before the climax of "Secundus" -- it feels more pre-Touched Victor to me.
“Er, Emily? Do you mind if I ask you a – a p-possibly personal question?”
Emily turned to Victor with a smile. “Not at all. What is it?”
Victor fiddled a bit with his tie. He felt odd, asking this, but part of him just had to know. “Well, I’ve always w-wondered – do you know w-why your skin is – blue?”
Emily looked down at her one fleshed hand, examining it for a moment. “Sort of,” she said. “I asked Dr. Finklestein about it a day or two after he brought me back – once I’d gotten over the shock. He went into a rather long explanation I didn’t quite understand. Something about a ‘pigmentation change due to the reanimation process.’ I think that means the way he resurrects people turns them funny colors.”
Victor frowned. “One would think he’d try to fix that.”
“I don’t think he cares,” Emily said. Holding up her skeletal hand, she added, “Especially given the sort of dead he tends to resurrect. Having oddly-colored skin wouldn’t bother Bonejangles or Jack, after all.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Victor allowed. “Still. . .does it bother you at all?”
“It did at first,” Emily admitted, putting her hand down and twiddling her thumbs. “But as I got to know Sally and the others, it seemed less important. And after meeting you and your friends. . . .” She tilted her head, looking suddenly worried. “It’s never bothered you, has it? My being blue?”
Victor grinned at her. “Emily, one of my dearest friends – and your boyfriend, may I add – is green. I asked merely because I was curious.” He looked thoughtfully off into the distance. “Though, speaking of which, I have wondered why Richard’s skin is green.”
“Oh, I already asked him about that,” Emily said. “Apparently he has a rather – odd reaction to high doses of mercury.”
Chapter 9: Our Trolls Are Different
Finishing off the row in Winter Bingo Card One with the prompt "lawn ornament!" My original idea was for a Wallace & Gromit crossover (since one of the cute things about their house in the shorts/movie is their interesting collection of various lawn gnomes), but then the idea of doing a Discworld crossover hit me, and -- yeah. Had to throw in a few characters from my favorite book series. :D I was hoping to get Twoflower and Rincewind into the main narrative of "Secundus," in fact, but I could never find a spot for them. Ah well. . . The title's a slightly-altered version of the TV Tropes page All Trolls Are Different -- I'm pretty sure I was looking at that page or a related one when I came up with the idea.
Victor peered at the little pile of rocks sitting on the yard outside the house. Something about it had caught his attention as he passed by – he wasn’t sure what yet, but he was determined to find out. “What an odd-looking thing to have on one’s lawn,” he murmured to himself.
“Oh, actually, that’s an infant troll.”
Victor jerked his head up to see a man in a strangely-colored shirt and vest grinning at him. “A what?”
“A troll!” the man said again. “They’re a silicon-based life form – that’s why they look like rocks. They were Created for a colder climate, and they’re primarily nocturnal, so they tend to sleep during the day. Many a miner has been digging for precious metals, only to find a strong hand strangling the life out of them for disturbing its beauty sleep.”
Victor nodded slowly. The man’s smile as he related that information was a little disturbing. “I, ah, see. H-how do you know all this?”
“It was all in my travel guide!”
“Yes. I first came here as a tourist,” the man explained. “I didn’t expect to stay long – I just wanted to see the city everyone talked about, and maybe have some life-changing experiences I could tell the others back home. Then I met Rincewind!”
“Rincewind Pratchett?” Victor guessed. Even back in Burtonsville, he’d heard stories about Rincewind. The man had a talent for getting himself into horrible, life-threatening trouble no matter how much he said he wanted a normal, boring life. (Victor wondered what he was doing living in Secundus if that was the case.)
“Yes! He’d recently come here after leaving Unseen University – you know, that university for Sparks and Igors? He and I had some amazing adventures, and after all was said and done, I couldn’t bring myself to leave.” The man grinned. “I’m so glad we met. He’s such a good friend.”
“Twoflower! Get in here and stop your Luggage from stealing all my crisps!”
“Coming! Good day to you, sir!” The man – Twoflower – turned to go.
“Just a moment – why do you have an infant troll?” Victor called after him.
“Oh, the Luggage burped it up. We’re just looking after it until I can convince Rincewind that a trip into the mountains to return it really is worth the trouble.” Twoflower gave him a wave and disappeared inside the house.
Victor watched him go, then looked back at the little pile of rocks. Sure enough, if he looked very closely, he could see a slight tremor going through it, as if it were breathing. He shook his head and continued onward, back into the main part of the city. “Never know what you’ll see in Secundus. . . .”
Chapter 10: Inspiration
One of the "spare" prompts from Winter Bingo Card One, "luminaries" immediately made me think of the famous glowing butterflies from Victor's dreams in "Secundus." What can I say, I like them. Besides, when I looked up the word and found that it meant "people who inspire" as well as "sources of light," I had to do a fic that hit on both definitions. The title is a nod towards "Genius: The Transgression," a fanmade World of Darkness supplement about mad scientists that I was interested in at the time of writing. Geniuses are said to be filled "with the light of Inspiration."
It had to be the result of living in Secundus, Victor decided one morning while washing his face. Probably everyone who lived here and wasn’t already a Touched had dreams like the ones he’d been having lately. It was only natural, when one was surrounded by men and women who could bend the laws of physics, biology, and chemistry to their whims. Such things had to rub off on one.
And it was obvious he’d be affected more than the average person out on the street. He lived with a Touched and his Igor – hell, he probably qualified for Igor status himself at this point. And all of his friends were either Touched or close friends with Touched themselves (if not the result of their experiments). His days were filled with the sort of science that led to the creation of wonders – time travel theory, chemical drink mixtures, engineering for artificial limbs, and a thousand other things. Really, when he thought about it, it would be stranger for him not to have the dreams.
And yet. . .Victor couldn’t shake that niggling feeling that the glowing butterflies that haunted his nights were much more important than he realized.
Chapter 11: Not Alone
Last prompt of Winter Bingo Card One, and -- well, I guess it's a little on the angsty side. Hopeful angst though, if that makes any sense. The prompt that caught my eye this time was "daughter,", meaning this is a fic post-"Secundus 2." WAY post -- this takes place while Victor and Alice's kids are teenagers. In a weird way, though, this story was a presence in my head ever since I started planning "Secundus." Mostly because I knew Victor and Alice would have three children, and each child would get something specific from Victor. Chester got the looks; Vincent, the musical talent; and Lorina. . .
Victor turned around to see Vincent running up to him. His stomach immediately did a nervous flip-flop – Vincent looked extremely worried about something, brown eyes wide with what appeared to be fright. “Vincent? What is it?” he asked, reaching out to touch his younger son’s shoulder.
“It’s Lorina,” Vincent said, panting slightly. “She’s locked herself in her room and she won’t come out. Mum says you should come home right away.”
“Locked herself in her room?” Victor repeated, puzzled. That was very unlike his daughter. Lorina was usually a rather sweet and personable young lady, not prone to sulking or fits of gloominess. Victor didn’t think she’d ever done something like this before. All thoughts about getting some new quill pens and paper fled. “All right, let’s be off.”
The pair jogged back to their house. Chester and Alice were waiting for them in the front foyer. “What’s happened? Do we know why she’s locked herself in?” Victor demanded as they came inside.
“I have an idea,” Alice admitted, glancing behind her. Before Victor could ask anything else, she turned back to him, putting her hands on his shoulders. “Before you ask, we have tried to talk to her. But – I really think she needs her father.”
Victor wasn’t sure what caused it – Alice’s tone of voice, her expression, maybe even the way she touched him – but something clicked in his head. Oh my God. . . . He’d always worried about this possibility, did his best to prepare for it, but still, to actually have it happen. . . . (A small part of him was surprised it wasn’t Chester who was affected – somehow his older son inheriting practically all of his looks had made him half-certain he was going to be the one to get something else from him as well.) Without waiting a second more, he made his way to Lorina’s room.
The hallway outside her room was eerily quiet – not a good sign. Victor took a deep breath and knocked on her door. “Lorina?” he called, as gently as possible. “It’s your father. M-may I come in?”
There was a moment of silence that seemed to last for years. Then, slowly, there was a click, and the door swung open to reveal Lorina, looking pale and worn, her eyes rimmed with red. Behind her, Victor could see that the room was in disarray – and that the wallpaper had been ruined by copious amounts of scribbling. “Daddy?” she choked out, voice wavering and filled with that indescribable something that signaled your brain would never be the same.
Victor promptly enveloped his newly-Touched daughter in a hug. “It’s okay,” he whispered, rocking her as she started crying, remembering his own experiences when he’d first gone Creative. Alice had saved him from the madness then – and now, he was going to do the same with his little girl. “You’re going to be fine,” he assured her as she clung to him. Then, letting a little of the Creativity leak into his own voice, he added, “You’re not alone.”
Chapter 12: Comfort For The Soul
Moving onto Winter Bingo Card Two! And starting with a rather bittersweet prompt: "hallelujah." This one was kind of tough for me – I come from a very non-religious family, so I always feel a bit weird when writing about religious figures and such. However, religion is a (very minor) part of Victor's life, and I figured he'd be seeking out some of this sort of comfort post-Going Creative and being officially disowned by his parents (an event that happens between the last main chapter of "Secundus" and its epilogue). And so I created The First Church of Steam and its owner, Father Gale. My idea was to make this a very open, very accepting place - this Church accepts everybody, from Touched to Automatons, and is all about showing science and religion can coexist peacefully. Father Gale simply wants to spread the Word and encourage everyone in the city to be good to each other. I hope he comes off as appropriately fatherly here. (At the very least, he has to look a LOT better than Pastor Galswells.)
The First Church of Steam was quiet today. Normally there would be some sort of activity, even if it was only a parishioner dropping in to ask a question or confess his sins. But today it was just Father Gale and the benches. He was dusting behind the pulpit when he heard the door open. He looked up to see a pale, thin figure slouch inside. “May I help you?” he asked, putting down the duster.
The young man started. As he looked up, Father Gale realized it was Victor Van Dort. He’d only started coming to the church recently, but it was impossible not to recognize that face. Not after it had been in the papers so much. “Oh! I’m s-sorry, I didn’t realize – I’m n-not interrupting, am I?” he asked, twisting his tie and not quite meeting Father Gale’s eyes.
“Nothing but a bit of cleaning,” Father Gale assured him as he walked closer. “Certainly nothing that can’t wait for another time.” He tilted his head, studying Victor a moment. The young man seemed incredibly nervous. And there was an exhausted look on his face that spoke of rough times in the recent past. “Is there something you needed?” he asked gently.
Victor remained silent for a few minutes. Then, slowly, he looked up. “My parents – they just–” He stopped, blinking a few times. “I’ve been disowned.”
Father Gale felt a wave of sympathy for the poor boy. “I’m sorry,” he said, reaching out to put a hand on Victor’s shoulder.
“They don’t want a – a m-mad son,” Victor continued, the words seemingly coming easier now that he’d started. “Don’t want the shame, don’t want the scandal. . . .” He fell silent for a moment. “M-Mother said I was p-probably damned,” he added in a whisper.
Father Gale struggled a moment to keep from showing the anger that statement caused in him. Why was it so many people were so willing to condemn others just for a quirk of genetics? Before he could speak, though, Victor went on. “Pastor Galswells – he’s in charge of the church at home – would say the same. All of Burtonsville probably thinks Touched are in Satan’s thrall. And now I – I’m–” Victor’s breathing became shaky as his hands began to tremble.
Father Gale frowned, concerned. He knew the warning signs of a possible breakdown. “Would you like to sit down?” he offered gently.
Victor nodded, and they took their seats on a nearby bench. “I don’t even know why I’m upset,” he said, once he’d steadied himself a bit. “I had no intention of ever returning to Burtonsville. I love it in Secundus. I have things here I never had at home – friends, love, inspiration. . . .” He shook his head. “But – but–”
“But you’re losing a rather large part of your past,” Father Gale said understandingly. “I’ve seen this before. Young Touched, new to the life, realizing things will never be the same. . .and parents who don’t understand. . . .” He lightly squeezed Victor’s shoulder. “You are never alone. Always remember that.”
Victor smiled. “I know. I’m very lucky. My friends have been so good to me. And Alice – she’s honestly the best thing to ever happen to me.” He looked down, becoming somber again. “I just – I suppose I am h-having trouble adjusting to the n-new order. To – w-what I am now.”
“It’s only natural,” Father Gale told him. “Things will get better, though, I assure you. And no matter what happens, you will always have a place here.” He gently raised the young man’s head. “God loves you, Victor, no matter your mental state. You are not damned.”
That got another, bigger smile. Victor looked like he’d had a weight lifted off him. “Thank you.” He paused, then added, “Is it a sin to say I like you much better than I ever liked Pastor Galswells?”
Father Gale chuckled. “Maybe a very minor one – but we’ll let it pass.”
Chapter 13: On The Edge
Next one from Winter Bingo Card Two is a darkish prompt -- "stressed." I felt it important to point out somewhere that Atypical Scientific Neural Disorder, while it has many benefits, IS still technically classified as a mental disorder, and not all the things it does to one's brain are good. Bad days are sadly a given. And sometimes, I just want to write an angsty Victor for a bit.
Don’t give in don’t give in don’t give in
Victor clutched at his scalp, his fingernails digging into the skin. Today – today was a bad day. He’d had an inkling that it was going to be when he woke up, but he’d only caught the full brunt of it when he entered his laboratory. Absolutely nothing about his latest experiment was going right. His formulas were all wrong, he’d spilled a batch of chemicals he needed, and the moth he’d been trying to alter had escaped and was currently hiding somewhere. The stress and frustration had just kept building up and building up, making his brain snap and spark and burn, and now he was reduced to squeezing his head as hard as he could to keep it from exploding.
He whimpered, wishing that the terrible headache assaulting him would go away. It felt like a physical representation of his madness, clawing at the back of his eyes, trying to chew its way out of his skull. Normally, he didn’t have a problem with being Touched. The Creativity that filled his head was gentle, joyous, fun – most of the time. But then there were days like this, days where the madness whispered dark and painful thoughts that he didn’t want to hear. Atypical Scientific Neural Disorder gave so much to its sufferers, but it took from them as well. He had the ability to do things no sane scientist could, but in return he had to spend days like this hunched over his experimentation table, clinging desperately to sanity, while below him, the abyss beckoned. Victor knew he should get up and find his wife – Alice could somehow quiet the madness, put it back under his control – but he couldn’t get himself to move. He felt that if he moved, he’d upset some sort of balance, and he’d be lost forever in the swirl of Creativity. So instead he dug his nails into his hair and prayed she’d come looking for him.
A sudden tug on his pants leg caught his attention. Victor managed to turn his head enough to see his two-year-old son looking up at him with worried eyes. Victor felt his stomach do a nervous flip-flop over everything else. God, he’d never wanted Chester to see him this way, never wanted him to know the pain he sometimes went through. . . .
Chester stared at him a moment longer. Then he held up the snack he’d somehow procured. “Cookie, Daddy?”
Victor had no idea what caused it – the fact that Chester had inherited Alice’s green eyes, the simple compassion of the gesture, or maybe even the absurdity of being offered a cookie while in the midst of fighting off a mental breakdown – but he felt the pressure in his head ease. He promptly reached down and swept his little boy up into a hug. He rocked himself and Chester together, almost crying in relief as sanity slid back in and took over again.
This was why he’d never give in to the madness. There was far too much to lose.
Chapter 14: Tea Fixes Everything
Next for Winter Bingo Card Two is "stollen" -- a light-hearted, Christmassy prompt! I had to look this one up – as Doc explains below, it's basically a specific German version of fruitcake. Once I knew what it was and its origins, I managed to build a story around it involving Doc and Marty – I wanted them to appear more in these prompts. And, for the record, Doc's usually a better cook than this.
“Victor! Alice! Glad you could make it!”
Victor grinned as he reentered the tiny flat where he’d spent his first turbulent months in Secundus. “Well, we were hardly going to pass up an invitation to tea from some of our dearest friends,” he pointed out. “Alice and I made some cookies for the occasion.” Alice held up the wrapped plate.
“Great, thank you,” Doc said, accepting it. “They should go nicely with the stollen.”
Victor and Alice both blinked. “The what?” Alice said, frowning in confusion.
“The fruitcake,” Marty said, leading the way into the little sitting room.
“It’s a Germanic variation,” Doc explained, as Victor and Alice took their seats. “A loaf-shaped cake filled with dried fruit and covered with sugar. My family used to have it as a kid. I decided to go ahead and give it a whirl myself this year. Getting back to my roots, so to speak.”
“Oh. Well, I look forward to it,” Victor said with a smile.
Richard, March, and Dormy arrived not long afterward, and the group shared a pleasant (if slightly crowded) tea. After everyone had eaten their fill of sandwiches, the cookies and Doc’s stollen were laid out. “All right, let’s see how this is,” Doc said proudly, picking up a knife and cutting into the cake.
Or, at least, he tried to. He frowned as he sawed away at the crust. “Hmmm. It should be – well, it appears I may have overcooked this a little.” He tried putting more pressure on the knife with a grunt. “Damn it, I don’t remember making this out of cement. . . .”
“Here, allow me,” Alice said, pulling out the gleaming Vorpal Blade. The impossibly sharp knife sliced through the hard cake with ease. Alice cut a little wedge out, then looked around. “Anyone want to try it?”
“I would, but I’m a little nervous about breaking my teeth on it,” Marty admitted. “No offense, Doc.”
“None taken,” Doc said with a sigh. “Look, no one has to eat my mistake, the cookies should be enough for everyone. . . .”
“A true Touched never shies away from a challenge,” Richard said, peering at the wedge. “Besides, all we know for sure is that it’s hard. It might taste just fine. Now, how does one make a cake softer?”
Victor’s eyes fell on Burnie the teapot, who’d followed his master to the party. “I have an idea,” he said, taking the wedge onto his plate. “Burnie, could you come here and pour some tea on this?”
Burnie scuttled over and obligingly soaked the slice of stollen. Victor allowed the tea to sink in for a moment, then tried his fork on the cake. It cut easily now, allowing him to taste a bit. He chewed it thoughtfully. “Actually, yes, this is pretty good,” he allowed, as the others watched him. “I think the tea adds to it, in fact.”
“Tea adds to everything,” Richard said with a proud smile.
“I’m certainly not going to debate that in this case,” Doc said, laughing. “Mind taking care of the rest of the cake, Burnie?”
Chapter 15: Just Like You
Next on down the line for Winter Bingo Card Two, the prompt "glitter!" Which turned into a cute, fluffy family story about Victor making a new butterfly! And, with the very last couple of lines, a prequel of sorts to "Not Alone" from Card One.
“Daddy? Is it okay to visit?”
Victor turned toward the door of the conservatory/laboratory with a grin. “Yes – in fact, I’d like you to come in. I have something to show off.”
Lorina grinned back and pushed open the door. She and her brothers made their way to the workbench, past the twining flowers and bits of scientific apparatus Victor kept on hand for his experiments. “What have you made this time?” she asked as she, Vincent, and Chester formed a semicircle around their father.
Victor proudly picked up the bell jar and book holding his latest Invention and brought it around to show his children. “What do you think of this one?”
The children gasped in delight as the butterfly fluttered around its tiny glass prison. “Oh, look at the wings!” Lorina whispered. “They’re all sparkly!”
“It looks like it’s covered in glitter,” Vincent agreed, pressing a finger against the glass.
“It seems to be shedding glitter too,” Chester noted, pointing out the tiny sparkles spread out beneath the butterfly.
“The result of wing scale overproduction,” Victor said. “I’m not sure if I actually want to correct it or not. People might enjoy following butterflies that leave a trail like that.”
“Doesn’t that mean things that eat butterflies can find it easier too?” Chester pointed out.
“True – that’s why I made it bad-tasting to predators,” Victor said with a half-smile.
“You make all the neatest things, Daddy,” Vincent said proudly, causing Victor to blush.
“Children! Victor! Time for lunch!”
“Oh dear – you’d better go wash up,” Victor said, setting the book and bell jar down. “I’ll be with you in a moment – just have to make some final notes and set my little friend free.”
The children nodded and headed back for the door. Lorina lingered a moment behind her brothers. “You really do make wonderful things, Daddy,” she said brightly. “I hope I grow up to be just like you.”
Then she left, not noticing the brief, torn expression of pleasure and fright on Victor’s face.
Chapter 16: Come And Join The Dance
The last prompt of the column I did for Winter Bingo Card Two was "Dancer,", which was right up my alley because if there's one thing I love, it's Victor and Alice dancing together. Particularly if Victor is nervous about his dancing skills, but then proves not to be as bad as you might expect! The title is a lyric from "The Lobster Quadrille," my favorite song in any version of Alice In Wonderland. (Also, yes, there was a Queen of Hearts in Wonderland Park already before the "incident" in "Secundus" – remember how in that story it's implied the tentacled one had corrupted already-existing Card Guards? Granted, post-incident, probably no one among the Card people ever uses that title again. . .)
Victor had never considered himself much of a dancer. He disliked balls simply because they were always so crowded. His nerves always seemed to get the best of him among large groups of people – he was constantly worrying about etiquette and small talk and correct form and all those other fiddly things that society liked to pester a young bachelor about. And with so much of his mind on that, there was very little left to direct his feet. As such, if anyone deigned to dance with him, he inevitably ended up tripping or stepping on their foot or otherwise looking like a fool. When it came to dancing, Victor much preferred to be the wallflower.
But, like so many other things, that changed when he came to Secundus. When he, Victoria, and Emily were introduced properly to the Card and Chess people of Wonderland Park, the Queens of Heart, Diamond, Spade, Clubs, Red, and White declared that there should be a ball to welcome their newest friends. Victor's nerves spiked up immediately – how on earth could he dance in front of all those strangers? He didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of his companions, and especially not Alice.
But by the time the ball actually happened, he'd discovered something about Wonderlanders – they didn’t give tuppence for etiquette or small talk or correct form. They just wanted everyone to have fun. By the time Alice urged him out onto the floor to try the Lobster Quadrille, Victor was feeling relaxed enough to actually go ahead and attempt it.
And, to his astonishment and delight, despite it being rather more energetic than any other he’d tried, he didn’t misstep once.
Chapter 17: Only L29.95 If You Buy Now!
Okay, our next prompt on Winter Bingo Card Two is hark, and it's an entirely silly one. I was browsing TV Tropes shortly before writing this and came across the trope Too Incompetent To Operate A Blanket. I browsed the page, looked at some of the linked videos – and Butterfly Boy started laughing and INSISTED I do a fic with this. So yeah, you can actually blame my muse for this one. (Also my own love of stupid informercials -- I used to love watching the ones about vacuum-sealing your food.) The Motorized Knife was just the first thing to pop into my head. (Also, please pretend my L is a pound sign in the title there.)
“People! Gather round, please!”
Victor paused as the shout echoed throughout the park. He turned to see a man on a makeshift stage, holding up his yellow-gloved hands and waving them to attract the attention of passerby. Behind him, two other men were setting up a pair of tables. People were already beginning to form a crowd in front of him. As curious as anyone else, Victor joined it. What is it he wants to show us?
After a few minutes, everything seemed to be ready. The man scanned the crowd, judged it to be of adequate size, and began. “My friends – has this ever happened to you?” He indicated one of his assistants, standing behind one of the tables and apparently doing his best to stab a tomato on a plate to death. “Clumsy knives that won’t cut? Making a mess of your precious food – or worse, your fingers?” The assistant mimed cutting himself with the knife, letting out a cry of pain so fake Victor had to cover his mouth with his hands to hold in a snicker. “And now, look at all that clean-up!” The yellow-gloved man pointed accusingly at the juice all over the plate, then grinned brightly. “What you need is Professor Fantastic’s Motorized Knife!” He waved at his other assistant, who had a tomato of his own and the oddest knife Victor had ever seen. Instead of one large blade, it seemed to have a series of tiny ones mounted all around on a chain. Attached to the handle was a little motor. At Professor Fantastic’s nod, the second assistant switched it on and placed the instrument against the tomato. With a little “rrrrr” noise, it cut through. “With Professor Fantastic’s Motorized Knife, cutting vegetables, fruit, and even meat is a breeze! No more–”
CRACK! The plate underneath the second tomato broke as the Motorized Knife came in contact with it. The assistant hurriedly switched it off and tried to smile. “Imbecile!” Professor Fantastic yelled, before attempting to switch back into “pitchman” mode. “See, it even cuts through ceramic! Amazing! And no more. . . .” He held up a chunk of plate, only to see it dripping with juice. “Well, easier clean up,” he corrected hurriedly, throwing the plate chunk over his shoulder.
Victor couldn’t help it anymore – he burst out laughing. The rest of the crowd quickly followed suit. Professor Fantastic scowled at them. “You’re all fools!” he declared, before storming off, leaving his assistants to try and clean up the stage.
Victor kept giggling as he walked away. He felt a bit guilty about ruining the demonstration, but he really didn’t think he’d done more damage to it than Professor Fantastic himself had. “Oh, it’s truly amazing what some Touched consider great inventions,” he murmured. “Poor fellow should have done some more testing.”
“Hear ye! Hear ye! Do you have trouble cracking eggs?”
Victor stopped, then turned and jogged in the direction of the voice, grinning. Oh, there was no way he was missing this one.
Chapter 18: Where's My Angel
Moving from a funny prompt to a fluffy one this time on Winter Bingo Card Two -- "valentine!" I of course had to do Victor and Alice's first Valentine's Day together, which just so happens to occur very close to their first date. Yeah, just how the timing worked out. Those of you who've read the Forgotten Vows Verse will probably recognize the drawing Victor does -- I like the idea that it's one of those things that reoccurs through a lot of the Valice universes I've set up. :) The title of the fic comes from the song of the same name by Metro Station, which appears on the "Almost Alice" CD created to tie in with Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland. (There's a fair number of songs on it that I feel could apply very well to the American McGee Alice and this pairing of her with Victor.)
Even though it occurred less than a week after their very first date, Victor still felt it important to mark Valentine’s Day with Alice. After all, it was his first Valentine’s Day with a proper girlfriend. He didn’t want to make too big a deal out of it, of course – that would be silly, considering the newness of their relationship. He just wanted to do something a bit special for her. Something to show how much he appreciated her giving him and their love a chance. The trouble was – what?
He puzzled over the problem as the date neared. There was the obvious answer of flowers, but Victor felt Alice deserved something a bit more interesting. Candy was out – Alice had expressed before a dislike of sweets. A card seemed a little too impersonal. A poem? No, he was a better artist than a –
It hit him like a bolt from the blue. Of course – that would be perfect! He seized his sketchbook and quill pen and set to work. And when Valentine’s Day arrived, he proudly presented to his new lady love a drawing of her floating in the exhaust pipes of the Wonderland Park steamworks. He considered it something of an achievement – he’d always had a bit of trouble drawing people, but this time, the image had flowed out of his pen easily. Like his fingers had just been waiting to sketch Alice at her best. He wondered if she’d mind that he’d styled the steam behind her to look like wings and a halo.
Judging by the tearful kiss he received, she didn’t. (And the fact she’d thought to get him some chocolates just sealed it in his mind that they were meant to be.)
Chapter 19: I Just Want To Hold You
Our next Winter Bingo Card Two prompt is another fluffy one -- "snuggle!" Which turned into our obligatory "repressed Victorians" fic! To be fair, I do see the citizens of Burtonsville as particularly repressed, thanks to the movie's aesthetic. And, for some reason, Victor strikes me as a guy who'd be a bit more touchy-feely if he'd grown up in a different era. He just gives off a "huggy" vibe. (Probably the reason he and Alice end up cuddling so much in later works of mine. . .also, yes, this was written before Alice: Madness Returns indicated Alice didn't like being touched. Even with that, I figure her boyfriend/eventual husband would be an exception to that rule.)
Victor’s world, growing up, had been one of repression. The residents of Burtonsville weren’t ones for showing grand displays of emotion. The people there believed in quiet, stoic lives. Displays of affection, particularly physical ones, were deeply frowned upon. Victor had discovered early on that men and women weren’t to be seen touching unless it was absolutely necessary. If you weren’t engaged to your paramour, things like kissing and hugging – or even holding hands – were strictly out of the question. After you got married, taking each other’s arms on walks and brief kisses were considered acceptable, but certainly nothing further. Touch, it seemed, was the forbidden sense.
Victor had thought it normal as a child. After all, his parents seemed to get along fine without physical affection. And so did all the other couples in Burtonsville – some, like the Everglots, even seemed to loathe the idea of touching each other. But as he came of age, he discovered that he actually really wanted to touch people. The idea of having a girl at your side and never being able to hold her, to bring her close and cuddle her, suddenly seemed like a slow torture. It didn’t help things when he discovered the penny dreadfuls and their lurid tales of romance and passion. People touched a lot in those publications. Seeing descriptions of people hugging and kissing and – doing other things – just made Victor want it all the more. But he was a polite young gentleman, and he didn’t want to cause any fuss, so he adhered to the rules and kept his hands to himself. All while hoping that maybe someday, if he was particularly lucky, he’d meet a girl who would want to be held.
And, to his immense shock, he did. Victor looked down at Alice, snuggled up against him as they sat by the Pool of Tears. The weight of her body against his, the softness of her skin, the silkiness of her hair. . . . It was all so wonderful, so perfect. Everything he’d been craving. Victor smiled and pulled his arm around her a little tighter.
Oh yes – this was much better than just walking next to her.
Chapter 20: Squeeze Me Gently
Second-to-last prompt from Winter Bingo Card Two is a comedy piece, with the prompt being "noisemaker!" This one was inspired by one of my favorite Jim Carrey movies, The Mask -- I somehow managed to get back into that and into Corpse Bride around the same time, so I guess it was inevitable. Also, pity the poor Alice who is not a video game character and thus doesn't get perks like her Vorpal Blade automatically returning to her when she throws it.
“Oh my God that’s a Jabberspawn?!”
“Yup,” Alice said, adjusting her grip on her branch minutely. “Horrible things, aren’t they?”
“They’re all teeth!” Emily squeaked, clinging to the trunk of their tree.
Victor shivered, staring down at the beast circling below them. “They’re straight out of a nightmare,” he agreed. “Though I don’t see how any of them could grow into a Jabberwock.”
“They don’t,” Alice said. “They’re technically only a related species. We call them Jabberspawn because Lewis was trying to make a smaller, tame version of the Jabberwock. As you can see, it backfired.”
“Drastically,” Victor nodded, as the beast growled and snapped its tail at the tree.
“How did it find us?” Victoria asked, voice trembling. “It doesn’t have any eyes – just those awful pipe things.”
“It doesn’t need to see – it relies on smell and hearing. We’re just lucky we had the time to get up here.” Alice scowled down at the Jabberspawn. “Ugh, and me with just my Vorpal Blade. Of course, I wasn’t expecting to have to bring my heavier weaponry to a picnic. . . .”
“I thought your blade could cut through anything?” Victor asked, shifting position carefully. The last thing he wanted was to fall off his branch.
“It can, but these monsters need more than one hit to take down,” Alice complained. “They’re tougher than I’d like them to be. And if I throw the knife, I’ve lost it. You have no idea how many times I’ve wished I could throw it, then have it magically reappear in my hand. . . .”
Victor nodded, then spotted two figures approaching the scene of the failed picnic – one clearly wearing an oversized hat. “Hey! Richard and Christopher are coming back!”
“Do you think they can fight the Jabberspawn?” Emily asked Alice.
“Maybe,” Alice said. “Richard usually keeps at least one cup of explosive tea in-hat, and I’m sure Christopher has something on him somewhere. . . .”
Richard and Christopher stopped as they came within sight of their friends in the tree and the Jabberspawn prowling around. “Well, this certainly won’t do,” Richard said, hands on hips.
Christopher, however, grinned excitedly. “Aha! A perfect opportunity to test my latest invention!” He rummaged around in his pack, as the Jabberspawn turned toward them and began evaluating them as prey. He eventually extracted a tiny squeeze-bulb horn. “Everyone, cover your ears!” he yelled as he held it up in the Jabberspawn’s direction.
Victor promptly did so – if he had learned one thing in his time here, it was that when a Touched told you to do something, you did it. The girls and Richard followed suit. After a moment’s check to make sure everyone’s hearing was protected, Christopher squeezed the horn.
Even with his ears covered, the sound sliced through Victor’s head. He yelped and teetered on his branch, latching a hand onto the rough bark to steady himself. All around, his other friends winced and hissed in similar pain. Fortunately, the sound had the exact same effect on the Jabberspawn, who cried out and immediately bolted. “What was that?” Victor asked as soon as it was safe.
“I haven’t named it yet, but it seems to work perfectly,” Christopher said proudly, pocketing the horn. “Certainly much better than when I tried it in my house. Took out all the windows then.”
Victor's stomach dropped. Reaching up, he felt his goggles. Sure enough – “You may still want to consider tweaking the design,” he said, pulling them off and holding them up to reveal the shattered lenses.
Christopher stared for a moment, then blushed, embarrassed. “Oh dear. I’ll buy you a new pair.”
“You ought to label that thing ‘Squeeze me gently,’” Richard commented as he helped Emily out of the tree.
Christopher chuckled as he went to assist Victoria – then got a thoughtful look on his face. “Hmmm. . . .”
Chapter 21: Empty House
Ending off the Winter Bingo Card Two prompts with one that gave me a bit of trouble -- "cabin." I had to ponder for a bit before I came up with what I thought was a good idea. Sadly, the nature of said idea means we're leaving this card on an angsty note. Poor Victor and his guilt issues. It does have a semi-hopeful ending, though.
It was just – far too quiet in Looking-Glass House these days.
Victor's footsteps echoed in the silence of the main foyer as he walked in the front door. He didn’t think he’d ever get used to it. A tiny part of him always expected Lewis to pop up out of nowhere once he entered the house, greeting him warmly and telling him all about the latest wonders for Wonderland. And that same part of him ached every time he remembered that that would never happen again.
He headed down the main hall, checking each room in turn. At least we managed to restore the house itself, he thought with a shake of his head. Wonderland Park, although recovering nicely, would never be the same as it was. But Looking-Glass House was in pristine condition. The card and chess people strenuously kept up with its upkeep, and Victor and Alice and all of Lewis’s other friends did whatever they could to help. They felt they owed it to the poor man who’d been the first victim of the Queen of Hearts – even if he was also the one responsible for her existence.
Or, at least, the one everyone considered responsible for her existence. Victor winced as the guilt that never quite went away sliced through him. He knew it was irrational, but he still felt in some way to blame for Lewis’s death. Didn’t it stand to reason that, if he’d never chosen to start a relationship with Alice, the Queen never would have existed? He didn’t want to think of a life without his beloved girlfriend, but was it really worth it to know that his love for her had sparked a bout of jealousy in their friend that had led directly to Lewis’s death? Victor had tried to make amends, at least in his own mind, by diving into the restoration of the park, but still. . .he couldn’t help but wonder if it really made any difference. Lewis was dead, beyond even the reach of the reanimators. There was no way to bring him back, no way to truly apologize.
A soft brush of wings against Victor’s hand made him look down. Resting on his thumb was a little bread-and-butterfly. Most of them had been killed during the Queen’s brief but eventful rise, but a few had managed through sheer good luck to survive. It looked up at him with sugary white eyes, as if it knew the thoughts going through his head. Then it took to the air again, making a circle around him before flitting off to a different room.
Victor watched it go, an odd sense of comfort washing over him. The little butterfly had served as a reminder that things weren’t as bad as they seemed. Yes, Lewis’s mortal shell was dead. But Victor knew that, so long as Wonderland Park lived on, so too would his friend’s spirit. With a sad smile, he entered the laboratory and got to work.
Chapter 22: Warm Hearts
Moving onto Winter Bingo Card Three now, and the first of its prompts, "toasty!" Now, semi-horrible person that I am, I initially considered a much darker fic involving the house burning down (with everyone escaping safely, of course -- semi-horrible). This sweeter family scene which touches on Alice's pyrophobia more gently won out rather quickly, though -- much to my character's relief, I'm sure. Poor Alice -- recovery is tough sometimes. At least she has a loving family to help her through.
“We should have marshmallows!”
“Oh, we should, should we?” Victor said, grinning at Vincent as they sat around the fire.
“Yes,” Vincent nodded. “Then we could toast them and eat them.”
“Maybe next time,” Victor said, licking his lips as he imagined it.
“You ever think of making a marshmallow butterfly, Daddy?” Lorina asked, tilting her head.
Victor shook his head. “Too sticky. It took me long enough to find a way to make peanut-butterflies that wouldn’t automatically get their wings stuck together. And if I make them out of solid marshmallow, there’s a good chance they’d melt in the first rainstorm.”
“Too bad,” Chester said, warming his hands on the fire. “They sound fun.”
“Even mad science has its limits, I’m afraid.”
Chester nodded, then glanced back at where his mother was sitting in her chair, reading a book. “Don’t you want to join us, Mum?”
Alice looked up. “I’m fine,” she said evenly. “And you’re sitting far too close. Scoot back a bit.”
Chester frowned, but did as he was told. “I didn’t think I was sitting too close,” he murmured.
“Trust me, you were,” Alice informed him. “You never know when something–” She stopped, then shook her head. “You just always need to be careful around open flame.”
“But it’s so warm over here!” Vincent got up and wandered over to his mother, feeling her hand. “And you’re all cold!”
Alice looked from him to the fire. She did her best to keep her expression neutral, but Victor could see the flickers of fear in her eyes. “I’m fine,” she said, voice a bit distant.
Victor frowned. He really wished there was more he could do for her phobias. He’d done his best to assure her, time and again, that he (and later the children) weren’t going anywhere. But, much like he’d probably always feel a bit guilty about the death of Lewis Carroll, there was probably no way to stop her from worrying that fire was going to claim her family once again. Which led to nights like these, where she froze while the rest of the family enjoyed the warmth of the fireplace. . . .
Then, suddenly, an idea came to him. “Vincent, why don’t you sit on Mum’s lap to warm her up?” he suggested.
“Would you like that, Mum?” Vincent said, looking up at her. “I’m all toasty.”
Alice grinned back down at him. “I’d like that very much,” she said, moving her book so he could climb on.
Vincent happily got up and snuggled into his mother. Alice hugged him back, then looked over at Victor gratefully. Victor gave her a smile, then mouthed the words, “We’re not going anywhere,” to her.
And for the first time, it looked like Alice really believed him.
Chapter 23: Beating The Odds
Onto the next Winter Bingo Card Three prompt, "old!" Which is just a short thing about Victor in his old age, being mildly surprised he got there. Hey, in most of the mad science fiction I read, mad scientists tend to meet premature ends. . .
Most Touched didn’t live to a particularly old age. Everyone knew that. It was far more likely with those Somewhat and Severely Touched, but even those only Slightly Touched were at risk to suffer a premature death, whether from an experiment gone wrong (or right in the worst possible way) or from an angry mob. A Touched’s life span simply wasn’t the same as a Regular person’s.
Victor had known this long before coming to Secundus. After he went a bit Creative, he mentally prepared himself for the idea that he might not live to see old age. He wasn’t the type to fiddle around with dangerous Inventions usually, but he always knew there was the possibility of something going very wrong and ending his life early. He updated his will regularly, made sure his wife (and when they were born, his children) would be safe in case of any emergency, and generally did his best to find the good in each day. After all, each one had the potential of being his last. He was determined to enjoy whatever life he had to the fullest.
Which is probably the reason why I’m around to see my 85th birthday, he reflected with a chuckle as his son Vincent served up the cake to the various friends and family attending the celebration. Well – that and the fact I don’t think I could ever miss a slice of the March Hare’s cake.
Chapter 24: Middle Child Syndrome
Next on the list for Winter Bingo Card Three is the rather more negative prompt "naughty list." For this one, I decided to focus on Victor and Alice's son Vincent, as at the time I'd noticed I'd been writing a lot of shorts featuring his older brother Chester or his twin sister Lorina, and I worried Vincent was ending up kind of neglected. The title I got from TV Tropes -- it's a trope about how middle children can feel neglected because they aren't the oldest or the youngest (or, in Vincent's case here, the oldest or the girl). It felt appropriate.
“It’s not fair.”
“Oh, I don't know about that,” Victor retorted, glancing over at his son in the corner. “You ran again in the house after repeated warnings, and ended up breaking two plates and a glass when you collided with your mother. Having to sit in the corner for an hour sounds plenty fair to me.”
“I helped Mum clean it up,” Vincent groused, slouched over on himself.
“Because you wanted to, or because she told you to?” No reply. “Complaining to yourself isn’t going to shorten your sentence.”
Vincent was silent. Victor sighed. He hated playing jailer – being the disciplinarian wasn’t one of his strong points. But Alice was busy with supper, and their maid had knocked off for the day, meaning he was the adult available to ensure the punishment was served. At least I can work on my notes while I wait, he thought, turning back to his desk.
“. . .you just love Chester and Lorina more.”
Victor’s head snapped back up. “What?”
“Chester’s the oldest, and Lorina’s the girl,” Vincent elaborated, sniffling. “You like them better than me.”
Victor's heart twisted like it had received a jab from a red-hot knife. “Oh, Vincent. . . .” He got up and crossed the room to kneel down by his son. “That’s not true at all.”
“Is not,” Victor countered firmly. He gathered Vincent into his arms. “Mum and I love you all equally. Chester may be the oldest, and Lorina may be the girl, but you’re our beloved little boy. You're as special as they are. And nothing will ever change that.” He gave Vincent a squeeze. “Besides, you’ve seen how much trouble your brother and sister get into. Everybody ends up in this chair sooner or later.”
Vincent let out a watery laugh. “Don’t ever think we don’t love you, Vincent," Victor pressed. "You are an important part of this family. I'm sorry if we ever made you feel different. We'll try harder to include you in the future."
“Thanks, Dad,” Vincent replied softly. He returned Victor's hug. “I love you too. But how much longer do I have to sit here?”
Victor checked his watch. “Half an hour,” he reported. Vincent sighed. “I don’t like it any more than you do, if it helps.”
“Then tell Mum to stop punishing you.”
Victor laughed. “We’ll survive," he said, tousling Vincent's hair. "And if you promise to sit quietly for the next twenty minutes, I'll let you off a little early for good behavior.”
Chapter 25: The New Addition
Next prompt in line from Winter Bingo Card Three is "birth!" And, naturally, there was only one story I could do for that -- the birth of Victor and Alice's first child, Chester! I'd had the scene in my head for a while now, so it was nice to get it out. I actually ended up doing this exact same moment from Victor's perspective as part of the last chapter of "Secundus 2: Weird Weird West" -- since this came earlier, there might be a few differences between this version and the "final" one in that story. I did my best to stick pretty close, at least in terms of dialogue.
Alice looked down at the tiny bundle in her arms. Two green eyes stared back up at her from a pale little face. Well, a bit more blue-green just at the moment - the doctor had assured her that they'd change over to fully green before his first birthday, though. Alice was glad, to tell the truth – his eye color was about the only thing her son seemed to have taken from her (or would take, more accurately). In every other respect, he was a Van Dort, just like his father. Not that she minded, since she liked his father, but. . .
Movement at the door caught her attention, and she looked up to see Victor standing there, watching her with a mix of deep nervousness and joy. Such a far cry from the last time she'd seen him, marching into the room with fire in his eyes, demanding to know just what was going on – only to actually see what was going on and faint dead away. It had been a much-needed laugh during the whole painful business. She resisted the urge to thank him for it, however. She doubted he’d appreciate it. “They t-told me I could c-come in,” he said, lingering in the doorway, hands on his tie.
Alice nodded, then beckoned him closer with a jerk of her head. “Come meet your new son.”
Victor hesitated a moment, then came to the side of the bed and crouched down. His already large eyes widened as he took in the baby. “Goodness, he’s – he’s so small,” he murmured.
"The nurse said so too," Alice admitted, adjusting her grip on the blankets. “He didn’t feel that way coming out, certainly."
Victor went bright red. “I’m s-sorry for – i-interrupting like that,” he said, pulling at his tie. “I just h-heard you scream and–”
"It's fine," Alice cut in, hiding a wince. She didn’t blame Victor at all for his sudden intrusion – she knew better than anyone that the best way to set him off was to see or hear her in pain. She’d tried to keep her mouth shut, she really had, but the sheer agony of the process had gotten the best of her near the end. And then he'd marched in, only to collapse like a puppet with its strings cut. . .worry spiking up within her, she added, “Are you all right? Did you hit your head when–”
“N-no, I - Dr. Lawn didn't t-think I'd hurt myself,” Victor assured her, blushing harder. “Just - w-when I saw that, I – y-you–”
“Let’s not talk about it,” Alice cut him off. "It wasn't any more fun from this end." Honestly, she would be fine forgetting everything about the past painful, messy, disgusting few hours herself. Her memories could skip straight to that happy moment after everything had been cleaned up and the midwife had shown her how to hold her child.
Victor happily dropped the subject and turned his attention back to their child. “He’s so pale as well,” he commented.
“A Van Dort through and through,” Alice agreed. “Look, he even has your black hair.”
"I noticed," Victor said, nodding at the few minuscule wisps on the top of the boy’s head. He stared for a bit more, then sighed. “I’m still terribly nervous,” he whispered.
Ah yes, this again. Not long into her pregnancy, Victor had confessed that he wasn’t sure if he was father material. Not only was he the naturally clumsy and nervous type, there was also the fact he was a Touched to consider. He'd been absolutely terrified he would hurt the baby. Alice had done her best to quell his fears, as had all their friends, but - she could understand his still being worried. There was still a part of her brain that argued against her being mother material. “I’m a little overwhelmed myself,” she told him. “But I know we’ll both do the best we can for him. I’m never one to back down from a challenge, and neither are you.”
Victor smiled at her. “He’s a challenge now, hmm?”
“Well, what with him probably going to have us up at all hours of the night, and having to figure out why he’s crying, and changing dirty diapers. . . .” Alice smiled lovingly down at their baby. “But he’s our challenge.”
Victor reached out and lightly stroked the baby’s cheek, causing him to try and nurse the finger. Victor chuckled. “Yes. Ours,” he agreed, putting his free arm around her.
Chapter 26: Be A Man
Next on our prompt list from Winter Bingo Card three is "coming of age!" I'd been watching a lot of "Say Yes To The Dress" while working out at the time, and thus I was in a wedding mood. So, I decided to try and relate the prompt to Victor and Alice getting married at the end of "Secundus." After a bit of thought, the idea of "Victor doesn't feel ready to get married before Secundus, but he does after because of his experiences there" popped up. It took a few rewrites for me to get down exactly what I wanted to say, but I feel the end product was worth it. (Probably helped that, at the time of original writing, I sympathized with his "not quite feeling adult" status at the beginning of the short -- 24 years old and still living with your parents while attending community college will do that.) And yes, the Mulan song inspired the title.
When his parents told him that he was going to marry Miss Victoria Everglot in January, Victor’s first reaction was panic. Married? How on earth could his parents expect him to get married? He was only nineteen! Yes, all right, that technically qualified him for “manhood,” whatever that might be. He was certainly no longer a child. But – but he didn’t feel like a real adult yet either. He’d never held a job, never paid a bill – he was still living with his parents, for God’s sake! Not to mention he’d never even had a girlfriend. He wasn't opposed to the idea, but - girls made him nervous, frankly. How could Mother and Father expect him to go from that to supporting a wife? His frightened protests that he wasn’t ready went unheard however, and Victor spent the next few weeks alternately hoping that the wedding would make him feel more grown up, and dreading what would happen if it didn’t.
Then Doc Brown and his flying steam train appeared on the scene, and Victor was whisked away to Secundus. At first, he saw it as merely a chance to have an adventure and avoid the terrifying specter of arranged marriage. But as time went on, he began to see it more as an opportunity to live his own life and perhaps start growing up for real. He had a job – a simple one, but it was still a job. He was responsible for anything he wanted to buy, having to pay his own way (more or less) in the world. And, as time passed, he even got his first girlfriend in the form of Alice Liddell. Feeling better about this whole business of becoming an adult, Victor started to make plans for the future – perhaps finding a flat of his own one day, or taking his turn at creating something fantastic like his Touched friends. And he made a promise to himself to try and experience everything the city had to offer.
Of course, he ended up experiencing quite a bit more than he’d expected. Going a bit Creative, defeating the Queen of Hearts, and pulling the shattered remains of his sanity back from the brink of oblivion - it was all more than he'd ever thought he could handle. But handle it he did, and when it was over, the change inside was unmistakable. He felt stronger. More mature. More – adult. So, shortly after he turned twenty, he decided he was ready for what had scared him so much when he was nineteen.
And as he kissed Alice in the First Church of Steam, in front of their cheering family and friends, he truly felt like a man.
Chapter 27: Equals
Moving onto the next Winter Bingo Card Three prompt, "wise men!" Obviously, the first thing I thought of when I saw that prompt was the existence of Touched in the Secundus world. . .and then I remembered how, in Chapter 5 of "Secundus," Victor thought to himself how inadequate he felt talking about science with Doc and Richard and the rest. I figured that it was an idea worth exploring a bit more, especially in the aftermath of how the main story ended. Plus it was a chance to use Doc in one of these shorts -- can't pass up the opportunity to write one of my favorite characters. :)
“I used to feel a bit inadequate around you sometimes.”
Doc looked up in surprise. Victor was leaning over the case of the Deep-Thinking Mind-Reading Helmet (Work in Progress), pink with embarrassment and not meeting his eyes. “You did?” Doc replied, frowning. This was a rather unpleasant confession for Victor to make. “I always did my best to treat you as an equal.”
“I know – it wasn’t anything to do with you, really,” Victor assured him. “I felt the same around Richard and Sir Christopher and – L-Lewis. Anyone who was Touched, a-actually.”
Doc straightened up, deciding his maintenance on the main console's wiring wasn’t quite as important as this conversation. “Why?”
Victor offered up an awkward half-smile, blushing harder. “Because - because I thought I could never match up to you in intelligence. Do you remember the first tea party of Richard and March’s that I attended? When the conversation started to veer toward my interest in butterflies, I immediately wondered what right I had to talk science with you and the others. After all, I was nothing more than a hobbyist entomologist.”
“That wouldn’t have made a difference to us,” Doc told him firmly. “We love talking science no matter the skill level. And it’s not like many of us have all that much formal experience. I know for a fact Richard never attended university.”
“I know, I just – you must know I have a bit of a p-problem when it comes to self-esteem,” Victor mumbled, gaze on the floor.
Doc scowled as various unpleasant memories involving Victor’s parents popped into his head. “I do indeed.” Pushing the dark thoughts away, he regarded his friend curiously. “Why bring this up now?”
“Well – it just occurred to me that, if you’d asked my younger self if he’d ever feel like the mental equal of any of my Touched friends, he probably would have burst out laughing.”
Doc smiled. “Is he happy to have been proven wrong?”
Victor lifted his head and grinned back, looking ever-so-slightly mad. “I believe he is.”
Chapter 28: Out-Stubborning Nell
Moving onto our next Winter Bingo Card Three prompt -- "donkey!" I was a bit stuck on what to do for this one at first -- and then the phrase "stubborn as a mule" popped into my head, along with the fact that Victor and Nell are both super-stubborn about getting their way during the latter half of "Secundus," and I decided "donkey" was close enough. You can probably tell by this point (especially if you're read my other AUs) that I am not fond of Victor's parents, particularly Nell. Anyone who asks what corpse would marry her son in the tone she used in the movie is on my fictional character shit list.
The momentary satisfaction Victor got from slamming the door was immediately undercut by guilt as four heads popped out from the aisles, clearly wondering what the hell was going on. “Sorry,” he called out in apology. "That was r-rude of me."
The customers muttered to themselves and went back to their business. Marty frowned at him from behind the counter. “Okay, that’s not like you,” he noted. “What happened? You were all smiles when you went out.”
“Mother,” Victor groaned, pressing his hands against his face. “I bumped into her and Father on the street halfway to the pie shop, and before I could say a word she launched into another lecture about the 'shame I’m bringing to our family name' by 'associating with the twisted classes' and if I didn't agree to come home right away. . .and there was Father, next to her, nodding along like a puppet on a string. . . .”
Marty shook his head. “She just does not give up, does she? I’ve met donkeys less stubborn than her. And I lived in California – I knew my fair share of donkeys.”
“She’s always been very – determined,” Victor said, rubbing his forehead. “I’ve seen her like this before. She knows what she wants, and she won’t rest until she gets it.” He groaned. “Maybe I should act like I’m brainwashed. Perhaps she'll come to the conclusion I can’t be ‘fixed’ then and leave me alone.”
“I dunno, Victor,” Marty said, leaning on the counter. “I don’t think this is gonna end until you finally cave or one of you dies.”
Victor couldn’t help but nod. “She thinks I’ll give in,” he admitted softly. “It’s what I’ve done before, with every party and fad. I hate confrontation, and I especially hate making her upset. It would certainly be easier to give in.”
“But you’re not, right?” Marty asked, a worried note in his voice.
"No," Victor promised, stiffening his spine. “This is different. I’m tired of never standing up for what I want, and this – this is more important than anything before.” Trying to sound hopeful, he added, “And if I’ve held out this long, it’s obvious I’ve inherited at least a little of her stubbornness.”
Marty nodded. “Yeah. Let’s just hope you got enough.”
Chapter 29: Slipping And A’Sliding
Moving onto the next-to-last prompt of Winter Bingo Card Three -- "black ice!" Now, most of us know this as the horrible thing that causes car crashes in winter, and thus my initial thought was a rather darker fic that involved a carriage accident. But then I decided I'd had enough of the angst with Card Two, and decided to go with a comedic piece instead. The inspiration for the new fic was twofold -- one of my RP Victors trying to rescue a friend from some ice, only to slip and fall himself; and one of Alice's idle animations with the Ice Wand in American McGee's Alice being freezing the ground in front of her, then stepping on it and slipping. It seemed a reasonable thing to happen on a cold day in Secundus. The title I'm pretty sure was inspired by a Swiffer Sweeper commercial, though I can't be sure. It felt right at any rate. Also, just to clarify, this is before Victor and Alice start dating in the main story.
“Now then, what would you – whoa!”
Out of nowhere, Victor found the left side of his body trying to go in a different direction from his right. He scrambled to keep his feet, practically tap-dancing as his shoes slipped and slid all over the place. A glance down revealed he’d managed to step on a patch of nearly invisible ice. “Oh! Oh dear – aah!”
“Victor!” Alice grabbed his arm in an attempt to steady him. “Stand still – if you can, that is. . .maybe you should lift that foot–aaah!”
The moment she said it, said foot shot out from under him, pulling him – and thus Alice – to the ground. They landed in a tangled heap, Alice on top. “Oh! I am s-so sorry,” Victor gasped, embarrassed beyond belief. “Are y-you all right?”
“Fine,” Alice assured him, pushing herself up to take a better look at him. Victor found himself vaguely grateful he’d been there to cushion her fall. “This is far from the worst tumble I’ve taken. Are you all right?”
“I think so.” Victor did his best to ignore the warmth of her body against his and did a quick check. “My l-leg hurts a bit, but it’s d-definitely not broken.”
“Just landed on it wrong? I’m not surprised,” Alice said. “Still, could have been much worse." She slid herself off him, scooting her way back to the cobbles. "Here, let’s get ourselves up.”
Victor unknotted his legs from hers and followed suit. Once they were safely back on the stone, he pulled himself up with the help of a nearby lamppost before offering his hand to Alice, cheeks burning. Why did these things have to happen to him? Especially when he was out with a gi – a friend? “I am sorry about that,” he apologized as Alice hoisted herself up and fixed her skirts. “I g-genuinely d-didn’t see that ice.”
“It’s fine," Alice assured him. "Accidents happen.”
“S-still. . ." Victor sighed, dusting off his pants. "I just wish I weren’t so clumsy.”
“Oh, everyone’s clumsy on the ice.” Alice looked up at him, smiling. “Let me tell you about the first time I tried out the Ice Wand. . . .”
Chapter 30: Made In Their Image
And the last prompt of Winter Bingo Card Three is -- "glowing!" Which, of course, is about those glowing butterflies that haunted Victor's dreams, triggered his Going Creative, and became one of his first Inventions as a Touched. It took me a day or two to figure out what exactly I wanted to say in response to the prompt, but I think it came together nicely in the end. The Essex Skipper and Duke of Burgundy are real species of European butterfly – don't you just love the names they give these creatures? :)
Victor Van Dort loved butterflies, there was no question about that. He adored every single type, from the Essex Skipper to the Duke of Burgundy, from the most colorful specimen to the most drab. He could find something beautiful and wonderful in any species from Lepidoptera.
His affection was expressed in a number of different ways throughout the years. As a small child, he chased them through the garden, fascinated by their pretty colors and fluttering flight. As an adolescent, he studied them in his room, devouring book after book on the subject and drawing his own scientific illustrations from captured specimens. As a young man, he envied them from behind windows, wishing he could share in their freedom and dreaming of a world where he could trade a career in fish for one in lepidoptery. And as a Touched. . . .
Well, as a Touched, he set up a lab and made his own butterflies to love. Bread-and-butterflies released into the reconstructed Wonderland Park; clockwork butterflies tested in Doc's shop; Ferdinand the giant riding butterfly trained to carry him swiftly through Secundus's skies - Victor Created and adored them all.
But, even with all those fantastic creatures to his credit, if asked what his favorite type of butterfly was, he would always reply with the same thing – the results of his very first project after gaining a hold on the madness. Just one simple variation on the basic design. After all, he'd explain, they were technically the creatures that had ushered him, slowly but surely, into the realms of Touched-dom. He owed them a debt of gratitude.
And besides, glowing butterflies looked beautiful against the night sky.
Chapter 31: From An Interview With Mr. Victor Van Dort
And so we move onto Charloft's Winter Bingo Card Four! Starting with the prompt -- uh -- "glowing." Yeaaaah, when I got my card for my second year in the community and decided to fill in all the spaces instead of just going for a column or row, I completely forgot I'd already done that prompt last year. And, of course, my first thought was to do something about the famous glowing butterflies. Ooops.
Fortunately for us all, this story ended up significantly different from the previous "glowing" short -- in fact, you might say it functions as something of a sequel, expanding up on the ending of the first one. For this story, I had the idea of framing it as an excerpt from an interview between a reporter from an entomological journal and Victor, once he'd become an established Touched. (Victor, who'd only ever dreamed of one of his drawings maybe appearing in such a publication, was over the moon about it.) I figured the reporter would ask about the glowing butterflies, and -- well, this is Victor's answer!
“Now, Mr. Van Dort, anyone who’s seen your creations in person knows you’ve got a fascination with bioluminescence. In fact, after your riding butterfly, your most famous Fabricated creatures are the glowing butterflies currently populating Wonderland Park. Why is that, exactly?”
“Well, it's very simple, honestly – those glowing butterflies were my first indication that I was a Touched.”
“Oh? How so? By all accounts, you Fabricated them after Going Creative.”
“Yes, but I'd seen them long before then. You see, when I first arrived in Secundus, I started having this one strange recurring dream. I'd start out standing in a dark void, wondering why I was there, waiting for something to happen. And then, suddenly, it would fill with these glowing butterflies - the most beautiful butterflies in the world. I'd spend the whole night chasing after them, trying to catch one – and always, I’d wake up before I could. It was - heh, frustrating to say the least. And then, the night before the Queen attacked and I Went Creative in Lewis's old lab, I had the dream one last time - except this time, I finally got my hands around one. And then. . .it was simply incredible. It was like, for one golden moment, I knew everything in the world. And then I woke up and forgot it all again, but. . .looking back, I think I can see how, the closer I came to my final breakthrough, the more often the dreams came and the longer they lasted. Maybe – maybe it was my mind readying itself for what was to come.”
“And that’s why you like making things that glow.”
“Oh, yes. I can’t help myself. Being able to see them light up the sky in reality. . .it’s amazing. And now, I get to catch them whenever I want.”
Chapter 32: They Lie To You
Okay, now onto non-repeat Card Four prompts, with "toast!" Which promptly made me think of one of Eddie Izzard's famous bits, about how toasters lie to you regarding bread doneness. (I recommend looking it up on YouTube, it's great.) I imagine that, even in a world full of mechanical marvels, getting a decent toaster would sometimes be a pain. Should have just asked Doc for another like his, Victor!
“I don’t understand this! I thought electric toasters were supposed to make life easier!”
“I think you’ve been spoiled by Doc’s homemade version,” Alice said, watching her husband glare at the appliance in question. “These mass-produced ones aren’t made with the same care.”
“I’m well aware of that,” Victor grumbled, examining his underdone toast. “Either it comes out like this, barely brown at all, or it's charred almost to cinders. Doc’s sometimes had burnt bits, yes, but you could just scrape those off. Otherwise, it was more or less what you wanted.” He sighed. “Sometimes I think they deliberately design them this way, so people will think they’re broken and buy new ones.”
“But they wouldn't go back to the same manufacturer - not if they believe they sell lousy appliances,” Alice pointed out. “Do you think all toaster companies are in league with one another?”
“. . .Yes. Yes I do. Perhaps I’ll go and fill all their offices with bread-and butterflies. Or peanut-butterflies, those will stick to things and be even more of a nuisance.”
“I think it’s a better idea for you to just have some cereal for breakfast.”
Chapter 33: Defrosting
Moving on to the next Winter Bingo Card Four prompt, "ice princess!" The instant I saw that prompt, I knew I had to do something about Alice. The basic idea (and the inspiration behind the title) comes from the trope (on TV Tropes) "Defrosting Ice Princess," about a girl who initially seems cold and unapproachable, but who gradually warms up as you get to know her. It struck me that fit how Alice might look to those who only know her by reputation – cold and only good for killing monsters. But if you're one of her friends. . .or the young newcomer who's developed quite a crush on her. . .
To the average citizen on the street, Alice Liddell was cold. A necessary part of the city's functioning, of course, but not someone they would care to deal with socially. She seemed to disdain most forms of love and companionship, preferring instead to deal with others through biting sarcasm and withering glances. She was a girl whose life revolved around death, madness, weaponry, and killing. A girl who’d lost everything and thus had decided to seal off her heart in ice.
To Victor Van Dort, however, she was quite different. He looked past the outer layer of frost, the pointed comments and the knife constantly at her side, and found a girl who was capable of getting close to others - and of worrying awfully that she might lose them. A girl who was uneasy around strangers, all too aware her reputation - either as asylum resident or monster hunter - preceded her. A girl who had been hurt terribly, and now was wary enough of future pain that she tried preemptively to close it out. A girl who, despite everything, still wanted to help others, in the best way she knew how. A girl who, really, wasn’t all that different from him.
In fact, he discovered, when you took the time to get to know her, you’d find that under that cold exterior – she was actually quite warm.
Chapter 34: Ice Princess No More
Skipping around a little on Winter Bingo Card Four this week so we can have the matching prompt to last week's entry, "ice princess" -- "melt!" Basically, the first one was Victor's take on how Alice is not nearly the ice princess some people can make her out to be; this one is Alice's take on how Victor somehow slips past her defenses and makes the icier parts of her personality -- well, look at the prompt. Examining Victor through Alice's eyes is always rather fun, honestly. She never quite gets how he can be the one who makes her go weak at the knees. But she doesn't mind because he's such a sweetheart.
What was it about him that got past all her defenses?
Alice wondered this every time she looked at Victor Van Dort. When she'd first met him, she hadn't thought he was anyone special. Quite tall, shockingly pale, and incredibly thin, of course, but you got used to odd physical features in Secundus. And when she'd taken him and Marty to Richard's hat shop, he'd been like any other tourist, for the most part - gawking at everything around him, starting at the least little thing, and stuttering and stammering his way through conversation. Not to mention his tendency to act as if he had to apologize for merely existing. He'd been friendly enough, but Alice had quietly decided he wasn't going to last a week in the city, new job or no.
But - he'd surprised her. He'd stuck it out, despite his obvious nerves. And with every subsequent meeting, she began to see more and more beneath his colorless shell. He was gentle, with a fondness for butterflies and flowers that many men she'd known in the past would never admit to. He was polite, unassuming, and unprejudiced - willing to give anyone, from the average Touched on the street to a young lady who'd spent a good portion of her life in bedlam, a chance to be friends. He was enthusiastic - full of a lust for color, for excitement, for life that seemed only to grow stronger the longer he was in Secundus. And he was - cute, if she was completely honest with herself. With his thick black hair and wide brown eyes and shy little smile that, more and more, seemed to come out around her. . . .
Alice couldn't pinpoint just what it was about him that affected her so strongly. All she knew was, whenever he was around, the ice she’d tried to encase herself in – just seemed to melt.
Chapter 35: Perhaps It’s A TempraPedic?
Moving onto another Winter Bingo Card Four prompt, "cozy!" I sympathize greatly with Alice's desire to just not get out of bed some days. :p The title mentions a famous brand of mattress (here in the US, anyway) that's supposed to be super-comfy, and the bit about the bedpan is a reference to a memory you can recover in "Madness Returns" (it's one of the Pris Witless ones, natch, hidden away in Hatter's Domain). Also, yes, one of the names for a group of butterflies is indeed "kaleidoscope" - isn't that cool?
“Come on, Alice, it’s time to get up.”
Alice glanced up at Victor, then wriggled deeper into the covers instead. “Sorry - this new mattress is entirely too comfortable," she announced. "I’m never getting up again.”
“Never?” Victor repeated, looking down at his cocooned wife.
“Never ever,” Alice nodded. “I like it here.”
“What about eating?”
“You can bring in food for me. Or maybe make a kaleidoscope of butterflies to do so. I’m sure you could manage.”
“I probably could. . .but what about–" Victor wiggled a hand "-bodily functions?”
“That’s what bedpans are for. As Witless the night nurse once told me quite emphatically.”
“. . .I really didn’t need to know that,” Victor grimaced. “But you truly can’t stay in bed forever.”
“Oh?" Alice fixed him with a steely gaze - though it was rather undercut by the smile playing around her lips. "What’s stopping me?”
Both their heads automatically twisted toward the nursery door. Victor listened as the wail repeated itself, then smirked playfully at Alice. “You try explaining to him why Mama wants to stay in bed all day.”
Chapter 36: Ink Blots
Moving onto our next Winter Bingo Card Four prompt -- lines! Just a quick and dirty shortfic about Victor's drawing skills and his chosen medium. I figure it's pretty hard draw in ink when you don't make pencil sketches first. Victor's probably gotten very good at hiding mistakes.
“I’ve always admired how well you draw with a pen.”
Victor looked up to find Alice watching him over his shoulder. “It’s really nothing special,” he said modestly. “Your pencil drawings are some of the best I’ve ever seen.”
“Yes, but there’s a reason I draw in pencil - so I can erase should I make a mistake,” Alice replied. “And my lines are never as clean and crisp as yours because of it. How do you manage to draw as well as you do when you go straight from imagining to ink?”
“Lots of practice,” Victor said, dipping his quill into the inkwell again and continuing with his sketch. “And knowing how to disguise my mistakes.”
“You make mistakes?”
“Let me put it this way – that cloud in the corner didn’t start as a cloud.”
Chapter 37: I Thought I’d Lost You
Next up on Winter Bingo Card Four -- "icy roads!" Now, remember how I mentioned back on the "black ice" prompt that I was tempted to write something dark involving a carriage accident for that one? Yeah, this is the prompt where I ended up using that idea. In fairness, there's not many ways you can put a positive spin on "icy roads!" For context, they're coming back from a long trip outside of Secundus (I'm thinking maybe Victor was showing off some butterflies somewhere), when the weather starts getting bad, and then -- crash! The title's from the end credits song from the movie Bolt -- what, I'd seen it recently, it was stuck in my head, and it seemed to fit. (And don't worry -- they get rescued shortly after this.)
“Ow. . .”
Victor dragged himself up to a sitting position, putting a hand to his head. "Well, that wasn't good," he mumbled, blinking slowly as he got his bearings. Wetness pooled against his palm, and he lowered it to find it tinged with red. He winced and wiped it off in the snow. “Oh damn - and neither is that."
He looked around slowly and carefully. The carriage was a battered mess -- tipped over on the side of the road, with their baggage scattered around it. One suitcase had burst open and spilled its contents all along the small slope - Victor picked up a nearby sock and pressed it against his forehead for a makeshift bandage. One horse of their pair was standing nearby, sporting a cut on its flank – the other was nowhere to be seen. Maybe it broke loose after we hit that icy patch? Victor thought, easing himself to his feet. Ow. . .so much for Dr. Carter’s non-slip wheels–
And then he saw Alice. Lying still in a snowbank not far away.
The sock dropped out of his hand as his whole body went numb. No. No. Oh no no no no - He scrambled over the drifts, heedless of the blood leaking into his eyes, of the cold biting at his exposed flesh. I can’t – she can’t be – Oh God, don’t do this to me. You know what’ll happen if she dies, especially like this–
And then, as he leaned over her, desperately scanning her form for any sign of life, her eyes opened. “Argh. . .I thought these – Victor!”
She sat up like a jack-in-the box, grabbing his head. “Damn it, you’re bleeding! What happened?”
“I think you know as much as I do,” Victor said, sighing as the relief washed over him like a wave. Thank you thank you thank you. . . . He ran his hands up and down her sides, searching for injuries. She didn’t seem to have any broken bones, at least. “The road was icy, the carriage went out of control–” He pointed back at the overturned vehicle. “And now, here we are.”
“Ugh, you’d think – stop poking me, I’m just bruised,” Alice told him, gently swatting his hand. “The snow must have cushioned my fall. It’s your head that I’m worried about. I know forehead wounds bleed like the dickens without being serious, but still. . .follow my finger, let’s make sure your brains aren’t scrambled any further.”
“I think it’s just a cut,” Victor said, though he did as she asked. “We can grab something out of the luggage to cover it. And hopefully use the horse to get back to civilization.” He abandoned his prodding to instead hug her tightly. “I’m just glad you’re all right. When I saw you lying there. . . .”
Alice hugged him back, then kissed his (non-bloody) temple. “Victor, it would take a lot more than a carriage accident to separate me from you.”
Chapter 38: Pyrophobia
Next up on Winter Bingo Card Four -- " by the fire!" This immediately made me think of Alice's issues with fire thanks to, well, losing her entire family when her house burned down, and how Victor might perhaps go a bit overboard sometimes trying to be sensitive of them. Poor guy's just trying to be a good husband. . . It kind of straddles the line between serious and silly as a result. It also started out as a pure dialogue piece, but then I decided it really needed descriptions to work.
If you're wondering why Alice is citing the "Dinah knocked over the lamp" story as truth when talking about the famous house fire -- that's because, in this universe, it is. Alice: Madness Returns came out after the main story was mostly completed, and while I decided to incorporate some characters and weapons from it into the climax of "Secundus," I didn't want to completely change up Alice's backstory. (Especially as I'd already established her as an only child currently in the care of her aunt and uncle, while A:MR made it clear she had an older sister and no apparent Liddell relatives to stay with after release from Rutledge.) So yeah -- she was at least spared the Bumby trauma on top of everything else. I think we can all agree the fire was really enough.
“Victor, this is ridiculous. Light the fire already.”
“I – I’m fine, I just – the b-blankets are e-enough–” Victor stammered, huddling deeper under the covers.
"You're a very poor liar, Victor Van Dort,” Alice cut him off, scowling. “I can feel you shivering. And don’t start going on about how warm I am. I can’t be that good a human hot water bottle.”
“I’m fine, really!" Victor insisted.
"Really?" Alice pulled out his arm and raised it, showing off his goosebumps in the dim light. "This doesn't look fine to me."
Victor winced. Stupid body, betraying him at every turn. . . . "I just – I don’t want to make you uncomfortable," he mumbled, not meeting her eyes. "I m-mean - you’ve told me how your p-parents. . . .”
Alice's face softened as she sighed. “Yes, I have. But that particular fire was caused by the family cat knocking over a lamp into the fireplace. Our lamps are all out, we don't have any near the grate, and we don’t have a cat to knock them over." She hugged herself. "Besides, I’m cold too. I think I’ll be able to bear it.”
Victor wanted to believe that. But the little imp of doubt kept jumping up and down in his mind, reminding him of how often he'd seen Alice avoiding even the smallest blazes in a hearth. “You’re – you’re sure?”
Her expression sharpened to a full-on glare. “Victor, if you don’t get up and light the damn thing, I will. You’ve seen me using Jackbombs, damn it! I’m not that terrified of fire!”
All right, that was a very fair point. Victor turned away, feeling an (somewhat sulky) idiot. Why did he always take these things too far? “. . .I was just trying to be sensitive of your feelings.”
Alice sighed again and touched his shoulder. “I know, Victor, and I thank you. But you know me. There’s no need to treat me like a china doll. Or for either of us to freeze.” She squeezed it lightly. “So get off your hinders and light a damn fire.”
Despite himself, Victor couldn’t hold back a smile as he got up. “I love you too.”
Chapter 39: Pretty Girls Make Me Nervous
Next up on the list of Winter Bingo Card Four prompts is "young!" Which somehow led to a comedy piece about how Victor's oldest son got a little more than just his looks from his father. The title is from the Prozzak song of the same name -- I quite enjoy it, and I've always found it rather Victorish. And Chesterish, as will become apparent.
Victor had decided long ago that Chester was his mother’s child. Sure, he was practically a copy of Victor in looks, but in personality? He was confident, brave, often sarcastic, and sometimes a little rough around the edges - in other words, pure Alice. It was all very much the opposite of what Victor had been like growing up.
Which was why Victor couldn’t understand why Alice insisted Chester was more like him than he thought. He’d seen his oldest child in action many times – from sneaky toddler adventures in the far corners of his lab, to childhood tussles with bullies, to teenage scraps with Snarks in Wonderland Park. Chester was a Liddell through and through. Vincent was the one you went to when you wanted an example of a Van Dort in their family. What was Alice seeing that he wasn’t?
And then, one day, Allison Laidlaw came by for tea with her chaperone. And what Victor had assumed would be an easy hour of entertaining their new neighbor became a comedy of errors. Mostly because of Chester. Chester, who alternated between staring at Allison and being unable to meet her eyes. Chester, who could barely string three words together without nearly stammering his tongue out of his mouth. Chester, who hadn't been able to walk a foot without bumping into the furniture or tripping over the rug. Chester, who'd even started fiddling with his tie near the end of the whole affair.
Oh – that’s what Alice had meant when she’d said Chester really was a young Victor.
Chapter 40: Big Eater, Big Problem?
Knocking off the next prompt on Winter Bingo Card Four, here we have "feast!" Back when I first started roleplaying Victor Van Dort and writing stuff for him, I thought it would be funny to give him big eater tendencies to contrast with his super-skinny frame. That aspect of his character has been dialed back as the years go on, but he still can put away more food than you'd expect into that beanpole-like body. So when I first saw this prompt, I knew I wanted to do something regarding that -- and the unexpected consequences it has for those around him.
When he'd spontaneously offered Victor a job and a place in his house, Doc hadn’t thought that taking on another assistant would be a problem. After all, he could always use more help around the shop, both with customers and his own inventions. And Victor seemed like a good kid - nervous, sure, but pretty friendly and polite. And a lot less prejudiced against Touched than he'd expected from such an isolated little town. And offering a job on a whim to Marty back in Hill Valley had worked out incredibly well. Why not take on another set of hands, if Victor was interested in staying?
And, for the most part, it had all worked out well. The shop ran better with someone always available at the counter, and his inventions progressed much quicker with the addition of another person to hold tools and listen to ideas. And Victor himself was just good company - eager to learn, fascinated by science (particularly lepidoptery - Doc had never guessed there was so much to learn about butterflies), musically inclined (which put him in Marty's good books), and - fortunately for everyone - largely unbothered by having to sleep on the couch. All in all, he'd proven to be a welcome addition to the household.
Unfortunately, he’d also proven to be a bit of a bottomless pit when it came to food.
Doc was, frankly, baffled by it. Victor was skinny as a rail – almost literally, in fact. And yet, come mealtimes, he was always the first to clean his plate - and usually went for seconds. Not to mention his penchant for snacks. How could he possibly eat so much? Where did it go? Sure, the kid did a lot of running around, but - so did he and Marty, and their appetites were perfectly normal! No one else in their circle understood it either. It was a mystery – and an expensive one to boot.
Still, Doc reasoned, staring at the blank spaces in his refrigerator, the increase in food costs was worth having another friend around the place. Especially one so useful. If faced with a choice between having Victor or a full fridge, Doc would always pick Victor.
His stomach growled loudly.
Well. . .99% of the time he’d pick Victor.
Chapter 41: All Hail The Spoon!
And now we come to a rather unusual prompt in Winter Bingo Card four -- "spoon!" Yeah, I don't know either. What I do know is that the resulting short can be blamed entirely on:
A) Me discovering one of The Tick's battle cries is "SPOOOOOOON!"
B) My knowledge of the (probably former at this point? I never followed him closely -- I knew about him mainly from Linkara's work) internet reviewer Spoony
C) Me thinking a sleep-deprived Victor would be HILARIOUS XD Especially bouncing off his baffled and amused wife.
So yeah, enjoy! (Also, dialogue goes Victor, then Alice, in case it isn't obvious)
“Do you know what’s a funny word?”
“Spoon’s really funny! Spoooon. Spoon. Spoon. You say it enough times and it stops making sense!”
“Yes! Think about it. Spoon. It really doesn’t mean anything. It’s just what we named a certain utensil. We could have used it as a battle cry if we wanted.”
“. . .A battle cry?”
“Why not? Imagine how confused and frightened the enemy would be if we came charging down the hill at them shouting ‘SPOOOOON!’”
“Confused, certainly. . . .”
“Or we could use it as a name! Spoon. Spoony! Good for a boy or a girl! Though I get the feeling it would go better with a boy. . . .”
“All right, Victor, I’m taking this as an object lesson. No matter how much you plead with me, never let you stay up for more than two nights in a row to finish a project. Come on, we’re going to bed.”
Chapter 42: Dancing Lessons
Next up from Winter Bingo Card Four -- "tango!" Which, naturally, inspired a fic about Victor's dancing skills -- or lack thereof. Alice's theory in this fic is my own, based on Victor's surprisingly excellent parrying skills during his canonical fight with Barkis. Dude can move pretty smoothly when he's not worrying about his feet. The mention of the chess people's Lobster Quadrille was covered back in "Come And Join The Dance" from the Card Three prompt "dancer."
“Oh! Oh dear - I d-didn’t actually get your foot, d-did I?”
“No, but it was a near miss,” Alice said, looking down at where Victor's left foot had just clipped her right boot. “I think I should be grateful I'm wearing thick shoes.”
Victor shook his head, pink with embarrassment. “S-sorry. I didn't mean. . .I don’t know why you’re so sure I can learn this. Dancing has n-never been my strong point.”
“You did fine when the Chess people invited us to that ball in your honor,” Alice pointed out.
“Those were Wonderlanders. They don't care if you have every step perfect or not. If I tripped and fell there, everyone just chuckled a bit, helped me up, and told me I'd do better next time." He chewed his lip. "R-regular people at regular dances are much less forgiving. I know that from experience.”
“Perhaps not, but you danced the Lobster Quadrille just fine.”
“That was a quadrille though, you're expected to just walk your way through that–”
“Victor.” Alice took his chin, meeting his eyes. “You know what your problem is? You overthink every movement. You get so caught up in trying to figure out what you should be doing that you don't actually do it." She poked his forehead. "Think about the Quadrille again. You weren't worrying about every step that day. You just followed me and the music, and everything worked out fine. The same principle should work for a waltz. Just listen to the music instead of agonizing over correct form. You know the steps - trust yourself to get them right.”
Victor fiddled with his tie. “I – I don’t know if I can. . . .”
“Try.” Alice pulled him into a quick hug. “I'm sure you can do this if you just stop worrying. Remember, your mother isn't here to berate you for every mistake anymore.” She grinned encouragingly at him. “Come on, what harm will it do?”
Well, I could step on your foot again, or knock you to the floor, or twirl you into a wall, or twist your ankle, or twist my ankle. . . . But he recognized the look in her eyes – she wasn’t going to take no for an answer. “All right,” he said hesitantly. “L-let’s try again.”
Alice smiled and restarted the phonograph. As the dulcet tones of the waltz filled the room again, Victor closed his eyes and did his best just to concentrate on the music. It was hard - the moment they started to move, his mind automatically shot to his feet and where they needed to go. But, after a few slow turns with no major disaster, he relaxed, allowing his body just to move as it would. And to his shock, Alice was right.
When he wasn’t worrying about every step – he could almost be graceful.
Chapter 43: Wine of Babbling
Moving onto to the next prompt off Winter Bingo Card Four, we have "drunk!"! This one's actually a prequely-kind of drabble, set when Victor's sixteen -- right after his first experience with alcohol. Yes, I headcanon that shy, stuttering Victor does a one-eighty and becomes a total chatterbox when he's wasted. XD Barry is the Van Dort's butler -- he's mentioned more over in the Forgotten Vows Verse, but he does still exist over here.
There's a hidden sad part in this story, though -- the incident Victor obliquely refers to, from when he was fifteen? I covered that in my story Darkest Hour. Warning: it's about a suicide attempt. Yeaaaah, he did not take his dog's death well. . .
“Oooh. . .my head. . . .”
“Finally back with us, Victor?”
Victor blinked blearily a few times, squinting against the light searing his eyes. After a moment, Mayhew's face swam into focus over him. “I think so. . .what - what happened?” he asked, wincing at every word. Ugh, how could his own voice feel like hammers being pounded into his skull. . .
“Brought you down with me to sample a good ale with Barry and the others last night," Mayhew reminded him with a little smile. "You've been all wound up lately. Was hoping it might relax you." He paused to cough. Victor gritted his teeth against the noise. “Did its job a little too well, I think.”
“What? Why?” The way he felt right now, Victor was pretty sure it hadn't done its job at all.
“Don’t remember?" Mayhew chuckled. "You were on about anything and everything! Whatever popped into your head! I didn't think a fellow could talk that much - certainly not you! You must have tried to tell me your life story twice over.”
Had he? Victor closed his eyes, pushing past the headache in search of the memories. Mayhew had brought him to the pantry with the other servants. . .the bottle had been opened. . .he'd choked on the first glass, his throat aflame as the others laughed and told him he'd be fine. . .and then the second had gone down easier, and the third easier still, and. . .and suddenly it had seemed so natural to speak whatever was on his mind, share it with the world. . .so simple to just babble on and on about art and music, hopes and fears, butterflies and his parents and poor old Scraps -
Scraps. Victor's eyes snapped open, the thought like a bucket of cold water over his head. "You must have tried to tell me your life story twice over.” Had he – had he actually told Mayhew – he wouldn't have, right? He'd promised himself. . . He forced himself up on his elbow, hissing at every movement. “M-Mayhew. . .did I – did I say anything h-horribly embarrassing about - about s-something that happened w-when I was f-fifteen?” Oh God. . .please say no, please say no, I couldn’t bear the shame, the pity –
“Wha -oh! Nah, you just told me how sad it was Scraps had to go like he did, then you were off again on your butterflies,” Mayhew assured him, patting his head. Victor did his best not to flinch at the touch. “Nothing about – growing pains, we'll call them.” He winked. "You know."
Victor managed a smile. Yes, he did know. And thankfully, Mayhew didn’t. His secret was still safe. And he intended to keep it that way. “Mayhew?”
“I think I’m just going to have the o-occasional glass of champagne from now on.”
Chapter 44: Light Up The Sky
Next up on the Winter Bingo Card Four prompt list: "Northern Lights!" Which, of course, meant my mind immediately shot straight to Tundraful and its gorgeous night sky from Alice: Madness Returns. Could not pass up the chance to work that into the general universe of Secundus. . .though it took me quite a few tries to wrestle the description of the lights themselves into something I was satisfied with! (Seriously, look up "Tundraful" on YouTube or Google Image Search. Or hell, just look up the actual aurora borealis itself. Both are beautiful.) Alice's vague description of Lewis's technobabble is routed in reality -- I looked up how the real Northern Lights work, and cribbed a few phrases from Wikipedia. The title of the short is from a song I like by The Afters.
“Oh my God. . . .”
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Alice smiled. “Lewis told me he got the idea after attending a lecture by some Arctic explorers. Would you believe this light show happens naturally up at the North Pole?"
"Truly? Incredible," Victor breathed, unable to drag his eyes away from the ribbons of vivid green twisting their way across the night sky, shimmering pink at the edges before dissolving away into blooms of bright blue. Behind them, the stars twinkled in a sea of midnight black, brighter than he'd ever seen them before. "I would never - I've never seen anything like it."
Alice nudged him. "You must say that a lot in Secundus."
“Well, y-yes, but. . .this is something else." Victor shook his head. "And Lewis did this all on his own?”
“From what I understand, Doc helped with the moon," Alice said, nodding at the apparent source of the colors - a false crescent with a carved face and a cigarette between its lips. "But Lewis was the one who ultimately got it all to work." She bit her lip. "I'm afraid I didn't quite understand most of his explanation. Something to do with charging the right particles and exposing them to a special magnetic wind before calming them down.”
“It’s all right,” Victor assured her. "I'm no expert in astronomy myself. Maybe later we can ask Doc to draw us a diagram." He grinned as another shimmering streak of green appeared in the sky, flowing out like a river amongst the stars. “Science is wonderful.”
Chapter 45: Chick Magnet?
Next up from Winter Bingo Card Four, a rather amusing prompt: "casanova!" The one thing Victor never thought he'd be, until he ended up in Secundus and ended up with two women interested in him while he pined over a third. XD The title is again inspired by TV Tropes, though I imagine most of my audience is familiar with the phrase. (For those of you who aren't -- it's basically slang for a guy who attracts the attention of a lot of girls.)
Victor still had no idea how this had happened.
It just - it defied all sense, at least in his eyes. He was Victor Van Dort – skinny as a rail, whiter than a ghost, too tall for most people to meet his eyes, painfully shy, dreadfully clumsy, and with a distinct lack of interest in "manly" activities such as hunting or sport. Hardly the sort to make the ladies swoon. And swoon they had not - despite his mother's best efforts at all the various balls and soirees they'd attended, most women barely seemed to notice him at all. And the ones who did were either openly contemptuous about accepting him as a suitor, or only interested in hearing more about the Van Dort fortune. It had not surprised him in the least that his parents had had to resort to arranging his marriage with someone he'd never even met - even as his heart ached at the thought of being tied forever to someone who didn't love him.
And now. . .well. Now he'd had not one, but two gentle, kind, pretty young ladies express an interest in him within the space of a week. More than an interest, in fact – it was very clear both of them would not have minded being his wife. (Which was good, as one of them had been his arranged fiancee.) Even more incredibly, despite finding them both delightful company, he’d had to turn them down, because he was in love with a third girl. One who - well, he had no idea how she felt about him romantically. He was too afraid to ask. But she was obviously not repulsed by his presence, given how much time they spent together. In fact, she seemed to like him quite a lot. And not just for his money - for him. How could such a change be accounted for?
Maybe someone had slipped something into Secundus’s drinking water. . . .
Chapter 46: Lean On Me
Next up from Winter Bingo Card Four, we have "slippery!" Yes, we technically already did one kind of like this, back with the prompt "black ice", but this one's set in a different location -- and a different season. In fact, it's kind of a follow-up to a prompt I did for the other major prompt event of the year in Charloft -- 100 Drabbles of Summer! (Not yet up on AO3 as of this writing -- we'll get there eventually!) There, Victor was all excited about visiting the ice caves under Wonderland Park (inspired by the "Icy Reception" area of American McGee's Alice) to beat the summer heat. Here. . .well, he's learning rapidly about one of the downsides of the place. (And yes, it is basically this slippery in-game -- Victor should count himself lucky this version has no bottomless pits you can accidentally careen into!)
“Okay, I - oh! Oh! No no no no-”
BANG! Victor hissed in pain as his left side slammed into the icy floor of the cave for the third time. "How in God's name are you supposed to walk in this place?” he demanded, not even bothering to lift his head.
“Very carefully,” Alice said, sliding over to him with a grace that seemed to mock him with its very existence. "Trust me, I had plenty of trouble too when I first came here."
"I don't understand how you're not having trouble now! It's impossible!" Victor latched onto a nearby stalagmite, dragging himself into a kneeling position. "Ooof. . .if Doc and Marty get a glimpse of all the bruises I've collected, they're going to think I got into a fight!"
"No, they're not - they know you, Victor," Alice responded, offering him a hand. "And may I remind you, you were the one ready to go anywhere to keep out of the heat."
Victor scowled, but accepted the hand. “I didn’t realize the price was my legs betraying me even more than usual,” he grumbled, finally getting his feet back under him.
Alice smiled and pulled him close to her, slinging one arm tight around his back. “Well, that’s the nice thing about being here together – I’m always willing to be your crutch. Now watch closely - if you just follow what I do with my feet, you should be all right. . ."
Chapter 47: Playmate
Next up from Winter Bingo Card Four prompts -- "mirror!" This was actually an "author's choice" prompt -- I don't recall why I picked "mirror," though given the fic that resulted, I must have had Victor's childhood on the brain. What resulted is probably one of the cutest yet saddest things I've written. Poor little Victor. . .
“Would you like some more tea?”
“Yes, please! I would love another cup!”
"Coming right up!" Victor carefully picked up the teapot and poured a fresh cup of “tea” (actually some apple juice lent for the occasion by the chef) for his guest. "Does anyone else need a top-up?" he asked, looking around the table.
Whiskers and Spots didn't say anything - just looked at him with their button eyes. Victor decided to take that as a no. "All right then." He traded the teapot for the platter of petit fours (also a gift from the chef). "Shall we have our pastry then?"
This time, with the help of a finger, Whiskers and Spots both nodded. Victor distributed the tiny cakes, one to a plate, then dipped the plush cat and dog's heads so they could nibble as they pleased. He sat down and, after a sip of "tea," swallowed his treat in one bite. "Mmmmm. . .oh, aren't you hungry?" he asked, noticing the fourth cake still laying untouched.
"I'll have mine later," his other guest assured him with a little nod.
"All right then." Victor patted Whiskers, then took another sip of "tea." "I don't see why the other boys say 'tea party' is stupid," he said, rolling his eyes. "I'm having fun. Aren't you?"
“Lots!" his guest assured him. "I’m so glad you invited me.”
“I’m glad too." Victor looked into his half-empty teacup, a sudden wave of melancholy hitting him. "Just. . ."
Victor sighed, turning his gaze back up to the ornate mirror sitting across from him at the table. "Just I wish you could talk on your own sometimes.”
Chapter 48: Love To Hate You
Next up from Winter Bingo Card Four -- "hooks!" First thing that came to mind upon seeing that was Nell grousing that Alice had gotten her hooks into Victor, so I decided to run with that. This is part of a larger scene in my head where Victor decides to meet with his parents one last time before they leave the city, to see if any kind of reconciliation is possible. It isn't, mostly because Nell keeps saying shit like this. The title comes from a song by Die Happy -- I heard a snippet of it attached to a CB video once, and that particular bit struck me as very fitting for Nell's attitude toward Alice.
“This all really started when she got her hooks into you, didn’t it?”
Victor blinked as he looked back up from his tea. “W-what? Who?”
“That Alice woman,” Nell snapped, rolling her eyes. Why was her son so dim sometimes? Then again, his brain was literally no longer working properly. . . “Dr. Brown might have been the one to bring you here and brainwash you in the first place, but it’s her fault you stuck around so long! Batting her eyes at you, plying you with her womanly charms, making sure you were too tangled up in her and her poor excuses for friends to ever want to leave. . .she and Brown are probably in cahoots! Pushing you into being something you're not! I bet you anything she's–”
Nell stopped, stunned into silence by the sudden icy anger in her son’s voice. Victor leaned forward, dark eyes boring into her soul. “Don’t you say a word against Alice,” he continued, tone flinty - quite the opposite of her usually shy, retiring son. “There was no grand conspiracy. No manipulation of 'womanly charms.' I made friends. I fell in love. I chose to stay here of my own accord. And when the - the m-madness took me. . .she saved me. Brought me back to myself. It's thanks to her that I’m able to talk to you with any sort of sanity at the moment. So leave her out of this.”
With that, he leaned back, letting out a deep sigh. Nell opened her mouth, then closed it again, for once not sure at all what she wanted to say. Miss Liddell was the reason there was only a hint of madness lurking around Victor's eyes? The reason he could come and talk to them like this without breaking into cackling laughter? The reason he wasn't threatening them with some sort of horrible super-bug he'd whipped up in a Creative fit? The reason her son was still mostly her son?
. . .Preposterous. Nell set her jaw. She knew the truth. That girl was a resident of Secundus. She had to have done something to him. And even if what Victor saying was correct –
Well. Then Miss Liddell hadn’t done a good enough job.
Chapter 49: Baby’s First Christmas
Into the more holiday-themed prompts on Winter Bingo Card Four with "dreaming of a white Christmas!" When I originally went through the card, this was the last prompt I did, and I decided to go for the family-themed fluff. Chester's birthday is November 5th, so yes, he'd be much too young to appreciate Christmas his first time around. The reference to the snow possibly being vanilla ice cream is a reference to the ice cream snowstorm Flint Lockwood makes for Cal Devereaux's birthday in Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs -- Flint is part of the Secundus population in this verse, and he makes it snow ice cream every Christmas for the city. Because who among us wouldn't want THAT? XD
“Look, Chester! It’s snowing!”
Chester glanced vaguely at the window, then gurgled and went back to trying to suck on the corner of his blanket. Victor chuckled. “Yes, I know,” he said, gently pulling the fabric free of the infant's mouth. “You’re not even two months old yet. All you care about is when the next meal is coming.”
“Not quite true,” Alice said, leaning on the sill beside them. “He also cares about getting his diaper changed on time.”
“Fair enough - I would too.” Victor looked out at the white flakes drifting down outside, piling up against the glass. (Actual snow, or vanilla ice cream? Either was acceptable to him.) “I can hardly believe it's Christmas tomorrow already. This whole month has been a bit of a blur. . . Your first Christmas, and you don’t even know it’s a holiday,” he added teasingly, turning his attention back to his son.
Chester burbled and reached up toward him with a tiny hand. “He doesn’t have to know,” Alice said, offering him a finger to grasp. “It’s enough that we know.” She gave Victor a smile. “Our first Christmas as three, not two.”
“I know. It's–”
Victor stopped. Was it just him, or - were those tears in Alice's eyes? “Alice? Are you all right?” he asked, mood immediately switching from cheer to concern.
Alice blinked rapidly, shaking her head. “I’m fine,” she whispered. “I just. . .” She looked down at Chester, still gripping her finger, then up at him. "I seriously thought I'd never have a family Christmas again."
Victor nodded slowly. “Well, now you are,” he said, shifting position a bit so he could lean against her. “In fact, you’ll have so many, you’ll probably get sick of them by the time he’s eighteen.”
Alice laughed and kissed his cheek. “I could never. I love you, Victor.”
“I love you too, Alice. Merry Christmas.”
Chapter 50: Repeating the Past
Holy crap, we've hit 50 little ficlets! O.O Just in time for Christmas too -- and, accordingly, this week's Winter Bingo Card Four prompt is also Christmas-themed: "ghost of Christmas past!" Pretty much the moment I saw this one, I knew what I wanted to do with it -- I'd already established Victor and Alice's first son, Chester, as essentially a Victor clone with Alice's eyes, so seeing his kid opening presents on Christmas was naturally going to make Victor think of his own childhood. And, as a bonus, I was able to establish this as the moment when Victor and Alice decided they wanted more kids, leading to Chester's eventual siblings Vincent and Lorina! Nice!
“All right, what’s got you staring at your son as if you’ve never seen him before?”
“Nothing,” Victor replied, not taking his eyes off Chester as the little boy unwrapped another present. “The whole reason I’m staring is because I have seen him before. In the mirror.”
Alice looked between husband and son. "So you still think you look the same as you did at two years old?" she asked, giving him a playful nudge.
"You know what I mean," Victor said, nudging her back. "Besides, my mother has pictures - which I've seen far too often. And. . ." He bit his lip as Chester squealed, lifting a toy butterfly out of the box. "M-maybe I'm just imagining things, but I - I very vaguely remembering doing just what he's doing when I was two. It's like - like I've s-suddenly stepped into a moment from my own past. I keep expecting to look over and see William and Nell on the loveseat."
"I'd better not spot them there," Alice said, sending a glare toward the invisible couple. Then her face softened as she touched Victor's arm. "Does it bother you?"
“It – it makes me w-worry,” Victor admitted, voice low, watching Chester hug the butterfly. “That I’m g-going to make the same mistakes they made. Ruin things for Chester like they did for me.”
Alice wrapped her arm around him, giving him a squeeze. “You won’t. Your son may be a clone of you, but you're the farthest thing from a clone of William or Nell Van Dort. And you're far, far away from Burtonsville now. Perhaps you'll make mistakes, but they'll be your own mistakes - not theirs." She leaned her head against his shoulder. "And you've got me too, don't forget. We're in this together. And if I have any say in it, Chester is going to have a much better childhood than you did. I promise."
Victor smiled, finally managing to tear his eyes away from the toddler to kiss her forehead. "Thanks."
“Daddy!” Chester toddled over and tugged on Victor’s pants leg, holding up the butterfly. “Make it work!”
"What do we say?" Victor replied, leaning over him.
"Thank you." Victor obligingly wound up the butterfly and sent it flying around the room. He watched as Chester scrambled after it, bouncing and giggling all the while. “Alice?” he finally said.
“D-do – do you think a second child would look more like me or like you?”
Alice grinned. “I think we should find out.”
Chapter 51: A Perfect Moment
And onto a less wintry-themed prompt from Winter Bingo Card Four -- "commitment!" This kind of demanded a marriage-related short -- and after searching a bit through my backlog, I realized I'd never actually done the moment where Victor proposed! So -- here you go.
Well - this was it. The big moment. Victor fiddled with the box in his pocket, willing the butterflies fluttering about his stomach to go away. He was almost certain he already knew what Alice's answer to his question would be, but - well, he'd been a worrier all his life. Old habits died hard. And, as the little voice at the back of his head kept reminding him, there was always that tiny chance things wouldn't go the way he expected. That - that this was too soon, or he'd fumble his words, or Alice simply wouldn't be interested, and -
Victor blinked, coming back to reality to see Alice frowning at him over her teacup. "Is something wrong?" she asked, all concern. "You’ve seemed on edge all throughout this picnic."
Victor rubbed his face, forcing himself to take a deep, calming breath. "Sorry," he murmured. "I know I h-haven't been my best today. It’s just–" Was it just him, or had the box gotten heavier all of a sudden? "I have something v-very important to ask you."
Alice froze, teacup pressed against her lips. Then, suddenly, she grinned. “Oooh.” She set aside the cup and scooted so she was sitting directly in front of him, almost nose to nose. “Well, then - better ask it.”
The butterflies soared through his throat, choking his voice. And here he was, thinking that if she guessed the true purpose of the outing, it would make things easier! “W-what? Right - right now?” he managed to croak. Part of him was all for just getting it over with, but – he’d kind of hoped to build up to it a bit more. Say a few romantic things, make a grand gesture or two - play the part of a proper suitor. Not just blurt it out like a ninny.
“You never know when something might ruin the moment,” Alice said, and while her tone was light her eyes were serious. She took his hand. “Right here, right now, everything is perfect. And that’s just how I want to remember this.”
Victor glanced around. She - had a good point. The sun was high and warm, hanging in a perfectly blue sky; the trees tall and green, providing just the right amount of shade; the flowers brilliantly colorful, sending sweet perfume dancing their way on the breeze. And Alice - she'd never looked prettier, favoring him with that delightful smile. How much better could this particular moment get? And with how chaotic Secundus was even on a good day. . .the butterflies calmed as he pulled the box from his pocket. “Alice Liddell, will you marry me?” he whispered, flipping open the lid to reveal the ring.
Alice beamed, presenting her hand. “Yes, I will.”
Two minutes after he slipped the ring on her finger, they had to deal with a stray Boojum raiding their basket, but at least Victor knew the most important moment of the day hadn’t been ruined.
Chapter 52: So Long To Sunshine
Moving onto a sad Winter Bingo Card Four prompt -- "drummer." Sad why, you ask? Well, for reasons I forget now (possibly it was just raining outside at the time), the prompt made me think of rain drumming on a carriage roof. Which my brain took as an opportunity to frame as a rainy day at a funeral. Even worse, originally, it was Victor's funeral -- a "what if?" short where he never went to Secundus, but ended up going Creative anyway from something else and accidentally killed himself trying to set up an experiment. I couldn't bring myself to write it and decided to go with a more canonical sad occasion -- Lewis Carroll's funeral. Even if they have no body to bury, his friends want to honor his memory somehow. Sorry you had to die for my plot, Lewis. At least know you were well-liked.
The rain drummed against the roof of the carriage as it pulled up to the cemetery gates. Victor glanced out the window, watching the drops stream down the glass like someone had put a faucet over it. He hadn't seen weather this bad since he'd first arrived in Secundus. Had someone with a weather machine specifically programmed the day to be this miserable? He tipped his hat to them if so - it matched his mood and the occasion perfectly.
A hand on his wrist made him turn. "Are you all right?" Alice asked softly.
Victor shook his head. There was no point in lying. "I - h-honestly, I can't believe you didn't do this already," he said softly, looking between her, Doc, and Marty. "Given the circumstances."
"We weren't going to hold it without you," Alice said, rubbing his hand. "He would have wanted you there."
"Not to mention we had to make absolutely sure his body wasn't going to turn up," Doc added, voice hushed. "Would have been nice to have something to bury. Or, preferably, try to reanimate."
"Yeah - Finklestein being around means lots of funerals happen after you thought they would," Marty confirmed. "Honestly, we might be holding it early compared to most around here."
Victor nodded. "I see." He sighed deeply, the old, familiar ache of guilt pulsing in his chest. "It's not fair."
“Not much is in this life,” Alice said, eyes much older than her nineteen-odd years. "Take it from someone who knows."
Marty opened his door, shaking his head. “Come on, guys. Let's not keep the others waiting.”
They exited the cab, popping open umbrellas and heading up the path to the chosen spot. Father Gale, Christopher, Richard, Cheshire, and the others were already gathered there, huddled under their own meager protection against the rain. Victor wiped the wet out of his eyes as he gazed upon the headstone - a simple thing, stating only name, date of birth, and "He Will Be Missed." The perfect marker for a grave without an occupant. His stomach clenched. How could all this be happening? Why hadn't Lewis simply - why hadn't he noticed -
Alice wrapped a steadying arm around him. “Please, Victor," she whispered, leaning her head against his shoulder. "It wasn’t your fault.”
Everyone kept telling him that. Only when she said it did he really believe it. “I’ll t-try to remember that,” he whispered back, squeezing her tight against him.
"Are we all assembled?" The group nodded. Father Gale opened his book. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to say goodbye to the soul of Lewis Lutwidge Carroll. . . .”
Chapter 53: Know Your Customer
All right, time to lighten the mood again -- this next Winter Bingo Card Four prompt is "hay!" This one's a pure dialogue comedy piece, all about an eager salesman who really should have let Victor get a word in edgewise.
“Er – hello?”
“Hello, sir! Might I trouble you for a moment of your time?”
“Wonderful! Now, I see you have a fine stable over there, with a fine horse inside, I’m sure! And a fine horse needs only the finest food! Here I have a sample of–”
“Oh, no thank you, we don’t need anything.”
“Nonsense! You won’t find a finer crop of hay anywhere in this whole city! It’s been modified to grow quicker, with more nutrients, then any other hay around! Horses who eat this hay are healthier, faster, stronger, and all around better! Go ahead, let me try a sample on your beast!”
“No, you see–”
“Right in here, is he?”
“Yes, but he isn’t–”
“Just trust me! This hay is the most magnificent hay anyone could ever grow and cut! He’ll love it!”
“I assure you he won’t, because–”
“Oh, come on, what’s so wrong with your – your–”
“Yes, you see, butterflies don’t typically eat hay. Now, if you were selling a new and improved form of nectar. . . .”
Chapter 54: Long-Lost, Newly-Found
Next up on Winter Bingo Card Four -- "aunt!" Which reveals a family member that Victor only just knew about, growing up. . .yes, Nell in fact has a sister! She was the older of two girls from a rather poor family, and she left her parents and sister in the dust pretty much the moment she got William to marry her. Elaine doesn't have the riches Nell has -- she works as a washerwoman -- but she has a lot more common sense, compassion, and -- fortunately for Victor -- tolerance of the weird. I confess to never having a solid idea in mind for the setting of this one -- it's definitely not Secundus, and Victor's not likely to ever go back to Burtonsville at this point. . .my best guess is Victor's a trip to London, possibly to attend some "normal" scientific conference on butterflies.
Victor hopped backwards, hands held up in his standard gesture of apology. "Do excuse me. I didn’t see you there.”
"Don't worry, dear," the woman he'd just bumped into replied, brushing off her skirts. "It’s quite all–”
She froze as she looked up at him, eyes wide. Victor stared back, confused. Why did she seem so startled, all of a sudden? "Er - i-is something wrong?" he asked, fighting back a growing feeling of unease.
“You look familiar. . .” The woman straightened up, scrutinizing Victor from head to toe. “Your last name’s not - Van Dort, is it?”
Victor tensed. Oh no - was she a displaced Burtonsvillian? And here I thought none of them ever left except me. . . “Er, yes.”
“Related to William Van Dort?”
“Yes, I’m - I was his son," Victor corrected himself, biting his lip.
The woman gasped. “Oh my goodness - Victor!" she cried, grabbing his hand. "I would have never expected to meet you here! Or anywhere, really, given how Nell is. And here's me thinking she's exaggerating when she said you sprang up like a birch tree - you're six feet if you're an inch! What brings you to London?”
“I - wha - beg pardon?” Victor sputtered, pulling his arm away. “Who are you?”
The woman huffed. “And here I thought she'd at least mention me to her own kin - hello, Victor, I'm your aunt."
Victor's eyes nearly popped out of his head. "You're - my - what?"
"Elaine Cobbler," the woman introduced herself, holding out her hand. "Your mum's younger sister. Not that she cared to acknowledge my existence in public once she landed her rich husband,” she added, scowling. “But she deigned to send the occasional letter and picture my way. I always did want to meet you properly.”
“Oh!" Victor pressed his hands over his mouth. "I - s-she did mention you. Occasionally. Around holidays." More or less to cluck over how you'd never made anything of yourself, not that you need to hear that. "I’m – I’m glad to meet you too!" He pulled at his tie. "Um – h-how are you?”
“Just fine, dear," Elaine said, smiling. "Quite happy to see you in the flesh at last! How long are you in the city? I would like to get together and have a proper chat at last. Hear all the things Nell left out of her letters.”
Like how I was accidentally kidnapped by a flying steam train and taken to the Mad Science Capital of the World? Victor thought, twisting his tie into a corkscrew. How I fell in love with someone there after they'd arranged my marriage? How I Went Creative and murdered a tentacle monster? How I'm currently in town to show off some of my Fabricated butterflies? Oh dear, she seems nice, but she is related to my mother. . .but then again, I'm related to my mother, and look at me. I should at least give her a chance. "I'll b-be here until the end of the week," he told her. "Perhaps we could have c-coffee tomorrow? There seems to be no shortage of shops. . ."
“I'd like that," Elaine replied. "I want to know everything you've been up to. Especially - did you know your name was in the paper a while back? Said you helped save Secundus! I wasn't sure what to make of it - especially since Nell didn't say anything about it at all that Christmas. In fact, she didn't mention you in the whole letter - and didn't reply when I asked." She clasped her hands, eyes all concern. "Did something - happen, Victor?"
Victor nodded slowly, confidence buoyed a bit by the worry in her tone. "A big something. It's a story best told over a lot of coffee and donuts, Mrs. Cobbler."
"We'll want to go to the Ground Fresh coffee house then. And please, call me Aunt Elaine," Elaine said, giving his arm a pat.
That got a smile out of him. "All right - Aunt Elaine."
Chapter 55: A Different Sort of Decoration
All right, we're done with Winter Bingo cards! Let's move onto something a bit different -- some prompt fic of my own design. For a couple of years, I did various Christmas fic-a-thons over on my LiveJournal/Dreamwidth, and in 2011 I decided to do a series of twelve for the 12 Days of Christmas. This prompt, Day 3: wreath, was inspired by Butterfly Boy (my roleplaying journal for the Secundus version of Victor) posting a picture of some steampunk ornaments on the Charloft community on LiveJournal. Shortly thereafter, the image of clockwork wreaths sprung into my mind, which in turn made me think of Doc putting one on his door -- and the rest flowed from there. It got slightly depressing at the end without me meaning it to (writing about Nell and Victor's childhood tends to do that), but at least it also reaffirms Victor's finally gotten the family he's always wanted.
“And – there!”
Doc snipped the final bit of wire, then held up his handiwork for Victor and Marty to admire. “What do you think?”
“Looks great, Doc,” Marty said, giving his friend a thumbs up.
“It’s just perfect for the shop,” Victor agreed with a grin.
“Thanks – I thought so,” Doc said, turning the wreath back toward himself. It was an eclectic conglomeration of wheels, gears, and cogs, all carefully interlocked into a large ring and reinforced with steel wire. Soldered across the top arc were the words “Merry Christmas” written in bent nails and screws. “And frankly, metal is easier to get than greenery in this part of the city. Cheaper, too.” He headed for the front door, his two assistants following. “I suppose I could paint it green, all things considered. . . .”
“No, it’s perfect the way it is,” Victor assured him. He watched as Doc positioned the wreath just so on the door. “Just. . .perfect.”
Marty glanced up at him, frowning. “You okay? You sounded a little - distant, for a sec.”
“I’m just - remembering Christmas in Burtonsville," Victor admitted, fiddling with his fingers. "The way my mother would cover our house, inside and out, with expensive decorations to impress the neighbors.” He looked again at the wreath, hanging humbly from its nail. “And this - this outshines them all. B-because it was made with real attention. Real – love.”
There was silence for a moment. Then Doc and Marty moved in unison to wrap Victor in a tight hug. “You're far away from those assholes now," Marty reminded him. "Them and their fakey Christmas."
“We’ll always be here for you, Victor,” Doc added, patting his back. “Don’t ever forget that.”
Victor smiled and hugged back. “I won’t. I promise.”
Chapter 56: Missing Christmas
Onto another homemade prompt -- which doesn't actually HAVE an associated word this time. It's just 25 Days of Multiverse 2013, Day Six. As you might guess, this was another self-imposed Christmas challenge -- 25 short Christmas-themed stories, sent in every possible fic universe I could think of to write in. Secundus was obviously one of those, and claimed the sixth spot. And I decided, for this one, I wanted to do something really different.
Not feature Victor.
At least, not in the starring role. Instead, I went with Marty and his girlfriend Jennifer as the main characters, and decided to make it about the Christmas that separates "Secundus" from "Secundus 2." Marty and Doc return to Hill Valley in-between the stories, you see, and -- well, while they're back to be with their loved ones. . .they're also missing the ones they left behind. A dose of fluff mixed with a dose of angst -- my favorite.
“Man – it’s great to be home for the holidays. I missed too many Christmases with you, Jen.”
“You only missed two,” Jennifer pointed out, giggling.
“And that's two too many,” Marty replied, leaning in to give her a kiss. “I mean, yeah, Christmas in Secundus was pretty wild, but you were always on my mind this time of year.”
“So were you.” Jennifer returned the kiss before snuggling into him. “It's great to have you back.”
"It's great to be back! Still can't believe the mayor actually forgave us. Sort of."
Jennifer chuckled. "Well, he isn't trying to string you up. I guess that's enough." She studied his face in the firelight. "You sure you're okay, Marty?"
"Yeah." Marty frowned at her. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"You just - look a little wistful." She bit her lip. "Somebody else on your mind now that you've got me back?"
Marty sighed. "Sheesh - I'm that obvious, huh? Sorry, Jen - I promise, I'm thrilled to be back here with you. Just. . .I had a lot of friends over in Secundus too. Richard, Emily, Christopher, Victoria, Alice. . .Victor. . ."
Jennifer patted his shoulder. "Still can't believe you and Doc basically kidnapped a guy into being your other best friend."
That got a snort. "Hey, we offered to bring him back. He said he wanted to stay." He sighed again, long and low. "But yeah. . .he really is. I wish you could have met him, Jennifer. All of them."
Jennifer kissed his cheek. “Well, hopefully one day I will.”
Chapter 57: Perfect Evening
All right, back to the Charloft prompts for a bit as -- at the time of this note -- it's coming up on Valentine's Day, and the community had a Valentine's challenge! The Cupid Challenge wasn't as involved as Winter Bingo or the 100 Drabbles of Summer, but it was fun nonetheless. The aim of the game was, you got a list of six random words, and you had to write a short fic incorporating as many as possible. I did it twice and got all six words both times. Here's my first entry, with the list: dinner, stockings, lay, selflessness, balloons, movies Not NSFW, but it does hint at naughtiness!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It had been a truly perfect evening, Alice decided afterwards.
Not that she'd thought their first anniversary as a married couple would be bad - far from it. But she'd thought that they would have a simple, quiet night in. Nothing fancy or over-the-top - they weren't those kind of people. Just an acknowledgement and an exchange of gifts. A tiny celebration didn't mean they loved each other any less.
Instead, Victor had pounced on her almost the moment she came home, happily brandishing two sets of tickets - one to dinner at the Roofless, and the second to the new entertainment that had sprung up lately - the "movies." She'd been startled but game, and after a quick exchange of clothes, they hit the town. Their meal was delicious, Flint's invention in fine form. He'd even been kind enough to order up cake for them on the house. And the film - oh, it had been magical! The way Pratchett Studios brought still images to life like that, stringing them together into a story of a trip to the dark side of the moon - even after years in Secundus, little things like that still amazed her. She'd already reserved their tickets for the next one to come out.
And then they'd gone back home, and - well. Somehow, Victor had made her feel even better. She was still astonished by his devotion to her, his utter selflessness when it came to her pleasure. Some of the things he did when they lay together – well, it made one feel giddy, like she’d swallowed the gas from a couple of balloons. It was nights like these, lying wrapped in his arms, feeling warm and loved, that made her realize just how truly lucky they’d been to find each other.
Yes, it had been a perfect evening. Now, if only she could find her stockings. . . .
"Pratchett Studios" is a nod to Terry Pratchett, one of my favorite authors -- Secundusians going to the movies made me think of his early Discworld book Moving Pictures, where Ankh-Morpork briefly gets them. Fortunately there's less eldritch things trying to break through the fabric of reality in Secundus.
Chapter 58: It's The Little Things
And here's the second Cupid's Challenge fic -- this time, the word list is belt, bird, pleasure, twine, desire, St. Valentine. And, once again, I ended up on the sexier side of the street -- wouldn't call it Not Safe For Work, but it's even closer to that line than the previous fic was. At least that one was mostly about a date. . .
At times like this, Victor noticed, it was the little things that caught his attention.
Things like the way Alice's hands brushed against his waist as they worked to get his belt off with utmost speed. Her silky hair sliding through his twined fingers as her lips insistently sought his. Her leg rubbing against his own as they made the most of the narrow bed. His heart thrummed in his chest, like a bird beating its wings against his ribs. He hadn't known he was capable of this much desire - this much pleasure. And they'd only just barely begun! There was still so much more to see, to feel, to smell, to taste. . .so many other little things to enjoy. . .
Alice broke away for a moment as she finally slipped off the offending loop of leather. "Glad we decided to spend the evening in?" she whispered.
"Extremely," Victor replied, grinning through a kiss-bruised mouth.
He really loved St. Valentine’s Day.
Chapter 59: Carnival Cups
Okay, this is a truly random bit of story I came up with after reblogging a particular picture from the The Art of Alice: Madness Returns book. The image in question featured a potential platforming section where Alice was jumping on wobbly stacks of plates, with giant teapots all around making things more difficult by pouring hot tea onto them. Near the back, though, another giant teapot caught my eye -- this one sporting a carnival-like dome, with teacups sat all around it on a huge serving dish like a carousel. Obviously my brain immediately made a connection with the famous "spinning teacups" ride, like you can find at the Disney parks. That seemed like something tea-obsessed Richard would build for funsies -- and so this short was born! Since I wanted Clara Brown, nee Clayton, involved, this takes place after "Secundus 2" and the birth of Chester -- you can assume the infant's off to the side with Great-Aunt Susan and Great-Uncle Charles, being spoiled.
Alice laughed, twisting the wheel set between her and Victor even faster. "Come on, darling, keep up!" she mock-scolded, as they went round and round and round.
"I'm trying!" Victor said, caught between amusement and terror as he desperately tried to match his wife's pace. "I swear you're going to send us spinning right off this thing!"
"Think of it as a stress test," Alice said, beaming. Around them, the world whirled and twirled frantically, nothing but streaks of green and yellow and gray and brown. "Richard did want to see how well this thing worked!"
"I think it works just fine!" Victor gripped the sides of the oversized teacup and risked a peek at the other passengers of the ride – what he could see of them with Alice determinedly whipping them in circles. Doc and Clara seemed to be doing well, laughing and whooping as they spun in place. Marty too appeared to be having the time of his life – Jennifer seemed to share Victor's opinion that a slightly more sedate pace would be more enjoyable. He couldn't see Victoria and Christopher or Richard and Emily – their seats were on the other side of the giant teapot that dominated the middle of the main platform – but he could hear the ladies shrieking in what he guessed was delight. It was fun, but. . . "Can't we go a little slower?" he begged, sinking back down into his seat and pressing a hand to his forehead. "I'm getting really dizzy."
Something in his tone must have added, And I'm liable to be sick soon, because Alice immediately halted her mad spinning. "Sorry," she said, grimacing as they began to slow. "I forgot for a moment you loaded up on squimberry tarts before Richard insisted we try this."
"Not the best idea," Victor agreed, relaxing a little as the individual trees and bushes of Wonderland Park came back into view. Oh, that was better. . . "I didn't mean to ruin your fun."
"Oh, not at all," Alice assured him, scooting over to pat his hand. "I just got caught up in the moment." She looked around at a soft grrrrumble of hidden gears. "Besides, it seems the ride's over anyway."
Indeed, all the other teacups were slowing down as well, as the main platform ceased its steady rotation. There was a little bump as everything came to a standstill, and then a wheeeeeeee of steam from the teapot's spout. Richard promptly burst from the control center hiding inside of it, bounding from teacup to teacup to check with everyone. "Well? What did you think? Did you like it?"
"Marvelous!" Doc declared, Clara applauding.
"Yeah, totally!" Marty agreed, as Jennifer mustered up a smile. "You sell these things to a carnival, you'd make a mint!"
"I enjoyed myself – I'm not so sure about Victor," Alice said, rubbing her husband's back.
"Oh, I was fine for most of it," Victor assured both her and a frowning Richard. He rubbed his still-roiling stomach. "But I think you should add a warning sign about not eating right before you get on."
"Noted," Richard said, pulling a pad of paper from his hat. "Christopher and Victoria were looking a bit green too – and I know green," he added, tapping his temple with his pen.
Victor laughed. "It was fun, though. I think Marty's right – any carnival worth its salt would love this."
"Well, tis the season – we'll see what happens the next time a circus passes through." Richard pursed his lips, then started scribbling something else down. "Here – what do you think about a version where the teapot in the middle spins too – and occasionally tips over to splash people with tea?"
"I think you'd only get away with that in summer, and only if it was cold tea," Alice said.
"Or plain water," Victor agreed. "Though, on that note. . .maybe a teapot water slide is something to consider?"
Chapter 60: Keeping Victor Victor
We now move to another set of self-directed prompts -- the Drabbles88! This was a table of 88 prompts that I created specifically for Back To The Future-related fic (BTTF being the fandom for me back in the day). Naturally, a few prompts ended up being set in the world of Secundus. This one is 62. Disease, which features Doc's thoughts on Victor's recent Going Creative right after he got the poor guy home post the climax. As you might imagine, he's a bit worried. . .
So - now we wait.
Doc closed his bedroom door with a sigh. Part of him said that he was doing something incredibly stupid – Victor had just Gone Creative! In a major way! He needed to be monitored carefully, to prevent further incidents! But - but his friend had already been through so much, with Alice and the Queen. . .and he'd gotten a dose of Richard's strongest sedative. Surely they could risk giving him a bit of privacy to sleep. Maybe in an hour they'd come back around and see if - if. . .
Doc's head bonked against the door, almost of its own accord. How the hell had all this happened?! Yesterday, if you'd suggested that Victor Van Dort - shy, introverted, mundane Victor - could have Atypical Scientific Neural Disorder, he would have laughed at the apparent joke. Never in a million years would he have guessed his newest assistant was a latent mad scientist in the making. Sure, Victor had been utterly fascinated by Secundus and its various Inventions, but you didn't have to be a Touched to appreciate the fruits of their labors. And yes, he'd had an interest in butterflies that went beyond the norm, but Regular people could develop scientific obsessions as well. Victor - Victor had just never seemed the type to Go Creative, once and for all. He'd been too quiet, too gentle, too - stable.
And yet, not an hour ago, that same quite, gentle, stable young man had stormed dramatically into the flesh-tainted hell that made up the inner sanctum of Looking-Glass House, killed the monstrous Queen with an equally horrific Invention, then gone off on a rant worthy of a Frankenstein (or hell, maybe even a Heterodyne). Doc had seen up close the fire in the Victor’s eyes, heard the distinct change in tone that signaled Creativity. Not to mention witnessed what Victor had done to Emily (though she'd taken pains to assure everyone she was really all right). Proof that one could never assume they knew for sure someone was safe from the madness. And now. . .
Doc lifted his head and turned around. Marty was still disheveled from their adventure, spattered with blood and other substances of more mysterious origin. He was pale underneath the grime, blue eyes wide with fright, voice strained. “He’s – he’s gonna be okay, right?”
"I-" Damn it, what did he say? Marty had a lot of experience with the Touched, but Doc was ninety-nine percent certain this had been his first time witnessing a Creative breakthrough. Under less than ideal circumstances no less. And the kid was an excellent assistant, and easily his best friend, but - he was also a Regular. There were just some things he couldn't understand. Things like ideas building up in your head, invading your dreams, crowding out every other thought - churning and burning and spinning until one day - one day you just snapped and all of them came pouring out of you, a wonderful and deadly river of science, your mind opening up to both the wonders and the horrors of the universe, and - unless you held on with every last ounce of your might - the old you just –
Doc squeezed his eyes closed, getting a grip on himself. Decades on and still those memories gave him the chills. . . And now Victor was fighting the same current - the same madness. A madness that had already caused him to break down once. . . Doc shivered, recalling all the little notices in the paper of new Touched who'd met terrible ends. It had taken him considerable time and willpower to pull himself back from the brink when he'd Gone Creative. What hope did anxious, so unsure of himself Victor have?
Well - me, for one, a voice piped up from the back of his head. And Marty. And Alice and Richard and Christopher and Victoria and Emily and - hell, probably the whole damn city, once they hear he's responsible for the death of the Queen. If nothing else, we can make sure he doesn't go through this alone. That, unlike most of us, he has someone nearby to help. Someone who can understand.
Doc nodded and beckoned Marty into a hug. "We'll look after him," he said softly, aware that it was something of a non-answer. But it was the best he could give, under the circumstances. They were all in for a bumpy road ahead, adjusting to the new status quo. But Victor was his friend, and damned if he wasn't going to do everything in his power to save him. "Maybe, together, we can keep Victor – Victor."
Chapter 61: Becoming Family
Next from the Drabbles88 -- 64. Healing! Which, uh, turned into a story about Marty wishing he could be actually related to Doc and Victor. Had to do some serious editing to get something related to the actual prompt in there. Look, sometimes I REALLY want to write a certain story, and I'll take any excuse to get it out into the world. (See also: all those chapters of "The Technicolor Phase" that have barely anything to do with their titular colors.)
On the whole, Marty McFly knew he'd had a pretty good life. Sure, there had been a few dark spots here and there - dealing with Buford Tannen's constant threats growing up, the incident with the mayor that had driven him and Doc to Secundus, the whole business with the Queen of Hearts, and of course all the bullshit that had gone down around his wedding. But all that was in the past, and, overall, he had very little to complain about. He was married to the love of his life, father to two wonderful children, had a home in the most amazing city in the entire world, was growing his name in the music industry, and still found time to hang out with his circle of absolutely awesome friends. Who could wish for anything more?
And yet. . .there was still something missing. Some little wound that just wouldn't heal. One that twinged every time he helped Doc out on a project, or popped into Victor's lab to see his latest creation. One that ached whenever they had a triple date night at the Roofless, or a picnic with the kids at Wonderland Park, or just hung out together at Richard's shop, shooting the breeze. Marty did his best to ignore it, hide it, push it away - but it always came back. And always accompanied by the same thought: Damn it, I wish you guys were my family.
He couldn't help it. He had nothing against his actual blood relatives - he loved his extended clan of McFlys and Baineses. It was just - Doc and Victor were his best friends. They'd been together through thick and thin, the worst and best times of their lives. The bond between them - Marty was pretty sure he was closer to them than some of his own kin. (Particularly grumpy Grandpa Sam and always-in-jail Uncle Joey. . .) And it just - annoyed him that he couldn't get away with calling them his "family" without getting weird looks from people. Sure, his wife and his other friends understood, but - he wanted something official. Something he could point to if anyone ever gave him grief. And he couldn't think of a way to get it.
And then, one fateful day, Jules Brown came up to him and announced, "Marlene and I want to make it official, Marty. We've been dating for a year and a half and - we know. This is it. Could you give us your blessing, please?" And just two days after that, Douglas had brought Lorina Van Dort to dinner and announced, "So I proposed today, everybody - and she said yes! We're getting married right after Jules and Marlene!" And Marty had just gawked at it all, letting Jennifer fuss over his two suddenly-engaged children. Engaged to the children of his two best friends. Which meant, in a few short months, they'd all be - in-laws.
They’d all be family.
The wound closed up as Marty smiled.
He definitely wanted copies of these marriage licenses.
Chapter 62: Envy's Death
Next up from the old Drabbles88 prompts, we have 83. Green! Which I interpreted as "green with envy," leading to Doc ruminating about his love life -- or lack thereof, compared to his friends in the first story. Fortunately, as the ending indicates, this gets rectified pretty quickly in the sequel. . .
Doc didn’t like to admit it, but, sometimes, he envied his younger friends.
Not for their youth, mind. Even in his sixties, he felt he was as hale and hearty as ever. He could keep up with any of his less-temporally-challenged pals - in fact, as Marty was fond of pointing out, he could even outpace them sometimes. And he certainly hadn't lost his wonder over all the various strange and magical things that happened in Secundus - hell, he contributed to them. No, what he coveted from the younger set was their luck in love. He'd only ever had two girlfriends in his life, and both of the relationships had ended disastrously - one revealed to be only interested in his potential inheritance, spurning him the moment he was disowned; the other only putting on an act for the sake of her father, leaving him the minute he was of no use to them anymore. Having one's heart broken so thoroughly twice over had been enough to harden him to the wonders and mysteries of love - instead, he'd thrown himself into his science, neglecting the matter altogether. It wasn't until Marty broke into his place, unintimidated by his reputation and fascinated by his Inventions, that he'd even opened himself up to the idea of having friends again. And not until they both moved to Secundus that he'd really developed a proper social life. He had quite enough excitement in his life, juggling Marty and Christopher and Richard and Victor. Romantic companionship, he told himself, wasn't for him.
And then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, he was surrounded by engagements and married couples. Oh, sure, Marty had been dating Jennifer for almost as long as Doc had known him - but Richard and Christopher had seemed perennial bachelors, much like himself. Too interested in SCIENCE! to bother with love. And Victor. . .well, he'd chosen to stay in Secundus after his accidental kidnapping to escape an arranged marriage. What were the chances that he'd find the love his life his second day there? Or that his fiancee, in chasing him, would catch the eye of Christopher? Or that he'd lure a lost bride out of Finklestein's castle and into Richard's heart? And Doc was happy for them - stood in their wedding parties, bought gifts, wished them well - but - he couldn't deny seeing them joyfully standing at the altar tore open a lot of old wounds. He'd wanted that, once upon a time. Wanted a wife and children and a home that wasn't just a couple of rooms above his lab. But he'd simply never found the one for him. The one who shared his passions, the one who looked upon all his quirks with a smile. The one with whom it all felt - right. And now that he was in his sixties. . . Better to keep things as they'd always been. Better to tamp it all down, smile as Marty popped the question and made his plans, and prepare himself to be the best "uncle" possible to his friends' children.
And then, mere days before Marty’s wedding would make him the fifth wheel forever, he saved Clara Clayton from falling into Shonash Ravine. And the instant he met her eyes – he suddenly realized he’d found the love he’d been looking for.
Chapter 63: Thunder In The Heart
And now the last of my Drabbles88 prompts, 33. Thunder! Rather than going for something weather-related, though, I decided to do something in the vein of the expression "his face was thunderous" -- and Doc getting mad at Victor's biological parents certainly seemed to fit the bill. . . This also serves as a sequel of sorts to "Comfort For The Soul," one of the Winter Bingo prompts from earlier. Seems Victor needs a bit more comfort after that infamous lunch.
(For those not in the know, Baron Wulfenbach is from Girl Genius, and one of his things is doing experiments on Sparks to see where it lives in the brain. Namely by causing massive amounts of brain damage until they're not longer Sparks. Yeaaah. . .)
All right, so that should fix our shock problem. Now, onto the helmet. . .if I adjust those scalp relays by 2.36 centimeters, I should be able to -
Doc blinked, pulled out of his tinkering haze. He looked up to see Victor closing the shop door behind him. "Ah, there you are!" he greeted him, standing up and wiping his hands on a rag. "How did–”
He stopped. Victor was still leaning against the door, slumped over with a rather - drained look about him. Like Marty after a bad argument with Jennifer. But Victor had been on his way to see his parents, not Alice. . .the first prickles of worry danced over Doc's brain. "Victor?" he asked, coming around the counter and putting a hand on his young friend's shoulder. "Are you all right?"
Victor sucked in a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “I – I’m better than I was,” he said, voice soft. “I stopped by the church before coming here. I needed to talk to Father Gale.”
“Father Gale?” That was - unusual. They were all on good enough terms with the keeper of the First Church of Steam, yes, but none of them were that religious. Why had Victor suddenly felt the need to see him?
"It was just - my parents - they disowned me, Doc," Victor whispered, not looking up from his shoes. "Said they couldn't - i-it's funny, I was s-sort of expecting it, but – to actually hear them say it. . .”
Ah. Doc couldn't deny that he'd been sort of waiting for this moment himself. He squeezed Victor's shoulder. "I'm sorry. It's never fun to be thrown out onto the streets, is it?" He laughed bitterly. "At least it isn't literally in your case. We're lucky your father isn't the sort to do what mine did when I went Creative."
"No, but. . ." Victor covered his face. "They said – they said they wanted me fixed. A-as if my brain was nothing more than a s-sticky flywheel. And when I t-told them no psychiatrist could d-do that, Mother – Mother b-brought up the old Baron Wulfenbach-”
Doc's blood flash-froze. Victor's parents - they'd really - they'd even hinted that - he gritted his teeth, thunder booming and lightning flashing in the back of his mind. And here he thought no one could be worse than Elias Von Braun. . . “They. Said. What.”
“They didn’t a-actually mean it,” Victor said quickly, holding up a hand. “Mother b-backpedaled immediately, s-said she only meant him as an example – but still. . .” He looked at Doc with watery eyes. “They think I'm d-damned. A m-m-monster. They'd - they'd rather have me as a - a vegetable than-”
He broke down entirely, his ability to speak choked off by tears. Doc promptly wrapped him in the tightest hug he could muster. "It's all right," he said, struggling to keep the note of rage out of his voice. "You're home now. And you never have to see them again." He pulled back slightly. "Want me to make you a cup of tea?"
Victor nodded. "Please." He wiped his eyes with his sleeve. "S-sorry, I thought I'd gotten all this out with Father Gale. . ."
"Don't you worry about it," Doc assured him, leading him toward the stairs with a hand on his back. "Just sit back and let me take care of you for a bit."
Oh, if the Van Dorts ever dared show their faces in his shop again – there were going to be Words.
Chapter 64: Mustard? Don't Let's Be Silly
Moving on to another prompt list I did back in the day ("the day" being the early 2010s) -- 25 Foods! All of these were Valice-themed, but six in particular ended up Secundus-themed. We start with #20, Mustard. This was a random, spur-of-the-moment thing created from me having pregnant!Alice on the brain for some reason. I just thought it would be funny for her to have one of those wacky cravings fictional pregnant women get so often -- and the Hatter's comment about "Mustard! Don't let's be silly" during the famous "fixing the watch" scene in Disney's animated Alice inspired me. The reference to "cooling foods" and Susan's doctor being annoyed with her for craving meat is inspired by real advice given to pregnant Victoria women -- they were supposed to binge on lots of fruits and veggies. Which isn't a bad thing, given all the vitamins one needs while pregnant. Also, yes, this version of Alice has four cousins, with Lionel being the youngest -- his brothers are Jerome, Stephen, and Terrence.
“She’s slathering mustard on everything.”
Charles Liddell blinked a few times, then frowned in puzzlement at his son-in-law. “Mustard?” he repeated, trying to figure out how a question about how Alice was doing with her "expectation" had led to such a statement.
Victor nodded, looking about as lost as Charles felt. “Yes. Mustard. On everything. I-I mean, I understand on sandwiches, but – she puts it on fruit, on vegetables, on bread without any meat to go with it. . .she made chocolate biscuits a few days ago, and she put mustard on hers! I once even caught her eating it straight out of the jar! And when I asked why, she just looked at me and said, 'I like it' in such dangerous tones all I could do was nod and leave her to it!” He shook his head. "Was - p-perhaps this is none of my business, but was Mrs. Liddell ever - like this? When she. . .y-you know. . ."
Oh, now Charles understood. “Yes, her eating habits did turn a bit peculiar before each of our boys,” he reassured Victor, giving him an encouraging grin. “She never wanted mustard, though. For her, it was smoked ham. She devoured it with every meal - breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner. It drove our doctor mad with distraction - he kept insisting she needed to be eating cooling foods, not mountains of meat. But Susan just carried on, and given that none of children were born pigs, I believe no harm came of it. And thinking about it, I seem to recall Henry telling me that Lorina was constantly sending him for pickled cucumbers in the months before Alice.” He patted Victor’s shoulder. “So yes, in my experience, it's all normal. Your wife hasn’t gone completely mad.”
Victor nodded, then laughed softly, rubbing the back of his neck. “Thank you. . .dear me, I must look silly, don’t I? Worrying about such a thing. . . It’s just – there’s so much happening now. But it’s all happening to Alice, and I feel like – like I’m just along for the ride.”
Charles nodded. “I know all about that. I felt just the same every time Susan was in the family way.”
Victor arched an eyebrow. “Every time?”
"Yes. I mean, I knew roughly what to expect by the time we had Lionel, but still. . ." He shrugged. "This is women’s business. We're not expected to be involved.”
Victor frowned. “But – I want to be involved! I'm Alice's husband, and the father! I want to - to f-feel I can help, or at least understand what she's going through! I don’t like feeling so l-lost, so unsure!”
Charles patted his shoulder again. “I know, Victor. God, I know. But there’s not much you can do. This is the province of the fairer sex, and that's not going to change anytime soon.” Seeing Victor’s dejected expression, he added, “But I’m sure Alice appreciates your support, and your desire to understand. And, when the time comes, I’m certain you’ll be a wonderful father.”
That got a genuine smile. “Thank you, Charles. That means a lot to me.”
Knock knock - The two men turned to the study door as Susan poked her head in. “Tea is ready,” she announced.
“Ah, thank you, darling.” He waved to Victor. "After you."
A few steps down the hall later, they entered the drawing room. Alice looked up from her seat on the couch, one hand resting on her slowly-expanding belly. "Ah, there are the menfolk," she said with a playful grin. "Did you have a nice boys-only chat?"
"Very," Victor said, kissing her cheek as he sat next to her. "How about the girls-only chat?"
"Quite nice, thank you." She smiled over at Susan. "Aunt Susan's been very helpful."
"Only doing my part - especially now that your dear mother's gone," Susan said with a sigh, pouring tea for everyone. "I know she would have loved to have met you, Victor. And her upcoming grandchild."
Charles touched her wrist. "She's watching us from above, Susan. Henry too."
"I do hope they approve of everything that's gone on," Alice said, accepting her cup. She added her usual two spoonfuls of sugar and dash of cream – then pursed her lips thoughtfully. Then, to Charles's astonishment, she reached across the serving platter, picked up the jar of mustard sitting there (obviously she and Susan had been talking about her cravings too), and spooned a bit into her tea. Everyone stared, wide-eyed, as she mixed it in and sipped the resulting concoction.
And promptly gagged. “Alice?!” Victor pressed a steadying hand against her back as she coughed. "Are you all right?"
“I’m fine,” Alice gasped, getting her breath back. She pounded her chest with a fist. “Ugh. . .that’s one flavor combination I shouldn’t have tried.”
Victor nodded, then shot Charles a helpless, “what am I going to do with her?” look. Charles hastily drowned his chuckles with a long gulp of his own drink. Oh, dear. . .well, I did only say she hadn’t gone completely mad. . .
Chapter 65: I Don't Want It -- Until You Do
Next up from the 25 Foods list is #24: Baby Food -- which is only logical, seeing as I wrote it after the Mustard prompt. XD I decided for this one I wanted to do something about a fussy baby. Considering Chester speaks in this, he might be a little too old to be just on the mush, but I figured, if I framed it as Alice getting him to try new things. . . I don't know, I just wanted to do something cute with their kid being fussy and Victor being a bit silly. No particular reason for the baby food being peaches either, other than "they're sweet and the whole family would probably like them."
“Come on, Chester. . .open up. . .open up for Mummy. . . .”
Chester kept his lips tightly shut, eying the mush-laden spoon Alice held in front of him with deep suspicion. “It’s food, I promise,” Alice told him. “Smashed-up peaches. It’s good, see?" She popped the spoon into her own mouth, miming the best "utterly delighted" face she could. “Mmm-mmm!”
Chester stared at her, clearly not buying it. Alice sighed. “Please, Chester. I spent all morning turning these into pulp for you.”
“How goes it?”
Alice looked up at her husband. “Not well,” she admitted. “He just keeps looking at me as if I’ve freshly landed from Mars. Who knew getting a baby to eat would be one of the hardest things I've ever done?” She contemplated a fresh spoonful of the peach mush. “It's a wonder that we've gotten him on solid food at all, the way he regards everything put in front of him as potential poison.”
“He’ll eat eventually,” Victor assured her. “Remember when we first introduced him to carrots? He wouldn't touch them for days - and now he can't get enough of them.” He peered curiously at the glop. “What is that, anyway?”
“Crushed peaches dusted with a bit of sugar - I'm trying to get more fruit in his diet.” Alice offered him the spoon. “You can try it if you like. I would hate for it to go to waste.”
Victor accepted the utensil, licking off the mush. He made a pleased noise in the back of his throat. “Oh, that’s quite good! If he won’t eat it, I certainly will.”
Both Victor and Alice looked over at their son in surprise. Chester pouted at them, eyes narrowed. “Mine!” he said, pointing to the jar and spoon.
Oh, of course, now you want it, Alice thought with a little huff - then a sly smile spread across her face as she realized how to turn this to her advantage. “But you’re not eating it,” she informed her son. “So why shouldn’t I give it to Daddy?”
“Mine!” Chester protested, reaching out a tiny hand.
“If it’s yours, then you have to eat it,” Alice said, taking the spoon back from Victor. “Daddy can’t get at it if it’s in your tummy.” She scooped up a fresh glob and held it to Chester’s lips. “Well?”
Chester hesitated a moment - then opened his mouth and let her spoon the mush in. He blinked, then grinned, licking his lips. "Mmmm!"
“See? I told you it was good,” Alice said triumphantly. Glancing back at her husband, she added, “Thank you for your help, love.”
“Happy to be of assistance,” Victor chuckled. “Though I’m a bit sorry I won’t get to have any more of that.”
“Fortunately for you, I made two jars," Alice said with a wink. "If you want to make yourself a piece of toast. . . .”
Chapter 66: Honey-Winner
Next up on the 25 Foods prompts: #13: Honey! This was the first of these prompts to be explicitly Secundus-based, rather than "it feels like it could fit into the verse" (like the previous two). I had a dual inspiration for this prompt -- the first being my view of Victor and Alice's roles in their family. Secundus is rather more progressive than the real England was at the time, meaning women are allowed more job opportunities and freedoms within its borders. This coupled with Victor being busy with his butterflies after Going Creative and having less time to spend at Doc's shop led to me thinking that, post-marriage, Alice would be the primary breadwinner of the family, while Victor would be something of a househusband. This fic explores some of his thoughts about that, particularly his struggles to reconcile it with his much more traditional upbringing in Burtonsville.
The second, only really visible in the final line, was simply the image of honey being licked off someone. XD What can I say -- sometimes, I be a perv.
There was nothing that threw your financial situation into starker relief, Victor realized, than saving up for an engagement ring.
Up until the moment he decided to propose to Alice, he'd never once worried about money. His parents had already been comfortably middle class by the time he was born, and William's business acumen had rapidly brought them all the way up to proper rich. He'd grown up in a cavernous house filled with various expensive knickknacks, a legion of servants at his beck and call, and coffers full to bursting. He'd never wanted for a single material thing. And after his accidental abduction by Doc, things - hadn't changed that much. Sure, he'd had to work a job and earn money instead of just having it handed to him, but it was a good, interesting job with his two best friends. And included, as benefits, a roof over his head, all his meals, and plenty of free time to do as he wished – just like at the Van Dort mansion. He'd never wanted for anything more.
But the instant he started thinking about marriage, everything changed. He went to the jewelry store, picked out his ring for Alice - and despite the fact that he'd gone simple, knowing she wouldn't want anything showy and expensive, the price still nearly knocked him flat. He spent a month squirreling away his salary - and as he did, he became more and more aware of everything he didn't have. Doc paid him pretty well for a lab assistant, but it still wasn’t enough to support two people on their own. (Victor couldn't force himself to think beyond that, to one of the typical results of marriage. One panic-inducing thought at a time, please.) And Alice could hardly move into the flat with them – there was barely enough room for three. He could try to get another job - something a little more normal, perhaps - but - given his condition. . . And as for the Van Dort fortune he had been going to inherit – well, Victor wasn't sure where that was going, only that it wasn't going to him. Just like that, he was poor.
Such concerns didn't stop him from actually marrying Alice. He loved her, and he wanted to build a life with her, no matter how hard it turned out to be. And their friends and relations jumped at the chance to help the young couple out. The Liddells put the down payment on a house for a wedding present, and offered them a monthly allowance to help with expenses. Doc bought him lab equipment, and continued handing over his salary despite the fact that Victor's time as his assistant was drastically reduced these days (he loved Doc and his shop, but he did have his own experiments to tend to now). And Richard had quietly raised Alice's salary to ensure they always had enough to keep them going from month to month. It was all very touching, and Victor appreciated it very much.
And yet. . .he wasn't fully satisfied. As Alice went off to work each day, he stayed at the house, doing the cleaning and the gardening and tending to his butterflies and constantly feeling like he should be doing something more. The generosity of their loved ones was a blessing, but it wasn't one Victor wanted to rely on all his life. And he had absolutely no objections to Alice working - she liked her job, she was good at it, and without it, perhaps they never would have met in the first place. But he'd been raised to believe a man provided for his household. And he felt guilty that Alice was going out there and actively earning her pay while he occasionally went around Doc's to stand at the counter for a couple of hours. He wanted to - to prove to everyone he could truly stand on his own two feet. He wanted to be useful.
Then, one day, while observing a bees’ nest, he was struck by what he considered to be a brilliant idea. He went over their savings and, seeing they were sound, went out and bought a beehive. He tended it carefully, making sure the bees had everything they needed to thrive. And when they had produced a solid thirty jars of rich golden honey, he took to the streets to sell it.
And promptly ran into the fact that most people were very wary of buying anything edible from a Touched. Victor assured people time and time again that it was ordinary honey, that he'd done nothing to alter it or the bees who made it (and that had been hard, the ideas had sparked in his head and he’d broken quite a few quills in trying to keep them on paper and not letting them escape no matter how his fingers itched). But those who had burned before by unscrupulous scientists simply shook their heads and passed on by, and those who hadn't didn't seem overly keen on his product. He only managed to unload three jars on a sympathetic greengrocer before a policeman came up and told him he needed a license to sell things on the street anyway. So he packed up his wagon and slunk home, burdened by a lot of jars and not a lot of pride.
Alice returned home that night to find him moping in his greenhouse lab. Innocently, she asked what was wrong - and everything came pouring out, every complaint and fear he'd kept bundled up tight, all those little worries that he wasn't doing right by her. She listened quietly, then took his chin and informed him in no uncertain terms that she didn't think he was useless in the slightest, that all those little tasks he did around the house were important, and that she thought he was standing quite nicely on those two feet. And that, if he really did want another job, or even just that street seller's license, she was behind him all the way. Listening to her, realizing just how much she loved him, Victor felt some of the weight on his shoulders lift.
It definitely helped that they discovered a delicious new use for honey shortly afterward.
Chapter 67: Peanut Butter And Guilt
Next up from the 25 Foods list -- #17: Peanut Butter. At the original time of writing, I labeled this "a bit anachronistic, but it's okay because it's a freaking steampunk world," but further research here in the future indicates that at least the general idea of a paste made from peanuts would have been known by the rough time this story takes place (the first patent for making a kind of peanut butter was issued in 1884, to a guy named Marcellus Gilmore Edson). The peanut-butterfly was first mentioned back in "Warm Hearts" of the Winter Bingo prompts, so I thought it only natural to expand more upon it here. It ended up a weird mix of fluff and angst -- on the one hand, you have adorable peanut-butterflies; on the other, you have Victor's continuing guilt over the whole situation with Lewis. Poor guy, I don't think part of him is ever quite convinced Lewis didn't hate him near the end. . .
No response. Alice tried again, a little louder. “Victor, tea’s ready!”
Still nothing. Alice frowned at the door, arms crossed. This wasn't like her husband. Yes, Victor had been pretty deep into a new project lately, but usually she could coax him out for a mid-afternoon snack. At the very least, he generally shouted back to let her know he'd heard. “What is he doing in there?” she murmured, venturing inside.
The heat and humidity of the conservatory hit her full in the face - she stopped for a minute, letting herself acclimatize and wiping off the damp. Once she'd ceased sweating quite so much, she picked her way through the feeding flower garden, dodging a few glowing butterflies and a darning-needle-fly flitting about. Victor was seated just past them at the main experiment table, watching something intently. “Victor?” she asked, coming up behind him.
"Alice!" Victor grinned up at her, eyes bright but ever-so-slightly glazed - a sure sign he was in the grip of Creativity. He grabbed her arm and pulled her down next to him. “Look at this!”
Curiosity piqued, Alice looked. Before them, a bit of tree branch stood upright in a stand. Dangling from the very tip, twisting to and fro among the sparse leaves, was a quivering white chrysalis. As she watched, the fragile layers split apart, and a damp little butterfly emerged. It crawled up to the top of the branch, spreading its wings to dry and harden. Alice tilted her head, puzzled. The creature looked a bit like a bread-and-butterfly - but the spread on this one was orangey-brown instead of bright buttery yellow, and looked stickier. And the head was all wrong too - a pale yellowish-brown oval instead of a white cube. “Victor, what-"
“It’s a peanut-butterfly,” Victor said proudly, sitting up straight and tall. “I’ve been working on it for the past few weeks.”
“Oh!” Alice chuckled. “I see - how cute. Did you think the bread-and-butterflies needed friends?”
“Sort of! I was refilling their feeder at Wonderland Park, and I got to thinking about what variations you could have on the species, and then I remembered, I have Lewis's notes-”
Victor stopped abruptly, the happy madness draining out of his face. He stared at his creation, then at Alice. “Do – do you think h-he’d be angry? That I’m adapting h-his work?”
Ah, yes - the eternally awkward subject of Lewis and the reasons for his demise. Alice bit her lower lip. "I - I don't think so," she said slowly. "He was always rather proprietary with his Inventions, but - he'd want his ideas to live on. And he liked you, Victor."
“Did he?” Victor asked, expression tortured. "Really?"
“Yes, he did,” Alice said firmly. “Even if he was a bit - jealous, at the end, he never hated you.” She wrapped her arm tightly around his shoulders. “It’s not your fault he created the Queen.”
“I know," Victor mumbled. "I just - I can’t help feeling guilty.”
“I know, Victor. Believe me, I know." She glanced at her wrist, at the thin scar that marked a fateful day in the asylum. "But I learned in Rutledge it does you no good to spend the rest of your life feeling horrible over what you can't control. What happened, happened. We can only pick up the pieces and move on as best we can.”
Victor nodded slowly, then sighed. “I just – I don’t want this to look like I’m dishonoring his memory.”
Alice smiled. “Victor - you’re making Wonderland Park a little stranger. How could that be dishonoring his memory?”
That got a laugh out of him. “You have a point.” He extended a finger to the peanut-butterfly - it crawled on, eager for a new perch. “I hope he would have liked this.”
Alice kissed his temple. “I’m sure he would have.” She watched the tiny insect flutter its wings. “Do you have any other ideas for variations?”
A hint of the madness came back into Victor’s smile. “I thought it might be nice to have one with jelly on the wings. . . .”
Chapter 68: Agatha's Favorite Is The Chocolate Flavor
Next up from the 25 Foods prompt list is #7: Cinnamon! This one is mostly me having fun with the multifandom nature of the Secundus universe to pay tribute to a favorite webcomics series of mine, "Girl Genius." The comic had recently shown us the hometown of heroine Agatha Heterodyne's bloodline, Mechanicsburg, around the time of the original writing, and I thought it would be fun to send Victor, Alice, and their children there for a holiday. And, given the Heterodyne family crest is a trilobite, it seemed only natural that someone would be selling appropriately-shaped cookies to the tourists. . .
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Dad, look! That man's got cookies!”
“Mum, Dad, can we have a cookie?"
"Please? Please please?”
Victor chuckled, looking down into the three eager little faces. "I don't see why not," he said, tousling Chester's hair. "You've all been good - and I'm hungry myself, frankly."
"So am I," Alice nodded. "And this fellow's got his food license tacked right to the front of his stall, so we know he's safe."
"Oh good - I really did not trust that coffee shop. . ." Victor led the way over to the man, who greeted them with a wave. “Entschuldigen Sie, sprechen Sie Englisch?” he asked haltingly.
The man smiled at him from under a heavy walrus mustache. “Oh yes, enough,” he replied. "Dealt with my fair share of tourists!"
Victor sighed in relief. “Thank you - I've been practicing, but my German's worse than it should be.” He examined the tray on display with interest. “Edible trilobites?”
“In honor of the Lady,” the man said, pride shining from every pore. “They come in gingerbread, cinnamon, chocolate, or crab.”
“. . .not actual trilobite?” Victor had to ask.
“The trilobites around here are - not good for eating,” the man replied, making an expression that suggested he had some rather painful personal experience in that regard.
“Oh. . .any of us brave enough to try the crab?” Victor asked, looking around his family.
“I'll take actual seafood, not a cookie facsimile,” Alice laughed, shaking her head. "Cinnamon for me, please."
“I want a gingerbread please!” Vincent said, standing on tiptoe to peek over the top of the stall.
“Gingerbread too!” Lorina nodded, bouncing on her heels. "Please!"
“I’ll have a cinnamon please, Dad,” Chester requested.
“All right - two gingerbread, two cinnamon, and one chocolate for me,” Victor rattled off to the man.
"Danke schön." The man grabbed some tongs and retrieved the requested cookies, wrapping them in paper before handing them off. "50 cents for the lot, please."
"Danke." Victor handed over the money. "Have a good day."
"You as well, sir!"
With that, the family headed off down the street, happily munching. “I think I like Mechanicsburg,” Lorina said through a mouthful of crumbs.
“They certainly know how to bake,” Victor agreed, licking his lips. “You don’t suppose we could get the recipe anywhere? Or at least a novelty cookie cutter?”
Alice snorted. “From what I hear, they'll sell anything that might help part a tourist from their money. . .I swear, you’re more excited about the cookies than all the Inventions this town has to offer.”
“Well, we can get Inventions at home.”
The inhabitants of Mechanicsburg speak German because I think the fandom at the time had determined the comic was set in a part of the world that probably spoke that language, or something akin to it. Victor's opening line to the cookie seller is "Excuse me, do you speak English?" while "Danke schön" is "Thank you kindly" according to my Googling. The price is listed in cents because a background poster when Agatha and company first arrived listed a tonic as costing 3 cents (as per the Girl Genius Wiki).
Chapter 69: One Last Letter
And now we come to the end of the Secundus-themed 25 Foods prompts -- #10: Salad Dressing! Which was -- well, a tough one, as I had no idea what to do with the prompt for the longest time. It wasn't until I came up with the idea of it smearing something Victor was working on in the middle of lunch that I had anything even resembling a plot. And then I combined it with Victor's continued mental struggles with how things ended between him and his parents, and -- here we are. He knows he's better off without them, really, but. . .the brain is not always a logical beast. As he says, he just needs to get his thoughts down on paper for the most part. (He does end up sending it -- their response is about what you'd expect, and detailed in a different prompt titled "Second Chance.")
“Oh! Oh, no. . . .”
Ah - the familiar cry of my husband's clumsiness, Alice thought, pausing outside the study door. Seems my wifely duties must briefly supplant my motherly ones. She pushed open the door and peeked inside. Sure enough, Victor was down on one knee in front of his desk, picking scraps of lettuce and cucumber off the carpet. "Knocked it over?" she asked.
"Yes," Victor sighed. "Right across the letter I was working on too. I don't know how I managed that." He lifted a sodden piece of greenery. "I should never have put dressing on it."
"It's all right," Alice assured him, coming in to assess the damage to the furniture. "I'm pretty sure a little soap and water will salvage both the carpet and your-"
She paused as she spotted the piece of paper next to the overturned bowl, soaking in a puddle of vinaigrette. Almost all of the words on it had been turned into a runny puddle of black by the spill, but she could still make out the salutation:
Mother and Father Mr. and Mrs. Van Dort
She blinked. Blinked again. Then she looked down at Victor. "You're - writing your parents?"
"Been trying to all week," Victor confessed, not meeting her eyes. "I thought this time I'd finally gotten the words right, but-" He shrugged at the mess around them.
"But why?" Alice pressed, baffled. "It's been two years without a peep! And don't think I've forgotten how your final conversation went!"
"I haven't either," Victor said, voice low. "But I - I have to tell them they have a grandchild now. Just so - so they don't hear it from anywhere else. I'm not expecting one letter to m-make everything better, for them t-to come over and meet him, or e-even write back, but. . ." He squeezed the bridge of his nose. "We sent them a w-wedding invitation, didn't we? We should send this."
Alice bit her lip, frowning, then put her hand on Victor's shoulder. "I - I personally could go the rest of my life never seeing or speaking to them again," she started, searching carefully for the right words. "But if this is important to you, I'll support you. Just know that, if they do decide they want to visit - which I think is vanishingly unlikely, but one never knows - they're not staying in this house."
"Of course not," Victor agreed with feeling. "I don't - I might not even send it, in the end. I just want to write it. G-get everything down on paper so it's not - s-swirling about my head. Get my thoughts straight." He looked up at her with a sad, relieved smile. “T-thank you for understanding.”
Alice smiled back. “Trust me, I know all about having to get one's mind settled any way you can." She leaned down and kissed his cheek. "And no matter what happens with this - if you end up just throwing it in the bin, or if by some bloody miracle they decide they can live with us now that we've continued the family line - I'll be there to help you through. You will always have me."
"Us. You will always have us."
Victor laughed softly. "I know." He picked up the sodden remains of the letter. “Go tend to Chester; I can finish here.”
"All right - and I'll bring you some more lunch once he's settled down," Alice promised. “Just, this time, maybe eat at the table and then write.”
Chapter 70: The Origin Of Ferdinand
And now, from prompts to -- gift fics! Yes, I write things for my online friends for their birthday and for Christmas, and one friend, known as Gigs, really really likes the Secundus verse. She particularly loves Victor's riding butterfly Ferdinand. So, for her birthday back in 2012, I decided to do a short fic about Ferdy's origin. It's just a touch angsty, given that Ferdinand is actually Victor's sixth try at making one, but it ends pretty sweet, so it should still be enjoyable.
Well, here goes – again.
Victor swallowed, stomach twisting up in knots as he prepared to greet his newest creation. Or, rather, the sixth try at his newest creation. For two months, he'd toiled in his lab, trying to find just the right combination of genetic and chemical alterations that would transform your average ordinary Blue Morpho into a magnificent riding butterfly. And so far, it - hadn't gone well. The first two attempts had died outright, victims of accidental overdoses. The third's metabolism hadn’t been able to support its larger body – it had starved to death by the end of the first day, despite a steady supply of nectar. The fourth had ended up malformed, writhing in pain from a body too big on one side and too small on the other – Victor had been forced to mercy kill it. And the fifth had woken up, a beautiful, perfect specimen - and immediately tried to escape, battering the back garden with its giant wings before tearing itself to pieces trying to fly through a nearby tree. Each time, Victor had gathered up what remained, quietly buried it in the back, and retreated to his study to mourn. . .and then, when he finally felt strong enough, updated his notes and marched back to the lab for the next go.
And now, his sixth butterfly lay in front of him, twitching its wings under its sterile sheet. Victor sucked in a deep breath, bracing himself. Was six times the charm with him? Would this finally be the one that worked? Would he be able to stand it if it wasn’t? Only one way to find out, he told himself, and uncovered the creature in one quick motion.
The body seemed to be in good condition – wings symmetrical and the same size on each side; body long and lean; legs, slender but strong; head large and well-formed. With bated breath, Victor laid a hand between its feelers. Warmth radiated against his palm, the spark of life he'd been trying so hard to capture. “H-hello?”
The head turned to regard him, light glinting off the compound eyes. Victor held his breath, prepared to duck out of the way if it launched itself suddenly into the air-
Then, without warning, the proboscis was running all over his face. Victor blinked, baffled for a moment - then realized it was trying to lick him. He laughed as the butterfly continued to lavish affection on him, its wings fluttering just like a wagging tail. “Hi,” he whispered, a massive weight dropping off his shoulders. “Welcome to the world, Ferdinand.”
Chapter 71: Please Don't Leave Me
Warning: Description of pet death
Moving onto 2012's Christmas season, I figured I'd once again touch upon Ferdinand's early days as a gift for Gigs -- specifically, him getting settled into the stable Victor had redesigned for him. Somehow, this one turned out kind of angsty too, with Victor ruminating on the death of his beloved dog Scraps. It was the first thing that popped into my head! At least I can assure you all Ferdy is as cute as ever in this one. And yes, the title is from the P!nk song of the same name, though there's no similarities otherwise.
“And this is where you’re going to live!”
Victor threw open the doors of the repurposed stable, grinning brightly as he led Ferdinand inside. “Over here is your bed - it's made up mostly of pea plants, since I know your species likes to eat those as caterpillars. And on this wall are your feeding tubes!" He sniffed, then waved his hand in front of his nose. "Your very smelly feeding tubes. . .why is it your species likes to feast on rotting fruit? Ah well, at least it makes it easy to keep you fed. And I had the ceiling raised so you could stretch your wings, and widened the stall, and - and why am I explaining all of this to you? You don’t understand a word coming out of my mouth.”
Ferdinand bounced, then ran his proboscis over Victor's face. Victor laughed, rubbing the butterfly's head behind his antennae. "Well, I'm glad you love me anyway. . .you remind so much of my old dog Scraps," he added. "I used to ramble on to him like this all the time. He'd plop down in front of me, cock his head, and just - listen. As if he really did understand what I was saying. And then, when I was done, he’d hop into my lap and lick my face all over.” He touched his cheek, smiling at the memories. “He was the only one I could really speak my mind to, back in Burtonsville. My very best friend, right up until – until. . .”
Standing in the alley, waiting patiently as Scraps sniffed around to find the best place to do his business. . .turning at a sudden loud and vicious bark. . .yelping as that monster owned by Oakerton flung itself toward him, all red eyes and gleaming teeth - and then a blur of motion that was all growls and snarls and yelps of pain. . .Ripper retreating, whining, a chunk taken out of his leg. . .Scraps, lying bleeding before him, tail still weakly thumping against the cobbles as the rest of his flesh hung off him in tatters. . .staring at his best friend, utterly paralyzed, unable to comprehend it, unable to even scream. . .watching as the blood ran into the cracks and the light slowly but surely left Scraps's eyes. . .
Ferdinand's head butted against his hand. Victor shook himself out of the vision, sucking in a heavy breath. "Sorry," he whispered. "Just. . ." He knelt down to look Ferdy straight in the eye. "Live a good, long life, understand? Don't do anything silly like r-rip your wing in a tree or s-smash yourself to pieces against s-someone's window or - or t-try to take on a monster for me. When the - when the t-t-time comes, I want you to go quietly, of o-old age. Knowing you were w-well-loved, and happy. All right?"
Ferdinand tilted his head, compound eye glittering. Then he “licked” him again, fluttering his wings. Victor smiled. “Good. I’m glad we’re in agreement. Now then, how about we try on your saddle?”
Chapter 72: Couldn't Just Order Up Some Nectar?
Moving onto Christmas 2013, and I decided to go in an entirely different direction for Gig's fic from the first two -- writing one that was set post-"Secundus 2," and was largely comedic! I mean, there's a tense moment as Victor tries to figure out what happened, but the ending is definitely all about the funny. (And then I, uh, basically completely rewrote it here because the old version didn't fit as well with "Secundus 2" as it's currently coming along at the time of this posting. . .sorry, Gigs?) The context here is, Victor asked Flint Lockwood to look after Ferdinand while he was off in Hill Valley attending Marty's wedding (him and Alice getting their invitation is what kicks off "Secundus 2"). Now he's coming home, and turns out the butterfly-sitting hasn't gone quite as smoothly as expected. . . (Also, the title was done before I looked up Blue Morphos and realized they were more keen on rotting fruit than nectar. Flint tried!)
“Flint? Flint, we're home!"
There was no reply. Victor frowned. "Flint?"
"He must be around somewhere," Alice said, easing her way around him. "It's well before the Roofless opens for dinner. Maybe the back garden?"
"Maybe. . .there's an easy way to find him, at least." Victor set down the carrier cage and deactivated the suspended animation device. Moments later, a bark from inside told him Lightning was ready to be let out. "Here you go, boy. . .is Mummy right?" he added, scratching the corgi behind the ears as he released him. "Is Flint in the garden? Can you find him for us?"
Lightning barked again, then put his nose to the ground, sniffing in a wide circle. "Flint, boy. Flint Lockwood. Find Flint, there's a good boy."
Lightning yapped, then took off toward the back, tail wagging. "Guess you were right indeed, darling," Victor said, grinning. "Here, just leave the bags there, I'll be back in a moment-"
"Oh, no, I want to say hello too," Alice said, dropping the bags on the floor. "We can get to these later. Just be patient with me for not being as fast as the dog."
Victor chuckled. "I think we'll both forgive you, under the circumstances."
They made their way around to the back door, where Lightning was waiting, doing a little eager corgi dance. "Good boy," Victor praised him, before pushing it open. "Flint! We're – what the–”
He froze, eyes wide. The garden was an absolute mess - errant tree branches and leaves littered the ground, and one whole sapling was lying on its side near the fence, roots dangling helpless from its dirt-encrusted bottom while its leaves rotted in the grass. The table and chairs they'd set up for summer were scattered to the four corners, and the birdbath was broken in two, the bowl lying upside-down in the middle of a giant muddy patch. "What - how-"
"It looks like a hurricane hit," Alice said, similarly agog. Lightning arfed and ran to roll around in the mud. "Did someone's weather machine go berserk while we were gone?"
“I don’t know!” Victor looked around wildly, panic welling up within him. “Flint? Ferdy? Ferdinand?!” Oh no - no no no - he'd been through enough in Hill Valley - he couldn't come back to the loss of one of his most beloved –
Something barreled into him, knocking him to the ground. Victor opened his mouth for a scream – then the familiar feeling of a fuzzy proboscis running over his face turned it into a relieved laugh. “Ferdy!” he cried, his frantic heartbeat slowing. “Oh thank God. . .”
“Oh thank God!”
Flint Lockwood’s face appeared over him, eyes wide with anxiety and hair in worse disarray than usual. “Victor, I’m so sorry about this!” he declared, windmilling his arms. “His feeder ran out this morning, and I figured I could just mix him up something real quick since you were supposed to be home soon, and. . .” His eyes flicked left and right. “I think I got the ratio of sugar to water wrong.”
Victor looked up at his fellow scientist, then at his riding butterfly, who was now leaping about the yard, sending the leaves up in miniature tornadoes as he attempted to knock poor Alice flat too. “Oh Flint. . . .” He groaned and rubbed his face. “Well, at least this explains what happened to the yard. . . .”
Chapter 73: The Berkians Must Be Doing Backflips
Skipping ahead now to Christmas of 2015 -- yup, two whole years from the original posting date of the last fic! Reason? Both me and my friend Gigs got into the dragon-collecting, zoo-creating mobile game DragonVale (my iPad Mini, being years out of date, is now sadly unable to run it), and I ended up doing fics based on that for the next three gift-giving occasions. As December 2015 rolled around, though, I had an idea -- Gigs and I both liked DragonVale AND Secundus, so why not find a way to combine the two? And then I remembered that I'd already established that the How To Train Your Dragon characters existed in this verse, with Hiccup being a Touched. . .hmmmm. . .
Also, the original title was "Everything Begins Somewhere," but I changed it to the current one as a joke on the name of the company that makes DragonVale, Backflip. Feels like it fits better.
"You are not going to believe the top story in the paper today."
Victor took a moment from sorting through the wingnut bin to lift an eyebrow at his friend. "Marty, I've lived here for five years now. My wife is the city's most famous monster killer. My best friends are its top repairmen, and own a time-traveling flying steam train. I regularly attend dinner with Her Majesty's White Knight and his wife - my former betrothed - and discuss his ideas for improving the world. I'm a valued member of the Mad Hatter Haberdashery tea party set, which includes a man more mechanics than flesh, a Fabricated March Hare and Dormouse, and a Reanimated corpse bride from my hometown. Oh, and I myself am the proud creator of a riding butterfly, and the Hero of Secundus, who saved us all from a horrible tentacle monster. What in the Gears & Grind could possibly shock me by now?"
"How about Hiccup Haddock managing to levitate the whole island his village lives on by accident?"
". . .What?"
Snickering, Marty handed over the paper. "Front page news, o unflappable hero."
Ignoring the wound to his pride, Victor looked at the headline. "BERK SKYBOUND!" it screamed, with a picture of the floating island right below. Diving into the article revealed that Hiccup had been testing an anti-gravity device to aid dragons like his own Toothless, rendered earthbound by injury or illness. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a personal bubble of levitation had swelled until it had enveloped the whole of Berk, ripping it clean out of the sea and carrying it seven miles upward before stabilizing. To Victor's surprise, though, the article continued by stating that the Berkians in general were happy with this turn of events, seeing it as a mark of just how powerful their personal Touched was, and enjoying the ability to literally look down upon their neighbors. Hiccup was even already making new plans to take advantage of the situation: "We're hoping to levitate more islands – unoccupied ones of course – and use them as a proper dragon sanctuary! I've always wanted to try my hand at breeding more hybrids, and this 'dragon vale' would be the perfect place!"
"So?" Marty asked, leaning on the counter.
Victor folded the paper up and handed it back. "Okay, so maybe I can still get shocked occasionally." He contemplated a wingnut. ". . .think they'll allow visitors up there?"
Chapter 74: Uncowventional
Moving onto 2016, this is another birthday fic for my pal Gigs -- and kind of a special one, as it marked the tenth anniversary of our friendship! Or, at least, ten years of me doing fics for her on special occasions. :p This one was inspired by a comment she left on one of my Dreamwidth journal entries, about the phrase "I'll drink 2% milk when they make 2% cows!" and how a Touched biologist probably could make a 2% cow. Followed up by "Also, a brown cow that produces chocolate milk." I pounced on that last line, largely because I was pretty sure I'd heard of something similar in the book Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, and I'd already established Wonka as one of the local Touched. . . And it was a good excuse to give Lewis an airing, even if it makes the actual timeline of the ficlet a little fuzzy (just assume this happened before he died). I used "How Now Brown Cow" as a title when I first posted it on Dreamwidth, but came up with the current title when I was transferring them to my website. I much prefer the pun. XD
"So – Mr. Wonka bred these cows himself?"
"With a little help from yours truly," Lewis said, smile bright and proud as he slapped the side of the bovine before him. It mooed and gave him a look. "Never met him in person, of course, but we shared a lively correspondence with the help of his staff. After I helped him crack the genetic codes he needed for the milk, I was guaranteed free milkshakes for life at any of his stores. Plus a previously-agreed-upon fee."
"I would have been happy with just the milkshakes," Victor said, with a chuckle that was ninety-five percent joking. He petted the nose of the deep brown cow, watching as it waggled its ears and swung its tail. "She really produces chocolate milk?"
"Yup! Not quite ready to drink - it still needs to go through all the usual processing. But – thanks to some very careful splicing with the cocoa plant – the flavor is there from the start!" Lewis clapped his hands as he pointed out the other members of the herd. "And, naturally, with that success under our belts, we moved into other varieties. The pink one, Belle, is strawberry milk; the yellow one, Bonnie, is banana milk; and the lighter brown one with the creamy head, Della, is coffee milk. Though I'm not entirely sure her splicing turned out quite right. . ." He scratched his head, then shrugged. "On the other hand, I've never liked the taste of coffee."
Victor laughed softly. "Me either, honestly. So why are Betsy and her friends here, then?" he asked, as said cow let out another loud moooo. "I thought Mr. Wonka didn't like any of his Inventions getting out into the wild, even collaborations."
"Funny you should mention collaborations – Betsy, Belle, Bonnie, and Della are, hopefully, getting an upgrade," Lewis said, patting Della's head. "Mr. Wonka thinks it would be useful to have cows that you could milk right into candy-making molds - skip the processing altogether. So it's my job to see if I can get the cows to self-pasteurize, at the very least." He gave Victor a knowing grin. "Want to help?"
Victor's eyes lit up. "I would love to."
Chapter 75: Greeting The Newest Van Dort
Still in 2016, but moving onto Christmas! As you might guess by the title, this story is all about Ferdinand meeting the newest member of the Van Dort family! What better spot to do that than in a gift fic for a dear friend, am I right?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Fweeeeeeeee! "Here, Ferdinand! Here boy!"
Ferdinand jerked his head up from his feeder, then bounded his way over to Victor, wings fluttering in a way almost akin to a wagging tail. "Hello, Ferdy," Victor said, stroking his steed between the feelers and chuckling anxiously as Ferdinand "licked" him with his sticky proboscis. "Yech! Yes, yes, I'm happy to see you too. . .I, um - I need to introduce you to someone."
Ferdinand rocked from side to side, multifaceted eyes catching the light and gleaming rainbow. "You see - we've had a recent addition to the family," Victor explained, twisting his fingers together. "We love him very much, but - we need to see how you'll get along with him too. Before anything ends up truly official." He swallowed. "So, ah - can - c-can you be nice? Please? For my sake?"
Ferdinand just stared at him, wings still twitching. Victor nodded. "Right. . ." He looked back at the house. "All right, Alice - let him out!"
The back door creaked open - and with no further warning, a beige and white blur shot outside, yapping all the while. Ferdinand shied, sending powerful gusts swirling around the back garden as he fluttered backwards. "Easy, boy! It's okay!" Victor called, holding up a hand. "Stay, stay. . ."
The blur zoomed around Ferdinand's legs, then stopped to sniff at his backside, revealing itself to be a small dog with big bat-like ears, four stumpy paws, and a stubby tail going a mile a minute. "You little monster," Victor said fondly, scooping him up and holding him close. He traced over the crooked white streak on the pup's forehead with a finger. "Don't scare your big brother like that." He looked back at Ferdinand, waiting for the butterfly to settle before holding out the corgi. "Ferdinand - I would like you to meet Lightning."
Giant butterfly and tiny dog regarded each other for a long moment. Then Ferdinand's proboscis flicked out and swirled the fur on Lightning's face. Lightning yapped and tried his best to lick him back, tail thudding against Victor's arm. Victor grinned. "So you like each other?"
The proboscis made a brief detour toward Lightning's rear. "I'll take that as a yes," Victor laughed. "Good -- I had no idea how we were going to keep him out of the yard anyway."
Why yes, I am a troll sometimes. :p This one was inspired by my tumblr RP shenanigans -- I used to have a separate blog for my Secundus Victor, Butterfly Boy (as of this writing I now have a multiverse one that covers him, the Forgotten Vows Victor, and a bunch of other AUs), and for Christmas 2015, his Alice at the time gave him a puppy. She didn't specify what kind of puppy, however, so I searched through some pictures of cute dogs, and ended up falling in love with corgis. So the puppy became a corgi that Victor named Lightning, because of the zig-zag patch of white fur on his forehead (the fact that Lightning also happens to live life at triple speed was something he found out afterward). After some time playing him, I decided I wanted to introduce the dog into the official fanfic verse -- and lo and behold, the perfect opportunity presented itself to me when it came time to write Gig's Christmas fic for 2016. Hey, gotta make sure the pets get along, after all!
Chapter 76: First Words
And skipping ahead now to 2018's birthday fic to Gigs. This one was actually inspired by a fic she'd written me -- she has her own AU of the AU starring her own character, Lisa -- an alien from another world who, in that timeline, ended up as a vet in Secundus (girl can talk to animals, so after she went Creative, it was a natural career path). Her story dealt with Lisa helping Lightning adapt after Victor and Alice had their first baby, Chester -- Lightning was not taking the sudden lack of attention well, poor pup. I decided I wanted to do some family fluff with child and corgi actually getting along. . .which evolved into: "What if Lightning's name was Chester's very first word?" I think it came out pretty cute -- I hope you all agree!
"Daddy. Daddy. Dad-dee."
"That doesn't seem to be having much effect, Victor."
Victor glanced up at his wife, standing in the doorway. "Well, it's not hurting anything either, is it?"
"I suppose not," Alice allowed, smiling. She joined him and Chester on the floor, being careful not to knock over any of Chester's many block piles. "Goodness, but you two have been busy. . .how about 'Mummy?'" she added to their son. "Can you say 'Mummy,' Chester?"
Chester stared at her - then laughed and swept a hand through his latest tower, sending it clattering to the floor. Victor couldn't help a laugh too. "Yes, yes - the blocks are much more interesting than your parents hounding you to speak," he admitted, picking up a block at random. He pondered the 'A' carved into its side. "We're just - well. I actually don't know how long this usually takes."
"I asked Aunt Susan - she said that my cousin Jerome didn't speak until he was almost two," Alice said, finding a 'V" block among the chaos. "Stephen, Terrence, and Lionel all started chattering around their first birthday, though. Considering Chester's just shy of his, perhaps we're pushing him a bit early."
"Ba ba ba," Chester said, reaching for her block.
"Yes, here you go." Alice handed it to him. "And it's not like he has any trouble making himself understood, either," she added as he very seriously placed it atop another block.
"True," Victor admitted, adding his block to the growing tower. Chester clapped and started searching for another. "But it would be nice to hear actual words, instead of just babble. He's just so close - I guess I can't help being impatient."
"So am I," Alice assured him. "I'm deeply curious as to what his first word's going to be. But there's nothing we can do to speed the process up." She smirked. "Besides bark 'Mummy' and 'Daddy' at him regularly, I suppose."
Chester held up a block in triumph and placed it atop his tower. Then he promptly kicked it over, laughing hysterically. Victor snorted, shaking his head. "What a strange child you are," he teased, tickling Chester's sides.
A cold nose poked its way into Victor's armpit. "Ah! Oh - I see you're up again," Victor said, scooching away from the probing snout. "Good nap?"
Lightning barked and slipped under his arm, licking his face. Victor scratched him behind the ears. "Yes, you're a good puppy. . .how about that, Chester?" he added, turning the corgi around to face his son. "Can you say 'puppy?'"
Chester tilted his head. "Puppy," Victor repeated, stroking Lightning's fur. "Doggie. Lightning."
Lightning "ruffed" again, wagged his tail, then leaned forward to give Chester a few licks. Chester laughed and clumsily patted his head. "Litning!"
Victor froze. What the - that - that hadn't sounded like his usual babble. "Lightning?" he repeated, a hopeful note in his voice.
"Litning!" Chester threw his arms around Lightning's neck, giggling as the dog immediately took the opportunity to nuzzle his ear. "Litning!"
Victor gaped for a moment, then whipped his head around to look at Alice. She too was gawking at the pair, eyes wide. "I. . .all right, I confess - of all things, I never expected the dog's name," she said.
"To be fair, he's currently the only other member of the household who's Chester's size," Victor said, grinning as child and corgi began rolling together on the floor. "Chester probably feels a kinship with him."
"Litning!" Chester agreed, roughly rubbing Lightning's back. Lightning retaliated with a big slurp up his nose. "Ah!"
"Careful with him," Alice said to the pair generally, smiling. "And that's true. As first words go, it's certainly not bad." She reached over and ruffled Chester's hair. "But I expect 'Mummy' next."
"Or 'Daddy,'" Victor agreed, poking Chester's nose.
Chester looked at each of them in turn. "Litning."
"Right, yes, we get it, you prefer the dog. . ."
Chapter 77: Little Family Of Horrors
And now we hit the most current gift fic as of this writing -- 2019's birthday fic to Gigs! Along with Ferdinand, Gigs has a fondness for the children of this verse -- in particular, Lorina, the daughter who ends up inheriting Victor's Atypical Scientific Neural Disorder (aka, the second Touched of the family). Her specialty is plants and fungi. I felt like I hadn't done anything with the kids in a while, and I remembered I had a headcanon that one of Lorina's plant Inventions is basically a more friendly mini version of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors -- plus that Vincent, her twin brother, absolutely refuses to touch said creature. And so this fic was born! I was going for funny, but somehow it ended up more heartfelt. *shrug* Still managed to get in a joke at the end, though.
"Oh, come on, Vincent."
"Nothing's going to happen! She's not going to hurt you!"
"Vincent, I swear on our dearest father's soul that Audrey is not going to take a snap at you."
". . .I'm, uh, flattered you think my soul is good enough to swear by?"
Lorina and Vincent both jumped. "What - Dad!" Lorina said, leaning around Vincent to look at him. "I thought you were still in the lab."
"I had to take a break - it's hot in there today," Victor said, mopping the sweat off his brow. He nodded at the pair before him. "So, the usual argument?"
Lorina huffed, holding up her favorite potted plant. "Yes. Dad, tell Vincent that Audrey is perfectly safe."
"Dad, tell Lorina that I think I'm justified in not trusting any plant with teeth," Vincent promptly shot back, folding his arms.
"She's part Venus flytrap! Of course she's going to have teeth!" Lorina petted the top of Audrey's bulbous "flower," making it wiggle. "But that doesn't mean she's going to take off a finger."
"I can't take that risk! I mean, look - I know Uncle Richard could probably build me a new one that was better than the original," Vincent allowed, circling his wrist. "But do you know how long it would take me to get used to it? To do anything with it? Most importantly, to play the piano again? I don't want to have to start over on my favorite hobby on the off chance that your little monstrosity decides it wants to sample human flesh!"
"You're just a wimp who doesn't appreciate proper SCIENCE when he sees it!" Lorina shoved the startled plant in his face. "Touch it!"
"Hey, hey!" Victor insinuated himself between them as Vincent backed up. "Enough of that! Lorina, we do not call your brother names. Vincent, we do not call your sister's Inventions 'monstrosities.'" He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "The whole house is tired of this argument between you two. I need to know why it keeps coming up."
There was a moment of silence. Then, in a rather shakier voice than before, Lorina said, "I just want to know why my own twin brother doesn't trust me enough to know I wouldn't make anything that would hurt somebody."
"What - I - I don't-" Vincent stammered - then sighed, letting his head fall to his chest. "I - I'm sorry," he mumbled, rubbing his arm with his eyes on his shoes. "I didn't realize you were taking it that hard. And I didn't mean - I know you wouldn't intentionally make anything that would hurt us. And I know she hasn't hurt you. But - I can't help but worry. The piano means the world to me, and just the idea that one bad moment might mean I'd lose it. . ." He flexed his fingers. "Wouldn't you feel the same way about something that could stop you from tending your plants?"
Lorina's expression softened. "Yeah, I would," she admitted, cradling Audrey against her chest. "All right, I'll stop pestering you about it. Just - be open to giving her a chance? When you're ready?"
"I'll try," Vincent promised. "Honestly, it's not so much her doing anything deliberately as much as -- well. Which one of us got Dad's natural 'grace?'"
"Sorry, Dad, but - when's the last time you petted Audrey?"
". . .touchè."
Chapter 78: They Can Also Do The Mario Theme
Starting up a new category of fics now -- random Charloft prompts! The same LiveJournal Community that gave me the Winter Bingo and Cupid Challenges also had regular daily prompts. The explicit day for fanfic related to your character was Drabble Thursdays, but occasionally a different day's prompt would get me thinking of a story -- one much longer than a mere 100 words.
So! Starting from the beginning, today's story comes from December 4th, 2010, and was in response to this prompt:
Your character is shopping (in a mall, marketplace, or wherever they do their shopping) - and they hear a familiar (liked or hated) song played. 1) What is the song? and 2) What is their reaction to it? Bonus points: Write a short piece about the experience.
As luck would have it, I'd come up with a relevant headcanon shortly for a different post not long before: "On his first trip to London with his parents, seven-year-old Victor happened to catch a little of a local Touched's demonstration of his singing Tesla coils. Nell pulled him away before he could see more than a minute, but it planted the first germ of the idea that maybe Touched weren't monsters." I figured that would be perfect to expand on for this fic, and so off I went!
A few in-jokes: Victor's governess's name, Miss Horrocks, comes from Jane Horrocks, who voiced Black Widow Spider and Mrs. Plum in Corpse Bride. The passage she's reading at the beginning is from Alice's Adventures In Wonderland (well, it's technically from a Victorian history book, but we're all familiar with it because of Alice). And the title refers to me having recently seen a YouTube video with Tesla coils doing the Mario theme. (They're pretty awesome.)
“‘William the Conqueror, whose cause was favoured by the pope, was soon submitted to by the English, who wanted leaders, and had been of late much accustomed to usurpation and conquest. Edwin and Morcar, the–’ Victor, are you attending?”
“Yes, Miss Horrocks,” Victor said, not looking up from where he was doodling on the cobbles with a stick.
Miss Horrocks frowned. "You most certainly are not." She plucked the stick from his hand and tossed it aside, then took his chin and forced him to face her. “You must pay attention. History is very important.”
Victor grimaced against her firm grip. “I’m l-listening, Miss Horrocks.”
“Very well." Mrs. Horrocks released him and went back to her book. "‘Edwin and Morcar, the earls of Mercia and Northumbria, declared for him, and even Stigand, the patriotic archbishop of Canterbury, found it advisable. . . .’”
Victor sighed, his mind wandering away from the dull, droning words. Why had his governess chosen now to try and teach him history? Not that Victor disliked learning about the past, but - it was very hard to pay attention when you were sitting on a bench in the very middle of the biggest and scariest city in the world. His eyes flicked left and right as a continuous stream of people flowed past him and Miss Horrocks. Why did Mother love London so much? It was so loud and tall and full of strangers. . .then again, Mother was pretty loud herself. And she liked showing off to strangers. She'd spent most of their time here going on and on to Father about how she needed a whole new wardrobe, and new jewelry, and new dishes, and new furniture - new everything, it felt like. Victor had been half-certain he was going to get exchanged for a newer model on this shopping trip. But no - instead, he'd been dumped outside the store, so as not to get underfoot while Mother selected all of her new things. With Miss Horrocks and a book of English history so dry that Victor knew that, if you dropped in the Thames, not a single page would get wet. I wish we could go to the park, he thought as Miss Horrocks droned on about William being crowned king. Or back to the hotel. Just anywhere other than -
Was that - music?
His head jerked up as the strange tones reached his ears, traveling over the dull roar of the crowd. That was - that was most definitely Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Victor knew it inside and out from practicing it diligently at home on his piano. But this version was certainly not being played on a piano. Or a harp, or a violin, or - anything Victor knew of. It flowed through the air, full of a strange, buzzing crackle that he just couldn’t place. What sort of instrument is that?
Miss Horrocks noticed it too, looking up from her recitation with a scowl. “Now where is that racket coming from?”
Well, that was unkind, Victor thought - the music was strange, certainly, but it was still music. And - he tilted his head - it seemed to be coming from just around the corner. Curiosity filled him, dampening his usual nerves, and he slid off the bench and hurried down the street, dodging the puzzled people standing in his way. “Victor!” Miss Horrocks cried, scrambling to her feet. “Come back here!”
“I'm j-just seeing where it's coming f-from! I'll be r-right back!” Victor promised, waving at her. Before she could protest further, he ducked around the corner.
The sight that greeted him stopped him in his tracks. The cross street was jam-packed with people, pressed in tighter than a pack of Father's sardines. They were all staring at some gigantic stage that had popped up in the middle of the cobbles. Victor wove his way through the forest of legs for a closer look, craning his neck as far as he was able. A man stood upon the platform, wearing a funny white coat like a doctor and a pair of dark goggles. On either side of him were two large pillars of metal, with mushroom-like tops. Electricity curled over them in blue zig-zags, leaping from one pillar to the other. . .and making them sing, Victor realized with a jolt. They were the source of the mysterious music - the current bouncing between them producing notes as solid as any from ivory keys or cat-gut string. He'd never known that electricity could do that. He stared, enthralled, as the buzzing tune filled his ears. “Wow. . . .”
“Victor Van Dort!”
A hand fastened itself around his wrist, making him nearly leap out of his skin. He looked up to see Mother's scowling face looming over him. “We leave you alone for five minutes, and already you’re getting into trouble!” she snapped. “Come along, we have more shopping to do!”
“B-but the m-music?” Victor said, pointing to the magical machines and the man operating them.
Mother's scowl deepened. “That's not music. That man up there? He's a Touched, Victor," she said, waving at the fellow in the coat. “You want nothing to do with them. They’re monsters, all of them.”
A Touched?! Victor blanched. Oh no -- he'd heard about Touched! Back home, there was always some story going around about how they kidnapped people and cut them open and did all sorts of terrible things to them. Or about how they made vicious monsters that then got loose and ate people and crushed them under their feet. Touched were the definition of Bad People, and he knew he didn't want to be anywhere near them. He nodded, shuddering, and let Mother pull him back through the crowd, to where Miss Horrocks and Father (the latter laden with bags) were waiting. Oh - that was a narrow escape! I never would have gone to see if I'd known it was from a Touched!
And yet. . .the music was still there. Following them as they walked away to find the most fashionable hatter in town. Victor glanced back at the stage - at the man dancing between the pillars, making metal and sparks sing. And as the tune swirled around him, crackling in his ears, he couldn’t help entertaining a most treacherous thought for a moment: Could anyone who can make music like that really be that bad?
Chapter 79: Perspective (And Everything Else) Flip
Next up is a prompt originally from 12/15/2010, which was done for one of their Wednesday picture-related posts. And I quote: For today's graphics related prompt, we challenge you to write something inspired by a picture of a man doing a handstand on a road – that's been flipped upside-down. I figured, in a world of mad science, a device that flipped gravity or spacial relations or something else related was bound to happen. Richard seemed to be the most likely of the main cast to make such a strange Invention, so it got plonked in his shop. (Interestingly, I see in the notes that this must be the first time I properly mentioned Richard in Charloft, given that I mention I got the idea of calling him Richard from an old Alice/Hatter fan artist, NuttyIsa, on devART. I just got used to thinking of him like that, even though I didn't ship him and Alice!)
Victor flailed wildly as he stepped over the threshold of Mad Hatter Haberdashery - only for the world to suddenly flip itself upside-down. He tumbled head over heels over head down a slope that had once been the roof, coming to rest in a tangled heap in the very tip of the point. "Ow," he groaned, slowly and cautiously reaching for his head. "What happened?"
"I wish I knew!"
Victor looked up to see Richard hanging above him, swaying gently to and fro. His friend's absurdly tall hat was open, and the mechanical hand inside of it was clinging to a chair that was somehow still stuck to what had once been the floor. "It's supposed to be an anti-gravity device!" he continued, aiming a kick at a nearby contraption, chugging away without a care in the inverted world. "To make it easier for people to select merchandise! Instead, we got - well, this." He spread his arms wide to indicate the shop in all its upside-down glory. "And I haven't got a clue why! Or why it only affects inanimate objects, while leaving anything living and even slightly organic alone! At least the flip didn't result in all my hats being crushed down there. . ." He unscrewed the tip of his finger, revealing a screwdriver. "Mind climbing your way up here and helping me fix this mess?"
"Yes, all right. . ." Victor got his feet under him and began feeling for handholds. "Why am I friends with you again?" he added, unable to help himself as he glanced up.
“Because my shop is the only place you can get squimberry tarts.”
“. . .All right, that’s fair enough.”
Chapter 80: Thoughts On Snow
Onto a prompt originally written for "Twosday" over on Charloft -- a day all about choosing between two things (two different items, two different scenarios, two different ways of reacting to something, etc). The prompt for 12/21/2010 was:
"The snow is really coming down out there! Do you find it... frightful or delightful? Bonus points: Write a scene that features your love or hate for snow."
Victor's in-character response, which prompted the below ficlet of him as a kid in Burtonsville, consisted of the following:
"I rather like snow overall. I have fond memories of making snowmen and snow angels and snow forts as a child. I will admit that I don't like to be out in it for too long, however – I get cold easily. And the novelty wears off around early March."
Victor pressed a hand against the glass, watching the snow drift down beyond it. The flakes were large and fluffy, the kind that promised a world wreathed in white in the near future. Already the ground was vanishing, the gray cobbles swallowed up by the gentle but relentless assault. The founder's statue looked like it had been dusted liberally with sugar, and the Everglot mansion beyond was only just visible through the streaming curtain of white. Victor smiled, admiring the slow and steady change of the landscape, thinking ahead to a day filled with fat, jolly snowmen, flat spread-eagled snow angels, and carefully constructed snow forts once the clouds had completed their work. Yes - he had to admit, he liked snow.
But he’d also admit he liked it a bit better when he was watching it from inside a nice warm house.
Chapter 81: Up A Tree, To The Top
Moving into prompts from 2011 now! Aren't you all excited? :p Anyway, this story came about from a Wednesday picture prompt on Charloft:
"A picture speaks a thousand words... sometimes. For today, look at this picture of a lone bare tree in the snow and let it inspire you to write something about your characters."
My immediate thought was along the lines of "Victor's so good at climbing, I bet he could scale that thing in no time!" Which led to this cute little piece set during Victor and Alice's courtship. Seriously, him being an excellent climber is hardly a headcanon -- go rewatch that scene in Corpse Bride where he SCALES A CLIFF and tell me I'm wrong.
"Well. Aren't you majestic."
Victor pressed a hand against the tree's trunk, looking up through the tangle of branches at the gray sky. "Though I'm sure you're even better-looking with leaves," he continued, lightly stroking the bark. "All bright green in spring, and reds and oranges and gold in autumn. . .I'm quite looking forward to seeing both, in due course."
"That one's not sapient, you know."
Victor started, then turned to see Alice behind him, grinning. "Just in case you were expecting an answer at some point," she continued, coming up to wrap an arm around his waist. "I shan't shame you for talking to an inanimate object, though. I do so all the time."
"So does Doc - though, usually, his comments are rather more profane," Victor said, chuckling. He patted the trunk. "It is a beautiful tree, though."
"Mmmm - and that's saying something in the middle of winter." Alice eyed the nearest branches. "Thinking of climbing it?"
"It hadn't crossed my mind. . .are you?"
"Perhaps," Alice admitted. "I've climbed my fair share of trees, after all."
"So have I," Victor said. "Probably far more than you."
"Perhaps, but I'm very good at it."
"So am I." Victor grinned at her, suddenly playful. "Fancy a race to the top?"
"You're on!" Alice promptly grabbed the branch closest to her and hauled herself up. "Don't lag behind, slowpoke!"
"I have no intention to!" Victor seized a branch and hoisted himself skyward, feet immediately swinging out to brace himself against the trunk. He clambered up with practiced ease, long arms and sensitive fingers always seeking out the best branches and handholds. Soon he came to the top, a forest of little whippy twigs. He located a safe branch to sit on, then peered back down.
Alice stared back up at him from the branch below, eyes wide. "What - how did you manage that so fast?" she demanded, rebalancing herself as her grip threatened to slip. "Are you part bloody spider?"
"No," Victor told her, offering a hand up to his spot. "Just very, very experienced at getting away from bullies."
Chapter 82: Borrower Or Lender Be
Moving onto another "Twosday" prompt:
Do you tend to be a borrower or a lender? Bonus points: Write about a time you needed to borrow something, or loaned something to someone else.
My response, fic-wise, was to write a story where Victor lent Marty some money, and the ensuing conversation led him to realize just how much he was borrowing off Marty and Doc. XD Hey, he's just used to having enough money for everything, he's still in his adjustment period here! Speaking of money, the very first draft of this fic had Victor lending Marty a whole pound for just a notebook -- fortunately, I've learned a bit more about how Victorian money worked since then!
"One, two, three, and – one, two, three. . .uh, Victor? Can I borrow a shilling? I'm just short here."
"Mmm? Oh, of course," Victor said, pulling out his wallet and locating the asked-for coin.
"Thanks." Marty dropped it into the clerk's waiting hand, who in turn passed over the notebook, pens, and ruler he'd just bought. "Thanks, have a good one. . .I'll give it right back to you once we get back home," he added to Victor as they exited the shop.
"Don't worry about it," Victor assured him, smiling. "I was happy to help!"
"Yeah, sure, but I don't want to forget and end up stiffing you. I mean, every penny counts, right?"
Victor opened his mouth, about to say something like he had plenty of pennies to spare - then stopped as it hit him: no, he didn't. The famous Van Dort fortune he was so used to was all the way back in Burtonsville. And Secundusian shopkeepers were unlikely to allow him to buy on his father's credit. All he had now was his salary. Which was decent enough, certainly paid for things like quills and candy bars and the like, but. . .what happened if he wanted something more expensive? What if he had some sort of crisis? What about his recurring thought about finding his own flat? He was pretty sure those cost a lot more than just fifteen shillings a week. . .
"Victor? You okay?"
Victor snapped back to the present, blinking. "You just - kind of froze there," Marty continued, watching him with a frown.
"Sorry," Victor said, rubbing the back of his head. "It's just - it really hit me for the first time that, right here and now, I'm not rich anymore. I needed a moment to w-wrap my head around it." Suddenly deeply aware of how spoiled he sounded, he hastily added, "N-not that I regret lending you the shilling! I just-"
Marty laughed. "Relax Victor - I get it. Would be a trip for me too, in your shoes. Try not to worry too much - Doc and I will make sure you always got a roof over your head and food in your stomach. As for the rest. . .well, welcome to the wonderful world of saving, just like the rest of us." He nudged his friend playfully. "Seriously, though - you've been sleeping on our couch for a good month and only just realized you're living the poor life?"
"Yes, yes, laugh at my obliviousness. . ."
Chapter 83: A Most Unusual Moon
Moving onto another Wednesday picture prompt:
For today, your challenge is to write something inspired by a fanciful picture of a brilliant star and the moon with a thin crescent at the bottom lit up.
Instantly I thought of the sky above the Skool level in American McGee's Alice, which is all kiddie drawings of stars, plus a moon that looks just like Cheshire's smile. From there, the words just flowed, and the below is what resulted!
“Do you know what I think the moon looks like tonight?”
“What?” Alice asked, shifting position on the grass.
“The Cheshire Cat’s grin." Victor traced his finger along the curve of the crescent. "Look at the way it shines! Just like his teeth when he's perched on his favorite branch.”
“Oh yes, now I see it." Alice tilted her head. "Too bad the only star bright enough to serve as an eye is in entirely the wrong position.”
“Mmmm. A shame we can’t go up there and just draw our own."
Alice hummed agreement. . .then, after a moment, started giggling. Victor turned to look at her, puzzled. "What's funny?”
“Oh, I got to thinking about how I used to draw stars as a child - you know, with the five points?" She swept her hand across the deep black expanse above them. "And suddenly I pictured a sky full of those, all done in white crayon.”
“Oh!" Victor laughed himself as the image filled his head - dozens of crude twinkling stars surrounding a cattish grin. "That is cute."
Silence descended on them, warm and companionable as they continued gazing up at the night sky. Then, slowly, Victor asked, "Alice?”
“Is - is there any place around here that sells black canvases? And paint that glows?”
She smiled at him, brighter than the moon. “I don’t know - but I would like to find out.”
Chapter 84: Second Helping (And Third, And Fourth. . .)
Moving onto another Tuesday prompt, this time we have:
For today, tell us about two times when you had a second.
This naturally inspired two fics from me! This is the first, where the "second" Victor had is a second helping. It's a pre-Secundus incident, set about three years before he encountered the train (so when he was about 16 or so). The Van Dorts were at a ball during the Season, and Victor had missed both tea and dinner before they went, so naturally he was kind of hungry. . .and we're talking about someone who already can put away more food than you'd expect for such a skinny guy. XD What can I say, I think it's funny for him to be a bigger eater than anyone thinks!
No one really really noticed when he went back for his second helping. After all, most of the guests were doing much the same when he piled his plate with food, appetites renewed from dancing. They just nodded politely and slid to the side so he could reach the ices when he asked.
The third helping caused a few raised eyebrows, but nothing more. Most everyone was out on the dance floor by this time, and those still in the refreshment room were taking advantage of the quiet mainly to talk rather than eat. Nevertheless, there were still a few people enjoying a bit of tongue, or a few biscuits, so the tall pale young man didn't particularly stand out from the crowd. (Well, not when it came to eating, anyway.) And no one considered it their business to say anything.
The fourth helping prompted some furrowed brows and questioning looks. Almost everyone else had finished their meals at this point, and - well. Taking so much food was such a nouveau riche thing to do, wasn't it? But he wasn't actually bothering anyone. . .and if they were honest, most of the guests had no idea what etiquette actually demanded in this case. Even if this was starting to verge on the edge of spectacle, no one wanted to be the one to speak up.
But when Victor took a fifth helping of food from the buffet table, Mrs. Candlemaker couldn’t help herself. "Goodness," she whispered to her companions, "where does he store it all?"
And Nell Van Dort, overhearing, muttered, "You're not even the second hostess to ask that."
Chapter 85: Second (But Still Awesome) Friends
And here's the other half of the "tell us about two times when you had a second" prompt! This one I decided would be about second friends -- namely, Victor considering Doc and Marty his second-best friends after his old dog Scraps. Yeah, Victor had kind of a lonely childhood. . .
For your edification, Gordon Tannen's last name is a reference to the Tannen family from the Back To The Future series. I thought it would be amusing if Victor's bully came from the same lineage. "Barney" isn't a reference to anything, though -- he's just me thinking it might be nice if Victor had one other kid who played with him, at least for a little while. Shame it didn't really work out!
For nineteen years, Victor had been quite sure that he would only have one best friend in his life.
Well, to be perfectly honest, he was sure he would have only one friend in general. He didn't get on with the other village boys - most of them considered him just "that weird Van Dort kid who likes to chase butterflies," and of course Gordon Tannen and his cronies saw him as nothing more than a punching bag. There had been Barney, long ago, but Victor had never been truly sure whether he'd actually enjoyed playing with him, or was just being nice because his father worked for Victor's father. And with him having moved away years ago, the question was moot anyway. The village girls wanted nothing to do with him, wrapped up in their own little lives (or, in the case of Victoria Everglot, almost never leaving her house). His parents - well, they were his parents. And the servants - Victor liked them fine, especially their driver, Mayhew. And they seemed to like him. But they were always careful to call him "Master Victor," and to never be too friendly as they went about their day. There was a barrier there, a excruciating awareness of the difference in their class, and while Victor wouldn't have minded breaching it - they did.
Which left him with only one candidate for friendship, and thus best-friendship - Scraps. The dog had been Victor's near-constant companion in life, leaping about his feet when they were running through the woods after a butterfly, licking the tears from his face after a vicious scolding from his mother, and growling at the monster under the bed during long, terrifying nights. Sure, Victor had occasionally wished for a companion that could answer his questions and comments in words, but he'd still loved his pup with everything he had. And Scraps had returned that love tenfold, right up to the moment of his death. When they'd finally put him in the ground, Victor had been left with a hole in his heart - one he was sure could never be filled.
And then the train came to Burtonsville, and he was dragged off to Secundus. He found himself in the company of a Touched and an Igor, who - quite unlike what Pastor Galswells had always claimed about them - took him in, showed him kindness, introduced him to the wonders of science. On the strength of a single, enthusiastic conversation, he agreed to stay - to work with them, make their home his. And as the days passed by in a whirlwind of fetching items for customers, helping Doc with Inventions, talking music with Marty, sharing laughter and tears and everything else three men living together might. . .he realized that the hole no longer felt nearly so big as it had. That, suddenly, he had friends. Best friends, in fact.
They would always be second-best after Scraps, of course. But it was definitely a close thing.
Chapter 86: An Unwelcome Announcement This Way
Next up we have another Twosday prompt that's a two-for-one! The prompt was:
Tonight we invite you to tell us two versions of the same story.
And my story? Well, for this first take -- just what went through Victor's head when Nell dropped the bombshell that he was going to be married in about a month's time? (Yes, they DID tell him for the first time right after Christmas! Because they're kind of horrible people.)
“Oh, Victor - we have an announcement to make.”
I look up from my tea, to see Mother - smiling at me? That's a rare sight - normally what I get are scowls and sighs. “Yes, Mother?” I ask, curiosity piqued. What could I have done that actually made her pleased with me for once?
Her smile widens, beaming out of her tiny mouth. “It's finally official!" she declares, clapping her hands together. "The Everglots have agreed to let you marry their daughter! You’re going to be wed in about a month!”
. . .I’m going to be what?!
Mother's smile flips upside-down, clearly not happy with my lack of an enthusiastic response. "Don't you have anything to say?" she prompts.
“I – I – w-wed?” I managed to stammer out, setting down my teacup with shaky hands. A bit of Earl Grey splashes on my knee, but I ignore it. My mother just told me I'm going to get married. Right out of the blue. Am I dreaming? Delirious? There - there must some mistake. . .
“Yes, wed!" Mother confirms, the smile returning. "We came to the agreement with the Everglots just before Christmas! We need the standing, and apparently they need a bit of a loan." She preens for a moment, clearly thrilled to have something over the local nobility. "So you're going to marry their daughter, Victoria. Imagine it, Victor! You’re going to wed the descendant of a Grand Duke! Even if these ones are just viscounts, that counts for something!”
"We've been discussing it all month," Father adds, grinning under his mustache. "It's all been taken care of, son. You'll be a married man by the end of January."
. . .They've arranged a marriage for me. They've arranged a marriage for me to the daughter of the Everglots. A woman I've never even spoken to. A woman I'm not even sure I've ever seen! And they've been doing this since before Christmas?! Without even telling me?! For a moment, anger flares up in me, hot and righteous - but it's quickly snuffed out by my nerves. Married. I'm going to get married. To a complete stranger. At nineteen. How can I - how could they -
No. No, this can't be happening. I can't get married. Not yet. I'm not prepared. Not in the slightest. This is ludicrous. There must be something I can say that'll change their minds. “M-Mother, Father, I – I don’t–”
“Don’t?" Mother's voice is as hard and cold as a guillotine. "Victor, there is no 'don't.' You're going to do it. Our social standing depends on it. You can't just make us look like fools in front of the entire village!" She picks up her teacup, glaring at me over the rim. "It's all settled, Victor. January 27th. I would ask that you clear your calendar, but I know there's nothing on it."
And with that final cut, she turns to Father and starts talking about invitations. I stare into my tea, my stomach twisting itself into knots. January 27th. I have a month before I'm - married. To a woman I don't even know.
. . .perhaps I'll get lucky and some Touched will abduct me for experiments before then.
Chapter 87: An Unwelcome Reaction That Way
And now the other half of the Twosday two-for-one prompt "Tonight we invite you to tell us two versions of the same story." For this second take on the same event -- just what went through Nell's head when she dropped the bombshell that Victor was going to be married in about a month's time? (She was rather more excited about it than Victor, for one thing. . .)
“Oh, Victor - we have an announcement to make.”
I can't help but grin as Victor looks up from his tea, clearly curious as to what's about to happen. Oh, I'm so excited! This is it - the news that will catapult us out of our dreary middle-class lives and into the proper nobility! It's a wonder I haven't burst from joy before now! "Yes, Mother?"
All right, all right, Nell - don't make a spectacle of yourself. That's what common people do. And God knows I mustn't do anything to set the boy's nerves off. Goodness, how I ended up with such an anxious son I can't understand. . .but at least he'll be happy about this. "It's finally official!" I declare, clapping my hands together. "The Everglots have agreed to let you marry their daughter! You're going to be wed in about a month!"
Victor - gawks at me, eyes wide and jaw slack. And not in a good way - more in a 'what on earth did you just say' way. My excitement ebbs, nibbled away by irritation. This is not how I expected this conversation to go. "Don't you have anything to say?" I prompt significantly.
“I – I – w-wed?” he finally stammers out, setting down his teacup with shaking hands. He sounds - terrified, honestly. Like we just led him to the gallows instead of a bright new future! My son for you, frightened of everything. Doesn't he know what an honor this is?
. . .Actually, maybe he doesn't. Victor has never paid enough attention to the ins and outs of Society. Perhaps all I have to do is sell it a little more, and he'll come around. Besides, it's not like I mind talking about it. "Yes, wed!" I confirm with my best smile. "We came to the agreement with the Everglots just before Christmas! We need the standing, and apparently they need a bit of a loan." Or a lot of a loan. . .oh, it's probably cruel of me to be so glad that the Everglots are having financial troubles, but I can't bring myself to care! That'll teach those snobs to think they're better than us. "So you're going to marry their daughter, Victoria." I lean forward, determined to make him understand the amazing thing we've accomplished. The life that we've secured for him - all of us! "Imagine it, Victor! You’re going to wed the descendant of a Grand Duke! Even if these ones are just viscounts, that counts for something!”
"We've been discussing it all month," William adds, face bright behind his mustache. At least he understands why this is so important! "It's all been taken care of, son. You'll be a married man by the end of January."
For the briefest moment, something that looks like anger flits across Victor's face. Then it's gone, replaced with the anxiety I know so well. “M-Mother, Father, I – I don’t–”
Don't? Don't?! Is he actually trying to say he doesn't - that he won't - that little ingrate! After all the trouble we went through to arrange this! With our proper place on the social ladder finally within our grasp! "Don't?" I cut in, and he shrinks back from my steel-edged tone. "Victor, there is no 'don't.' You're going to do it. Our social standing depends on it. You can't just make us look like fools in front of the entire village!" I snatch up my teacup, giving him my hardest glare over the rim. "It's all settled, Victor. January 27th. I would ask that you clear your calendar, but I know there's nothing on it."
Victor winces at that, but I have no sympathy. It's his own fault for never bothering to make any friends. Or find his own wife. If he wasn't such a complete disaster at socializing, maybe we wouldn't be here. At least he's stopped talking about "don't." I turn to William, ignoring the way Victor's staring into his tea like it's his last meal. "We'll have to visit a proper stationer's first thing tomorrow. I'm not having the invitations go out on anything but the best. And we'll have to get a list from the Everglots of the people they wish to invite."
"Of course, dear," William agrees. He glances briefly at Victor. "Should we invite them round for a cup?"
"No - we'll visit them," I decide, shooting my awkward, shy, inept son another look. "Alone." Ugh, to have them around after this. . .I just know it would be a disaster. Best to wait a few days before introducing him to Miss Everglot.
In fact - maybe they shouldn't meet until the rehearsal.
Chapter 88: Dandelions & Storms
Chapter 88, w0000! :D (Look, as a Back To The Future fan, I'm contractually obligated to celebrate this milestone.)
Anyway, today's prompt from my old haunt Charloft is an old Wednesday picture prompt:
For today, we challenge you to write something inspired by this picture of a dandelion puff being blown apart on a stormy day.
Something about the picture got me thinking about the fact that many dandelion seeds don't actually land anywhere good for sprouting, so the ones that do are really, really lucky. It wasn't a stretch to come up with a scenario where Victor, who's put down some solid roots in Secundus with a wife and a family by the time this takes place, would be ruminating on the same.
Well - we definitely have a big storm coming in.
Victor sat on the grass, watching as the sky above him filled with dark, heavy clouds. Here and there, bright slashes of sunlight sliced through the growing gloom, but they were fading rapidly, blue swallowed up by black. The air was thick with the smell of oncoming rain, the promise of a solid soaking to come weighing heavily on his skin. At least Doc will be pleased, Victor thought, bracing himself on his hands as he stared upward. As well as most of the other Touched here. Nothing like a good thunderstorm to set the perfect stage for SCIENCE!
A breeze stirred his hair, carrying with it a swirl of small white puffs. Victor glanced over to see a dandelion near him, stem bending slightly as more seeds flew off into the wild - well, currently, very dark grey yonder. Victor watched as they danced in the air, propelled by the growing wind. How many of them would get this brief chance to fly before the rain started and soaked their fuzzy little heads, he wondered? How many would be able to spread out and see the world? To put down roots somewhere fantastic and new? To grow and flourish and spread their own seeds one day, sending them out on grand adventures of their own?
. . .How many wouldn't?
He smiled, leaned down, and blew gently on the remaining seeds still clinging to their parent plant, sending them scattering. Then he stood up, wiped his hands on his pants, grabbed his things, and turned to head home. He'd gotten the flower samples he needed for the conservatory, and he didn't particularly want to be out here when the rain started. Besides, Alice and the children were probably waiting on him for tea by now.
He vaguely hoped he’d find dandelions sprouting in the front garden later.
Chapter 89: And Round And Round And Round We Go. . .
And now, one chapter late, we get Doc and Marty again. XD Ah well. . .anyway, this was another "Twosday" prompt:
For this challenge, visit this palindrome site [link] (or one like it) and let a word or phrase inspire a story.
When I hit the site, the word that jumped out at me was "rotavator" (it's a device that helps aerate soil and break it up for planting). It immediately reminded me of a certain elevator one finds in the Skool level of American McGee's Alice -- a big pole with a fan of steps that rotates to bring you up to the next level -- and I just ran with that. My first draft had Victor and Alice exploring the place and Victor worrying about safety issues as they went up, but I decided I wanted to go for comedy instead (to his detriment, I'm afraid XD). So instead we have Doc, Marty, and Victor having gone out to the Skool on a repair job for the Mayor Elder. . .
“And your bill for the work, Mayor Elder.”
The Mayor Elder of the Wonderland Park Mining Gnomes studied the paper with a frown. “Hmm. Higher than I thought it would be, Dr. Brown," he remarked, tapping the final figure with his pipe. "Was repairing the rotovator really so difficult?”
“Well, it was a bit of a harder job than anticipated," Doc admitted, arms folded. "But that’s not the reason for the extra charge.”
“Oh? What is, then?”
Doc pointed. “See that item marked ‘assistant trauma?’”
"Trauma?!" The Mayor Elder shot him a glare. “How is it my fault that Master Van Dort has a tender stomach?”
“Who’s the one who made him step onto that stupid thing to ‘properly demonstrate what’s wrong with it?’” Marty shot back, making heavy use of air quotes. "Poor Victor still can't see straight!"
"Mmmmhmmmm," Victor said, holding his head as he sat on the ground. "I-I am s-sorry, Doc, I just. . .”
“It’s all right, Victor – I know you didn’t meant to throw up on me," Doc assured him, crouching down beside him. "How are you? Any improvement?”
“S-some, but. . .” Victor lifted his head slightly, wincing. "R-room's still s-spinning a bit."
"It's okay, Victor," Marty assured him. "We'll get you home and in bed soon. Bet you'll be fine after a quick nap."
Victor managed a smile. “T-thank you, Marty.”
“I still don’t see why I have to pay for his upset stomach," the Mayor Elder grumbled.
Doc shook his head. "All right then - I guess I'll be discussing this with Victor's fiancee. See what she has to say about your-"
“Here you are! Paid in full! Don’t worry about the change!”
Chapter 90: Alternate Me
Okay -- this is an interesting one. This is another "Twosday" prompt from Charloft, from May of 2011. Said prompt consisted of:
For tonight's prompt, imagine you are a twin! If you had another you – would you be the good twin, or the evil one? Or perhaps it's not your twin... but another you from a parallel dimension. Let your imagination go and give us a drabble about the two of you.
And here are my notes from my original post:
*snort* Well, considering how much I love AU, this was really easy. The Other Victor here is from my newly-created Traveler-verse. It's a Victor/Alice crossover verse where all of each main's canon happened. It came about when I realized that, while I almost always had "American McGee's Alice" happen for Alice in the V/A stories, Victor never went through all of "Corpse Bride." So I decided to make a "full-canon" verse to see what I could do with it. It's still under construction, of course (since Alice's next game hasn't been released yet), but I thought he and Butterfly Boy meeting would be interesting.
Wondering what the heck the Traveler-verse is? Well, it was going to be my next big verse -- a world where Victor and Alice met after both their canons had been completed, and the gimmick was that they both could travel to different worlds (Alice being able to visit dream worlds like Wonderland, Victor physical ones like the Land of the Dead). As stated above, I was just waiting for Alice: Madness Returns to be released before shoring up the final details.
And then A:MR was released, and my brain ended up latching onto a different AU concept -- "what if Victor's parents thought he'd lost his mind in the aftermath of Corpse Bride, and sent him to Dr. Bumby to be cured?"
AKA the only reason this drabble isn't the seemingly-obvious Secundus/Forgotten Vows crossover is because the latter hadn't been conceived yet. XD So instead enjoy this incredibly non-canon blast from the past with an entirely different Victor who sadly lost out to my magnum opus.
“So,” Victor said, leaning on the table, “in your world, you met Emily by awakening her from the grave?”
“Yes," Other Victor confirmed with a nod, playing with the end of his tie.
“And you saw part of the afterlife – the Land of the Dead?”
“Oh yes. Very nice place. Colorful."
“And Wonderland is its own separate realm, accessed through dreams?”
“That’s how Alice found it.”
Victor considered all this, tapping his fingers idly. “Huh. I must say, your world is rather strange.”
Other Victor looked at him, one eyebrow raised. “You have people walking about this city made from cut-up corpses, mechanical beings capable of full human thought, men and women capable of breaking every known law of science on a whim, and everyone wears goggles ‘just in case.’” He smirked. “Yours isn’t?”
Well, he had him there.
Chapter 91: Saving My Newly-Touched Friend From His Parents
Our next Twosday prompt is -- honestly, something of a repeat. As the moderators put it:
Today, we challenge you give us a scene/event from your character's story from the perspective of one person involved...and then the same scene from the perspective of another.
Which, uh, struck me as pretty similar to the prompt where they asked us to tell two versions of the same story. But I was willing to roll with it -- mostly because I was in the middle of writing the later chapters of "Secundus" at the time, and found this to be a good way to refine one of the scenes. The moment I chose was from Chapter 19, with Doc carrying the freshly-Touched and freshly-sedated Victor out of the wreckage of Looking-Glass House, only to be accosted by a furious Nell. I thought that would show the most contrast between perspectives. We're starting with Doc's view of the scene, as he tries to get his
essentially adopted sonfriend to safety. . .
Great Scott, does it feel good to be out of that house.
The rubble crunches under my feet, little chunks of debris slipping free and rolling down the slopes as I carefully navigate my way to safety. Marty's just a step ahead of me, one hand on my elbow, constantly glancing back at me as if he's afraid I'll vanish on him. Poor kid. . .I've never seen him this pale and worn. He looks like he's just been through a war - which, unfortunately, is pretty accurate. Great Scott, the things we saw in there. . .it takes a lot to give me nightmares, but the Queen and her demise will be haunting my dreams for some time to come.
"Is - is he-"
"No, just sedated. He's - not well."
Ah, yes - seems people have noticed my cargo. I look down at Victor. He's still limp in my arms, dead to the world. Damn, he looks so - so fragile. You'd never believe that not five minutes ago he was ranting and raving with the best of them. Hell, I'm still having trouble believing it. Victor Van Dort, a mad scientist. . .we're going to have to tread carefully when he wakes. See if we can ease him past those difficult moments when your own brain is working against you, too caught up in SCIENCE to worry about anything else -
“You there! Where are you going with my son?”
I jump, pulling Victor closer, then stifle a groan. Oh damn. Mrs. Van Dort. The absolute last person I want to see right now. Can I get away with ignoring her? I don't know how long Richard's sedative is going to last, and I want to get Victor back to the shop as soon as possible. . .oooh, but she is Victor's mother. She needs to be informed about what's happened. I just hope I can tell her without breaking down. . . “Mrs. Van Dort–”
“What happened to him?" she demands, heedless of the fact that I was just going to tell her. "You did something else to him while he was in there, didn’t you?" She swats at me with her ever-present fan. "Put him down right now! William, get the carriage ready, we’re taking him home! No more of this ‘Secundus is good for me’ nonsense!”
Damn, damn damn! I cannot let her take him! Definitely not while he's still - adjusting. If he wakes up from all this in a carriage on the way back to Burtonsville. . .I don't even want to think about what might happen. Too close to what I nearly did back when I first went Creative. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Van Dort, but it’s imperative that your son stays with us,” I say over her husband's weak attempt to call for their driver, backing up a step. All right, Emmett, just - try to break this news gently. . .
“Why?" Her fan goes in my face as she scowls, eyes full of hate. "So you can continue to experiment on him?”
. . .You know what, forget gently. I have had enough of this woman and her accusations. “Because it’s inadvisable to start dragging him all over the countryside right now!" I snap, making her (and everyone else - hadn't realized I'd gotten that loud) jump. "Mrs. Van Dort, your son has a very pronounced case of Atypical Scientific Neural Disorder!”
Confusion mixes with the anger as she glares back at me. "What in God's name-"
Right, yes, someone like her isn't going to know the scientific name for the disease. “In plain English, your son’s Touched!”
All the color runs out of Mrs. Van Dort's face, as all around us people gasp and whisper. "Victor?" I hear Susan say, her shaky voice utterly disbelieving. "That - that shy little boy-"
I nod, still looking at Mrs. Van Dort. Her expression is - not encouraging, but not unexpected either. "He went Creative in there," I explain, holding him a little tighter. "He - he just saved all our lives."
"In the creepiest way possible," Hiccup Haddock adds, shuddering. "I'm not going to be able to look at spiders for ages."
"Yes - judging by what he did to kill the Queen, he's at least a Somewhat," Christopher puts in to Lady Heterodyne and Baron Wulfenbach, who are regarding this whole scene with increasing shock. Not that I blame them in the slightest. "And there's a strong possibility he's a Severely."
Lady Heterodyne and Baron Wulfenbach exchange a look. "A new Severely touched?" Lady Heterodyne says. "We should probably investigate."
Oh no. I'm just - I can't, right now. Not here. Not after all this. "Please," I beg, suddenly feeling every last second of my age. "Please let me get him home. You can talk to him later, see how he is, but - I just want to bring him home."
Lady Heterodyne regards me a moment - then, to my eternal relief, nods. Oh, am I lucky she understands about difficult Breakthroughs. . . "All right. It looks like we've got a clean-up job to worry about here first anyway." She jerks her head toward the gate. "You get him to bed. We'll be by once he wakes up."
I nod, and promptly make for the path, Marty still at my side. Mrs. Van Dort's eyes burn into my back, watching me take her son away from her and the life she'd planned out for him. Under most circumstances, I'd be sympathetic. As it is - she and that sycophant husband of hers can go to Hell. They don't want Victor as he is anymore?
I'm more than happy to take him off their hands.