Chapter 1: Prologue: Three Years Earlier
She woke up on the cold ground of a dark alley, staring up at the sky.
The moon was barely visible, a pathetic sliver of dirty white, a flicker of sickly yellow in the light-polluted air.
How long had she been lying here? It was difficult to tell. She certainly hadn’t been conscious for all of it. But long enough for the light to shift, the noises of the city centre in the distance to rise and fall and rise again.
Her back was warm, which was odd. The ground on which the rest of her body rested was cold, the chill seeping into her bones.
She shuddered, and a dull lance of pain rolled through her back- hip and shoulder-blade.
Ah, right. That was why she felt warm. Her own blood, seeping out of the fabric of her suit jacket and shirt and spreading across the ground on which she lay.
…shit. She remembered now.
She groaned as the throbbing pain that she had been blissfully unaware of resumed with a vengeance, each pound of her heart sending fire shooting through her. She wouldn’t be going anywhere on her own.
She almost snorted. Like that was her main problem.
Somewhere in the distance, a door slammed. A girl’s voice pierced the night; shrill, silly with drink and loud excitement. From her spot on the ground, she couldn’t make out what was being said. The girl obviously thought it was important if she was so loud about it.
Maybe she should have been louder about what she wanted. Maybe more forceful. Then they would have taken heed. Then they would have listened.
She recalled the feverish, almost mad look that she’d faced, seconds before the first shot had come, and reconsidered.
At least they were such bad shots.
She felt a sudden, hysterical urge to laugh, remembering how, the second they’d realised the younger boy hadn’t hit anything immediately fatal, despite having a clear shot from behind her, and she’d reached for her own pistol, they’d been running.
Shooting her in an alley, where the sound echoed and there was only one way out.
Idiots. She hoped the older boy liked his shattered kneecap. She hoped his brother enjoyed dragging him home.
Slowly, her smile faded.
The pain in her back probed at her mind, spread through her body, rendered her weak and numb. Her blood seeped onto the cold ground.
The roar of a car engine split the silence. It was nearby, she thought.
She stared at the moon. Her blood dripped. Her head ached. Her throat was tight.
She really was a sap, too. How could she have thought this would work? That she could really get them to agree? That they had felt the same crushing, crippling loss as her, which had spurred her to attempt this stupid thing in the first place?
Of course, they hadn’t.
She bit her tongue, forcing back the urge to cry, knowing it would hurt in more ways than one.
She wondered if anyone would find her before she bled out.
It would be easy- to slip under now, let her eyes close, escape the pain and the cold ground and the shame of knowing what a mistake she’d made. Leave someone else to deal with it, deal with them…
Deal with them.
As suddenly as it had come, the urge to cry all but disappeared. The pain in her back doubled, tripled, surging white-hot as she shifted, straightening her body and stretching her tense, aching muscles. She twisted her mouth into a snarl, not entirely all down to the pain.
That particular issue was settled, wasn’t it? Settled by the bullets embedded in her back, his knee, and the blood on the floor.
It occurred to her, vaguely, that she might not be around to settle the problems that their stupid, badly fired shots had caused. Why that pissed her off so bad, she couldn’t say. But the more she thought, the more she turned over the last few hours in her head, the angrier she became, the more aggression that clawed up her throat and clouded her brain. (Or was that the blood loss? She was finding it increasingly hard to tell.)
She had to get out of here. She had to.
The thunder of the approaching car was getting closer. She wondered if they were back to finish the job. Maybe she should try and sit up-
The car was on the road the alley led off of. She could hear it getting closer and closer, and hear muffled voices.
Cursing, she reached for her gun, but it was too far- she’d dropped it as she’d fallen and it had skittered just a few inches too far away. She reached further, but it was getting harder to focus, to see. Sweat broke out over her brow. Her shoulder-blade shrieked in protest, her hip was white-hot and she felt sick, but she reached further, her hand slick with her own blood, fingers scrabbling-
A car swung around the corner, and yellow light from headlamps rushed down the alley in a wave.
With a cry, she forced herself to reach, to snag the handle of her discarded pistol-
The car screeched to a halt, the driver stood up, she blinked away the black spots in her vision and her hand slipped on the grip of the gun, she lifted it-
A howl of fury echoed throughout the alley. The thud of someone all but falling out the car, the door slamming so hard the car shook, the pounding of feet running towards her-
She dropped the gun and slumped to the ground, chest heaving. She didn’t need it now. She recognised that silhouette, the others now scrambling out of the back of the car.
“WE GOT HER, WE GOT HER!”
“GET THE OTHERS-”
She put her pounding head back against the cold ground and stared back up at the moon as they reached her. Someone took her arm, her back, tried to lift her up, but she shouted in pain and they stopped. Faces swam in and out of her vision, but she couldn’t focus on them. She stared at the barely visible moon, her vision fading, and as her resolve hardened, as cold as the ground under her, she fancied she saw the moon become full in an instant, spinning back to full strength, leaving the shadow of the earth and becoming something new.
Sophie is, as usual, lording it over everyone else from her booth.
She sits, swathed in her silks and furs and pearls, and drinks the sometimes shit liquor, and ignores or indulges the boys as she fancies. Today, she’s not interested; the only people permitted to sit with her are Nicola and Chaddick. Chaddick to make sure no one tries to kidnap her, and Nicola because the girl has just had a, frankly, dreadful breakup and Sophie enjoys feeling nice, even if she isn’t, necessarily. She feels especially like being nice, today, partially because the drink is decent, but also because of everything else that’s going to happen tonight, which is all due to her.
“He really just broke it off with your right there?” demands Chaddick to Nicola. Nicola nods glumly, staring at the melting ice in her drink.
“In front’a the whole bar.”
Chaddick whistles, looking sympathetic. Sophie carefully schools her features into a neutral expression, even though she hasn’t heard such good gossip since Millicent slapped the governor’s son, but looking gleeful probably doesn’t fall under the category of being “nice”. Nicola is still talking;
“He tried to leave, but Bogden grabbed him and got right up in his face, told him if he ever came back he’d plug him full of holes.”
Chaddick gives a startled hoot.
“Really? He’s, what, your saxophonist?”
“He’s a decent fella, though.” Nicola’s mouth twitches a little at the memory, even though she’s still clearly upset. She glances at Sophie to see if she’s interested.
A nicer person would have made an effort to talk to her, offered advice or laughed along. Sophie doesn’t. It’s not that she doesn’t like Nicola (well, she doesn’t particularly, but only because Sophie rarely likes anyone with such dire fashion taste as Nicola has), but tonight, Sophie has other things on her mind, and finds she’s not particularly interested in the other girl’s heartbreak. So, instead, Sophie just turns to stare haughtily out over the bar.
Nicola sighs and turns back to Chaddick.
The club is rambunctious and stifling with smoke, too-strong perfume and the heavy stench of liquor. A glass breaks somewhere, and group of men cheer. Sophie’s not sure what’s louder, the crowd or the band. Either way, it’s some small wonder they haven’t been raided yet, with the collective roar of music and laughter and conversation that makes the hidden speakeasy almost deafening. Groups of patrons mingle and drink and chat, high off the smoke and the exhilaration of something illegal, something forbidden.
Club Avalon, Sophie’s carefully curated masterpiece of drunken revelry and entertainment. Almost everything about it, from the stage curtains, to the lighting, is her choice. She spared no expense, knowing full well how to pull a crowd, and, more importantly, how to keep them. Good interior design, comfort, and, most importantly, the pretty singers and dancers, young men and women with bright eyes and good voices who could keep people coming back again and again… even without the steady flow of moonshine which really keeps them in business.
Everyone asks where Sophie gets it. She doesn’t care to tell them, but if you know, you know, and if you work it out, you keep your mouth shut.
It’s the one thing that she can’t exactly claim credit for.
Sophie tunes back into the conversation, and catches Nicola’s last few sentences;
“-I probably would’a just gone back today if the boss hadn’t been there that night, and saw it all happen. Told me to have a night off.”
Sophie nearly chokes.
“She was at Gavaldon?” she demands. “Last night?”
Nicola casts her a more familiar, long suffering, look.
“I know you act like your club is the only one worth going to, but yeah, because she also owns Gavaldon. And Graves. And Bartleby’s, and-”
“She didn’t tell me she was back, let alone going to Gavaldon, of all inferior places!” thunders Sophie, outraged. Nicola raises her eyebrows.
Chaddick doesn’t laugh, because he’s her bodyguard and he’s supposed to be on her side, but it’s clear he wants to, from his twitching mouth.
Sophie sighs dramatically and ignores both of them. To be fair, she hadn’t actually seen her for a couple of weeks, anyway- she always seemed to disappear off right when something important happened, (like tonight, for example). But apparently she was back in the area, if Nicola was to be believed- but had not yet come to see Sophie, or check up on her (most popular!) club.
Scowling, Sophie leans back and readjusts her furs, checking the time as she did so; not long now, provided the useless stagehands didn’t take forever like they always did.
“What are you waitin’ for?” demands Nicola from her left. Even though she’s meant to be ignoring her, Sophie can’t resist bragging.
“Oh, you haven’t heard?” she asks innocently. “Guess important news don’t travel to places like Gavaldon, huh?”
Nicola looks unimpressed and Sophie hurries on;
“I snagged an air-tight new flapper boy a couple of nights ago. Debuting here tonight.”
Chaddick nods earnestly at Nicola, who’s looking sceptical, like she always does.
“He is good. He’s a laugh, too. I like him.”
“Your sense of humour is mostly based around people falling over, so I ain’t convinced.” Snarks Nicola. Chaddick just grins.
“You wait, doll. You wait.”
Nicola still looks unconvinced, but Sophie doesn’t bother trying to talk more about it.
And see they all do, five excruciatingly long minutes later. The second the lights go down, Sophie is rearranging her pearls and checking her hair, knowing that the attention she’ll get from bringing this particular act into the club is going to eclipse everything she’s ever had before, and feeling very happy about it.
The second he’s on the stage, though, it’s something else.
Nicola’s eyebrows go up, Chaddick’s eyes go big, and there’s a symphony of shattering glasses as people lose their grips on their drinks. Someone wolf-whistles.
Sophie laughs and drains her glass.
Onstage is a tall, beautiful young man, and even though Sophie’s seen him before, she has to congratulate herself again.
He’s all silk, sequins, and jewels, clear eyes that stand out in amongst the makeup and straight brows and full lips that make him look striking beyond belief, otherworldly in-amongst the dim lights and the scarlet curtains. One gloved hand toys with a string of pearls (that cost Sophie a lot, but were definitely worth it), the other is wrapped around the mic stand. He tilts that handsome head a little, golden curls falling in his eyes, and stares at the audience, who stare back, bewitched by the gorgeous boy in his pearls and silks.
And he hasn’t even sung yet. Sophie thinks smugly.
And then he does, and Sophie smiles; she’s so glad the band are actually up to scratch tonight, because that voice really is something else.
Well done, darling. She tells herself.
Then she orders another whiskey and sits back to watch the show, as he pulls the mic from the stand and slinks down to the stage steps.
Considering he looks so good on it, Sophie’s a little disappointed that he doesn’t spend more time on the stage. But his little tour around the bar is just as effective, she has to admit. Perching on tables and twisting boy’s ties to pull them towards him, kissing girl’s hands and dragging gloved fingers across table tops, it’s obvious he knows exactly what he’s doing. Sophie watches him swoop past, rose scent trailing heavy and sweet in his wake. Nicola’s mouth is slightly open, and Chaddick looks a bit stunned, as if he’s been punched in the head.
Tedros Meredith is definitely one of her best finds.
“You should really lock the door, darling-”
Sophie bustles into Tedros’s dressing room barely thirty seconds after he’s left the stage, towing Nicola and Chaddick and slamming the door behind her.
Tedros, sat in front of the vanity, halfway through removing his make-up, looks remarkably unruffled by their sudden appearance. Sophie notes, with some surprise, how quickly he’s managed to drop the mystique and alluring nature he’d held barely two minutes ago. Now his heels are halfway across the room and he’s shoved half a slice of toast in his mouth, staring balefully at them as he chews. Apparently the kitchens are fond of him, too. Sophie makes a mental note to tell Silkima to tone down how much food she gives the flappers- Tedros looks to have about half the loaf of bread teetering on a plate next to him. She’d already had words with her after Beatrix had gotten steak from them.
“I would have done,” he says finally, “had I been given longer than thirty seconds to get in here before my boss comes bursting in.”
Sophie just laughs and swats him with your gloves.
“You are going to get me so much money, baby.”
“Thank you for congratulating me on my performance.” Sighs Tedros, scrubbing rouge off of his sculpted cheekbones, and kicking Chaddick when he swipes a slice of bread. Sophie rolls her eyes.
“You don’t need me to tell you that.” She’d been in raptures on the day of audition, anyhow. He definitely knew.
“Ri-ight.” Grumbles Tedros, throwing his headband onto the sofa and shedding his pearls. “How’d you like it, Chad?”
“I think the girl behind us fainted.” Smirks Chaddick. Tedros looks slightly guilty, but Sophie is ecstatic.
“That’s not a good thing.” gripes Nicola from behind Chaddick’s broad shoulders. Sophie waves a hand.
“Oh, please, she won’t mind- and anyway, it means Tedros is doing it right. Don’t mind Nicola, Teddy, she just got dumped-”
“Can it, Sophie.” Snaps Nicola. Sophie glowers at her. Chaddick just laughs, examining the detail on one of Tedros’s other outfits, hanging near the door.
Tedros awkwardly takes off his lipstick and stands up, taking another slice of toast and wandering over to the small window. Sophie can see Nicola staring at him in that annoying, scrutinising way that she has, and silently wills her not to say anything;
“Where’re you from, Meredith?”
No such luck. Sophie has considered bashing Nicola with a side table several times, but now it’s a stronger urge than ever. She doesn’t need the boss of an inferior club questioning Sophie’s act in Sophie’s club, even if both of their clubs are owned by the same woman!
“How’d you mean?” asks Tedros. He looks a little tense, Sophie thinks, which is odd. There’s no reason he should be worried about exposing where he lived to them.
Come to think of it, she’d never really asked him about his family, or his life outside of the club, at all…
“See, I ain’t ever seen you around before, an’ you talk like a rich kid.” Says Nicola, watching him closely. “And I ain’t never heard of any Meredith family before.”
“Keep to ourselves. I only used to live uptown, anyway. Not anymore.” Tedros says quickly, stiffly. He’s biting the inside of his cheek. “Does it matter?” he asks.
Sophie frowns. Something isn’t right here. Tedros’s guarded face is not making him look too convincing. There’s an odd feeling of suspense, as everyone waits for someone else to talk first.
It’s a very tense pause. Nicola stares at Tedros, who is silhouetted by the window, half of his face in shadow, his still unremoved eye make-up making him look dramatic and somewhat dangerous. Chaddick is eating Tedros’s food loudly behind them, which somewhat ruins the moment, in Sophie’s opinion.
Nicola takes a breath to speak, and just as she opens her mouth-
“I doesn’t matter.” Confirms Chaddick suddenly. “He don’t have to tell you shit, Nic, lay off him. Nic’s jus’ nosy, Ted, pay her no mind. So long as you sing good and get Sophie her dough, there’s no problem.”
He grins, and Tedros looks a little more relaxed. Sophie has to admit that Chaddick has a point. Dysfunctional families aren’t exactly uncommon. It’s possible that Tedros just doesn’t want to tell his new employer about his runaway mother, wicked stepmother or gangster sibling, or something like that.
Not that Sophie could exactly hold anything against him, especially with those examples.
Pushing away the faint unease to the back of her mind, she smiles at (the still very tense) Tedros and trots towards the door.
“Well, darling, we’ll leave you to it.” She decides, tugging her furs more securely around her shoulders. “Tell Beatrix she’s gonna have some competition.”
“You kidding?” asked Tedros, incredulous. He’s slid back on his unruffled persona easily.
(Maybe too easily?)
“She’d kill me.” Tedros continues easily, returning to the vanity to continue removing his make-up.
“Oh, you know that already?” Sophie grins, throwing open the door. “Good.”
Chaddick is taking more of Tedros’s toast and following them out, cheerful as you like. She can see Nicola out of the corner of her eye, though, and she doesn’t look happy.
Well, that’s Nicola’s problem, Sophie decides, as she bids Tedros goodbye and sweeps back down the corridor. Because handsome, talented, slightly mysterious Tedros Meredith is her employee, and will make her club lots of money, not Nicola’s.
And she is very smug about that.
She barely gets back into the main club, though, before Kiko, one of the other flappers, comes scampering up to her. Sophie rolls her eyes and prepares herself for a high-pitched monologue about some boy or another-
So she’s left surprised when Kiko carries on past her, and back into the corridor the three of them just left, and only murmurs to them as she passes by;
“She’s back. Go wait in her office.”
Sophie turns after her, surprised, but Kiko is already gone-
And then she sees the three black-suited women sat at the bar- one tattooed, one pale and white-haired, and one short and plump, and knows that Kiko is definitely right. Because wherever their boss is, the Coven are never far behind.
Sophie spins back to the other two-
Nicola is smirking at her.
“Told you she was back in the city, didn’t I?”
I don't have anything to say lmao uhh... predictions in the comments, if you like?
By the time Beatrix is on her second drink, Tedros knows basically everything about everyone in the club.
After the show, he and the rest of the flappers had changed and headed out to the bar for a drink as the club wound down for the night, leaving a much quieter, less rowdy bar for them to sit in.
“Sometimes we go out still in costume, but I figured you’d not wanna do that tonight.” Kiko had said to him as they’d traipsed out of Beatrix’s dressing room.
“That’s Captain Manders.” Beatrix is saying from over the top of her glass. “He’s a total sap, but apparently he could singlehandedly keep us in business, the amount he drinks. He’s here almost every night…”
Kiko peers at the man with interest.
“He buys the pricey stuff, right?”
“Yeah.” Beatrix grins. “Real considerate of him.”
Tedros isn’t actually drinking anything- mostly, he’s just listening to the three girls gossiping, and trying to ignore the constant thrum of anxiety in his chest, that he’s had since the very second Nicola turned to him earlier on. He’s not been able to get rid of it since, and-
He realises the other three are staring at him and starts, but luckily, they’re not waiting for a response, just scrutinising.
“-they’ve got a fella at Bartleby’s, and he’s nice enough, but apparently he’s a flour-lover and dances like he’s bent.” Says Reena thoughtfully. “Teddy is good at make-up though, and you’re probably a better dancer, aren’t you?”
Tedros makes a vague noise of agreement, knowing that she’s not really wanting an answer. He’s right- Reena looks satisfied and gets a refill on her drink.
Beatrix raises her eyebrows.
“I guess the boss doesn’t care too much for Bartleby’s, huh? Who’s running it now?”
“Radley.” Replies Kiko promptly. “He’s not actually any good at gettin’ or organisin’ any performers, mind, but he sells the drink well enough, and people will go just for that, right?”
The girls make noises of agreement. Beatrix catches Tedros’s confused expression and her eyes widen.
“Ohhh, you don’t know about the boss?”
“...I’ve been here for less than a week.” Tedros reminds them. He hardly knows anyone, apart from Sophie, Chaddick, the other flappers, and Silkima in the kitchen, who’d aggressively declared that he was too skinny and piled him with food.
“She hasn’t been in town, I suppose, you won’t have met her yet…” muses Reena. “Well, we actually don’t know a lot about her either, gotta say. She’s Sophie’s sister, though they don’t look anything alike, so I’m not sure they’re actually related by blood, but, whatever. She owns this club, Gavaldon, Bartley’s, and Graves, plus another few I don’t remember... but we don’t see her too often, she’s pretty elusive. When we do, though, we really gotta make sure everything’s runnin’ right.”
“What if it’s not?” asks Tedros. Beatrix grins.
“Never happened yet, baby. Say what you want ‘bout Sophie- and I do, regularly- but she knows how to run a show. Or maybe she just knows how to impress her sister, because I don’t think you can actually run a show effectively, and also be such a shit singer.”
Tedros blinks at her. Beatrix nods, grinning.
“Oh, yeah, one time she got bent at Christmas and got up on one of the tables-”
“And now, I’m scarred for life.” Interrupts Reena, apparently not wanting to relieve that particular event. Kiko, who has been looking around anxiously this whole time, apparently in case the not-currently-present Sophie came swooping down upon them to enact vengeance, now leaps in to change the subject;
“I’m not sure I even know the boss’s name, y’know.”
Beatrix sighs at her changing of the subject but accepts it anyway.
“Well, you won’t. I was here before all of you, and I’ve only met her three, maybe four times. Chatted to her even fewer.”
Kiko’s eyes widen. Even Reena looks surprised. Tedros doesn’t really know what there is to be surprised about, but clearly, he’s about to find out.
“You’ve talked to her? You never told me that! What’d you talk about?”
“Never needed to.” Mutters Beatrix. “And like I’d tell you. It was nothin’ much, anyway. And she keeps so much herself, and shows up rarely, so, obviously, there’s t thirty billion different rumours ‘bout her. Not that anyone knows anything for sure, but there’s definitely somethin’ funny about her. Everyone knows to keep their heads down when she’s around. She disappears all the time, goes out of town. ” Beatrix pauses contemplatively. “But she’s back in the city now, anyhow.”
“How’d you know that?” demands Reena. Beatrix jerks her head to her left.
“’cause the Coven are back.”
Tedros follows her gaze to a group of three black-suited women sat further down the bar, with their heads together, muttering to the bartender.
“Who are they?”
“They follow the boss ‘round.” Murmurs Beatrix, watching them out of the corner of her eye. “Basically her lackeys, for want of a better word. Some say that they do her dirty work for her. The one with all the tattoos is Hester, she’s the boss’s right hand man. The pale one is Anadil, she and the short one, Dot, gather loads of information, and Anadil is decent pickpocket, as well-”
“Uh, Bea? They’re coming over here…” peeps Reena. Beatrix, however, looks unbothered.
“No worries, I know ‘em well enough.” She says airily, and turns to meet them. “Hi, Hes. Where’ve you three been?”
Hester has slid from her stool and come sauntering over, eyeing the four of them in a very guarded manner, the other two flanking her silently. Kiko looks as if she’d like to disappear, and Tedros has to admit that he feels similar. There’s something in Hester’s black gaze that makes his skin prickle, and gives him the uncomfortable feeling that he’s done something wrong. Not that he has.
(“Where’re you from, Meredith?”)
Tedros desperately shoves the thought away, and struggles to refocus on the conversation-
Just as Reena points at him. Tedros feels vaguely sick as the attention of the group turns to him.
“This is our new fella, Tedros, Tedros Meredith- and, well, we don’t really know much about him, but that’s alright. He’s real good, ain’t you, Teddy?”
Tedros has a momentary fantasy of barricading himself in his dressing room for a solid twenty-four hours, but instead, he forces a (fake) smile, and physically drags his head up in order to get himself to look into those black, cold eyes, shadowed under the brim of her hat, which she hasn’t bothered to take off.
“Don’t know much, huh?” she muses. Tedros tries for a grin, that feels so fake, even as he does it, that he drops it seconds later.
“Private person, y’know?”
She lifts her eyebrows a little but otherwise doesn’t respond. She’s probably about his height, and her tattoos peek out of her cuffs and her collar- most notably, a scarlet, buck-horned demon crests the starched white of her collar, a contrast to her immaculate appearance. Heavy rings adorn her hands, several earrings and piercings glint on her face and her ears, and even as Tedros takes in her appearance, Hester stares steadily back at him-
And the second her eyes meet his, properly, something glimmers in her eyes that’s almost… almost recognition? Something so dark and harsh that it almost makes Tedros physically recoil, slithering behind her gaze, and her jaw twitches-
And then it’s gone and any other time, any other place, Tedros would have thought he’d imagined it, but for some reason, he can’t shake the dreadful, creeping feeling that she knows him, knows who he is and hates him for it, even though he’s certain that he’s never seen Hester before in his life.
(“See, I ain’t ever seen you around before, an’ you talk like a rich kid.”)
“You a new performer, then?” asks Anadil from behind Hester, propping her elbow on the other woman’s shoulder, and Tedros has never been so relieved to turn to talk to her, even though meeting her emotionless gaze and staring into those red, unnatural eyes is hardly better than looking at Hester. But he can still feel Hester’s gaze burning into him, and later, he won’t remember how he replied at all, only that he answered Anadil’s questions robotically and smiled mechanically, his skin crawling the whole time.
So when he turns to answer Dot’s question (“How do you get your eyeliner to do what you want? Mine goes everywhere-”), to say that he’s somewhat surprised would be an understatement. She’s short and chubby, with a round, almost sweet, face which looks utterly out of place next to Hester and Anadil, who are both sharp-faced and grim-eyed. She’s surprisingly friendly, too.
It doesn’t serve to make him feel much better, though, not with Hester breathing down his neck, and for the rest of the conversation, he sits there silently, avoiding her gaze and trying to pay more attention to the other flappers. The heavy thrum of anxiety has swollen, squeezing his throat. How could she have known?
She can’t have. There’s no way that Hester could have found out.
(“I ain’t never heard of any Meredith family before.”)
Feeling ill, he stands and excuses himself, and makes for the dressing rooms.
He knows that Hester’s eyes follow him all the way, though.
“Who’ve you hired?”
Sophie jumps about a foot as Hester comes stalking into the office, eyes ablaze, Anadil and Dot trotting behind. Both look similarly mutinous.
“What?” Sophie splutters, bewildered. Not even a hello, even though they haven’t seen one another for weeks, maybe months? Then again, Hester never was big on manners-
“That kid! The new one! What the hell are you playing at?”
“Tedros? Why, what’s wrong with him?” the apprehension Sophie had dismissed earlier comes flooding back. She finds herself suddenly wishing she hadn’t dismissed it quite so quickly. “His surname is Meredith, I didn’t think he was connected to anyone, was I wrong-?”
“That’s what he told you, huh?” Hester interrupts, seething. “Meredith? Oh, no, I knew the second I saw him. That’s not his surname. I dunno how you didn’t notice-”
“Who- who is he?” stammers Sophie, unused to seeing Hester this furious. “I don’t-”
“So he just turned up out of nowhere when the boss was out of town, has no qualms about the job, and tells you basically nothing about his family, where he’s from, or anything?”
“Well, yes, but-”
“You’ve looked him in the eye?” asks Dot, and even she looks shaken, which is rare beyond belief. Sophie has a very bad feeling about this.
“Of course-” she begins but Anadil cuts her off.
“Then you don’t realise whose they’re the same as?” rasps Anadil.
“No, I-” Sophie thinks about that clear, intense blue, trying to work out if she’s ever seen it before. It was a fairly rare colour, and she-
Sophie goes cold.
“No. It’s just an eye-colour, it’s not...”
But Tedros’s reluctance to answer any questions about his background, and the resemblance, make it a weak argument. Hester must see it on her face.
“What’s he said?” she demands. “Reena says that they don’t know much ‘bout him.”
“He… Nicola asked him where he was from, he didn’t answer properly, I just thought maybe he…”
She stops, horrified.
“Chaddick defended him. Chaddick stopped Nicola from interrogating him.”
Hester’s eyes darken, and her hand drifts to her jacket pocket, eyes flitting to the floor below, where the speakeasy is hidden. Sophie knows full well what’s stored in that pocket.
Dot and Anadil exchange meaningful glances.
“Always thought there was something funny ‘bout that guy.” Said Hester coldly.
“Stop lettin’ him hang around with you.” Dot urges Sophie. “Until we know whether he can be trusted or not-”
Behind them, the door opens, and Sophie really isn’t sure she could have felt worse if she’d tried.
This was definitely not how she’d wanted to see her sister again.
“Boss.” Says Hester, turning towards the woman in her dark coat and hat, silhouetted in the doorway. “We got a problem.”
oh noooo... what does hester know???
Hort won’t say that he doesn’t feel bad, because he does. But he was honest, and everyone always said that girls appreciated honesty, right?
Apparently the girl’s saxophone-playing friend didn’t, though.
(Did he even have a gun?)
To cut one of the longest stories of his life short, because, honestly, he doesn’t want to think about it too much; he’d ventured further afield to visit Club Avalon, he’d met the girl of his dreams, rushed back to Gavaldon to tell Ravan, and remembered slightly too late, when he’d gotten there, about his current girlfriend- you know, the woman who ran the place- gotten slightly (very) drunk worrying about it, then made a spur of the moment decision, broke up with her in front of the whole bar, then nearly got shot by the saxophonist and had been kicked out by two of her bouncers.
His coccyx were still bruised.
Well, to say that he’d met the girl of his dreams was probably something of an overstatement- he’d seen her from afar, but he’d felt such a connection between them when their eyes had met that they may as well have gotten engaged right there. Even though they didn’t know each other’s names. And hadn’t talked. Or interacted.
At all. Ever.
But Hort was still confident that he would do his best to get this mystery woman to like him back.
For all that, though, he was probably never going to be able to go back to Gavaldon ever again, as Ravan had gleefully pointed out the second he caught up with him. Nicola would never want to see him again, and, honestly, he wasn’t too sure that he blamed her. But he liked Gavaldon. The drink was good, the entertainment was good, and he was dating the-
Oh, right. Not anymore.
So, that night, a few weeks after the fateful Gavaldon Incident, instead of taking the usual route through the city’s slightly questionable grocer’s into Gavaldon, Hort, this time with Ravan in tow, hurries back through the back entrance of a spa, down an unsettlingly steep, narrow, set of stairs, and to what looks very much like an ordinary wall at the back of a dusty, abandoned store-room. But Hort is well-enough acquainted with speakeasies and has, obviously, visited this one before, and knows that this isn’t the case, so he raps sharply on the wall, hoping he’s remembered the pattern correctly. A panel slides to the side, a set of eyes glare through the gap, and Hort mutters the password he used last time. Apparently this is satisfactory, because the panel snaps shut, and a few seconds later, a larger part of the panelling slides open, a gap just wide enough for them to pass through.
Hort and Ravan scamper through the gap and into the dingy passageway beyond, and the wall slams shut behind them.
After the muffled, hidden alleyways and the eerie, silent basement, the tumult of the speakeasy hits Hort like a blow to the head. Even though he’d visited speakeasies previously, Avalon was different, somehow- the close, smoky air, the raucous noise of chatter and laugher and the occasional bout of whooping, as well as the band, playing over it all, gave Avalon an enticing manner, dragging you straight into the crowd and to the bar, the stage, the booths and tables scattered around the place.
Ravan grabs his arm and tows him to a table close to the stage, grinning wider than Hort has ever seen him, and there they sit for a good hour, listening to the band, watching the dancers, and getting steadily drunker as the night went on. They’d just finished discussing (arguing over) the finer points of one of the dances, when Hort spots someone sweeping into one of the booths opposite them, the crowd parting around her like the Red Sea for Moses. Someone tall and blonde, swathed in fine clothes and toying with a long string of pearls in one scarlet-nailed hand, clutching a cocktail in the other.
“Ravan, that’s her!” Hort tugs on his friends arm. “She’s there!”
“Mystery true love?” asks Ravan, peering over his shoulder at the woman sat, resplendent in her furs. “She looks…”
“I was gonna say upstage, actually.” Mutters Ravan.
Looking at her disinterested, aloof face, her eyes that pass over everyone as if they’re not even there, there’s a niggling doubt at the back of Hort’s mind that suggests that maybe, just maybe, Ravan might be right. But he’s drunk and she’s beautiful and he can’t bring himself to consider it.
“Eh, she hasn’t met me yet.”
Ravan snorts. Hort frowns.
“Oh, yeah! You’re, what? A butcher’s boy? Bull, she won’t even look at you, I’m tellin’ ya.”
“Wanna bet?” challenges Hort.
“Nah.” Ravan finishes his drink, uninterested. Hort grabs his sleeve.
“No, come on-”
Unfortunately for them, whilst Hort and Ravan bicker, someone else enters the booth with Hort’s mystery love, someone who both young men completely fail to notice, even when Ravan bets Hort another cocktail. Even when Hort straightens his jacket, smiles, stands up, and strides over.
As it happens, he doesn’t notice at all, until he emerges from the crowd on the other side, just opposite said booth.
His face crumples.
Because the eyes currently staring back at him from the booth are not the striking green that Hort had been so taken with, despite his brief look at them, but a deep, almost black, brown.
And they are very familiar.
Oh, this is just great.
Hort stares at Nicola, Nicola who shouldn’t even be here, because she ran Gavaldon, Nicola who he broke up with because he was enamoured with- with-
Hort doesn’t stop himself fast enough, and Nicola isn’t stupid- in fact, she’s always been very clever.
So when Hort glances at the blonde girl, and Nicola follows his gaze, and the blonde girl looks up and Hort smooths his hair-
He’s put his foot in it now.
Nicola puts two and two together, and stands up, shocked face melding into something much more vicious. Hort takes a step back- and slams right into a massive man twice his size, who spills his drink down a woman’s front. She shrieks, he swears, and both of them wheel to face Hort, who is far too drunk and far too confused to talk properly, let alone apologise in a satisfactory manner. Hort backs away again, mumbling something he hopes sounds like an apology-
And backs right back into Nicola, but even as he does so, he notices how his mystery woman has already waved for a replacement for the man’s drink and a shawl for the woman, how astute-
Nicola is dragging him to face her, fuming.
“I get it now.” She snarls, somehow audible over the thunderous noise in the bar. “I get it. You dumped me for Sophie, even though I know for a fact you’ve never even spoken, and let’s face it, you ain’t gonna have a chance with her.”
“That’s her name? Sophie?” Hort asks distractedly. He doesn’t notice how hurt Nicola’s face becomes until slightly too late. “Wait, no, Nic-”
He reaches out for her, but Nicola flings his hand off of her arm, face mutinous.
“No, I’m not doin’ this again. Not here.” She seethes. Hort is sure he can feel the mystery woman- Sophie- watching them. “I get it. You don’t care. That’s... fine. But I’m tellin’ you, you’ve got no chance.”
“You think I ain’t good enough?”
“Maybe I do!” snaps Nicola. “After all, what kind of fella ditches his girlfriend for a girl that he’s never even talked to?”
She makes it sound so ridiculous, makes him sound ridiculous, and Hort hates it.
“Maybe I want better than you, you ever consider that?” he barks back, and people are turning to look, probably noticing their shared fury and the hurt and confusion that are slowly eclipsing Nicola’s anger. “Maybe you should stop thinkin’ yourself the best all the time, then maybe you’ll realise-”
This is turning into an exact replica of a couple of weeks ago, but Hort finds that he doesn’t care, can’t care, and as he sucks in a breath to reply-
The volume of the chatter and talk in the bar plunges so quickly, and so abruptly, that it pulls Hort out of his rage completely. Nicola stops too, and looks around-
Her eyes widen and she steps away from Hort, straightening the hem of her dress as she does so. Feeling as if he’s just surfaced from underwater, Hort looks up, bewildered, trying to figure out what’s caused this sudden, inexplicable lull.
As it happens, it’s a who, not a what.
A woman is making her way into the speakeasy, and Hort only needs to take one look to understand why everyone has gone so silent.
She’s tall and pale, dressed immaculately in a black and grey suit, sleek tie and well-fitted suit jacket. Short, dark hair is visible cropped just past her ears. Her hands, neck, face are lacerated with small scars, and Hort isn’t sure he wants to know why. But the killer, the trait that’s making people shrink back and avert their eyes, is none of those things. It’s her walk- she advances alone, steadily, without strut or saunter, a stride with purpose but no haste, controlled. It’s her posture- ramrod straight, unflinching. It’s the flint-sharp gaze from dark eyes shadowed under the hat, her face slightly hidden but losing none of its severity for it. Wicked intelligence glimmers from those eyes. She doesn’t look at anyone for long- her gaze darts from face to face quickly, the only unmeasured part of her, constantly evaluating and changing and moving.
Hort knows immediately that she’s important. He knows immediately that she’s not a regular, not well-known, but known well enough all the same.
He also knows that, as she moves towards them, he needs to get out of there, right now. But he can’t seem to move, pinned to the spot by that immense, unmovable, purpose.
Nicola saves him, as it happens. She shoves him out of the way as she and Sophie hurry to meet the newcomer, and it’s enough to jerk Hort back to his senses, getting his legs to co-operate with his brain. He scrambles away through the crowd, which is still eerily silent, and escapes back to his table and a dumbstruck Ravan. Together, they stand and stare, as the woman joins Sophie and Nicola in their booth, apparently unbothered by the fact the whole bar is shrinking away from her. It’s not until she’s sat down and taking a drink from the bartender who’s just appeared at her elbow, that the silence shatters. People turn to talk to one another again, but there’s a low hum of uncertainty now, droning alongside the chatter, and it’s impossible to miss the nervous glances that continue to be thrown in one particular direction.
If Ravan has any comments about Hort’s disastrous encounter with Sophie and Nicola, he doesn’t share them. Instead, he leans over to a passing staff member.
“Hey- who’s that? The woman who just came in?”
The woman raises her eyebrows.
“Why, sir, that’s my boss, the club’s owner. Don’t come by very often, which’ll be why everyone’s so surprised.”
Ravan and Hort exchange glances.
“How does she know them- Sophie and Nicola?” asks Hort.
“Sophie’s her sister, and she runs this club. Nicola runs Gavaldon, another one that she owns.”
Apparently Ravan is surprised as well, and both of them glance back over at the severe, silent woman in her dark suit, beside blonde, beautiful Sophie, in her silks and furs. They definitely don’t look related.
“Say… what’s her name? Your boss?”
The woman looks unsurprised by their constant questioning, if a little exasperated.
“No one really knows. She don’t use it, whatever it is.”
“What’d they call her, then?”
The woman straightens her waistcoat and repositions her tray on her arm, before glancing briefly at the table, where the three women sit close together, muttering to one another in low tones. It’s impossible to tell what they’re talking about- they don’t look up at all.
“Folks call her Lady A. But if I were you, I wouldn’t talk ‘bout her much at all.”
She hurries away, leaving Hort and Ravan confused and apprehensive behind her.
“Lady A?” repeats Ravan. “What kinda name is that?”
Hort just shakes his head, and he and Ravan return to their seats, musing over what they’ve just learned.
Just as he does, though, he takes one final glance at the table-
And finds that Lady A has lifted her head, and is staring right back at him.
Hort blanches, shocked, but not because she’s looking right at him- but because he’s sure, he’s somehow, completely certain that he knows her.
And he doesn’t know how, or why, or when, but he trusts his gut, and everything in his body insists that he recognises the dark eyes watching him from under the hat.
For a minute, all he can do is stare back, skin prickling, trying to work out why-
And then she bows her head to him a little, and returns to her conversation as if it was nothing, even though he’s sure he hasn’t seen her acknowledge a single person beyond Sophie and Nicola, leaving Hort with the distinct, uncomfortable impression that she knows him, too.
Ravan turns to him, eyebrows almost disappearing into his hairline.
“What was that?”
Shaking his head, Hort opens his mouth to reply-
Onstage, the curtains swish open, and whatever he’s going to say is snatched right out of his mouth.
Because even if he thinks he might recognise Lady A, there’s not a shadow of doubt in his mind here; he knows the performer currently stood on stage. And while he’s probably the very last person Hort had ever expected to see in a speakeasy, let alone on the stage, there’s no mistaking that damned chiselled face.
“Tedros Pendragon?” he hisses to Ravan.
Apparently, he didn’t say it quietly enough, though.
On the table behind them, three black-suited women exchange meaningful glances.
They stand and make their way backstage without a word.
HERE SHE IS LADS GOD THAT ENTRANCE WAS FUN (and bloody hard actually) TO WRITE
and this just in; tedros's surname isn't actually meredith: no one is surprised! (apart from maybe Sophie)
but I guess you already know who's gonna meet each other next chapter...
Hester is almost disappointed that Tedros seems to have anticipated their presence.
He stands in the doorway and stares at them tiredly, painted, glittered eyes moving over the Coven, who stare coldly back at him, to Sophie, who's sat at the back, staring determinedly at her expensive rings, trying to avoid his eyes.
"Come in and si'down." Hester commands. She doesn't know if he'll listen- he looks rather as if he wants to bolt, but where can he go? He can't leave the speakeasy, looking like that, and being who they know he is. And they all know full well who's sat out in the bar with the now distraught Nicola, and she rather thinks Tedros does, too.
So Tedros comes in and sits down, perching awkwardly and stiffly on the vanity stool. He's very open, Hester thinks, which is probably going to make him very easy to crack.
"D'you know why we've come to chat with you?"
Tedros clearly thinks of something snarky to say, but he catches her eye as he glances up, and looks back down without saying anything.
"No." He mutters, even though he clearly does. Hester hides a smirk.
"What can you tell us 'bout your family?" She asks innocently.
Hester rolls her eyes.
"Everyone has one, like it or not. Yeah, you sap, your family. Who are they? Don't think any of us know any Merediths."
Tedros looks uncomfortable.
"Meredith family- traders. Stocks."
Hester can see Anadil watching the conversation carefully, red eyes narrowed, tapping her pale fingers on her knees. She's focused in that narrow, detailed way of hers that Hester admires so- but she hasn't accused him of lying yet.
Odd. Then again, he's not quite answering properly, is he?
Here's where he looks shifty.
"… War veteran, too."
Well, that's not a lie, but it's a vague statement that nearly stretches the truth.
Tedros shrugs reluctantly.
Sort of. Hester nearly snorts. He's a dreadful liar- that's a huge reach. But she's not interested in that bit. Maybe someone else would be, but not her, not now.
Now that pisses her off, because he delivers it so very well.
It's almost as if he believes it.
Suddenly his floundering and unconvincing answers are less amusing.
"Half-siblings?" She demands.
"I haven't got any siblings." Tedros repeats emphatically. Behind her, Anadil and Dot look at each other, doubtful. Sophie fiddles with her jewels, uncomfortable.
Hester's face must reflect her fury, because Tedros shrinks away a little.
"What are you-"
"Can I ask you a real straightforward question?" Hester asks.
"… I don't think my answer matters, does it?"
Hester bares her teeth, knowing full well it doesn't look like a smile at all.
"Damn right it don't. I wanna know exactly what you're hiding from us-"
Tedros falls silent. If not for his powder, Hester thinks he'd have gone visibly white.
She sees his jaw clench, unclench and clench again, his eyes darting between the four of them. Even Sophie has looked up, trying to glean his reaction to his real surname.
"Did you really think you could just waltz in here and get away with it?" Snarls Hester. "You really thought we wouldn't know?"
Tedros shrinks away as she stands up, and she has the sudden urge to grab him by those pearls and let him know what she thinks of liars, especially liars with that cursed surname. "You're lucky Sophie didn't realise, if she had, she'd have ripped you to shreds."
Sophie winces. Tedros glances at her, terrified. No one looks sympathetic, though, not even Dot, which Hester notes with perhaps a little too much grim satisfaction.
Tedros looks wildly between them, beginning to panic.
"… I- I know that you don't like people like him, but-"
"People like him?" Hester barks. "Like him?"
"You... have a specific problem with him?" Croaked Tedros.
Hester could have torn his head off.
"A SPECIFIC PROBLEM?" Hester erupts. "YOU DECEITFUL LITTLE SKIV! I COULD-"
Behind her, Anadil leaps to her feet.
Hester stops shouting.
Everyone turns to the doorway.
The woman in the dark suit leans on the doorframe, holding her glass idly, as if she was just passing, but for all Hester knows, (and she suspects she probably has) she could have been there the whole time.
Everyone stays silent as she saunters inside and closes the door with a snap, then stands there, looking at them, and they stare back.
She raises an eyebrow.
"I'm not stopping you. Yet." She says in her low rasp.
Hester turns back to Tedros, who's lost interest in her, even though she's right up in his face- he's staring at Lady A with mingling terror and curiosity on his face. His powder is running off as he sweats.
Sophie looks worried.
Hester thinks he looks pathetic.
"Well, here she is, big-timer." She snarls, forcing his attention back to her. "Wanna take a shot at her now and be done with it?"
Tedros just looks at her now, still with fear, but his eyes are confused, more than anything. Hester doesn't trust herself to say anything, and apparently the others can tell, because Anadil takes over.
"That's what they sent you for, right?" She asks simply.
"I- what?" Croaks Tedros.
Something's not right, but Hester's angry and he's a liar, a liar with the surname Pendragon-
"ARE YOU PLAYING DUMB ON PURPOSE?" she roars. "WE KNOW DAMN WELL THAT YOU'RE WORKING WITH THEM-"
"I don't understand!" Tedros splutters. "I-I'm not working with anyone-"
"Hester." Says someone quietly, firmly, but she's not listening properly, even when a hand takes her wrist.
The voice is the one that he's come to silence-
Hester's blood surges white hot.
She shakes off the hand- and shoves Tedros, hard.
Sophie shrieks, Dot yelps, and even Anadil gasps as he hits the vanity- a perfume bottle shatters and Tedros crashes to the floor, but she ignores it all and starts forward-
The hand on her wrist is back, and now yanks her around, none too gently.
"Hester, he doesn't know."
Lady A is not angry, exactly, but she is cold and purposeful, the manner which makes Hester cool a little- she's not concerned, just irritated. And if she's not concerned, it should be fine...
But Hester frowns, now, as she strides over to stand by Tedros, as he clutches his bleeding hand, which he presumably sliced on the debris of the bottle.
Dot is coughing, overwhelmed by the spilt perfume, Sophie is sneezing, and even Anadil has covered her nose, but Hester just stands there.
"He ain't lying about that. Si'down."
Hester stares at her boss.
She hasn't bothered to take her hat off. No doubt she cuts an intimidating figure, by the way Tedros is pressed against the table legs, but Hester just stares at her shadowy profile.
"But he's got the sur-"
"I know. Si'down."
She sits down. And stares in disbelief as her boss yanks Tedros to his feet, pulls him to the small sink, and puts his bleeding hand under the tap.
Tedros gapes at her. So does everyone else. But she doesn't say anything, not until she's finished her drink, bound his hand, and pointed him to a seat next to Sophie.
Dot is whispering to Anadil. Hester's blood is pounding in her ears. She can barely hear them, not that she much wants to. But she can hear Tedros sniffling in a pathetic sort of way behind her, and her hands itch.
This better be good.
Tedros had seen Lady A when she'd entered the speakeasy that night, but up-close, it was worse- she was colder, more intimidating. He can see her scarred face and knuckles, see those hard, dark unreadable eyes glimmering with unsettling intelligence. She's very sharply lined in general- straight nose and jaw, tall and thin, immaculately pressed suit and flat, straight brows.
She tucks her hands into her pockets, hiding away several heavy rings, and looks at him like she's looking at a mildly irritating animal, almost unbothered. It's not what he's used to- he's used to clear emotions, usually adoration or hatred. Adoration tends to win, especially in this outfit, as it happens, so her unclear face is unsettling.
Finally, she says;
He doesn't know what to say, so he stays silent.
"Using his mother's maiden name as a moniker here… both you an' I know that's no good as a fake name."
Tedros knows its shit, but he's not some sort of movie character, and he'd not thought he'd run into any trouble for it.
The Lady continues;
"He weren't lying about the Merediths being stock traders- they are, only his singular connection to them is somewhat tenuous. Not around much."
"You know that-"
"Your mother's left? Yeah, I do. I also know what you're at pains to hide; that your dad's a big-shot ex-General who dedicates rather a lot of his time to chasin' bootleggers, even though he has a drinkin' problem. Ironic where you are now, huh?"
Tedros isn't sure whether to be ashamed or impressed.
There it was. He didn't know how she knew it, but she did, and now it was out.
"Yes. Yeah. General Arthur." He mutters, not even daring to look at Hester- but, to his surprise, Sophie seems to look… relieved?
He glances at her, and she actually smiles at him, patting his arm.
"We've all got some dodgy family, doll, I'm surprised you didn't tell us. You told Chaddick, right?"
"He guessed." Tedros says weakly, remembering his panic after Chaddick had accused him.
"Not as stupid as he looks." Muses Dot cheerfully.
Sophie catches her sister's gaze and laughs.
"Yes, all of us have dodgy family. You're not exactly reputable, darling."
Lady A rolls her eyes and ignores her, still considering him silently.
Tedros decides it's about time to ask.
"Who… did you think I was working with?"
Hester stiffens. A flicker of something passes across Lady A's face, but Tedros can't identify it.
"It doesn't matter." She says shortly. "It only matters that you're not. We're not… on good terms, shall we say?"
"…oh." Says Tedros faintly, very sure he's not being told something. "Right."
Hester draws a breath, and for a minute, Tedros is sure she's about to explode again-
Then she stands, abruptly, and stalks towards the door. Anadil gets up and follows her.
But before she gets there, she grabs Lady A's elbow-
"Don't you forget what they did." She hisses. "No matter what else has happened."
"I ain't likely to." Says the Lady, suddenly cold, meeting her eyes levelly.
For a minute they stand there at odds, starkly different despite their similar dress and colouring. Hester, scarlets and blacks, intense and aggressive, and her pale, silent boss with those hard eyes. Hester, standing with Anadil behind her, Lady A with no one.
Then both of their gazes drop, and they stare down at Lady A's left side for a long moment.
No one moves. Tedros hardly dares breathe.
Hester stands there for a minute longer.
And then she drops her boss's arm and strides out, Anadil with her, and Dot gets up and scurries after them, not to be left behind.
They stay there in silence, for a minute, Tedros and the two sisters.
Tedros has about twenty more questions, but one of them prevails over all the others.
"Are… you going to fire me?" He manages to ask Sophie. His hand is stinging badly now, and the spilt perfume is making his nose itch. He just wants to get his makeup off and go to bed. His heels are making his feet ache.
Sophie looks surprised-
And then unsure.
She glances up at Lady A, who raises a single eyebrow.
"Why?" She says, as if he's making some sort of case for it.
"…because of… everything?" Tedros offers.
"Why should I? You're real popular. You make us a lotta money. You're not a threat, provided you don't go runnin' off to your dad, and I don't think after that, you will." She pauses, apparently trying to decide if she should say something. "For what it's worth, I think you're decent."
Tedros would have been less surprised if she'd hit him.
"Don't push it." She grumbles.
"I can come to your table, if you like." Grins Tedros, knowing full well he's definitely pushing it.
"Can it, Meredith."
That takes him aback, and she obviously sees it.
"You'd prefer Pendragon?"
"…no. No. That's fine."
"Thought so. Well, then…"
She offers him her hand.
"Seeing as I wasn't here for your first few weeks- welcome to Avalon, Meredith."
"Thank you." Tedros mumbles, taking her hand absently. He couldn't help noticing that she'd offered him her right, meaning he didn't have to use his injured hand.
He wonders if it was intentional.
He looks up into her face, curious-
And as he meets her eyes, he gets the oddest feeling of familiarity- like he's done this before, stood and shook hands with the solemn girl in her dark suit.
He can't have. He doesn't even know her name, and he'd have remembered meeting Lady A.
But she's familiar, all the same. Not that he knows why.
There's an odd expression on her face, and maybe it's just Tedros, but it almost looks like-
"Well, then." She straightens her jacket in a very final sort of way- and as she does so, her face closes off completely. Before Tedros knows it, she's swiping her empty glass from the side table and heading for the door.
"I'd avoid Hester a couple of days, if I were you, but she'll cool off."
Tedros flexes his bad hand, disbelieving. Lady A shrugs at him, Sophie sweeping over to grab onto her arm. They make an odd pair, Tedros thinks, seeing them stood together. The two girls, one in her furs and silks and pearls and the other in her plain suits. Sophie, though, is all there on the surface. Her sister is anything but.
"She's an… acquired taste, but she means well. I am sorry I didn't stop her shoving you, though. Mostly."
"Oh." Tedros looks down at his hand, feeling as if her sentiment was slightly backwards. "Thanks. I think."
Something that could have been amusement crosses her face.
"Until next time, Meredith."
Sophie waves at him as she trots alongside her sister.
"Bye, Teddy! See you tomorrow!"
The door closes behind them, leaving Tedros to stare at his mess of a vanity and wonder what the hell just happened.
so who did they think he was working with?????????
who am i kidding lmao i'm trying to be coy about it but you're all gonna guess soon if you haven't already
anyway tell me what you think!!
Hester is waiting in her office when she gets back- she can see her familiar shadow, visible through the gap in the ajar door.
Sophie hesitates, hand wavering on her arm, and Lady A waves her off.
"I'll talk to her. I'll see you in the morning."
Sophie looks unhappy about this decision, but she doesn't argue. It's possible she still feels guilty about her involvement in the whole debacle. Not that it became one, in the end, but Sophie has been funny about anything to do with that particular family for a long time.
"…alright, then. See you, Aggie."
She forces a smile and swoops away, clattering her way down the corridor, and Lady A- or, rather, Aggie, as she was known her sister- watches her go silently.
Then she opens the door to confront Hester.
Hester who is sat at her desk, with her boots propped up on the table top.
"You got some explainin' to do, boss." She says, as if she's in charge.
"Get your boots off of my desk." Her boss closes the door and locks it.
She doesn't- instead, she strips off her jacket and hat, tossing them haphazardly onto a nearby chair, loosening her tie and unbuttoning her waistcoat.
"How'd you know about him?" Persists Hester. "We've all been out of town."
"Just because I'm out of town, don't mean I'm not paying attention to what's happenin' in town. Get outta my chair."
"Tell me how you knew."
"Don't be a pain, Hester, I'm not in the mood." Growls the other woman, hurling her tie on top of her hat and crossing the room to slam the windows shut and wrench across the curtains. "Who left this room so goddamn exposed-?"
"Agatha." Snaps Hester from behind her.
Lady A -really Agatha- stills.
Hester never called her by her real name. She's never asked her why, but she suspects it's easier for her to avoid it, because she associates it with numerous things she'd rather forget.
"You really wanna know, huh?"
"There's a lot you don't tell me." Says Hester shortly.
If it’s meant to make her feel guilty, it doesn’t work.
“Sure. Can’t have you arguin’ with me all the time, can I?”
“How do you know him?”
“Who says I know him?” Agatha says brusquely. Hester eyes her, unimpressed.
It’s not, but Hester always picks up on things that the others don’t.
When she doesn’t reply, Hester growls and flings her feet down from the table.
“Agatha, you knew damned well that he didn’t know anything about them, and you let us go in, anyway. Why?”
“I wasn’t really expecting you to throw him.” Murmurs Agatha, sinking into her sofa. “Poor sucker.” She says it without much feeling, even though she did feel some degree of sympathy for Tedros. But Hester wouldn’t appreciate the feeling much.
Hester scowls deeply.
“You’re avoiding my question.”
“I wasn’t sure.” Agatha snaps. “They’re completely separate from one another, so far as I know, but I thought there could have been a chance- things I hadn’t noticed. But it was obvious when he started talkin’ bout his old man that he thought it was about Arthur, an’ you and I both know it wasn’t about that at all. Why did you think he was workin’ with ‘em?”
“Because he used a fake name, showed up out of nowhere, has real the surname Pendragon, and wouldn’t tell us shit?”
Agatha huffs out a breath and doesn’t say anything, which is her way of letting Hester know she’s made a valid point. They’re both cautious, and Agatha would have done the same, in her place.
Not that the other woman looks satisfied by that.
“But you do know him, don’t you?” She presses. “And that Hort kid-”
“Tedros is Arthur Pendragon’s son,” Agatha says shortly. “And Hort is a butcher’s boy. You know enough to work out the rest.”
“I know-? Oh.” Hester’s eyes widen as Agatha looks pointedly at the photograph of two women on her desk. “Oh.”
“Got there in the end.” Murmurs Agatha. Hester glares at her, but it’s half-hearted.
“And neither of them recognised you?”
“Nah, they both did, but they don’t know where from, or anything about me. And most likely won’t work it out.” Agatha wanders over to the bedroom adjacent from her office, stripping off her shirt and waistcoat and tossing them onto her bed.
Hester is unbothered- years of arguing and scheming and a couple of past hook-ups have made them close, closer than most realise- but Agatha can see her staring at her anyhow, at her tattooed back and arms, and the scars which showed through, raising or warping the ink, and the two most prominent, visible on both sides. One in her shoulder and one in her hip- old now, but not old enough to have stopped aching periodically. They were too serious for that.
She pulls a clean shirt from the wardrobe and turns back to Hester, who doesn’t even bother to pretend she wasn’t staring.
“Do they still give you trouble?” She asks bluntly. Agatha raises her eyebrows.
“Am I seriously detectin’ concern from the fearsome leader of the Coven?”
“Piss off, it’s just a question.” Growls Hester, ears going red. Agatha grins at her.
“Aw, baby, we can keep neckin’ if you like, I just thought you were real hung up on Ani-”
She nearly laughs at the look on Hester’s face.
“I told you to keep quiet about that!” Hester growls, looking around wildly as if she expects Anadil to appear out of the floor.
“So you are, huh?”
“I hate you. And you dodged the question.” Grunts Hester, as Agatha ignores her, slipping on her new shirt and reclaiming her jacket and waistcoat.
“Are you goin’ somewhere?”
“We are. Whilst you were bullyin’ our new friend Mr Meredith, Nicola was giving me the updates on this fella who’s been hangin’ around Gavaldon, askin’ all the wrong questions and stickin’ his nose in all the wrong business. That’s why I went to Gavaldon first when we came back; to have a look. I sent Bogden to follow him out, and he came back and told me somethin’ very interestin’.”
Hester raises her eyebrows.
Agatha smiles grimly, hand moving unconsciously to her scarred hip.
“Looks like our old friends have resurfaced again. We’re going to Gavaldon and gettin’ rid of an informant.”
Agatha can easily go places without being recognised. She knows plenty of bosses who can’t (more like won’t) go anywhere without peacocking and intimidating, but what she knows is sometimes, it’s much easier not to.
With her hair pulled up and her hat pulled down, her tall, skinny figure is easily written off as a young man’s, and it’s perfectly simple to settle in a corner booth and wait it out. Most bosses would send someone else to do this, to clamp hands on shoulders and usher marks into alleys with a gun to the back, but this is personal, and when it’s personal, you know damn well that she does it herself. Hester is outside, loitering in a nearby alley, waiting for her arrival.
It doesn’t take her long to spot him- he’s at the same table as he was last time, talking loudly to the bartenders. To grab him now would be effective in terms of intimidation, but utterly wasteful in terms of subtlety. The bar is crowded, the acts are still on, and she doesn’t want this getting out all at once. She wants them to suspect, not to outright know, that she’s responsible. Not yet, anyway.
She can see Willam, the bartender who sometimes works at Avalon, frowning, despite the man’s attempts at charm. No doubt he can tell that the incessant questioning is less than innocent.
Agatha sits back and watches him out of the corner of her eye. He’s well-dressed, well mannered, well everything. He has the same look as Tedros, in some ways- a little arrogant, a little cocky, a little pampered. He's a rich man’s son. Not surprising, knowing who he’s working with. Agatha supposes he gets a cushy deal out of it- free or cheap alcohol, money, girls. Pathetic.
It doesn’t take long for him to get cocky. The first few times Agatha and Nicola had seen him, he’d been constantly looking over his shoulder, obvious in his uncertainty. But as no one had approached him, he’d become more relaxed, obviously confident that he was getting away with it.
He’s drinking more and more, too; at the rate he’s going, he’ll be positively compliant when she goes up to him.
Speaking of which…
He checks his watch, blanches, and lurches unsteadily to his feet, swaying like a new tree in strong winds as he totters his way across the bar.
When she stands up, she sees Bogden and Willam exchange nervous glances, from where they’re stood at the end of the bar.
She tips her hat to them and follows her target towards the door.
He’s so drunk, he doesn’t notice her.
In fact, he doesn’t notice anything, until Hester emerges from the alley behind Agatha and clamps her hand onto his shoulder.
He jerks, shocked, and struggles to turn, but she keeps him firmly in place, fingers digging into his jacket.
“Evenin’, Mr Baker. May I ask where you’re goin’ on a night as fine as this one?”
“Jus’… home. Who are you?” he demands, still straining his neck to try and see her.
“All in good time.” Hester said smoothly. “Where’d you get that pocket watch from? It’s awful swanky.”
It’s also awful familiar, and both women stood behind him know it.
In his drunken haze, he actually gets it halfway out of his pocket before it occurs to him that it might not be a good idea. But it’s too late, even as he tries to shove it back in- Agatha’s seen the familiar initials.
“Ah. Thought so.” She murmurs.
Shocked at a second, voice, he tries to turn again, but Hester holds him forwards. “How long have you known them, Mr Baker?” she demands.
“Known- known who?” stammers the man.
“Now, darlin’-” Hester steers him slowly but firmly away from the main road, and he tenses visibly. Agatha stays behind- no use in letting him see her yet. “Let’s not play dumb. I know what you’re here for, and it ain’t a good time.”
“I’m afraid you ain’t too subtle when it comes to gatherin’ information. And even less so when it comes to who you’re workin’ for.”
“I ain’t workin’ for no one, bearcat! Lemme go! What d’you wan-”
He feels the barrel of her gun press against his back and stops.
“Yeah.” Hester smiles unpleasantly. “Mind tellin’ me what you want from my boss’s clubs, Mr Baker? Or more accurately- what do your bosses want?”
The man swallows hard. As she steps around so she’s in his line of vision, her gun still pressed firmly to his heart, it’s clear that he recognises her- his eyes leap to the demon just above her shirt and his eyes widen.
“I dunno what they want- I dunno! I jus’ got told to find out about the people at Gavaldon-”
He stops abruptly, aware he’s saying 8too much.
“That’s awful vague.” Says Hester icily. “I didn’t think the two of them made a habit of bein’ vague. Were they vague about how much they were payin’ you, too?”
“No. Tell the truth.”
Hester presses the gun a little harder, and the man starts to babble, sweat glistening on his brow and upper lip- and he’s obviously trying to think of a way out.
“I wasn’t gonna cause no trouble- jus’ find out what they told me and go and get my- uh, go and leave it at that-”
“Get your reward?” Growls Hester. “What’d they offer you to find out about Gavaldon, huh? Free drink?”
The look on his face confirms it.
“Typical.” Hester murmurs. “Just buy the damned stuff. Keeps you outta trouble.”
They both know that’s not strictly true, but what they really mean is out of trouble with them.
“Well I- no, I-”
Hester moves the gun up, and he cracks.
“They told me to find out about Lady A!” he babbles desperately. “They sent me to Gavaldon, it’s her main club, they say she frequents it, told me to see if I could see her, ask around, get up to date- they say that they have history, and they’d pay me for anything I could tell em’, they’d let me get free drinks at Foxwood- but I ain’t ever seen her, jus’ asked around, never seen her. I never meant to cause no trouble, jus’ get my drinks and my girls and go…”
He trails off, staring desperately at Hester.
“I could take you to ‘em! If you know this club they’d give you all sorts for the goods- money, boys-lots of boys-”
He stops at the look on her face.
“Wrong offer.” Hester says coldly.
All the colour seeps out of Mr Baker’s face.
“Here’s what I’m gonna do, Mr Baker, sir.” She tells him. “It’s your lucky day. You’re gonna get your information.”
The man’s eyebrows lift.
“Come an’ say hi, boss.”
Agatha moves around to stand with Hester, and if he looked horrified before, there’s no matching it now.
Agatha has no instantly distinguishing attributes that mark her as Lady A, nothing like Hester’s demon or Anadil’s cold red gaze, but there’s hints, and hints are often enough. In the form of her expensive, pressed suits, her jewel-set rings and tie pins. In her young but grim face, the hang of her coat that suggests concealed weapons. They’re often enough to confirm suspicions.
Plus, everyone knows that there’s only one person Hester answers to.
“Here she is, Mr Baker.” Says Hester cheerfully. “You’ve seen her now. Unfortunately, she saw you first.”
Mr Baker makes a vague noise in the back of his throat. Agatha almost feels sorry for him. He thought it would be easy, a cushy side deal to get him a couple of extra luxuries he wasn’t willing to pay for.
Well, now he was going to pay for them ten times over. His attempts at lying, his offers of boys and his acceptance of young women as rewards had made sure of that.
“But you’ve got your information, right? Unfortunately, what they told you was rather outdated. I’m sure you’d like the chance to set it right?”
He nods slowly.
“Well you’re not going to get one.” Says Hester, the mirth sliding off of her face so suddenly it was unsettling, even though Agatha has seen her do it hundreds of times before. “In fact, you’re not going to get back to them.”
It takes a few seconds for him to realise what she means, by which time the gun has moved to his head.
“No! I- I could work for you! I know about them, they tell me loads, I know about their family, too, they’ve got more, a step-family-”
How topical. Hester shuts him up by pressing the gun harder, and he starts to shriek.
“I can pay you! I can pay you, my family are rich, very rich- no, no I could change loyalties! I could work for you, I’d do better, they wouldn’t have to know-!”
“Funny.” Says Hester. “That’s exactly why we wouldn’t want you.”
“I’m a good man!” he begs. “I’m a rich man’s son, I’m respectable, I’m honest, I know a lot-”
“Which is exactly why you got caught.” Says Hester. “You knew too much. But, thankfully, you’re never gonna tell anyone it.”
She pulls the trigger.
oof that escalated didn't it
let me know how i'm doing and what you think in the comments!! <3
Chapter 7: a job well done
Anadil is waiting for them when they get back, early the next morning. She sits on the empty bar with a bottle of whiskey and a pot of coffee, and greets them with a casual attitude that suggests she knows exactly where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing.
Agatha doesn’t look at all surprised. Hester tells Anadil everything, and they all know it.
“Job well done?”
“He’s dead, if that’s what you mean.” Hester mutters, accepting the proffered coffee. Agatha doesn’t respond- she’s been silent almost the whole remainder of the night, and Hester knows better than to nag at her when she’s like that.
Especially with who the situation concerns.
“Coffee, boss?” offers Anadil. Agatha shakes her head vaguely.
“I’m good. I gotta-”
Something crashes backstage.
Hester’s immediately tense, hand flying to her gun, but Agatha waves her off, almost absent-mindedly.
“Don’t bother. It’s Meredith.”
“Meredith? How’d you know that?”
“Saw him goin’ back in, just now, when you were checkin’ the car. Saw us and scarpered.”
“Where’s he been, then?”
“His old man’s.” she answers immediately.
Hester goggles at her, somewhere between amazed and exasperated.
“How do you even know this shit-”
“Because I watch people, Hester.” Snaps Agatha. “When we came back down I saw he’d changed back into normal clothes, it couldn’t be anywhere else- his stage clothes are a decent disguise, so he wouldn’t need to change unless he was going to see someone who didn’t know about his little side job… and his old man keeps funny hours. Probably all that Foxwood coffin varnish.”
“Arthur Pendragon gets drink from Foxwood?” splutters Hester. “What’s he doin’ drinkin’ himself unconscious? He raids speakeasies!”
“Sure he does, but he’s rich, ain’t he?” yawns Agatha. “Normal rules don’t apply to him, because he can pay ‘em off. He just won’t let us have our fun. Or most of us, anyway. Foxwood won’t be raided by him, that’s for damned sure, not while they’re puttin’ all that drink in his glass. And he won’t be catchin’ me, I can guarantee that.”
Apparently concerned that the conversation was over, she starts to head off, leaving Hester utterly exasperated behind her.
“You comin’ tonight?” demands Anadil. “Dot’s bringin’ in the new shipment.”
Agatha glances over her shoulder at them.
“Yeah, funnily enough, I already knew about that. Maybe because it’s my liquor, comin’ in on my orders?”
“You’re such a killjoy.” Anadil flings her legs onto the bar, stretching like a cat. Hester can’t help but admire the way she defies the respect that Agatha usually commands. “Maybe we wanna see you, ever consider that?”
Agatha ignores her last comment.
“I’m showin’.” She confirms. “But only cause I got a couple things to find out. And if the liquor ain’t up to standard, someone’s bein’ taken for a ride, you hear?”
“Hear you loud and clear, boss.” Chirps Anadil. They all know it’s an empty threat; they’re no gin mill, and the liquor is as good as it can be when it’s made in someone’s bathtub.
Agatha snorts as she disappears through the side door, leaving Hester and Anadil to stare after her.
“Sometimes, I really don’t get her.” Growls Hester.
“That’s cause she don’t want you to.” Sighs Anadil. “As bleedin’ evasive as you can manage to be, that woman.” She pauses. “So you caught a mole at Gavaldon?”
“Yeah. Some rich kid who’d been promised a lot to do a little bit of diggin’. Offered lotsa girls, mainly. Not that he’ll get ‘em, now. He did a shit job, anyhow.”
“Good.” Says Anadil, with surprising venom. “Good. And he was…?”
“Sent by them, yeah.” Says Hester heavily. Anadil frowns, toying with her coffee mug.
“They haven’t done anything that direct in a good few years.”
“I know. She’d sooner be plugged full of holes than admit it, but I think the boss is concerned ‘bout it, especially cause it’s happenin’ now.”
Anadil shoots her a glance.
“You think it’s because of…”
“Him? And how.” Hisses Hester. “I bet they know, or at least suspect. If there’s a single whisper of anythin’, of us bein’ ruined because of him, he’s out. I’ll take him for a ride myself if he don’t keep his mouth shut.”
Anadil nods slowly.
“Yeah. Yeah. We can’t risk it.”
She’s clearly remembering their encounter with Tedros after the show. So is Hester, and now she casts a dark look towards the door.
“But the boss might.”
There’s a significant pause. Anadil doesn’t seem to be able to deny it- she just shakes her head, bewildered.
“She doesn’t even know him. Why would she…”
She trails off at the pointed look on Hester’s face.
“She knows him?”
“Remember whose son he is.” Hester says grimly. Anadil’s eyes widen.
“Arthur Pendragon’s. But she never…”
“He don’t know why he knows her, that much is bleedin’ obvious.” Mutters Hester, adding more whiskey to her coffee. “But she recognises him, and that’s more dangerous.”
Anadil is silent for a minute, considering this with her pale brows drawn together. Hester sips her coffee slowly.
“I wonder what she’s gotta find out...” Muses Anadil. Hester frowns.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with him…”
Her eyes fall on a specific table, set for two, near the stage. They’d sat behind it last night.
“Meredith ain’t the only newcomer to have connections to our charmin’ young Agatha.” Says Hester, throwing back the rest of her coffee and standing. “Come on. We can help with findin’ out about this particular mark.”
Hester grins as she saunters towards the door.
“Well, I bet you that Nicola will be very willin’ to give us the goods on him, as of now.”
Tedros hadn’t expected it to sting so much.
His father had refused to see him before; not come down for meals, not paid attention when he was ill or upset or what-have-you. But maybe after the chaos of the night, the idea of being rejected again was too much.
He hadn’t even come down himself- Tedros had barely gotten through the door before the housekeeper was there, telling him that his father didn’t want to see him, and that it would probably be best if he left, because there was no point.
There was no changing Arthur’s mind when he was like that, they both knew.
Scowling, he slams his way through the stage door and stalks back to his dressing room, possibly making more noise than was strictly advisable, considering the fact he’d seen Hester and Lady A returning to the club less than a minute after him. He didn’t know where they’d been, or what they were doing in the small hours of the morning, and he’d prefer not to. At the very least, he didn’t want to have another altercation with-
“At least try to leave the place intact, won’t you, Meredith?”
Tedros turns to see Lady A stood by the wall, staring at him expectantly, as if she’d been waiting for him.
“You saw me come in, didn’t you?” he mutters, too tired and downtrodden to try and talk his way out of anything, let alone to Lady A.
“You’re pretty distinctive.” Agrees Lady A.
“And I suppose you want to know what I was doing, if I was trying to betray you, and, if I was, Hester will come and blow my brains out onto your nice clean floor?”
For a second, he thinks the corners of her mouth twitch upwards.
“Not particularly. I know where you went, I don’t need to ask.”
“… of course you do.” Sighs Tedros. He shouldn’t have expected anything else. It had been made clear that she knew much more than seemed plausible. She probably had informants at every turn. Or maybe she was just observant to the point of terrifying.
“What tale did you spin to him, just outta interest?” she asks. It’s delivered idly enough, but he knows lying or evading is out of the question. She wants to know, and know she will.
“I didn’t get the chance. He wouldn’t see me.”
The Lady’s eyebrows lift. He’s not sure if it’s meant to be sympathy, surprise, both, or neither.
“Yeah. I was going to try this, though.”
Deciding he may as well try and show her that he’s not planning to sell them out to his bootlegger-and-gangster-hunting father, considering he was almost completely sure she was both, Tedros digs a sheet of paper out of his coat and hands it to her.
He watches her scan the sheet, eyes narrowed.
“Julliard.” She snorts. “How fitting.”
“It’s for my musical education.” Says Tedros, deadpan.
“Well, ain’t that just ducky.” She snorts- then pauses, considering. “It’s not a bad forgery, actually.”
“Could have been worse. He wasn’t going to look at it for more than ten seconds, and focusing on it? Unlikely.”
He expects her to hand it back, then, but she doesn’t. She stares at it, contemplating…
“I can solidify it.” She tells him without looking up.
“I can mock up some more proof for you, should you need it.”
“I’d prefer it if you didn’t get busted three days in because you’re a shitty liar.”
The look on her face makes him re-evaluate his claim.
“…whatever.” He mumbles. “Thank you. That would be good.”
She hands the letter back to him silently, and, as her eyes shift to meet his, Tedros has another flash of undeniable recognition.
He blurts it out before he can stop himself, curiosity overriding caution;
“Have we met before?”
Lady A pauses.
“What, not countin’ earlier?”
“No, before that, obviously.”
“…Why do you wanna know?”
“You just… seem familiar.” Mumbles Tedros. The familiarity is gone again- he can’t pinpoint what it was. But he’s seen it twice now, and it’s no coincidence.
She’s silent for a moment, looking carefully at him, as if trying to work out whether she can tell him something or not.
“No.” she says, finally. “No. I think you’d know if you’d encountered Lady A before.”
Would he? Tedros isn’t sure.
Before he can respond, a door bangs open down the hall, and Beatrix comes skidding towards him.
“Teddy-! Oh. Hello, boss.”
“Beatrix.” Says the Lady easily, apparently not wanting an answer from Tedros. Pushing herself off the wall, she tips her hat to Beatrix and strides past them, heading towards the stairs. “I’ll get the cover to you in the next few days, Meredith. See you at the party, tonight.”
“You’re coming?” Tedros asks, surprised.
“I gotta know what I’m writin’ the paychecks for, ain’t I? So make sure you’re all floorflushers tonight, yeah?”
“Always are, boss.” Says Beatrix, somewhat proudly. “No heelers here. Sophie sees to that.”
Lady A disappears into the dim corridor, leaving Tedros and Beatrix stood in silence together, watching her go.
Once her footsteps have faded and Tedros is certain she’s gone, he turns to Beatrix;
“I knew you were lying about not knowing her well.”
Beatrix shrugs, shameless.
“Kiko’d have kittens if she found out. You saw what she was like when I mentioned talkin’ to the boss even once. Tremblin’. Imagine if she knew I was workin’ close with her. She’d keel over.”
Tedros makes a vague noise of agreement, still lost in thought.
“What’d she want with you, anyhow?” Beatrix yawns. “I can’t see the daylight shinin’ through you, so it can’t’ve been anything bad.”
“I’m not sure. She knew where I’d been, offered to solidify the story I’m spinning to my father, but she didn’t ask me anything.”
Beatrix raises her eyebrows.
“Usually the boss don’t talk to no-one, ‘less she wants something from ‘em. Trying to work you out, I’ll wager. Probably wondering if you were gonna try to lie to her.”
“I’m no sap.” Mutters Tedros.
Beatrix grins up at him, apparently pleased that her efforts to get him to stop talking like a mark are paying off.
“You sure ain’t, Teddy. You sure ain’t. Now come on. I gotta go and choose my outfit.”
“For tonight? It’s 4am. Shouldn’t you be asleep?”
“Beauty is a full-time job, Teddy. And anyway, you make it kinda hard, what with that crashing around trying to get in and out. No wonder the boss caught you.”
“Wanna tell me ‘bout your father?”
“You’re not my therapist!” splutters Tedros.
“True, but I got tea and a couple rings you could borrow for tonight. Come on, big-timer. I know all the gossip.”
Sighing, Tedros lets her grabs his hand and tow him along the corridor to her dressing room- but even as she does, he finds himself thinking back on his conversation with Lady A.
“No. I think you’d know if you’d encountered Lady A before.”
Evasive. Vague. Perfectly in character.
But somehow, for some, unknown reason, he finds himself perfectly sure that she’s lying to him.
They have met before. He knows it. And he intends to find out when. And why, exactly, she had pretended otherwise.
It seems that he’s not the only one keeping secrets around here.
The club is roaring like never before, that night.
Hort slips in late, and immediately has to duck as an empty glass goes sailing over his head, courtesy of someone who will not once wonder where their glass has gone and will wake up tomorrow with bigger concerns, like who took their best jacket, and having to work out exactly how much money they blew at the bar.
Sighing, he slips down the stairs and ducks into the crowd, heading for a table near the stage. It’s even worse than the previous night, and he certainly wouldn’t have come if he’d known it was going to be like this. Or he wouldn’t have come sober, at least.
Preferably, he would never have returned at all, but he’s got something to see.
He settles at his table from the previous night and stares closely at the dancers, and even though he can see several boys, none of them is who he’s looking for. He doesn’t look around for Sophie- not after his humiliation last time. Hopefully, he can stay unnoticed until he’s sure she’s forgotten, and Nicola has gone back to her own club.
Speaking of Nicola, she’s here again- Hort can see her sat with three other women, two in black suits, the third in a green fringe dress, muttering together. There’s a guy sat with them, too, burly and very obviously used to a punch-up.
Hort sincerely hopes that guy is not his replacement.
His eyes move quicker than is strictly necessary, which is probably why they snag onto the table beside them and it takes him too long to work out who’s on it.
Lady A and Sophie sit together, watching the dancers- Sophie gleefully, almost with pride, and her sister poker-faced, as if she refuses to grant the luxury of her own opinion to anyone but herself. Sophie’s in a new dress, tonight, midnight blue satin surrounded by furs and silks and pearls- she’s impossible to miss, and impossible not to admire. It’s undoubtedly the intended effect, and Hort struggles to tear his eyes away from her.
But you’d have thought that, even next to glamorous Sophie, her sister would have still been glaringly obvious. Lady A had plunged the club into silence just by walking in last night, and she and Sophie contrasted so sharply that it was almost jarring.
But no one around them has so much as shot a second glance their way. The waiters are tense and Hort can see the nervous glances that the dancers are exchanging, the extra effort they’re putting into their spins and kicks, but the patrons simply don’t seem to register her.
Hort gets the uncomfortable impression that Lady A can choose whether or not she is noticed, and the idea makes him nervous. Maye that’s why he’d recognised her? Maybe she’d been around for weeks, in disguise. Maybe she was one of his father’s bosses. Maybe she was one of the boys who hung around on the street corner, smoking and throwing stones at cars-
Get it together, Hort. He scolds himself. She wouldn’t be masquerading as the head of a butcher’s chain, for god’s sake. She’s Sophie’s sister. No doubt she fleeces a much higher calibre of pigeon. Maybe a scammer, a pickpocket who’s a little too good, maybe even on the same level as Arthur Pendragon, some military or government official with dodgy investments. She wouldn’t be the first, or the last.
But speaking of Arthur Pendragon…
Hort tears his eyes away from Lady A, remembering what- or, rather, who- he’s here for.
He and Ravan had been somewhere between amazed and aghast, last night, and Hort still wasn’t entirely sure whether or not he had hallucinated the whole thing. He’d had to come again, to be sure.
Tedros Pendragon, performing in a speakeasy?
If anyone had asked him, last week, to rank the least likely people ever to go to a speakeasy, he’d have said Tedros Pendragon was up there with the Pope and the President. His father was screwy, feverishly chasing after bootleggers and gangsters and raiding speakeasy after speakeasy (or the ones that he wasn’t friends with the owners of, anyway). Hort had assumed Tedros held the same beliefs.
But no. No, there he’d been, wearing stockings and lipstick and with infuriatingly good legs, and Hort was sure that he’d looked right at him. He’d laughed afterwards, and Hort had been even surer, but he’d not been able to find him after the show, to make sure he hadn’t made the whole thing up.
Tonight, he’s determined to find out.
He has to wait another half hour before his efforts are no longer futile. Hort is about ready to give up, head pounding from the noise and the smoke and the uncomfortable feeling that Lady A and Sophie are staring at him- when the curtains swish back and there he’s stood, in his stupid, handsome glory, tugging on his gloves and letting the audience holler incoherently at him. He seems to be rather enjoying himself.
Of course he is. Hort knows Tedros Pendragon, and if there’s one thing Tedros likes, its attention.
Scowling, Hort props his chin in his hand to watch the show, and wonders if he can get away with choking Tedros with his own pearls.
By the end of the show, though, Hort has stopped daydreaming about shoving him off the stage and is, instead, intrigued.
Tedros had done what was apparently his usual rounds, making a couple of girls faint, causing a fight between two drunken young men, et cetera. But Hort was certain he’d seen him grin at Sophie and even wink at Lady A, the mere idea of which made Hort feel like puking on the floor. Hort had always thought he was dumb, but that was past it…
But all questionable antics aside, this means that he knows them. Tedros knows Sophie.
And Hort knows Tedros.
As Tedros finishes his performance to shrieking approval and drunken hoots, Hort decides that he might go out for a little air.
Maybe backstage is less stuffy…?
He doesn’t have long to wait.
He’s barely got back there, after distracting the guard took a little longer than anticipated, before he hears a clatter of heels and sees Tedros swooping down the stage steps, trailing pearls and a perfume so strong Hort’s eyes water, and he nearly misses him.
Nearly, though. Not completely.
He lunges and grabs Tedros around the waist, yanking him back into the alcove he’d concealed himself in-
Tedros lurches forwards, and, caught off guard as much as the other man, Hort staggers forwards too.
Swearing, Tedros slams into the opposite wall, sucks in a breath to shout, Hort clamps his hands over his mouth and Tedros bites him, Hort swears, too, and gets a grip on Tedros’s wrist, yanking him around to face him-
A sudden and excruciating pain blossoms in his face, and Hort flies backwards and crashes into a door, which bursts open, spilling him onto hard floorboards, and bashing his head on a table leg.
Groaning, he rolls onto his side, whole face throbbing-
The door slams shut and Hort forces open his smarting eye to see Tedros looming over him, holding a stool, presumably from the vanity, aloft, and looking absolutely mutinous.
“You punched me in the face.” Says Hort dumbly.
Tedros looks somewhere between bemused and furious as he recognises him.
“Hort? You absolute bastard! What the hell are you doing here? What do you want?”
“You punched me.” Says Hort again, not quite able to comprehend it. “And you bit me.”
“What did you expect? I thought you were trying to kidnap me! What are you playing at?”
“I need a favour.” Says Hort stoutly, even though he’s aware how dumb it sounds.
“So you grabbed me around the waist-? Wait. How did you know I was…?”
“I was here last night.” Hort tells him idly. “Ravan and I. We saw you perform. And I saw you today. Recognised you right away.”
Tedros goes from scarlet to white, slowly lowering the stool as the implications occur to him.
“Some nice glad rags you got there.” Muses Hort. “Does your old man know about ‘em?”
Hort is still determined to get what he came for.
“You ain’t bad at this whole thing… I’m sure he’d like to know about your achievements.”
“Almost as easy as letting this slip?” says Tedros, with fake enthusiasm.
“Letting what-? OW!”
Tedros drops both the smile and the stool, and stalks over to lock the door.
Hort sits up, scowling, kicking away the vanity stool from where it had fallen, heavily, onto his feet.
“I thought you recognised me. You saw me yesterday.”
“I thought it was someone who looked like you.” Growls Tedros, spinning back to face him. “That’s why I laughed. I didn’t think you’d be here. Don’t you know that Nicola- who I hear is your ex, so I imagine you want to avoid her - is friends with Sophie? What do you want here?”
“Funny you should mention them.” Hort props his elbows on his knees, peering up at Tedros. “You know Sophie personally, right?”
“Yes, I suppose.”
“D’you happen to know what type of fellas she likes?”
Tedros stares at him for a few seconds-
And then he lunges for the stool again.
Hort scampers back on his hands as Tedros’s first swipe goes wild and knocks over a coat rack.
“IS ABOUT?” Tedros thunders, narrowly missing Hort for the third time. “DO YOU KNOW HOW TO ASK PEOPLE FOR THINGS LIKE A NORMAL PERSON?”
“D’YOU KNOW HOW TO SAY NO LIKE A NORMAL PERSON?” Hort roars back, now cowering under Tedros’s vanity.
“I DIDN’T TRY TO KIDNAP YOU!”
“YOU’RE MAKING UP FOR IT NOW, THOUGH, AIN’T YA?”
“YOU’RE BLACKMAILING ME WITH MY FATHER, SO THAT I’LL PUT IN A GOOD WORD FOR YOU WITH SOPHIE?” Tedros howls. “ARE YOU INSANE?”
“No.” Hort says sourly, still from under the table. “But I’m an acquaintance of your father’s, and my mother works for him.”
Tedros stops shouting.
He’s silent for so long that Hort wonders briefly if he’s broken him.
He peeks up from under the vanity to see Tedros staring at him, apparently struggling with himself, by the way his jaw is working.
“If I’m gonna be so upfront ‘bout it, can I also get a discount on the drink and a pay rise for my mother? And a front table?” he asks.
Tedros goes a violent shade of puce. He’s obviously considering maiming him, but Hort can tell he’s going to cave- he can see his eyes moving to the mirror, then back to Hort, then back to the mirror.
If Arthur found out about this, both of them would be ruined. And if it got out, not only would Arthur’s name would be destroyed, so would his relationship with his son- Arthur would never forgive him. And Hort knows how badly Tedros struggles for his father’s approval.
Hort supposed he could just let him get caught, give the uncovering a nudge along, but something tells him that not even Tedros is stupid enough to embark on something so risky without a decent cover story.
So, instead, he crawls out from under the vanity, looking expectant.
“Fine.” Tedros forces the word out as if costs him all the effort in his body. “Fine.”
He collapses onto one of the sofas, defeated.
Hort grins, even if it hurts his aching face.
“Swell! Guess you’re in the clear- or at least you are until you inevitably get caught. Good talk, Tedros. You’ll introduce me to Sophie tomorrow?”
“I guess.” Says Tedros through clenched teeth.
“Attaboy. I’ll see myself out. ‘til tomorrow, big timer!”
Something has seeped out of Tedros’s expression, leaving him looking very young and vulnerable on the couch as Hort trots towards the door, but he tries to ignore it, even when a pang of guilt swells in his chest.
He wasn’t really going to sell him out. He assures himself as he heads home. He wasn’t that mean.
we've seen this before in ACP but it's gonna work a lil differently in this fic! still similar though bc I'm too lazy to completely rework it lol
Chapter 9: unofficial orientation
WARNING: THERE IS SOME MODERATE VIOLENCE NEAR THE END OF THIS CHAPTER
Tedros prefers dancing in a group to performing alone.
Sure, performing alone is good, and he’s good at it, but it doesn’t have the same rush. No quick spins or heel turns or the constant change and movement that keeps him entertained as he swaps from centre to the side to the back and then back again.
Well, he normally does, anyway. Right now, he’s more than a little irritated.
He can see Hort sat at Sophie’s table, and he can’t decide if he’s more irritated at himself or the other boy. It’s obvious that Sophie isn’t interested, even as Hort jabbers away. Tedros had basically shoved Hort towards her to protect himself, and whilst being chatted at every night by an annoying butcher’s boy wasn’t quite comparable to having said butcher’s boy expose your secret gig to your ex-army father and getting the club shut down, he still felt bad.
He catches his smile slipping, and rearranges his face so that his internal I-want-to-bash-Hort’s-head-in monologue isn’t visible externally. Not that it would matter too much- everyone around the stage is too drunk to really care, Sophie is obviously distracted, and the Lady and her cronies are conspicuously absent.
When he’d mentioned this to Beatrix, she’d shrugged.
“Not abnormal. Truth be told, right now is the most we’ve been seein’ her for a while. She ain’t exactly a regular. Why, do you want her to be here?”
“No. She creeps me out.” Tedros had told her, which was true enough.
But there’s an odd atmosphere tonight, and he can’t help but think it’s something to do with Lady A’s absence.
Tedros dismisses the thought, narrowly avoiding a slightly off-centre kick from Kiko and moving towards the left side of the stage. He’s probably just unused to not having Hester’s gaze burning a hole in his back at all times. She still doesn’t trust him, he can tell that much-
“It’s tonight. They’re followin’ out another mole in a couple minutes.”
Tedros catches the snippet of conversation as he swaps places with Beatrix- two men sat at a table near the stage, apparently feeling that the roar of the club is enough to mask their conversation.
“They really caught another? Even after the Baker problem?” says the second, frowning. He’s unassuming- doesn’t look interesting at all. Maybe that’s the point. “That… ain’t good. Don’t you think they may be underestimatin’ em, slightly?”
“Maybe. I told the bosses to be more careful, but they didn’t listen…” says the dark-haired one, resigned. “Instead, they’re sendin’ some guys out to accompany him.”
“So they’re gonna walk right in an’ get jumped?”
“You got it. It’s the best precaution, see?”
Who were they talking about? It was obviously business they didn’t want being overheard, so they’d made a miscalculation in sitting where they were, but whoever it was, they-
“I mean, even they’re surprised at how hard Lady A is provin’ to catch.”
Tedros’s foot skids on the stage floor and he only just rights himself in time to avoid slamming into Reena.
Swearing under his breath, he looks back up-
And meets Beatrix’s wide eyes.
She shakes her head quickly and mouths not now as she turns away from the crowd to swap positions, and Tedros knows she’s right, but he’s reeling.
Thankfully, neither of the men appear to have noticed their momentary jolt. Tedros strains to hear more-
“’s far as we know, though, this club ain’t her main one?”
“Didn’t even know it was her’s until his moll said it was. Guess she’s been busy too. But the boss is convinced she won’t have moved around. Baker got holes plugged at him at Gavaldon, didn’t he? She’s gotta still be there. Besides, they say that takin’ risks and bold investments ain’t her style. She’s more careful than that.”
They fall silent. Tedros, struggling to understand, waits for more, but nothing comes- apparently their conversation is at an end.
They end up car-jacking some random guy, which was, admittedly, not what Tedros was expecting. He wasn’t even expecting to leave the building.
Beatrix meets him at the performers exit, bundles a fur coat into his arms, and shoves him up the stairs into the cold outside air.
“Tell me what you heard, and I’ll tell you the same, and explain.” She says, and wrenches open the door to the closest car.
“…Is that yours?”
“No.” Beatrix grins and points to the passenger seat. “Come on, Teddy. We’re goin’ for a spin… and to make sure our boss and her coven don’t get shot to pieces. This is your unofficial orientation. You’ve probably guessed it; our Lady A’s a gangster, I guess you could say- our supplier of all the drink, and she’s gained a big, bad, burly enemy or two over the years. Get in the car.”
There is a brief moment where Tedros considers not getting in the car. But then he remembers that he’s already illegally working in a speakeasy, and is already associated with Lady A, title of gangster known or not. There is very little he could do to make this whole thing worse.
Tedros gets in the car.
After he’s summarised everything, Beatrix is frowning deeply as she jerks the steering wheel, sending them rocketing around another hairpin bend.
“If I told you everythin’, she’d kick me to the curb, so I won’t… but, long story short, the Lady has beef with another group of fellas, and they messed each other up pretty bad a while back. They sort of both… retreated for a bit, I guess? Only, from what we know, which is quite a lot, they haven’t expanded- they’ve just made big deals with big men, like your old man, to stop them from gettin’ raided. “
“Yeah, he gets all his drink from their club, Foxwood, made some dodgy deal with ‘em- oh, don’t look like that, we both know he’s a massive hypocrite. You told me so.”
“…fair.” Tedros mutters. Beatrix nods sagely.
“Anyway, they’ve finally surfaced again, it appears, and they’ve been sendin’ informants to Gavaldon- Nicola’s joint, one of the Lady’s other major ones. From what you heard, it looks like they haven’t realised it’s not her main one anymore. But the other night, the Lady and Hester… dispatched someone who’d been sent there lookin’ for information, and tonight they’ve gone to do it again, at a more minor club. But they must’a caught on. So now we gotta go and save ‘em, even though we both look like we’d do better heel turns than punches. But I know better.”
“… are you even armed?” Tedros asks vaguely, still struggling to get over everything he’s just been told. Beatrix pats her coat pocket.
“Small pistol. I got the ammo in my bra. I’d have got you something, but you’re six foot and I watched you deck that guy who tried to grab Kiko, so you’ll be fine.”
Tedros doesn’t particularly agree, but considering he’s talking to the woman with bullets in her brassiere, he doesn’t argue.
Ten minutes later, they’re hurrying down a back alley, Beatrix’s hand shoved down the front of her dress-
“Why didn’t you just put them in your pocket?” demands Tedros.
“I didn’t have this coat on stage.”
“You’re armed on stage?”
Beatrix extracts the last of the bullets and yanks him flat against the wall. Tedros can hear muffled voices, and, as they peer across the road, he can see a couple of burly men stood, lurking, in the opposing alley. Beatrix jerks her head to the left of them, and Tedros can see that they’ve come out right next an old, run-down café, wedged in-between several sad-looking shops, including a butchers, and opposite what looks to be an orphanage.
“That’s the club?” he whispers, indicating the café.
“Yeah, Bartleby’s. One of the Lady’s oldest joints. They’ve gone to get the guy. We need to distract those fellas, they’ll be out any minute. So, I am now completely bent, and you are my chorus boy friend who’s trying to stop me chattin’ them up.”
She shoves the loaded pistol back in her pocket and swings out into the main road before Tedros can stop her.
“He-eeeey, fellas!” she goes trundling towards them, leaving Tedros to hurry after her, cursing both her, and his own, impulsiveness.
He has to admit it, though, Beatrix would probably make a fair bit of money on the stage or screen. She lists to the side as she giggles drunkenly, clutching onto the sleeve of one of the biggest men, who looks somewhere between annoyed and amused.
“Hiya fellas, what’re you doin all the way out here- oh, hiya Teddy! I’m just here with these nice guys, ain’t they swell-? Whoops!”
Tedros and the guy she’d been clinging to just about manage to catch Beatrix as she goes over on her ankle.
“Sorry, she’s completely blotto-” Tedros struggles to heave Beatrix back to her feet, but she’s obviously playing dead weight on purpose, and Tedros stumbles too, trying to drag her back to standing.
“Got it from that joint?” asks the lead man, indicating the door of the club.
Tedros hesitates, but Beatrix saves him.
“Aw, yeah, but the drink there is shit, could be coffin varnish, we ain’t goin’ there again, are we, Teddy? We’ll go to Foxwood, it’s closer-”
The suspicious clouds that had hung over the men’s faces clear slightly.
“Good choice.” Pipes up another, scrawny, guy stood at the back. “We like it there, don’t we lads?”
There’s a mumble of agreement, and several hands descend to help Tedros drape Beatrix’s arm over his shoulders-
One of them freezes, and a knobbly finger stabs behind them-
“Oi, there they are, they’re there-”
Tedros swears internally and struggles to see over his shoulder-
He can see four dark-suited figures hurrying out of the door, two dragging a struggling fifth. That’s definitely them.
He feels Beatrix tense.
“Stay here, doll, we’ve got some nasty business with that lot.” Says the leader, and pats Tedros vaguely on the back. “Good luck draggin’ her home, pal.”
They hurry away as one pack, subtlety useless considering what they’re about to do-
The second their backs are turned, Beatrix stands straight back up, shoves her hand in her pocket, and rams the gun into the back of the last guy’s heads.
He crumples, useless, and his head glances off the flagstones with a nasty cracking sound.
Tedros winces- the other guys turn-
“OI, BOSS, THREE O’ CLOCK!” bellows Beatrix, and fires off the first shot.
Tedros will later wonder vaguely how he didn’t just die there and then.
Probably because Beatrix shoved him into the wall, but still.
They crash hard into the stone as the rapid crackle of gunfire erupts around them-
Beatrix gets off another couple of shots, and a few more figures slump the ground, but there’s at least seven still standing, plus the informant, who is grappling with Dot as they scrabble for a dropped pistol just inches from where Tedros and Beatrix are plastered to the wall-
Just as the informants fingers graze the handle, Tedros panics and kicks it as hard as he can. It skitters a good few feet, slams into a lamppost, and discharges.
Everyone ducks, but no one’s been hit, and Hester takes the opportunity to deliver a swift punch to another ambusher’s temple, reflexes much faster than his. They’re strong, not smart, it seems.
The leader, the man Beatrix had been talking to, seems to have gathered that they are not so innocent after all, and soon several grunts are bulling towards them-
Someone grabs Tedros’s collar, Tedros lurches forward in the same way he had when Hort had grabbed him, jabbing his heel backwards and twisting violently-
The heel connects with a kneecap, the man grunts in pain, and Tedros crashes back onto the flagstones, jarring his back painfully. Next to him, Beatrix staggers too, struggling to regain her footing in heels, and, apparently considering him an easy target, someone else raises their gun-
Lady A skids out of nowhere and shoots him in the shin.
The man wails and doubles over, and Lady A’s hand closes, hard, around his arm and yanks him upright.
“Why the hell did Beatrix bring you?” she shouts over the din. Tedros opens his mouth to answer, thinks about it, and shuts it again.
“Get outta here.” She says roughly, shoving him towards the alleys. “Thanks, I think, but if you know what’s good for you, you’ll scarper right now.”
Tedros doesn’t think it’s wise to argue, so he does as she says- and apparently, Beatrix has been given the same instruction.
They stagger together through the chaos, Beatrix’s bullets long spent, and they’re nearly at the alley they came out of when someone goes down hard next to them.
Tedros just about gets out of the way in time, a wild swipe just missing his ankles, and, when he turns, he sees Hester and one of the last standing ambushers clawing at one another. Hester has been disarmed long ago- her hands are empty.
But her attacker’s aren’t.
They stagger to their feet, still lurching madly and tugging furiously at one another, struggling to bring the other down-
The man rams his forearm hard into Hester’s throat, shoving her backwards and bashing her head down onto the wall, and raises a pistol with a trembling hand.
Anadil, preoccupied nearby, cries out, but no one else hears her, still fighting-
Tedros does something indescribably stupid for someone who hates him a lot and threw him into a vanity about two days ago.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING-”
Beatrix doesn’t get the chance to finish the question, before Tedros has grabbed the other man’s arm, spun them around, and hurled him as hard as he can at the floor.
Hester crumples to the ground, swearing violently and clutching her head, and Tedros delivers one swift kick to the man’s ribs, heel first, and boots the gun out of his hand. He shouts to get everyone’s attention, turn heel, grabs Beatrix, and sprints back into the alley as fast as his legs will possibly carry him, leaving the battle behind.
“I’m real surprised you didn’t shatter your ankle.”
Tedros turns to see Lady A stalk back into the bar, a good hour after he and Beatrix had burst back through the performer’s entrance. Behind her, Anadil and Dot lower a swearing Hester into one of the booths. All four of them are bloodied and bruised, even Lady A, who has blood blossoming in her nose and a sliced lip. She moves stiffly- they all do.
“They’re not too high. I can dance in them, can’t I? Not like I was expecting to have to fight in them, though.”
Lady A dismisses him with a vague grunt, swiping blood from under her nose impatiently.
“Still cleaning up, I think.”
“Hm.” Lady A sinks into one of the chairs, eyes narrowed. She says nothing else.
“So… you got away?”
“No, Meredith, I’m on a slab with a bullet in my skull.” Snaps Lady A. “ Yes, we got away. Got what I wanted from the guy, too.”
Suddenly everyone is looking up.
“I thought he got away.” Says Anadil. Next to her, Dot shifts around a little.
“So did he.” Says Lady A dispassionately. “I’m faster.”
“… what’d you get?” croaks Hester. She has an immense bruise blossoming over her jaw and cheek, and doesn’t seem to be able to focus properly.
Something changes slightly in her boss’s expression.
“Ain’t nothin’ you need to worry ‘bout right now.” Lady A says. It’s almost compassionate.
There’s a tense silence. Anadil fiddles absently with Hester’s collar. To Tedros’s surprise, she isn’t batted away.
“So…” Tedros says awkwardly, into the silence; “Those Foxwood guys were there to catch you?”
Lady A looks on the verge of another biting comment, but stops herself.
“Yeah. S’pose Beatrix told you that we ain’t the best of chums.”
Tedros nods warily.
“But.” She continues reluctantly, “I guess they didn’t get us… ‘cause of you an’ Bea. So I guess thanks is due.”
That appears to be as far as Lady A’s gratitude goes.
“Oh.” He says. “Yeah. That’s… okay.”
Hester still manages to look derisive with a potential concussion.
“You can’t possibly be considerin’ him useful, boss.”
Tedros flares, even though he’s not sure why.
“What, you want me to take you back and hand you over to those guys? I’m sure they’d love to have you-”
“Don’t get cocky, Meredith, I could’a got myself outta that. I don’t owe you jack shit.”
“No, you couldn’t have.” mumbles Dot.
“Shut up, Dot! What were you doin’, losin’ the informant?”
Dot goes scarlet.
“I went after him.” She mumbles, sullen.
“An’ it went real well, didn’t it? You’re damn lucky the boss had it covered , you sap .” Hester snarls, and turns back to Tedros, who is on his feet, now. “Don’t think just because you’re too stupid to know your own family tree you can get cocky. I’ll be the first to throw you to the kerb if you put even a toe outta line-”
“ Leave my father out of this! ” barks Tedros . Hester spurts out a mocking laugh.
“Oh, your father ! Oh, of course- just you wait, Mr Pendragon- ”
Tedros hurls himself to his feet.
“DON’T CALL ME THAT-”
Lady A cuts him off.
“Hester,” she says. “Shut up an’ go to bed.”
There’s a new, black, note in her tone that Tedros hasn’t heard before. Apparently it’s not heard often by the others, either, because they all turn to stare at her.
“You heard me. Anadil, take her.”
The look on Lady A’s face makes it obvious it’s not up for discussion.
Scowling, Hester lets Anadil haul her to her feet and help her stagger across the room. She casts a final, venomous glance at Tedros over her shoulder before Anadil tows her out of the door and they’re gone.
Dot and Tedros sit awkwardly in silence. Lady A stares after Hester. As usual, she’s completely inscrutable.
“Go to bed.” She says finally. “We’ll talk in the mornin’.”
Tedros stares at her.
“Talk? About what?”
Lady A considers him.
“’bout what we’re doin’ next.”
She stares at him for a second. Then she raises an eyebrow.
“Why, d’you want out? I figured you’d decided to get yourself involved.”
Something doesn’t ring exactly true, there, but Tedros doesn’t think too much on it.
“I didn’t think… I had much of a choice.” he admits.
Lady A leans on the table, rolling her shoulders slightly.
“You’ve always got a choice. Ain’t that right, Dot?”
“It’s what you always say, boss.” Murmurs Dot, a little morosely.
“So…” Lady A doffs her hat and rests her hand, a little gingerly, on her left hip. “You gotta decide.”
Tedros takes a breath-
She holds up a hand.
“Don’t have to tell me now. I’ll take it from whether or not you turn up tomorrow.”
She pushes off the table and heads towards the door.
“I gotta go see a man about a dog. Goodnight. I’ll meet you back here in the mornin’.”
“See you then.” Murmurs Tedros.
He doesn’t really expect her to hear it, but she does.
A ghost of a smile darts across her face as she disappears through the door, leaving Tedros and Dot alone.
Tedros stares after Lady A, slightly exasperated.
Dot sags further back into her seat, looking utterly defeated. Tedros turns to stare at her. Dot stares at her boots.
“I didn’t nearly let him get away.” She says defiantly, even though Tedros hadn’t said a word.
“Didn’t say you did.” Tedros says carefully.
Dot peers up at him.
“You’re air tight.” She says sadly. “No matter what you’re wearing. How d’you do your eyeliner like that?”
Tedros frowns at the change of topic.
Dot goes back to staring at the table.
Slightly gingerly, Tedros stands, heads over, and sits down next to her.
“Wish I could be like you.” She sulks. “Everyone likes the flappers.”
“Hester doesn’t like me.”
“Hester don’t like no one. Me included, apparently. Wish I wasn’t jus’ a shitty henchman to Hes and Ani.”
“You… don’t want to work for Lady A?”
“Nah, ain’t that. I’ve been with the boss longer than even those two. Wouldn’t leave her for nothin’. But those two treat me like nobody’s home, an’ I jus’ let em.”
“All the time?”
“Not… all the time.” Says Dot, but she sounds uncertain. “But enough.”
“Why don’t you tell them?”
“You kiddin’?” Dot snorts. “You’ve seen what happens when you try an’ tell Hester anythin’ she don’t like.”
“She’s always with Hester.” Sulks Dot. “Never get her on her own anymore. Anyway, they’d jus’ laugh at me.”
“Why do you hang around with them, then?”
“They don’t know it’s upsettin’ me. They just think it’s a joke. It… kinda is, but I don’t like it when they make me look like a sap infronta the boss. That’s all. I do it myself half the time anyway. Nearly losin’ that guy an’ all.”
“Well… maybe tell the boss?” Offers Tedros.
“What, that the other two are pickin’ on me?” Dot scoffs.
“Nah, let her know you're sorry for it. Or whatever. So she knows.”
It sounds kind of lame, to him, but Dot frowns thoughtfully.
“Huh. Maybe I will. I ain't talked to A- uh, the boss, one on one, for ages…” She stares thoughtfully out the door. “Looked like her hip was troublin’ her.” She muses.
“What's wrong with her hip?”
Dot either ignores him or doesn't hear him.
Sighing, Tedros slumps back into the booth. Why won't anyone at this damn place tell him anything-?
Dot bolts to her feet, fists clenched.
“I'll go an’ tell the boss I didn't mean to. At least she knows, even if Hester thinks I'm useless-”
She stands, intending to head to the door. Tedros, not entirely sure that's actually the right decision, least not the one that will make her happy, frantically racks his brains-
The woman turns.
“I can show you how to do eyeliner. If you want.”
Dot stares at him for a second.
Then she grabs his head and plants a kiss on his cheek.
“You're a good egg, Teddy. Expect me to rock up at your dressin’ room, then!” She pats his chest and saunters off towards the door. “I'll tell Hester to lay off you, how about that? Maybe then you'll let me borrow your pearls, too.”
Tedros laughs- then realises what she's said.
“Dot, you won't stand up to Hester for yourself, but you'll do it for me-?”
But Dot is already gone.
“Anyone want a drink?” Says Sophie brightly the next morning.
“It's eight in the mornin’.” Snaps Lady A, boots propped on the table, hat tipped so low over her eyes that Tedros suspects she might be trying to nap surreptitiously.
“Who cares?” Chirps Sophie.
“I do. That's my drink.”
“And this is my club.” Sophie says carelessly, swooping behind the bar to fetch herself one. Her sister doesn't bother arguing. “I'll get you something Teddy, you look dead on your feet.”
Tedros, too tired to bother reminding her he doesn't drink, lets her. He'd spent a sleepless night worrying about… well, everything.
“Get me the strongest coffin varnish we got.” Hester commands. Next to her, Dot doesn't exactly look cheered, but she's not hunched over anymore, and there's no tension between the two. Tedros wonders what Lady A told her.
“Ain't no coffin varnish here.” Snaps Lady A. “I should know. Got enough scars makin’ sure that I was shippin’ stuff that wasn't gonna kill my patrons.”
Sophie slaps down a glass of dubious looking liquid in front of Tedros and hands another to Hester. Hester peers at Lady A.
“Boss, it's all made in someone's bath.”
“What, you want me to go an’ buy it from the liquor store?” Snaps Lady A. “Oh, wait-”
Beatrix and Nicola come hurrying in, muttering to each other, and now they're all here- the Coven, Chaddick, Lady A, Sophie, Nicola, Beatrix, and Tedros himself. It's a remarkably small group for the massive undertaking they represent.
No one says anything for a bit. Everyone seems to be waiting for Lady A, who looks entirely unbothered, sleeves rolled up to expose tattooed forearms, hands behind her head.
“...well?” Says Hester.
“Went to see a few people last night.” Says Lady A.
“Do you ever sleep?” Demands Beatrix. She is ignored.
“Looks like they're a bit more active than we thought. Club needs to be staked out.”
“I'll go.” Offers Sophie, with an oddly significant look on her face. Tedros frowns, but Lady A is already waving her off.
“No. I'm goin’. So is Meredith.”
There is a short pause-
“MEREDITH?” bellows Hester.
“'less he changed his name last night.” Says Lady A dryly.
Hester mutters something about that not even being his real name. Tedros, too busy gawking at Lady A, doesn't bother engaging. She ignores both of them.
“Um.” Says Anadil. “They're gonna notice you.”
Lady A flings her hat on the table and swings her legs down.
“Don’t be a sap. You think I'm gonna go and stand there in my coat and hat and bully a couple flappers? There's a café opposite, you can see the entrance and exit from it real easy.”
Apparently this is not satisfactory; everyone else exchanges dubious looks. Tedros awkwardly swills the liquid in his glass, trying to avoid catching anyone's eye.
“You're taking Tedros?” Nicola checks.
“... Teddy isn't exactly a spy.” says Sophie.
“No, but Teddy is a flirt and knows the high ends of town much better than any of us, so he's going to be my fake boyfriend for two hours.”
Tedros drops his glass.
“Break another one and you're paying for it.” Says Lady A without looking at him.
“WHAT.” bellows Hester.
“What part of fake did you misunderstand?” Snaps Lady A. “Meredith, go and get changed, I'll meet you at the performer's exit in half an hour.”
Tedros opens his mouth.
“ FAKE , MEREDITH!”
Tedros closes his mouth and does as he is told.
Chaddick is still laughing twenty minutes later.
“I had to do this, once, with Anadil, and that was bad enough, but the boss ! I'll be shocked if you come back alive.”
“Thanks, Chaddick.” Mutters Tedros, trying not to sweat through his shirt. “You’re making this better.”
“I don't think I've ever seen the boss not wanderin’ around in men's clothes, come to think of it-”
“They ain't men's clothes if I'm wearin’ em, are they?”
Both boys spin to see Lady A stood on the stairs above them, clad in a long coat and fairly short skirt, and a pair of heels that Tedros is fairly sure belong to Beatrix.
“...yeah, you look better in suits.” Says Chaddick.
“Thank you for your input.” Lady A says, completely without gratitude, shifting her fringe to cover her scarred face a little better.
Snickering still, Chaddick departs, and Lady A narrows her eyes at him, apparently awaiting a similar sentiment. Tedros makes no such comment, other than;
“Isn't it too hot for long sleeves?”
Lady A hitches the sleeve up slightly to reveal her tattooed arm.
“I'd rather sweat than get identified and shot on the spot.”
And with that, she turns and strides off, leaving Tedros with no choice but to follow
“It ain't far, turn here- Meredith, you're my boyfriend for an hour, not my hostage , can you look a little less distressed ? ”
“Sorry .” Tedros tries to summon his stage persona, but it's stubbornly remaining concealed today.
She's made him drive, which probably makes sense, but he's also been swiftly informed that if they run into trouble, they swap and he just gets in wherever and tries to not get shot.
“Are we… likely to?” He'd asked faintly. Lady A had shrugged.
“Provided neither of us mess it up.”
Tedros wasn't sure if there was an implication of him being the one to mess it up or not, so he hadn't said anything.
But now, he realises something.
“What am I supposed to call you? Can't just call you that, can I?”
She almost looks amused.
“Good point. Considerin’ we're supposed to be in love an’ shit, whatever you like.”
That's not what Tedros meant, and she probably knows it, but it works, so he's got no reason to protest.
“It's across the street, in that shop there. Hi there, doll-”
Tedros shuffles, trying not to look uncomfortable, and across the street at the apparent entrance to Foxwood, as Lady A turns to order their drinks.
He catches the young waitress staring, wide eyed, at his boss, at the scars still visible in places on her face. Praying she won't recognise her, or at least get suspicious, he glances over-
But looking at Lady A, he realises something in her face has shifted and changed, become less hard. It's odd, because she's still holding her usual unreadable expression, but it looks far less detached than usual-
Lady A smiles, properly smiles, at the nervous young waitress.
“Don't worry about the scars, doll. My cat's a bastard, is all. Learned pretty fast he don't like to be picked up, much.”
The girl cracks a smile.
“Sure. He's a menace. Named him Reaper cause of it. Hates you, don't he, baby?”
Tedros jumps, realising he's been addressed, and nearly knees the table.
“Uh, yeah. Not a cat person.” he says faintly.
“He ain't a people cat either, so I suppose you should get on fine. Don't work like that, though. Can I get a black coffee, doll? Need the caffeine. What'd you want, baby?”
The very pointed look in her eye suggests he's not doing a very good job, so he tries his best to step it up.
“I’ll get whatever you're having. Ain't no harm in matching.”
“There sure ain't.” She flashes him another smile and turns back to the waitress.
Tedros feels rather hot.
This is the first time he's seen her smile. Definitely. Maybe? No, definitely. There's been half smiles and smirks and that flit of faint, possibly mocking, amusement he seems to invoke frequently, but this is the first time she's smiled sincerely, and- and-
“Yes, Meredith, I have facial muscles that work, can we stick to the plan, please?”
This time, Tedros does knee the table. Lady A does not look impressed.
“Oh. Yeah, right, sorry.” He stares at her. “...what are we looking for?”
“Should have sent Sophie.” Mutters Lady A.
It's going to be a long few hours.
Except Tedros cracks about ten seconds later. So not really.
“...do you really have a cat called Reaper?”
Her mouth twitches.
“Yeah. You never seen him? Bald, one good eye. Wrinkly. Bad-tempered.”
Tedros has a sudden flashback to a very similar cat that had tried to claw his stockings at the club a few weeks back. He'd tried to pry it off. It had bitten him and spat on his gloves.
He'd kicked it.
“...nope.” he says. “Never seen it.”
“Funny how he keeps bringin’ me your earrings, then.” Says Lady A coolly.
“ That's where they're going-”
He stops, but she's smirking.
“The other flappers know where to hide theirs. Oh, stop lookin’ like that, I'll hand them back later.”
But Tedros is frowning for a different reason.
“You.... live at the club?”
“I live above the spa.” She corrects him. “I own the whole building. Sophie and I live up there. Hester stays often. I ain't there too much, anyway.”
“That's… fun.” says Tedros without much conviction. She snorts.
“Yeah, I'm sure you think that.” She considers him. “You’re probably at the club more than I am, anyway.”
“But… you’re there plenty?”
“Exception, not the rule.” she says breezily. “I'm outta town a lot. Not right now, though. Got some things here to sort.”
“... Right.” Tedros mutters, not liking the feeling that it's to do with him.
He glances across the road again. All seems quiet.
“How do you know the club is there?” he murmurs “I presume they don't know where we are. Or do they?”
Her mouth flattens into a flat, blunt line and Tedros suspects he's made a mistake. But all she says is;
“They didn't relocate, afterwards. I did.”
“After they decided they weren't so fond of me.”
Sensing he won't get told any more than that today- but also with the impression that she's severely understating what happened- Tedros doesn't press the topic.
They've been there just under half an hour when Lady A freezes, mug halfway to her mouth, eyes narrowed over the rim.
“...something?” Says Tedros, trying to look genial and not like he want to run away.
“Left. The car that's just pulled up.” She murmurs. Tedros shifts his eyes- there's several young men clambering out of a car. He doesn't recognise any of them.
He turns back and finds his boss staring straight at him.
“Who are the- what?”
“Nothing.” She says, even though it's not nothing. Her eyes cut back to the car. “I know-”
She stops, and doesn't catch herself fast enough. Tedros turns.
There's another man with them, older than the others, taller. A sharper suit, a longer stride, blonde hair greying at the temples under his hat-
And bright blue eyes.
The same blue eyes as the ones that are watching him out of the café window.
His father .
Beatrix had told him he bought drink from Foxwood, but he'd barely thought on it. But now... now, there he was. In the flesh. With a group of people who'd sent gunmen after his boss and her affiliates. And Tedros had helped them, while Arthur helped the other, and God this was convoluted-
“I shouldn't have brought you.” Lady A mutters, half to herself. “But at least now I know…” she trails off, glancing between him and the group, who are disappearing into the side exit. Arthur remains outside, saying goodbye to them jovially.
“I have to go.” Tedros says suddenly, feeling rather sick.
“Yeah.” Says Lady A. “Yeah, you do. Come on.”
She grabs his hand- they're fake dating, that makes sense, it makes sense- tosses some money on the table, and tows him out of the café.
Tedros stumbles after her, feeling vaguely disconnected. It hadn't really dawned on him before, he and his father's distinctly opposing connections, but now it was starkly obvious, too obvious and Arthur already disapproved of him anyway, what was he thinking-
Lady A grabs his arm and pulls him against her so their sides are pressed together. In heels, she's taller than him. Funny. He's always been in heels.
Oh god , the speakeasy-
“Breathe, Meredith, it's fine.”
“It's not.” Groans Tedros.
“...maybe not. But right now, it kind of has to be.”
Tedros catches the tense tone in her voice and looks up-
“Your father's coming. Guess you've got a girlfriend.”
Tedros's heart seizes.
“ What- ”
“I'll handle it. Baby.”
Tedros fancies she smirks a little, and frowns at her-
Tedros turns, forces down the nausea, smiles.
Arthur stands in front of them, peering confusedly, and slightly fuzzily, at Lady A. Hungover. Great.
“Who's the lady, Tedros?”
“Um. This is-”
Lady A saves him.
“Essa Woods, sir. Would you be Arthur Pendragon, by any chance?”
Arthur takes her offered hand vaguely.
“The resemblance is real striking, sir, I gotta say.”
Arthur nods a couple of times, still frowning at them.
“...what are you, his girlfriend?”
She shrugs easily.
“If he likes, sir. I ain't bothered what he calls me.”
It's a slightly clumsy dodge, but Arthur barely notices.
“Huh. At least you're out and about, Teddy…” he pats his son vaguely on the arm. Tedros is sure he looks very strained. He definitely feels it.
“Sure am.” he forces out.
“Yeah…” Arthur turns back to Lady A. Tedros forces down a pang of disappointment. He's barely seen Arthur in months, and that's all he gets?
“...do I know you?” he asks Tedros's boss.
“I don't think so, sir.”
“You haven't been at any of my parties? What's your mother's name?”
“Vanessa Woods.” Says Lady A quickly, suddenly also looking tense. Tedros regrets ever coming, but he can't help but feel a little curious, now-
Arthur looks a little disappointed.
“Never heard the name. Just felt like I'd shook hands with you before…”
He stares contemplatively at her, but Tedros knows there's hardly anything going on in his head.
But the sentiment. The idea that he'd shaken hands with her before.
He'd had the exact same feeling.
Unnerved, Tedros looks across at Lady A as she flashes that smile again and shrugs.
“Just one of those faces, I think.”
Arthur seems satisfied with that.
“Hm. Well, fair enough. Nice meeting you, miss.”
“And you, sir.”
He brushes past his son and stumps away down the street without so much as a goodbye.
Tedros scowls at the pavement, listening to his unsteady steps disappear into the rest of the noise of the street. He glances at Lady A, and, to his surprise, finds her staring at him, not after Arthur.
“Let's go back.” She says, not unkindly. “I'll drive.”
Tedros doesn't bother arguing, not that he really wants to.
They drive back in silence, and by the time they get back, he feels even worse.
“Are you performin’ tonight?” Lady A asks him, finally. She's slipped back into her usual mannerisms at some point.
Tedros slides out of the passenger door, sighing.
“You don't have to.”
There's something in her voice-
Tedros turns back to her, but she's not looking at him, stripping off her gloves and hat.
“... But it's your club.” he says.
“So I get to say what goes on. You don't have to perform if you don't want. I can cope with one night, I think, even if those girls at the back can't.”
Tedros hesitates. All he really wants to do is crawl into bed and pretend this whole day never happened. But the idea of shedding Arthur's son and getting to be the “Prince of Avalon” again…
“Beatrix wanted me to see her try out some new kick... or something.” He says finally, fiddling with his hat.
“Then sit with us.” Lady A slams the door and walks around to stand with him. “You can still get dressed up, if you like. That way the kids can still gawk.”
Tedros stares at her. She's unnervingly good at guessing what he's thinking.
She raises her eyebrows at him, exposing another shiny scar just above her eye. There's a lighter ring of brown around her pupil that he'd never noticed before. He'd thought her eyes were black, or as close as they can get. But they're brown in this light, shifting shades, and-
Again, that unsettling wave of familiarity rises.
Who are you? Tedros thinks. How do I know you?
“...alright.” he says finally. “I'll sit with you.”
He thinks she looks rather pleased.
“Attaboy. See you later… baby.”
Tedros groans as she strides off, especially as she laughs to herself, closing the door behind her-
“Who was that ?” says an all too familiar voice, sounding a little unsettled-
Oh, no. No, no, no.
“What do you want?” Tedros turns on him and cuts him off, probably too harshly. Hort, stood behind him, frowns.
“I haven't changed the agreement, I just wanted to ask if-”
“Whatever it is, the answers no , go chase yourself.” Snaps Tedros before he can finish, panic building in his chest and perfectly aware that Lady A could be hearing all of this, she only just left…
He makes for the door, resisting the urge to shove Hort into the dirt-
Hort darts in front of him and cuts him off, scowling. Tedros screams internally.
“I said , leave me alo-”
“Arthur told my mother he saw you today, you know.” He says, slyly. “He seemed a little suspicious if you ask me. Asked a few too many questions- OW-! ”
Tedros grabs his collar and yanks them so they're nose-to-nose.
“ Go to hell. ”
He throws Hort out of the way and flings himself through the door, slamming it with so much force that he hears a tile fall off and shatter. Biting his lip so hard he tastes blood, he spins, sure he can feel her eyes boring into him-
But the hallway is empty and Lady A is nowhere to be seen.
I'm sorry this took SO DAMN LONG... I'm really busy and it's not even a double update :/
"Y'know," says Chaddick from where he's perched on the sofa, "Hester came and interrogated me about you."
Tedros glances sharply at him, halfway through putting on his gloves.
Chaddick waves him off.
"Don't worry, it was a while back. She wanted to know why I was defendin' you."
"What'd you say?" Tedros demands.
"Told her the truth; that I knew your old man was Arthur Pendragon, but I knew you'd keep everything quiet from him, because you've not ratted me out, yet."
"What'd she say?"
"Nothin', which means it was a fine excuse. Stop worryin' and hurry up, I wanna watch Beatrix."
Tedros grabs his pearls and shoves his feet into his heels, internally cursing and praising Chaddick's bluntness in equal measure.
"She's okay with you now, right?" Chaddick checks as they leave Tedros's dressing room and head for the bar.
"Think okay is a bit strong, but she's not itching to shoot me every second she sees me, if that's what you mean." Grumbles Tedros.
"Eh, that's just Hester." Chaddick tells him. "Only people she likes are Anadil and the boss."
Tedros frowns at the omission of Dot, but they've entered the bar, and any comment he makes will be drowned out by the usual bellowing. Plus, Nicola is waving them over, and she and Anadil are sat with Hester, who Tedros imagines would not appreciate the knowledge that they'd been talking about her.
"--but she got away before I could ask-- why aren't you on stage?"
Tedros frowns, sliding into the booth beside Nicola (Chaddick goes on the other side, saving him from having to sit next to Hester).
"I thought you think I'm a shit singer. Changed your mind? I do have good legs."
"It was just a question, sap." Snaps Hester. "Does the boss know about this?"
"The boss told me I didn't have to perform tonight, actually." says Tedros, somewhat impatiently, scanning the crowd. He can't see his stupid weasel face, but that doesn't really mean anything, there's so many people. He hopes he hasn't come, but after seeing him outside earlier, it's a very faint hope. Maybe he'll have left after he realised Sophie wasn't here.
Actually, where was Sophie--?
"Not that name!" Tedros hisses, whirling back to the table in a panic. Hester smirks at him.
"You weren't listenin'. I said, did your mission with the boss really go that bad?"
Tedros clenches his teeth, irritated he's been forced to think about it.
"None of your business. If the boss didn't tell you, I won't."
"Didn't have to cash, did you? She ain't a bad kisser by any means, but you might be--"
"We saw my father." Snaps Tedros, cheeks flaming.
Hester's mirth disappears.
"He was at Foxwood." Tedros mutters, suddenly wishing he was on stage, after all.
"An' you talked to him?"
"Had to, he saw me."
"Didn't get suspicious, did he?" Peeps Dot.
"No, he was hungover." Growls Tedros. "And I'm not stupid enough to just give it away."
"Could've fooled me." Murmurs Hester. "Besides, the boss told me you freaked."
Tedros goes redder. He's so glad he's wearing powder.
"So she did talk to you?"
"She trusts me." Says Hester coolly. "But I wanted to hear it from you."
"Because you don't trust me?"
"Attaboy." Hester bares her teeth in what's evidently not really supposed to be a grin and turns her attention to Beatrix and Reena on stage.
Tedros sits there for a while, fuming silently. Nicola is muttering to Anadil, Chaddick is heckling Beatrix (who definitely makes an obscene gesture at him behind her back) and Hester is just watching him, smirking. Why can't she leave him alone? He still doesn't know what he did to make her hate him in the first place--
"Oh, Teddy!" Sophie comes sailing over, looking oddly rumpled and not as immaculate as usual, clutching a coffee in one of her red-taloned hands. The cup looks vaguely familiar. "Did you already perform?"
"I gave him the night off."
The familiar rasp is directly behind him; he'd not noticed her approach, and apparently neither had anyone else.
"Jesus, boss, a little warning?" groans Nicola. She's ignored, unsurprisingly.
"Why?" Sophie frowns at her sister. "He's the biggest moneymaker."
"He's here, isn't he?" Lady A grumbles. "Look at everyone ogling. One night don't matter, anyway."
Sophie doesn't look particularly convinced, but Lady A doesn't look like she wants to be argued with. She holds out a sheaf of paper to him, ignoring the other's stares. She's still in her clothes from earlier, which presumably accounts for why she's not been noticed by anyone.
"What's this?" Tedros asks, taking it uncertainly.
She raises an eyebrow at the look on his face.
"For your… musical education . Meeting Arthur earlier reminded me I needed to give it to you."
"Oh!" Tedros flicks through it. It's impressively detailed. If he didn't know better, he'd think he was actually studying music. It's probably better not to ask how she got it, he decides. "Thank you."
She doesn't really react, instead casting an unreadable glance at a frowning Hester-- then looks over her head. Her expression becomes much more readable-- exasperation.
"Sophie, your lapdog is here." She says, and turns to leave. "If anyone wants me, I'll be in my office."
Tedros watches her retreating back, knowing that Sophie's lapdog can only mean one person, but praying to high heaven it's not--
"Hi, Sophie--! Oh, it's you."
Tedros has a moment where he legitimately considers running after Lady A, rather than having to confront Hort.
Slowly, slowly, he turns to face him.
Hort crams himself in the booth next to Sophie, (whose face is determined, haughty disinterest) starting across at Tedros suspiciously.
"You don't normally sit here."
"Well observed." Growls Tedros. "It's my night off."
"Oh." Hort loses any interest in him and turns back to Sophie. "I didn't see you earlier, were you late?"
"Mm." Says Sophie. "Teddy, can you get me a drink, darling?"
Tedros has barely reacted before Hort has bolted up.
" I'll go. What do you want?"
"No, Teddy's going." Says Sophie simply. "Get whatever."
Tedros goes before Hort can argue, but he sees the venomous look Hort shoots at his back.
This won't end well.
The second he returns, he knows Hort's said something. Nicola and Sophie are both staring at him, and Sophie takes her drink without thanks.
"...what?" He asks, figuring it's better to just face it head on.
"Didn't know Hort was here on your invitation." Says Nicola coldly.
Oh. Oh, shit. Tedros could have shot him on the spot.
Hort is smirking at the table.
That bastard . He'd gone and blown it now.
Now Sophie knows he's responsible for Hort's persistent appearances. Hester and Anadil know why he's been getting free drinks and a front table. Nicola knows her ex is here, pestering her friend, because of him. Even Chaddick is frowning.
He swallows. Nicola is glaring at him.
"Yeah, we're friends, ain't we?" Grins Hort. Tedros doesn't reply. He’s starting to shake, but if it’s anger, fear, or something else entirely, he can’t tell.
"I could tell you all sorts of stuff ‘bout him. Known him for years." Hort barrels on.
"Like what?" Says Sophie sweetly, clearly wondering if she can get back at him. Tedros hardly blame her, but Hort perks up at the attention.
"He's only here, dressed like that, because his father doesn't give him any attention, and his mother ran off--"
"Shut up, Hort--"
"See? He's been bullying me for months , the least he could do is do this for me."
"Do you want me to hit you?" Snarls Tedros.
"No." Says Hort cheerfully. "But I think Nic would quite like to do it to you."
"Go chase yourself, Hort." Snaps Nicola, but Tedros can tell she's still angry. She probably just doesn't want to agree with him.
"But what are you gonna do?" Yawns Hort, grinning at him. He knows he's won. "I know the password and everythin’. Plus, it's not like I'm a threat."
Hester's eyes narrow. Tedros wonders briefly if she could help him. It's clear she's suspicious--
Then he catches sight of the stack of papers on the table.
" If anyone wants me, I'll be in my office."
Tedros's blazing anger goes suddenly cold.
Hort knew a lot.
But he didn't know everything.
"No." He says coolly. "You're no threat."
He snatches up the papers, turns, and stalks towards the door to the rest of the building.
Hort was a big threat to Tedros.
But only to Tedros.
Tedros practically throws himself inside, and when he slams the door shut and spins to face her, Lady A is staring calmly at him, feet propped on the table. She's back in her suit, Tedros realises.
"I need to talk to you." He pants.
"I gathered." Lady A eyes him with interest. "Proof lacking something?"
"No. No. That's fine."
Tedros hesitates, suddenly wondering if this was a mistake--
"Is this about Mr Scourie?"
Tedros jolts back, shocked.
"I don't know what's goin' on, but I know you ain't exactly fans of each other, considerin' you looked like you wanted to murder the kid when he turned up."
Tedros clenches his jaw.
Lady A leans back.
"I feel like this is gonna be interestin'. Si' down, won't you?"
Hort is the last to leave.
Hester and Anadil had disappeared about half an hour after Tedros, Beatrix running over to whisper to them. Probably some backstage shenanigans; Sophie had, unfortunately, followed soon after, leaving Hort sat on his own with Chaddick…
He’d returned to his front table pretty soon after that, enjoying the performances and the free drink, trying to ignore Nicola glaring at him across the room.
But the more he drank his free drinks and the more he sat at his front table and the more he waited for Sophie, the more Tedros’s abrupt departure bothered him. Where had he gone? Why had he looked like that?
It had reminded Hort of the first time they’d met here-- the vulnerable, trapped expression had made an appearance, briefly. But this time, it hadn’t stayed; Hort had watched it shift into fury, humiliation-- then a cold, detached sort of thing he’d never seen before. It had unsettled him.
He shouldn’t be worrying, though. Hort had said it to himself before; he was never going to really sell Tedros out. He was just holding it over his head.
It wasn’t even that bad, he considered as he headed to the bar again. Arthur might not even care. He was only a performer. He and his mother had both heard Arthur brag about Tedros’s musical proficiency before. He was just exercising it in an… unorthodox location!
It wasn’t as if Tedros was a gangster’s gun moll.
Grinning at the thought, he wove back through the crowd to the bar--
Hort turns so fast he cracks his neck.
Sophie is swooping through the crowd towards him, immaculate again, her earlier indifference all but gone. Bewildered, Hort goggles at her as she grabs his arm.
“There you are, darling. I was thinking, I’ve got someone I’d like to introduce you to. They’ve been dying to meet you.”
“Right.” says Hort vaguely, not really paying attention. There’s a gleam in her eyes that Hort’s never seen before. It’s very intense. He likes it.
“--so just come with me, darling--”
“I-- yeah, of course.” splutters Hort, as she yanks him backstage, past the stairs up to the stage, past a rowdy sitting room where Beatrix holds court, past Chaddick, leaning against the wall with a drink next to Tedros’s deserted dressing room, where rings and earrings wink at him from the vanity--
Where was he?
Hort shakes off the thought. He could be in Beatrix’s dressing room. He could have gone home. He could have gone to another club. There’s a thousand places he could be. Besides, it didn’t matter, not with Sophie taking… taking him…
“Wait, who are we going to see?”
“My sister, darling.” says Sophie brightly.
Sophie’s sister. That rings a vague bell. Somewhere. But he doesn’t remember seeing anyone who looks like they could be related to her, so that doesn’t add up. Maybe he’s misremembering, in his slightly drunk, slightly starstruck, state--
They reach a door, and Sophie knocks, opens it, ushers him inside. Hort does as he’s told. It looks like an office of some sort, he wonders what Sophie’s sister does. He doesn’t think she told him why they were here, actually--
He turns, and freezes.
A woman is staring back at him. A severe, pale woman in a dark suit, cropped dark hair and scars scattered across her cheeks and forehead, someone who he’d seen before--
“Why, sir, that’s my boss, the club’s owner.”
“Sophie’s her sister, and she runs this club. Nicola runs Gavaldon, another one that she owns.”
“Folks call her Lady A. But if I were you, I wouldn’t talk ‘bout her much at all.”
“Evenin’, Mr Scourie. Si’ down.” says Lady A. “I’ve heard some interestin’ things about you.”
The club’s owner. Sophie’s sister. Elusive. Out of town often. Mysterious. Scars everywhere. A bottle of illegal liquor on her desk. More on the shelf.
Tedros, sat on the edge of her desk, determinedly staring away from him.
Tedros, who had gone running to Lady A.
Lady A settles back in her chair, eyeing him with interest. Sophie wanders around to stand behind her sister’s chair.
Sophie had tricked him.
“Heard you’ve been blackmailin’ my Tedros.” Lady A says grimly.
It wasn’t as if Tedros was a gangster’s gun moll.
Hort wants to cry.
Just a little.
“If you hadn’t spent six years being horrible to me, maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to do it in the first place!” barks Hort. Tedros stoutly ignores him, apparently no longer interested in wasting another twenty minutes arguing with him.
“Mind tellin’ me what you were blackmailin’ him with?” yawns Lady A, interrupting smoothly.
Hort remains silent. Lady A’s voice takes on a dangerous note.
“Answer the question, Scourie.”
“How do you know my name?”
“There’s a million ways I could’a found out.”
Hort swallows. Lady A snorts.
“Meredith told me, you sap.”
“What did you blackmail him with?” she repeats.
“It wasn’t blackmail, I just--”
Lady A clears her throat.
“Arthur told my mother he saw you today, you know. He seemed a little suspicious if you ask me. Asked a few too many questions. Sound familiar?”
Hort stares at her.
“You-- that was you, with Tedros? Earlier? What were you doing?”
“Something that you don’t need to know about.” snaps Tedros. Hort frowns at him--
“Sounds like blackmail to me.” says Lady A bluntly, steering them abruptly back on track.
“You’re not a lawyer.” sulks Hort.
“No, but I do sometimes stoop to using it myself.” Lady A says, seemingly easily. But there’s something in her voice that unsettles Hort.
He should probably answer the question, he decides.
"I...told Tedros I'd tell his father what he was doing if he didn't let me… erm…"
He's remembered Sophie is stood there.
"Have a chance with Sophie?" Lady A asks sweetly.
Lady A sneers.
"Sap, ain't ya? And it ain't really under his control, is it?"
"I just wanted him... out of the way. More than anything. Thought he might interfere." Mutters Hort. He can see Sophie glaring at him out of the corner of his eye. This is going even worse than he thought.
"I don't like Teddy, you're wasting your time." Snaps Sophie."Not like that."
"There was some...other stuff..." Hort says quickly (then regrets it as he remembers what it is and who he's talking to.)
"Like pilfering my moonshine?" Offers Lady A.
"How do you--" Hort cuts himself off mid sentence, staring at Tedros. "You snitched about everything ?"
"What, did you want him to cherry pick?" Mocks Sophie. "No one can lie to the boss-- and definitely not Tedros."
Lady A doesn't contest the statement, which probably means it's true.
"...say I was blackmailing Tedros. What do you want from me?” Hort asks weakly.
“Shall we pretend we’re respectable businesspeople for a second?” Lady A swings her boots down from the tabletop and props her elbows up. "I'd make you a deal."
"Yeah. You got two options. I think you're gonna like the first one."
Hort is sure he's not going to like the first one. At all.
"You wanna be close to Sophie, right? Get some free drink, a front table an' all that?"
"...yes." says Hort, not liking how good this is looking so far. "And get my friends in."
Tedros and Sophie both sneer, but Lady A looks happy enough.
"Yeah, yeah. All that." She waves a hand vaguely. "You can have all that. And Tedros tells me you don't like your current job much."
Hort has just started to glare at Tedros when he realises what she's implying.
"You're… offering me a job?"
"No. I'm giving you a job. We don't have a full time pianist, and Sophie was saying how she'd like one." Lady A leans forward. "Because working for her is just the same as bein' close to her, yeah?"
" No !"
She completely ignores him.
"It's everything you wanted." Sophie tells him sweetly (and completely fakely). "I don't see the problem."
Hort whirls to Tedros.
"Did you suggest this?"
"You think I want you to be involved in my performances?" Demands Tedros, incredulous. "You'll mess it up on purpose!"
Hort opens his mouth to say that's exactly what he wants to do--
"No, he won't." Says Lady A darkly. "Will you?"
"No." Hort says, sullen.
"Great." Says Lady A, not sounding at all enthusiastic. "Well, then, guess you're gonna have to learn to deal with Meredith--"
"What's the second option?" Bursts out Hort. "You said I had a second option!"
"Oh. So I did." Muses Lady A.
"It'll probably be better than having to perform with Daddy Issues." Mutters Hort.
"Why are you such a bastard ?" Howls Tedros, hurling himself off the desk.
"Because you're overrated and over-confident?" Offers Hort. "Because you, I don't know, sold me out ?"
"YOU WERE THREATENING TO RUIN MY LIFE FOR SOPHIE AND DRINK !" howls Tedros.
Hort cackles. He feels horrible, but he does it anyway.
"Ruin your life? Like you have one? Let's face it, no one out there likes you ‘cause of your personality--"
"And no one likes you at all!"
It's ridiculously petty --the whole argument is, in fact-- but it stings, a lot. And Hort is still a bit drunk, and full of anger and fear and resentment, and--
He hits Tedros. As hard as he can.
Tedros staggers, goes over on his ankle in his heels, grabs the Lady's desk to stay upright--
"Not much use in them, are you?"
Tedros's legs buckle as he lunges for him, and Hort goes for him again, grabs him by the pearls, yanks them so they're nose to nose, and brings his fist back again--
Something bashes into his temple, incredibly hard, and he drops Tedros, crashing sideways into his chair, white fireworks exploding in front of his eyes.
Gasping, he struggles to focus. Had Tedros hit him? It wasn't like it was the first time. He wishes people would stop punching him in the head-- oh, shit. Not Tedros.
"Second option." Says Lady A coldly shaking out her knuckles. Her other hand was creeping inside her suit jacket. "I put a bullet in your knee for blackmailin' my baby-- not to mention everythin' else you just did-- an' kick you to the curb. You can crawl home."
She'd punched him. Really hard. Normally, bosses like her sent people to do their dirty work for them, but of course she'd fancy doing it herself, of course, just after he'd thumped Tedros, her baby--
"I think I like option one." Coughs Hort. "Option one. Please."
"Well, ain't that ducky." Says Lady A, hand returning to rest on the table. Hort eyes it warily. She could have been bluffing.
But he doesn't really want to take his chances.
Lady A helps Tedros up, practically holding him up by the waist. Hort hears him hiss in pain when he puts his weight on his ankle, and avoids his eyes, suddenly feeling guilty. This had all gotten so out of hand. Way, way, too out of hand.
He can see both Tedros and Sophie staring at him. There is a tense silence--
"He can't play piano!" Bursts out Tedros.
"Don't worry, baby, I'm a woman of many talents." Says Lady A idly, straightening his pearls. "Bootlegger. Spy. Boss. Businesswoman."
Then she turns, and grins at Hort with absolutely no warmth. It's like a wolf baring its teeth. A warning.
" Jazz pianist ." She says.
Sophie starts laughing.
"Show him the ropes, won't you, Sophie?" Lady A drops back into her desk chair. "Be here bright and early, Scourie. You've got a lot to learn."
As he leaves, it occurs to Hort doesn't think she only means piano.
He makes a mental note that Tedros is now very much unable to be thumped.
Tedros glances anxiously at Lady A the second he's gone.
"...were you bluffing?"
"About the piano?" Yawns his boss, letting him limp over to sit on her desk again.
"Not about the stupid piano." Tedros grumbles. "I saw you put your hand in your jacket."
By way of reply, Lady A swings off her jacket and throws it to him. It's light. There's nothing in her pockets apart from a pen, some odd change, and a half open packet of mints. It's oddly mundane.
Tedros steals a mint and throws it back to her.
"He thought you were going to shoot him."
"That's the aim of a bluff, baby."
Tedros rolls his eyes at the persistent use of the name, but doesn't press it.
“I hate him, but I wouldn’t have wanted you to shoot him.” he mumbles.
“I wasn’t gonna. He ain’t that bad, really.” she leans back in her chair, suddenly looking very tired.
“How would you know that?”
She ignores the question, as usual. Waves him over.
“Lemme see your face. He hit you real hard.”
Sighing, Tedros perches himself on the arm of her chair and lets her examine his temple. Her rings are cold against his skin, and her fingers are calloused and scarred, but remarkably careful.
“No amount of powder’s gonna cover that.” she muses. “It’ll probably spread, as well.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s dark in the club.”
“Not under the spotlight, it ain’t. What about your ankle?”
Tedros stands up and promptly falls over.
“Yeah, that was a great idea.” says Lady A from above him. Tedros glares at her from the floor.
“I’ll be fine.”
“Yeah, you will, but I’d suggest not dancin’ for a few days.”
“As I told you earlier, you not performin’ for a couple days ain’t too much of a tragedy.” she tells him. “People’ll turn up just to get a look at you.”
“Mm.” says Tedros vaguely.
“Suit yourself.” Lady A returns her attention to her papers, apparently unbothered Tedros is still lying on the floor. Lamenting how quickly her attitude towards him fluctuated, Tedros hauls himself up off the floor.
She doesn’t look up.
“For… not tellin’ you sooner, I guess. I could’a cost us a lot.”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, it’s only Hort.”
That had almost sounded like a joke.
“...right. But I mean--”
“I know what you mean, Meredith.”
She sets down her pen and stands up so their faces are level. She’s standing slightly oddly-- at an angle, maybe. Or maybe that’s him. Hard to tell.
“And I know why you didn’t tell me.”
“Thought I could handle him on my own?” Tedros offers.
“I did think you were probably that much of a sap.” agrees Lady A. Tedros frowns at her. She snorts.
“I’m jokin’, don’t look like that. Partly that. But I also figured you thought we wouldn’t take kindly to another person knowing ‘bout your connection to Arthur, an’ you also felt guilty for lettin’ Hort pursue Sophie, and didn’t want her to know you were involved.”
Tedros stares at her.
“Can you just not know stuff, like a normal person?”
“No.” says Lady A simply. “Knowin’ stuff is how I’m not on a slab in a morgue, yet.”
“I think the verdict is dumb, but I get what you were tryna do. At any rate, Scourie and his friends haven’t drunk enough to damage my profits. Truth be told, I didn’t notice any change in the figures at all. Didn’t realise he was drinkin’ for free until you told me. They all lightweights or what?”
“I was paying off everything each night, after he left.” mumbles Tedros. “With the money my father keeps giving me.”
Lady A’s scarred eyebrows lift. For a minute, it seems as if she’s finally lost for words.
Then she starts laughing.
“Of course you did, Meredith. You’re a better man than the rest of us, it seems.”
Tedros blinks at her.
“I don’t know if that's true--”
“Yeah, it is. Alright, scram, I got work to do. ‘Less you want me to carry you? Fairly sure you can’t go very fast on that ankle--”
“I’m fine.” grumbles Tedros. She seems to be enjoying making fun of him. It’s oddly in character.
“Your loss.” says Lady A.She eyes him as he toys anxiously with his necklace. “Don’t break my pearls.”
Tedros lets go immediately.
“Used to be. I wasn’t much interested, so I gave ‘em to Sophie to give to the flappers. Sophie has so many she’s started makin’ em an orientation gift for the flappers. Yours have got a black pearl in the mix, so I know they’re mine. Guess she figured you’d like ‘em.”
Tedros had never noticed the black pearl before-- but now, he can see it, just over his heart. He doesn’t know how he missed it.
“Sure. Close the door on the way out, won’t you?”
Tedros takes that as his dismissal, and limps back over to the door--
Something occurs to him.
“... were you bluffing about the piano?”
She looks at him. Grins.
“Nah. I’m pretty swell, I think. I’ll show you, some time. Goodnight, Meredith.”
“G’night, boss.” mutters Tedros, and disappears back into the corridor.
Agatha listens to the uneven click of heels as he limps away.
Sighing, she stands and turns to go to bed. She hadn’t lied to Tedros-- she did have work to do-- but she had more important things to consider, tonight.
Like what to do about Hort Scourie, butcher’s boy.
And how to stop him recognising her.
well,,, well,,,, well,,, what's that about,,,,
I'M BAAAAAACK HAHA
I'm gonna be updating this and alex vs a lot over the summer I hope!! So I can finish alex vs and actually get to the good bits which aren't sitting and talking in this lol
this is so heavy on foreshadowing and symbolism lmao I'm not subtle in the slightest
oh well I had fun, hope you did too!! this is slightly less funny than the one from according to plan bc i gotta set some more stuff up but eh
Tedros had been expecting this dinner to be awkward. He'd been expecting it to be stuffy and oppressive. He'd expected to see an assortment of his father's friends in various outdated dinner jackets, getting slowly wine drunk. (He'd also not expected to go, but this was the third time Arthur hadn't showed, and he'd been forced to attend in his place, to alleviate some suspicion.)
What he hadn't been expecting was Dot.
She waves at him frantically as he enters, and Tedros stares helplessly at her. He can see several eyes flicking between them. How can he explain how he knows her? He can't very well say they work in the same underground speakeasy for the same infamous mob boss.
" Why are you here?" He whispers frantically, masked by the general chatter as they head over to take their seats. Dot winks conspicuously at him.
"Boss sent me. Y'know, after you told me to talk to her? She said I was her best spy, and said this dinner might be real useful!'
Tedros is not one to doubt Lady A's judgement, but considering Dot is just talking openly about it, he has to admit, he has reservations.
"I didn't know you'd be here though! That's good."
She trots off to her seat. Tedros takes his, next to a solemn, silent boy around his age he doesn't recognise. How could Lady A have even known this dinner was happening? He hadn't told her. Then again, she had a habit of knowing things that it didn't make sense for her to know.
He scans the table, wondering who she could have gotten information from. Glances at the boy to his right, who's staring at him.
"You're Tedros, aren't you? Arthur Pendragon's son?"
"Oh-- yes." Tedros takes his hand, wondering if he could be the link to Lady A. "I don't think we've ever met before."
"No," says the boy. "I'm Kei Nakamura. I'm here with my godfather."
He indicates a short, balding man that Tedros recognises as one of his father's old friends, Galahad. He looks across at him and recognises him instantly.
"Ah, Tedros! I see you've met my godson."
"Are you alone tonight? Where's Arthur?"
"Unwell, sir." Says Tedros. Hungover is closer to the truth.
"A pity. He hasn't come to any of these little get-togethers for months now."
Tedros nearly snorts, eyeing the chandelier and the very long table. Little.
"I think it's just bad luck, sir. He did say he wished he could make it."
That's a lie; he hadn't said much of anything when Tedros had gone to tell him where he was going, carrying on the long-standing tradition of mostly ignoring his son for very long periods of time.
Galahad nods solemnly.
"Well, at least you're here, boy. We need some newcomers. Lost lots of people over the years."
Kei frowns as the first course is brought in.
"We used to have more women." Says Galahad thoughtfully. "They were friends of Arthur's... I can't remember their names, now. Eve, maybe? Was there a Cassie?"
Dot looks up from her soup. Tedros frowns at her. Dot shakes her head slightly.
Galahad is still talking;
"They went to lots of his parties at his request. Never got the impression they got on very well, but they were civil for Arthur's sake, I think. I think you met them once, Tedros, shortly before they both stopped coming. I don't know if you remember. You were about 18. It was the Christmas Ball."
Tedros shakes his head slowly.
Honestly, he'd stopped paying attention to who his father invited to parties when he was about 13. There was no way he was going to remember who he'd met three years ago. All he remembered from that one was sitting in a window alcove, and listening to someone playing the piano. And being bored.
"A shame. Everything seemed to get worse as we started losing people. Including the wine."
Tutting, he pours himself another glass.
Can't be that bad. Tedros thinks vaguely, watching the liquid almost reach the rim of the glass.
It's then that Percival leans over to him.
"Am I mistaken, Tedros, or are you already acquainted with Dorothy?"
Tedros opens his mouth to ask who Dorothy is--
Dot cuts in.
"Yes, sir. We have mutual friends."
Well, he supposed Dot couldn't have been her real name.
He makes a mental note to make fun, later.
Percival nods approvingly at her.
"Dorothy has been coming to our dinners for years, now! Her father was friendly with Arthur, and I think he knew some of the ladies, too…?"
He directs the last bit as a question to Dot, who nods cheerfully.
Tedros, deciding to just listen, returns to his plate. Beside him, Kei is sat ramrod straight, listening intently.
Weird , Tedros thinks. But he's never seen him before. If he's new, he must want to make a good impression.
By the end, Tedros has refused wine at least fifteen times, and both Percival and Galahad-- and almost all the others- are scarlet and mostly incoherent. It's familiar, and he resents it.
Maybe they wouldn't care if they knew the truth about how Tedros and Dot are acquainted. But they're Arthur's friends, and have always seemed to agree with his anti-bootlegging ramblings.
Most likely they're just rich hypocrites , Tedros thinks sourly. Just like his father.
He excuses himself for the night as quickly as he can without seeming impolite and goes to stand outside in the cold night air for a minute, cursing his decision to even come in the first place.
It's not long before Dot trots up behind him.
"I'm gonna head back to Gavaldon tonight. Hester and Anadil are off doin'... somethin'. Hester said it was the boss's orders, but I'm pretty sure that's a lie, cause she never sends just Anadil and Hester 'less there's something really bad goin' on, and there's nothing, so I think it's to do with what Hester said--"
She stops at Tedros's bewildered face.
"Oh, right. You don't know much 'bout them. Don't 'spose I should tell you, Hester would kill me. Anyway. You comin'? You've never been to Gavaldon right? Change of scenery."
Tedros considers the alternative; a silent, dusty house with only his father's incoherent ramblings for company.
"Yeah," he says. "Alright."
"Attaboy! C'mon, boss said she'd meet me there."
"Let me get changed first, though--"
"Oh, you tryna impress?"
Tedros eyes her, un impressed. "Trying not to get recognised, actually."
"D'you want me to teach you how to do eyeliner or not, Dorothy?"
"Call me that in front of the others and I'll strangle you with your pearls."
"You can try." Tedros grins.
Behind them, the door opens, and Kei emerges. Tedros groans internally. It won't be long until the others are out, and there's no escaping after that.
So Tedros has no choice but to follow after Dot, aware that Kei is probably watching them.
Gavadon is mercifully less chaotic than Avalon, though. But that makes subtlety harder. Tedros follows behind Dot, trying his best to look inconspicuous, as she leads him to a table at the back. Tedros can already see Nicola, sat with Lady A-- out of her suit, but in a different outfit to the one she'd worn during the disastrous café stakeout. Tedros knows what she looks like, now, and it'd be impossible to miss that ramrod posture, but she still looks unsettlingly different to usual.
"Can't seem to shake you." She tells him as he sits down.
"Dorothy made me come." Tedros mutters.
Dot lunges for Tedros's pearls, intending to make good on her promise. Tedros shoves her on top of Nicola. Nicola elbows her off.
"I told you not to call me that!" Dot booms.
"We all already knew!" Nicola mourns, wiping her spilled drink off the table.
Dot makes a half-hearted swing at Tedros. Tedros blocks her and steals her hat.
"Jesus, Meredith, wasn't scrappin' with Hort enough?" Laments Lady A, holding her drink out of the way of their flailing. Then she frowns at him. "Didn't wear that to the dinner, did you?"
Tedros stares at her, exasperated. Dot snatches her hat back.
" How did you know I was going to be there?"
"I didn't know. I saw you arrive with Dorothy and figured she must have run into you, and seeing as the dinner was with some of your father's friends, I supposed it made sense for you to go." She blinks at him, pleased. "So I was right?"
"How did you even know it was happening?" Demands Tedros, sinking back into his seat. His lack of confirmation makes the answer obvious. Lady A smirks at him.
"I told you. Connections."
Of course, she has connections. Tedros gives up and flops back into his seat. Lady A turns to Dot.
"Hear anythin' worth my time?"
"Erm... a couple things. Galahad mentioned an Eve and Cassie, who we can assume are....y’know.” Dot makes a significant gesture.
Lady A barely reacts, though.
“Yeah, yeah. That ain’t new.”
“S’pose not.” admits Dot. “It wasn’t much good, then, except… d’you know of a Kei Nakamura?”
Lady A frowns. “Nakamura? No.”
“He’s Galahad’s godson, apparently.” Tedros adds. His boss’s eyes narrow.
“Is he now? Didn't hear nothin' about that. Seems I gotta look into it. Nakamura....” She trails off, then turns to Nicola and starts muttering.
“Who was Galahad talking about?” Tedros presses. "Those women."
Dot shrugs helplessly at him.
"Not for me to tell, Teddy."
Tedros glances hopefully at Lady A.
“Not now, Meredith.” snaps Lady A, barely turning back from Nicola.
“Guess you don’t have enough of those connections , huh?” Tedros says sourly, irritated at being dismissed yet again. Lady A scowls at him, but Tedros turns to stare across the bar, fully intent on sulking for a bit. No one will tell him anything about anything, it seems--
A flapper sidles nervously up to their table.
Tedros takes one look at her ginger hair, her freckles, her gangly, pale limbs. He doesn't think he recog--
She smiles awkwardly, and he blanches.
“I thought it was you!” she whispers. “But I didn’t think your father would ever let you be a flapper!”
“He... didn’t.” Tedros admits. "What are you doing here?"
"It's my first night! I got hired a few weeks ago-- wait, what do you mean, he didn't?"
"I didn't… tell him. I just kind of did it."
Yara’s eyes go wide with understanding.
Lady A turns back from Nicola, apparently having caught the end of the conversation.
"Yeah, as far as Arthur knows, he's gettin' his musical education at Juilliard."
"She thinks that's way funnier than it actually is." Tedros mutters to Yara. "Yeah. Keep it quiet. I work at Avalon--” Yara’s jaw drops. Tedros frowns. “What?”
“ You’re the Prince of Avalon?”
“The Prince-- what?”
He turns, bewildered to Lady A.
“Sophie was very proud of that.” his boss says.
“ That’s what she’s been calling me?”
“Good advertisin', apparently. Couldn’t very well use your real name, could we? Callin’ you Tedros would’ve been too risky, an’ you’re already playin’ with fire as it is. Besides, everyone seems to agree.” She considers the two flappers. “You two know each other?”
“Schoolmates.” Tedros says vaguely. Lady A frowns.
“You told me you went to an all boy’s school.”
Yara stiffens. Lady A’s face clears in understanding.
“Ah. I see.”
Yara’s jaw works for a moment. Then she says;
“That ain’t a problem, boss?”
So she’d worked out who she was. Tedros grins a little, not surprised. He’d been left in the dust at school all the time. And she’d mirrored Lady A’s manner of speech.
A faint smile touches his boss’s mouth.
“Nah, doll.” Lady A throws back the rest of her drink. “It ain't. It's your first night, yeah?”
There's an awkward pause. Lady A tends to inspire those. Yara glances down at Tedros. Tedros frowns at her.
“I was wondering if you could help me.” she admits.
“Me? What’d you want from me?”
“Nicholas says you’re a good dancer. We’re both heelers.”
“ Nicholas is here?”
Tedros looks over at the stage.
Nicholas winks at him, from the cluster of flappers preparing for the next song.
"Oh, Jesus." Tedros mutters, remembering multiple teenage escapades.
“Neither of you are that bad.” dismisses Nicola. “But yeah, Tedros is better.”
Tedros stares at her. Normally, Nicola would never compliment him--
“Apart from when you nearly fell over last week.” mutters Nicola.
“That was Beatrix’s fault!” Tedros protests.
“What, after you fell into her-- boss, where are you going?”
Confused, Tedros stands aside for Lady A, as she slides out of the booth and heads across the room to the bar, looking oddly serious.
Nicola and Dot stare after her, bewildered. Yara looks across at him-- then blinks.
“What happened to your face? It’s all bruised under your powder.”
“Got in a fight.” Tedros says vaguely.
“The new pianist.” grins Dot. Tedros sneers.
“He completely ruined two of my songs.”
“He’s better than he was. I can’t tell if the boss is a really good teacher or just bullyin’ him into practicin’.”
“Probably both.” Tedros catches the look on Yara’s face. “He’d been blackmailing me, saying he’d tell father what's going on, if I didn’t do what he said, until the boss caught him and forced him to be the new Avalon pianist. I’ll explain it properly later.”
“Okay…” Yara sounds doubtful.
“You snitched on him, you mean?” grins Dot.
Tedros doesn’t get a chance to respond.
The horrible, crunching sound of splintering wood resonates through the bar, and shouts split through the sound of the band.
Dot and Tedros stare at each other. Nicola bolts upright. Yara looks as confused as Tedros feels.
“What-” begins Tedros, but he’s drowned out by the screaming that’s starting, as people start to pour towards the exits. He pulls Yara, being buffeted around by the crowd, into their booth
At first it’s unintelligible, no sense to it, but soon enough, one word emerges above everything else;
“RAID!” bellows Nicola, and sprints for the bar.
A police raid. And they’re all here. Dot, ⅓ of the Coven, Nicola, who owned the damn place, Yara, only on her first night, Tedros, son of Arthur Pendragon, and--
And Lady A.
Thoughtlessly, Tedros flings himself into the crowd, ignoring Yara’s shout behind him. Where had she gone? Where--
He sees her, out of the corner of his eye. Leaning on the bar.
Was she insane?
Tedros elbows his way through the crowd, stumbling on his bad foot, knowing if they get her, they’re all done for, and he owed her too much to just let her be arrested--
He’s nearly reached her, some half-formed plan to use his own status to protect them all wheeling in his head, when the first cop enters the bar.
Pollux is beyond ready for this raid.
After tonight, no one will laugh at him for being weedy, or using proper grammar, or coming over faint at the sight of blood. He’ll no longer live in Castor’s shadow, he won’t get the worst cases, and he’ll get the respect he deserves for the first time in his life.
After months of dead-end leads, they’d finally got a route into Club Gavaldon, thanks to a tip off that Pollux (Pollux!!) had gotten from some boy on the way back from a dinner. Rumour had it that Gavaldon was one of the most popular speakeasies in the city, and it’s supposed ties to the infamous Lady A made this one of the biggest cases he’s ever been allowed to come on.
As Castor kicks in the door (even though Pollux was fairly sure they had the correct password), they can see people running for the exits, and he knows they have the right place. People never ran like that when the bar was innocent...
And yet, at least half of the staff are still stood around. Three or four flappers are dismounting the stage, disgruntled. The bartender and a saxophone player are chatting over the counter. Three or four of the booths are still occupied. Confused, Pollux follows Espada and Castor into the bar, as they’re approached by two girls-- one severe and silent, the other with a completely unbothered expression. Another flapper, this one a boy, is hovering uncertainly behind them.
“Evenin’, fellas.” says Unbothered, sounding oddly cheerful.
“We received a tip off that this establishment is sellin’ illegal drink.” says Castor, getting straight to the point. Pollux wishes he'd be a least a little more polite, but apparently not.
Unbothered’s eyebrows lift.
“Sorry to inform you, sir, but you got the wrong joint. We ain’t no gin mill. Noodle juice, yeah, sure. We’re sophisticated folks. But hair of the dog? Nah, sir. Not a drop.”
Castor snorts. He's right not to believe them; everyone knew about Gavaldon.
Pollux, searching the tables, straightens up in triumph.
“Then what’s this?” He whirls to them, holding up a glass half-full of alcohol. “Are you going to deny that this is whiskey?”
“That’s gin, idiot.” snaps Castor.
“How am I supposed to know?” demands Pollux, cheeks burning. "It's banned."
"Then why'd you bother tryna name it?" Growls Castor.
Unbothered isn’t phased in the slightest, though.
“Ain’t nothin’ we can do ‘bout people sneakin’ it in, sir.” she says apologetically. “Hip flasks and the like. Hard to police this many folks, an it’s pretty dark.”
"We saw everyone running." Growls Castor.
"Well, sure. If they snuck it in, course they're gonna run if they see cops. Lots of people still here, though."
This was, unfortunately, true.
Pollux glances suspiciously at Grumpy, who has yet to contribute anything.
“What have you got to say, miss?”
Grumpy puts a long, thin hand over her heart.
“I can swear on my old woman’s life that we ain’t sellin’ a drop of the stuff. Take a look, if you like. Nicola, you wanna take the rest of these gents to the back, so they can check all ‘round backstage and in storage? I’ll take our friend here to see the bar.”
“Sure. C’mon, fellas.”
Pollux watches reluctantly as Nicola leads Castor, Espada and the rest of them to the back of the room, leaving only him with Grumpy. He doesn’t feel as if that’s a good idea, but apparently the rest of the force aren’t bothered about him being in potential danger.
"Don't cut yourself!" Shouts Castor as they leave. "Don't want you fainting on the job."
Pollux scowls after him. Of course he had to try and humiliate him, especially as he's been doing so well.
Reluctantly, he steps behind the bar and opens a drawer. Syrups.
The blonde flapper comes wandering over, carrying a couple of empty glasses.
Pollux opens another drawer. Fruit juice.
Maybe the boy was wrong? They were very confident.
"What'd you hear 'bout us then, officer?" Asks Grumpy.
Pollux squints suspiciously at her.
"That this is one of those underground speakeasies, selling illegal alcohol, specifically prohibited by the Eighteenth Amendment."
"Why would you think that?" Presses Grumpy as Pollux opens another drawer. Lemonade. He slams it shut, annoyed.
"Rumour has it, it's connected to Lady A."
"Really?" Grumpy sounds suddenly very interested. "How?"
"It's one of her clubs, apparently. But no one can prove it."
Pollux shoots her an irritated look.
"Because hardly anyone's seen her, she keeps a low profile and not many know what she looks like, let alone her investments?"
"Huh." Muses Grumpy. "S'pose so."
" I personally think she must look like her mother." Sniffs Pollux.
"Yes. Callis was her real name. She was also a bootlegger, and I faced off with her once."
"I did !" Pollux says proudly. It wasn't quite a lie. He'd been there, just in the car with a concussion. Also, Callis had absolutely no problem taking down Castor and Lucas. So it had been very unsuccessful. But he had seen her. "She was tall and quite pretty, actually. Brunette. Sweet face. Highly dangerous, though. Couldn't ever imagine her willingly having a child. She'd never want to put herself at risk for 9 months."
"Sure she wouldn't." Murmurs Grumpy.
"Well, she must have done. So I always look out for people who look like her."
"I see." The girl nods thoughtfully. "So that was your only lead? Speculation and rumours?"
" Also , we had a tip off." Says Pollux tightly, rifling through sparkling waters.
Grumpy's face suddenly becomes unsettlingly grim, in the reflection in the bottles.
"A tip off? From who?"
"I can't tell you that, miss. Classified. Why do you want to know?"
"Someone's feedin' you false information 'bout us, officer. That ain't good."
"I hardly think it's false ." Snaps Pollux, starting to feel embarrassed again.
"Then where's the drink?" Returns Grumpy.
Pollux stands, scarlet and humiliated. It must be somewhere. She must be lying.
"Tell me where it is."
"We're showin' you the whole damn bar, officer. There ain't nothin' here."
Pollux strides towards the back shelves, stacked with glasses. There doesn't look to be anything, but maybe--?
His foot catches something.
He looks down--
There's the sound of shattering glass, and the blonde flapper boy swears. Grumpy groans.
"For god's sake, Meredith. I told you you'll pay for this one, stop breaking my godforsaken glasses!"
"I missed the counter, I'm sorry-- "
Pollux turns to see this Meredith, surrounded by shattered glass, clutching his hand--
His bleeding hand.
Pollux's stomach flips immediately, and he immediately stumbles towards the sink, hand clamped over his mouth.
"You alright, officer?" Asks Meredith, and reaches towards him, scattering blood across the counter. "You look awfully pale."
Pollux, ears ringing, bats him away, his vision starting to cave--
He gets some of the boy's blood on his hands as he does so. He jerks back, horrified and his legs jelly, black patches erupting in his field of vision--
"Aw, shit, he's gonna pass out." Says Grumpy, completely matter of factly. Pollux's skin is sheened with sweat, his ears are ringing--
He does exactly that, spiralling into blackness.
Pollux wakes up in a booth, with his feet up on the table, and the whole squad staring down at him.
" Again ?" Growls Castor the second his eyes open.
Pollux manages to groan in response.
"Hey, go easy on him, he got us the lead." Says Uma.
"Fat lot of good that did us. There's nothing here ." Snarls Castor.
"The kid told him there was! Said it was Lady A's main club."
"He was just a kid, how should he know? Just a prank, probably. Or he's just dumb. Looked like some sheltered rich kid coming back from a fancy dinner."
"Didn't see Lady A." Says Pollux vaguely. "No one who looks like Callis."
The squad exchange exasperated glances.
"Pollux, did you find anything?" Presses Lucas. Pollux puts his forearms over his eyes, suddenly feeling very sorry for himself. What does he remember? The lead… He remembers looking through the sparkling water, talking about the lead.
"Just some stupid sparkling water." He moans.
"Great." Says Castor. "Great."
He looks over at the owners, sat expectantly at another table.
"Sorry for wasting your time, officers." Says Nicola solemnly. "If we can help you in the future, please let us know. We'll be eager to contribute."
Castor mutters something unintelligible (and probably unsavoury). He grabs his brother by the armpits, dragging him into a standing position.
"We're leavin'. Thank you, miss, for lookin' after my useless brother."
Pollux winces. Grumpy waves him off, bandaging Meredith's hand.
"No worries, officer. Gotta use my medical trainin' for something, right?"
"Yes. Goodnight, miss."
Pollux lets Castor drag him out of the splintered door, head too fuzzy and miserable to resist. He'd been so sure he was going to succeed. Get to raid a big club, come out a hero, catch someone really notorious. But no. Nothing ever worked out for him.
Maybe it would, one day. But for now, he was nothing.
The second they're gone, Nicola drops her head into her hands.
"Shit. Shit . That was so close."
"Good thinkin', Meredith." Says Lady A. "Breakin' that glass."
"He kicked the lock on the shutters." Mutters Tedros. "If he'd noticed it, they could have jimmied the lock and pulled them up, found the whole shelf." He flexes his bandaged hand. "I need to stop getting my hands sliced up, though."
"Yeah, think of somethin' else next time."
"Good job he managed to humiliate the rest of them into leavin' quickly." Sighs Dot.
"Poor bunny." Smirks Lady A. Tedros sighs.
"You thought that Lady A thing was really funny, didn't you? Let me guess, this Callis is not your mother?"
"Oh, she is. Just not my biological mother. So naturally, I look nothin' like her."
"Oh. So when you swore on your old woman's life…?"
"She's dead." Says Lady A.
"You really snatched that opportunity."
"Wouldn't you? Let's get cleaned up. Gotta seal that door."
Tedros frowns at his hands as the others get up.
"Not havin' the best of luck, are you, Meredith?"
"Well...no." he pauses. "This is the second time you've done this. Do you actually have medical training?"
She pauses for a minute, staring at him as if deciding what to tell him.
"...Yeah." she says, finally. "I wanted to be a doctor, y'know. I was doin' pretty good, too."
"...a doctor? Why did you…"
"Go around bein' basically the opposite?"
"Well. Yes. What happened?"
She looks at him, a little sadly, for a moment.
"Foxwood happened, Meredith."
Tedros doesn't know how to respond to that.
She gets up and starts towards the door, apparently not willing to tell him anything else. "Where are you going?" Tedros calls.
"Out. I gotta find out who's been snitchin' on us. Might be gone a couple days. Maybe a week. Coven and Sophie are in charge. You ain't to perform for three days, 'til you can put your full weight on that ankle. And someone tell Scourie that if he doesn't practice 'til his fingers bleed, I'll break 'em."
And with that, she's gone, marching off into the muggy night air.
"She must be a horrible piano teacher." Mumbles Yara from the bar.
I was originally going to end this chapter before Pollux's POV, bc,,,, suspense,,, but it was too short for my taste if I split them up so I just combined them lol
Lot of plot points appearing by now jsjjs
The same night Gavaldon is raided, Arthur is drinking himself into incoherency at Foxwood.
"I mean, he never told me anything about her," Arthur says, slurring over his words. "So I was pretty… surprised."
"What did you say her name was?" Asks his companion casually, watching him over the rim of his glass.
"She said it was Essa Woods. Thought I recognised her, but I don't know the name. Not the prettiest girl, but she was very astute."
His companion doesn't really react, but had Arthur been sober, and actually paying proper attention, he'd have seen his eyes dart across the bar to the other young man sat nearby. They share a very significant look.
"Her mother's name was Vanessa, apparently." Arthur adds.
"No, it wasn't." Murmurs his companion. Arthur looks up, confused.
"Nothin'. You done with that?"
Arthur looks with surprise down at his empty glass.
"Oh. Yes, I suppose."
Almost the second he says it, a waiter has appeared and swept it away.
"You want us to take you home?" Asks his companion, packing several bottles into a bag for Arthur.
"If you don't mind." Says Arthur vaguely.
"It's no problem. My brother will take you."
Arthur nods vaguely, taking the bag with unsteady hands.
"Thank you. You're nice boys. Good young men. Remind me of my Tedros."
"Don't see Tedros much." He murmurs. "Think he's ashamed of me, y'know. Don't want to be near me."
"I'm sure that's not true, sir."
Arthur barely hears him.
"He's never home. Never comes to see his old man. Can't remember the last time he was home…"
He continues to mumble vaguely to himself as he unsteadily follows his companion's brother out of the speakeasy.
Rhian stares after him for a minute. Tedros probably has been home. Arthur just will have been too drunk to remember seeing him.
"Wonder where he could be all day." He remarks to himself.
Then he snorts and turns back to the bar.
It's not long before Japeth comes back.
"Completely smoked." He sneers. "Could've punched him and he wouldn't have noticed." He pauses. "Why can't we just take him for a ride? We don't need him."
"We do need him." Rhian says thinly. "He's proving to be useful."
Japeth doesn't look convinced.
"What, because he saw her out and about, once?"
"No, because through him, we know that our clueless chump of a brother--"
" Half brother." Interrupts Japeth sourly. Rhian ignores him and carries on;
"--has a much closer connection to Lady A then we previously thought."
"You can't believe he's actually her moll." Scoffs Japeth.
"No, but it's clear she likes him. Which means he probably doesn't know a whole lot, if anythin', about us. She'll want to keep him out of it. If she hated him, she'd tell him everythin' just to make him feel bad. We can use that."
Japeth doesn't say anything, which means Rhian is right.
Someone clears their throat behind him.
The twins turn to find Kei stood there.
Japeth bolts up.
"The raid! How did it go?"
The look on Kei's face says it all.
"It failed?" Japeth snarls. Rhian holds a hand up, telling him to calm down. Kei's jaw twitches.
"They got in, but they couldn't find anything. Pollux passed out after a blonde flapper cut his hand. I think it was on purpose."
"Not so clueless after all." Murmurs Rhian, wondering how Tedros could have been so quick-thinking. Maybe Arthur had underestimated his son.
"Why was he even there?" Snaps Japeth.
"I told you, Dot and him went to meet Lady A."
"Cops didn't even notice her. Pollux was looking for someone who looked like Callis. They didn't even ask her name. They weren't expecting her to be there, clearly, so they weren't looking out."
Japeth growls, frustrated, but Rhian looks thoughtful.
"That's alright, Kei. It was unlikely it was gonna work, anyway. But we know a few things now…" He pauses. "Was she in charge?"
"No. Castor said it was some girl named Nicola."
Rhian looks at Japeth.
"If Dot had to specify Gavaldon as the place they were meetin', it suggests Gavaldon ain’t her usual haunt..."
"Gavaldon ain't her main club anymore." Says Japeth. They're both thinking it.
"Yeah." Muses Rhian. "She lead us astray when she shot Baker. Made us think she was protectin' her main base."
"Slippery bastard." Curses Japeth.
"To be fair, we should have believed the information we had. It appears our… informant was right when she said Avalon is Lady A's new favourite."
"Can't blame us for not believin' it, it came from her ." Snarls Japeth. Rhian winces. He's always disliked how Japeth talks about her.
"I'll admit I thought she was just talkin' herself up, as well, but apparently not. I suppose it makes sense that she'd move. Ever-cautious."
"And Avalon is where Tedros performs." Murmurs Japeth.
"Isn't that interestin'..." Muses Rhian.
Kei looks between them. Rhian catches the glance.
"Kei, I want you to go and have a look at Avalon. See what's goin' on down there. No one but Dot and Tedros will recognise you, and all they know is that you're Galahad's godson. They won't think anythin' of it."
Kei nods slowly.
"Where am I gonna get the password from, though?"
The door at the back of the club opens, and Rhian sees someone come through it. Someone very familiar.
"I imagine our newcomer can help you. She sets them." He says, waving the figure over. "Kei, time for you to meet our most valuable asset."
Kei turns. Stares. Turns back to Rhian.
"How the hell did you manage to get--"
"Sophie!" Rhian smiles winningly as she approaches, and offers his hand. "Can I buy you a drink, darlin'?"
"--you're not magically a heeler, just 'cause you had a few weeks off. You don't need to practice! You dance fine."
"What time is the club empty ?" Tedros repeats, louder this time. Beatrix groans.
"From about 4. If I can hear you from here, I'll come out and wring your neck."
"Ish kabibble." Tedros turns to leave, then catches Beatrix grinning and glances back. "What?"
"You're startin' to talk like us."
"For purposes of blendin' in only." Tedros dismisses.
"Sure, baby. Think you're takin' your cues from the boss."
"She's not been here for at least two weeks, how the hell can I be?"
"Oh, we're keeping count now?"
Tedros glowers. Beatrix cackles and slams the door in his face, leaving him to grumble his way down the corridor. She made fun, but he knew they were all keeping a nervous eye on how long the boss had been away. The longer she spent on a single issue, the worse it was, Dot had muttered to him a few nights ago whilst Sophie took an extremely brief call from Lady A. No one was exactly sure what she was doing, apart from maybe Hester and Sophie, but last they'd heard, she'd been in Chicago with one of her more remote contacts. It didn't add to the atmosphere of the club, which had become markedly more subdued after the Gavaldon raid; the password had changed multiple times in a week, and the bartenders were all on high alert. Most of the patrons kept coming, but they came in smaller groups, through more than one entrance, and the spa above the club had taken on more erratic opening hours.
So it had fallen to the flappers and the musicians to keep the mood up. The first few performances Tedros had been back for, that had been easy; his popularity had meant that his reappearance had resulted in hollering, hysteria, and a huge spike in profits for a week or so, but once the novelty had died down, Tedros and the rest of the flappers had been forced to dance harder, sing better, and stay in the bar longer, in order to keep spirits high. He'd enjoyed it more than he'd anticipated, though; it provided an odd sense of camaraderie amongst the whole of the club, and Tedros was feeling less and less of an outsider as the days went on. Yara's enthusiasm about being under his instruction helped as well, he supposed; Gavaldon had gotten to know him, and he'd gotten to know them.
But the tension isn't going away, and Tedros is unable to shake the distinct impression that it's at least partially his fault.
So now, at 4am on the dot, he heads down the corridor towards the now empty club, intending to help, by doing the one thing he's never needed to do; practice. Because to keep the club stable, they need to be good. Really good. Better than they've ever been.
(And, also, Tedros is starting to worry that he won't actually be better than Yara for much longer, and his pride is creeping up on him.)
Despite his burning eyes, Tedros shoulders open the door to the speakeasy, and pauses minute, staring at the quiet bar. There's a few lamps burning on the tables, and a couple at either end of the bar, but other than that, it's dimly lit and oppressively warm. The stage is almost in complete darkness. He can just about see the gleam of the piano ivories, grinning at him from the shadows.
Sighing, he shuffles onto the dancefloor, trying to ignore the burning in the soles of his feet from wearing heels for far too long, and wonders what he should do. Maybe put a song on the gramophone? But then again, he'd prefer not to have to fight with Beatrix. Too late (early?) for that. Maybe just some steps, then. Or he could practice that turn he keeps getting wrong…
Someone hits a chord on the piano behind him.
Tedros spins, shocked. (As he does so, he realises, vaguely, that it was a very good impression of the turn he kept messing up, and resolves to be irritated about it later.) Who's up this late, let alone out here? Is it one of the flappers? Sophie? One of the Coven? Hort? No one else lives close enough.
Or was it someone else entirely?
Heart pounding, he squints into the blackness onstage. There's someone sat on the piano stool, but he can barely see them; they're little more than a shadow.
He takes a few steps closer, opens his mouth to ask who's there. If it's Hort, he's going to murder him--
A silver tie-pin glints at him through the gloom, and a heavily ringed hand slides across the piano keys. Tedros realises who it is mere moments before they speak, because he recognises the dark eyes glittering through the shadows.
Not Hort at all.
"Keepin' funny hours, ain't we, Meredith?"
"Jesus, boss." Tedros moans, flicking on the lamp closest to him. "Can't you ever turn up like a normal person?"
Lady A ignores him and turns back to the piano. In the new light, Tedros notices that she looks wan and tired, almost sickly, and she's still dressed for travel, in her coat and hat. She must have just arrived back.
"What're you doing here?" He demands.
"This is my club, baby."
"You know what I mean." Tedros mutters, mounting the stairs to the stage.
"Might ask you the same thing." She says simply, hitting another few notes.
"I'm practicing." Tedros says.
"Was Nic a tad too mean the other week? I didn't notice you nearly fall over, though I gotta admit, I kept an eye out for it after that--"
Tedros glares at her. She grins at him. Tedros notices one of her teeth is chipped and drops the look. On closer inspection, he can see a fading bruise on her cheekbone and several cuts above her right eye.
"The hell have you been doing?"
"Findin' out the goods, I told you."
Tedros thinks she might have had slightly more trouble findin' out the goods than she had anticipated.
"Why don't you send people to do these things for you?" He demands. He can't understand why she has to do everything herself. She's powerful enough to hardly lift a finger.
"Clearly not enough."
"It's balanced fine." She says grimly. "You just don't know 'bout most of it."
"When it's personal, I address it myself." She tells him sharply. And again; ambiguity and evasion. Why will no one tell him anything?
" Personal! You've never told me how--"
"--it was personal, so how am I supposed to know? In fact, you never tell me much of anything, come to think of it--"
" Meredith ."
Tedros catches the tone and falls silent.
"I ain't feelin' inclined to talk 'bout it, alright? Leave it. I got what I wanted."
Tedros stares at the piano awkwardly, trying to avoid her gaze.
"Scourie any better?" His boss asks finally.
"A bit. He slacked off slightly after you left, then Sophie threatened to snitch to you next time you called, and he picked back up again. I assume you can resume your bullying now."
"I was actually callin' em lessons , but I 'spose that works too."
"Beatrix refuses to believe you're actually teaching him anything, and you're just threatening him into figuring it out himself."
"Considerin' every time I have to interact with him he looks like he's about to drop dead, I'd say that's more accurate." Mutters Lady A. "But I can actually play."
"You said you'd show me." He's not entirely sure what makes him say it, especially at 4am. He'd just remembered it. "After Hort punched me."
"Hm." She peers up at him. "Yeah, I remember."
She considers this.
"Alright. Sit down then."
Tedros blinks, as she shuffles up to make room for him on the stool.
"... won't I be in the way?"
Tedros carefully sits down next to her, trying not to act as if he's too tense, even though he definitely is. She shoots him an amused sort of look, and Tedros forces himself to relax. He knows her well enough to know how and how not to annoy her. The back of her neck is flushed, he notices. It is very hot.
She pulls off her heaviest ring, a chunky silver thing on her middle finger, and hands it to him absently.
"It'll get in the way, hold it."
Tedros cups it in his hands and examines it. It's chipped around the edges, as if it's been struck on something.
Suddenly, he wonders if her rings are slightly more practical than they appear. She does wear them quite close to the knuckle.
Frowning, he looks down at her hands as she positions them on the keys. They're long and slender, not really meant for fighting-- but used for that anyway, if the scars on her knuckles are anything to go by, and how several of her fingers are crooked, as if they've been previously broken. But they're definitely closer to a pianist's hands. Or a doctor's. They're precise.
She pushes her knee against his, moving his leg out of the way to reach the pedals, and frowns.
"What do you want me to play?"
Tedros blinks at her, not really listening.
"I'll take that as a you choose ."
She turns back to the keys and starts to play.
She hasn't lied about being good. She is. Extremely good, in fact. Maybe even better than their old pianist.
It takes him a few seconds to place the song, but when he does, he frowns. But it wouldn't do to interrupt her now.
Tedros puts her ring on his hand, instead, and watches her fingers fly across the keys. Maybe he's just used to Hort's jerky renditions, but she plays incredibly fluidly, and with very little apparent effort. There are no mistakes, no hesitation. Nothing but them and the music.
Tedros glances across at her, and is surprised to see that all the rigidity has sloughed out of her shoulders; her ever-tense posture has disappeared, and she's slouched a little over the keys. She's biting her cheek in concentration, a small frown playing on her face, but her guard is down; her face is infinitely more readable than usual.
Tedros is fascinated. He's never seen her let her guard down before; she keeps everyone at an arm's length to an almost literal extent.
Tedros is forcibly reminded that she's picked him up, grabbed him by the waist, rearranged his pearls and bandaged his hand multiple times. He doesn't think he's ever seen her touch anyone else. Maybe Hester? Sophie?
Of course, most of her interactions with Tedros were purely practical.
It's then that Tedros notices that they're pressed together on the piano stool, and Lady A has stopped playing.
Neither of them speak, for a moment.
Then Tedros says;
"That was the first song I did, here."
"I know." Says Lady A. "Sophie told me 'bout it, very excited, the next time you did it."
"Oh." Tedros stares at his heels. "You're really good."
"I know. That's why Scourie's learnin' so fast."
Tedros blinks at her. She smirks at him.
"Can you play another?"
The smirk disappears. For a second, Tedros entertains the possibility that she looks genuinely pleased.
Then she shrugs.
Tedros stands and heads for the steps. Lady A frowns.
"Where're you goin'?"
"To dance. I still gotta practice, right?"
"Oh.” she frowns at the piano. “I guess."
"Did you ever learn to dance?" Tedros asks triumphantly, after finally landing that damned spin right.
Lady A eyes him from the piano.
"Sophie forced me to try a couple times."
"Look at me, Meredith. Complete heeler. And that was before my hip."
Tedros jumps on the opportunity.
"What's wrong with your hip? No one will tell me."
He then realised it was an overly personal and all-round stupid question.
She hesitates, apparently wrestling with whether to tell him or not. Tedros, feeling rather foolish, is surprised she's even considering it, expects to be dismissed--
"Got lead poisoning." She says finally.
"...lead posioning? You--" Tedros remembers Hester using the phrase before, and realises that she's not being literal. "You got shot?"
"Not all that surprisin' when you think about it, baby." Says Lady A dryly. "But yeah. They got my shoulder, too."
"But you're…" Tedros trails off. He had been going to say something along the lines of untouchable .
"This was before I was who I am now." Lady A reminds him. "Years ago, now."
Some of her behaviour is making sense, now. Tension, limping, constantly rubbing her shoulder. He'd thought it was just a habit.
"...then how come it's still a problem? If it was years ago?"
"Because Dot and Sophie took the bullets out and patched it up under my semi-conscious instruction, and all three of us did a shit job."
Tedros reels back, shocked.
" What? Why didn't you go to the hospital?"
"Couldn't. Too dangerous."
That appears to be as much as she's willing to answer, because her face is already closing off before he's even started to ask why.
"Alright, question time's over." Says Lady A brusquely, and turns back to the piano. "What d'you want next?"
"I can show you how to dance, if you like."
Ah, shit. Why did he go and say that?
Well, he knows; it was an attempt at re-lightening the mood.
Her gaze slides back across to him. It appears she's noticed it.
"No one's that good, baby."
Oh, she was playing along. Sort of.
"Just for fun." Tedros says quickly. "Anyway, there's no one here."
Her eyes narrow.
He's sure he's overstepping. He's pushed it too far, as usual. But it was worth a try--
She stands and strips off her coat, suit jacket and hat, rolls up her sleeves, and marches down the stairs.
Tedros peers at her.
"Are you tipsy?"
She goes slightly pink.
"I'm humouring you, patsy."
"But also, yeah. I was tryin' one of the new imports when you turned up."
Tedros groans. She snorts.
"Why'd you think I haven't told you to beat it, yet?"
"Because you were beginning to tolerate my presence?"
"Bold of you. Lead on, floorflusher."
"I told you!"
"You're doing it on purpose!"
" Ow !"
"I warned you!"
Tedros rubs his feet, glaring at her.
" How can you be so shit a dancer?"
Lady A shrugs.
"Combo of things. Be grateful I'm not wearing heels."
"I am." Mutters Tedros. "But I still think you're standing on my feet on purpose- OW!"
"If it was on purpose, it would be that hard."
Eyes watering, Tedros glowers up at her. It's hard to see, but he thinks she's grinning.
"Sure am." She agrees amiably. "Are you givin' up?"
"...no." Tedros hauls himself back to his aching feet. "Come on. You can do this."
"Nice to know you've got a positive attitude." Tedros holds out his hands and she takes them reluctantly.
"Put your foot there-- no, there . Yeah. Then I-- no, don't move the other one yet!"
Lady A huffs, irritated.
"This is impossible. I ain't got no coordination."
"You have to have some." Tedros eyes the bruise on her face. "You appear to be able to fight fine."
"Yeah, 'cause I fight dirty and it ain't graceful in the slightest. Plus, you can't cheat at dancin'."
Tedros goes to say that you probably can, realises that she will immediately go and try to do exactly that, and shuts his mouth.
"Oh. True. I guess. Speed that up a bit."
"What, the foot thing?"
"Yeah, and I gotta do the same."
Lady A stares at her feet, frowning deeply, a divot forming in-between her dark brows. Her hands have tightened in his as she's concentrated more, her rings digging in.
Tedros glances down and realises he hasn't been kicked, or trodden on, in several minutes.
"Now you're gettin' it!"
She snorts, but she does appear to be finally working out how to do it. Good. Tedros's feet are tender.
Absently, he joins in, watching her start to smile. It reminds him of the last time he saw her smile properly; in the café opposite Foxwood, during their disastrous stakeout...
And now he's thinking less about Arthur and Foxwood and whoever the hell they were looking for, and more wondering how much of Lady A was an act, and how much was legitimate. She'd lied for him to his father, driven him home, come to his defence with the Hort Issue, despite having a plethora of reasons to also punish him, and now she was letting him force her to dance. But she was also brusque and straight-talking and evasive, and had no qualms about multiple illegal acts, as well as keeping most of them at an arm's length and being incredibly rude.
And threatening to shoot Hort.
"I can't figure you out." Tedros says, before he can stop himself.
Lady A looks up at him, and her expression is somewhere between amused and quizzical, not at all like usual. Her hair is in her eyes, and her lips are slightly parted. Tedros stares at her.
"Why?" She asks.
They've stopped dancing, and they're just stood there. Her hands are still digging into his, unnecessarily hard. Maybe that's just how she holds onto everything. Too tightly. It's starting to hurt.
"I…" Tedros trails off. "You're…"
He stops again.
"Deliberately goddamned evasive?" Offers Lady A.
"I… weren’t gonna put it like that."
"Oh, I know you weren't, baby. I was, though. I know what I'm like. I know I never tell you shit."
She obviously appreciates the irony when she says;
"Can't tell you that, either."
Tedros, growls, frustrated, and looks away from her. Lady A looks almost remorseful.
"Meredith, if I could, I would--"
"I shouldn't. It ain't safe."
"Nothin' we do here is safe ." says Tedros impatiently.
"No, nothin'." Sighs Lady A. "So it's already too risky."
She pulls his face back so they're facing each other again.
She does sound genuinely so. Tedros stares at her, somewhere between exasperated and fascinated. He's too tired for this. He can barely focus on her-- yet he can't bring himself to leave. They're a lot closer together, now. Tedros can see that ring of lighter brown around her pupil, again. He can't smell whiskey on her at all, only rain and coffee. And his perfume appears to have caught on her as well. Her rings are still digging into his palm. She doesn't seem to notice. He realises now that it's her who stands lopsided, and it must be because of her hip.
She catches him staring.
"It's fine. Now, anyway."
Tedros purses his lips, not really inclined to believe her. She smiles faintly at him.
"You don't need to worry 'bout me, Tedros."
Tedros doesn't answer. He's coming to realise that he does, absolutely, worry about her. After all, that was why he'd chased after her at Gavaldon and gone with Beatrix to stop that raid, wasn't it--?
He looks back up. They're only inches apart. His gaze flicks back to hers--
And she seems to realise something.
Her face flickers, and Tedros catches multiple emotions in a second. Confusion. Anxiety. Reluctance. Realisation.
She jerks back, as if she's been hit, and drops his hands immediately.
Tedros stares, confused.
"Boss? What are you--'
"I have to go, Meredith."
But she's striding across to the stage, sweeping up her coat and hat and jacket, and rushing across the bar to the backstage door. Tedros watches her helplessly.
"What did I do?"
"Nothin'. It don't matter."
"I said it don't matter , Meredith."
He stares mutely, until she's just about to leave--
"I don't understand ." He says miserably.
She pauses at the door.
"I know." She says to the wood. "I'm so sorry."
Tedros stares at her. She doesn't look at him. Neither of them know what they're waiting for.
"You play beautifully." Tedros mumbles. She nearly looks back, but stops herself just in time.
"Thank you." She pauses. "Goodnight, Meredith."
She snatches the door open and is gone, leaving Tedros stood on his own on the dance floor, still wearing her ring, and wondering what he did wrong.
ish kabbible: a retort meaning "I should care"
lead poisoning: a euphemism for being shot
haha I'm not sorry in the slightest
"He's getting worse ." Moans Tedros from Beatrix's sofa.
"How?" Asks Beatrix, flinging her shoes onto his stomach as she sheds them.
"Every time I see him, he's out on the roof." Tedros mutters, dropping her kitten heels onto the floor. "Passed out in his office the last three times I went by. He's got more drink stockpiled than he's ever had."
Reena and Beatrix exchange significant glances. Tedros frowns at them.
"You think Foxwood is giving him more?"
"Maybe." Says Beatrix. "Can't say. Tell the boss, she'll wanna know."
Tedros's mouth pinches. He hasn't seen Lady A since she fled the club three nights ago-- she's apparently holed herself up in her office. He still doesn't know what the hell he did.
"Sure." He says blandly.
Beatrix frowns, but he's saved from confrontation by the door flying open.
"Oh, you're in here!" Says Dot brightly. She's alone again; Tedros can't help but wonder whether Hester and Anadil are deliberately excluding her. "Teddy, I've got a couple free hours, and you promised you'd show me how to do eyeliner like yours…"
She trails off, apparently noticing that he doesn't look very enthusiastic.
"Or not." She says quickly. "That's fine. I just thought, since Hester and Ani don't… need me, right now, it'd be a good time to ask…"
She stops, waiting anxiously for a reply. Tedros hesitates. He feels rotten, he's broken one of his earrings, and the last thing he wants to be doing is teaching Dot to do eyeliner. But he did promise, and, looking at her, he doesn't feel he can say no.
"Yeah, okay." He says, and sits up.
Dot's face clears, and she beams.
"Great! Can we go to Hort's dressing room? I was already in there, I brought my makeup so you don't even have to use yours--"
Tedros, knowing this means Hort is also going to be there, groans internally. But he says nothing, just bids goodbye to Beatrix and Reena and reluctantly follows Dot out of the door.
"--you're gettin' pretty good now, I reckon--"
"Stop talking, you're twitching your face everywhere." Mutters Tedros, trying to avoid drawing all over Dot's temples. Hort puffs up at the compliment, even though Tedros is sure Dot is just being nice.
"Yeah! I'm pretty swell now, think I've got an eye for it--"
" Or you just pick it up more when the boss is here because you think she'll plug a hole in you if you don't." Mutters Tedros.
Hort narrows his eyes at him.
" Will she?"
"You wanna take your chances?" Says Dot doubtfully. Everyone had heard the story about the office altercation (because Sophie had gone and told them all.)
Hort puts on an infuriatingly saintly expression
"I was just wonderin', because she's never that bad. Proper bearcat and doesn't say anythin' helpful 'less she needs to, but seems to treat me or you better than she treats Tedros, she always makes fun of him--"
"Told me that you look like you're about to piss yourself every time she's within ten metres, so that's doubtful." Tedros snarls, not sure why he's so riled.
Hort opens his mouth, but as he stares at Tedros, something seems to occur to him and he shuts it again. Tedros, regretting how quickly he turns irritable these days, goes back to Dot, who is making dubious progress in her eyeliner. It looks like a snake.
"That's very… wiggly." Says Tedros weakly.
"I know," Dot mourns. "I have shaky hands."
"Come here." Sighs Tedros, takes the pen as well, and guides her hand in a slightly less wobbly line across the eyelid.
He catches sight of Hort watching them narrowly in the mirror.
" What now ." Growls Tedros.
"Don't you think the boss will have somethin' to say about you two? Bein' that close?"
"Why would she?" Demands Tedros, scrubbing away the squiggly line and showing Dot a (hopefully) better grip. "Both work for her, don't we?"
"She not the jealous type? Thought she would be."
"What are you talking about?" Demands Tedros, bewildered. "She doesn't own me or anything."
"Huh." Hort sits back. "Okay."
Confused, Tedros stares at him for a minute. Dot pipes up, apparently having only just tuned back in.
"What're we on about? The boss bein' jealous or somethin'? She ain't the type, I don't think. Had quite a long fling with Hester a while back, barely batted an eyelid when Hester decided she liked--"
She stops herself just in time, but Tedros is gawking, fixated on something else.
" Hester? Lady A and Hester?"
"They can both be quite charmin' when they feel like it. Not that either of you would know."
Tedros, thinking he might know about one of them, turns this over in his head. He's not exactly surprised-- Hester's rabid dog loyalty had to stem from somewhere-- but something about it is bothering him.
Shaking his head, Tedros goes back to Dot. Dot, however, has refocused on Hort.
"So," she says, turning back to their previous conversation. "You likin' the job, Hort?"
Hort looks surprised for a minute, and seems to genuinely consider it.
"...I reckon so." He says at last.
Tedros lifts an eyebrow. Hort goes on the defensive.
"Might have the boss breathin' down my neck-- thanks to you, I might add-- but it's much finer than bein' a butcher's boy, especially with where the shop is."
"Where is the shop?" Asks Tedros, surprised he's showing any kind of interest in Hort at all.
"Next to Bartleby's." Hort sighs. "Stressful. And opposite an orphanage, which is just depressin'. Foxwood isn't far away, either."
Tedros realises that it had to be the butcher's he'd seen on the raid with Beatrix, and frowns, thinking of how close together Bartleby's and Foxwood are. He supposes the café from their disaster stakeout had to be close, too.
"Oh, I know it." Dot says, examining her face in the mirror. "Me and Ani go down there sometimes. Sophie went down the other day, which was weird, because I never thought that was the kind of place she'd hang out, but whatever."
"Anything on Foxwood?" Asks Tedros. By now, they're all harbouring a strong suspicion that the raid was orchestrated by their friends across the city.
"No, nothin'." Says Dot uncomfortably. Her eyeliner is looking better and better. "Which is weird, because usually somethin' is goin' on, but it's very quiet. I don’t like it.”
Tedros bites his lip, a habit he thought he'd kicked since he'd started wearing lipstick--
The door bashes open.
"Dot, we need you up in the boss's office." Says Hester. "Everyone else is already there."
Dot leaps up immediately. Hester frowns at her.
"The hell is on your face?"
"...Teddy was showing me how to do eyeliner like him." Mutters Dot, suddenly sheepish.
"Well, you look ridiculous." Snaps Hester.
Tedros watches Dot's shoulders curl. His jaw tenses.
"Come on." Hester waves Dot out the door in front of her. She turns to leave, and as she does so, she shoots Tedros an odd look. Tedros turns to reapply his lipstick. After being shoved into his own vanity, he's not interested in getting into another fight with Hester, but he thinks he's dangerously close to snapping at her.
The door closes, and they're gone.
There's a pause. Tedros re-caps his lipstick and makes to leave, not bothering to acknowledge Hort. Something's nagging him--
"You goin' up there too?" Asks Hort.
"No." Says Tedros. "Why?"
"Everyone else is goin'."
Oh, right. Everyone else.
Everyone but him, anyway. Hester had barely spared him a glance. And if Lady A had told her to fetch him, she would have done, albeit reluctantly. Tedros doesn't doubt that, now.
" You're not." Says Tedros, patience fraying. Hort snorts, lighting a cigarette. Tedros wrinkles his nose, a protest which is ignored.
"We all know I'm more of a hostage than a confidant or crony. You, though… odd that they're not includin' you, don't you think?"
"No." Tedros says, flinging the door open. "It's not odd at all."
He slams the door behind him, informing Hort that it was odd, very odd indeed, and he wasn't happy about it in the slightest.
He spends the rest of the evening sulking, sprawled out on his couch and eating olives he'd stolen from the kitchen. What is there to do, anyway, besides sit out in the bar and endure the clusters of tipsy admirers? Everyone else was up in the boss's office, and it wasn't as if he could go home-- nothing to go to but his drunkard father and a dusty house. And he certainly doesn't want to talk to the suddenly-over-perceptive Hort (not that he ever wanted to talk to Hort, but still.)
It wasn't fair . He didn't understand why they couldn't tell him. Obviously, his father went to Foxwood for drink, so there was that connection, and Hester had initially accused him of being a spy for them (he still didn't understand that, and no one had bothered to fill him in). Obviously the people at Foxwood were some kind of enemy of Lady A's, but he hasn't been given any kind of reason why he shouldn't know more about them.
Trying to think, Tedros stares idly out of the tiny window. He can only just see the moon; a tiny sliver of it is all that attempts to pierce the clouds, but it's light is persistent; despite the shifting clouds.
It's midnight, and Tedros shouldn't be up. But he is, and so he hears it all.
He stands in the shadows on the balcony above the hall, and listens to his father argue with a woman.
"--I don't agree with your lifestyle, I've told you, and I want nothing to do with them--"
The caller says something too quiet for Tedros to hear, speaking in a low, amused sort of tone. Arthur sighs, frustrated.
"Yes, I've told you that you can tell them, given they keep it quiet, but I don't want Tedros to know."
There's another pause.
"That's not your decision to make." Says Arthur sharply.
"What about--" the rest of the woman's words are drowned out as the rain gets harder, hammering on the windowpane next to Tedros's head.
"What about her?"
"...has a daughter… tell Tedros about her?"
"That's different, and you know it." Snaps Arthur. "Besides, what interest do you have in her?"
"More than you know." Says the woman slyly, but her voice is fading in and out of earshot as the rain gets harder. "We play nice for... but it's only a matter of time...not a good…"
"I want nothing to do with it, and you'll keep it out of my house." Says Arthur coldly. "Tedros will have nothing to do with it, either."
"Oh, I know you won't want anything to do with it." Says the woman.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Demands Arthur.
"Goodnight, Arthur." Says the woman, ignoring his question. "Consider what I told you, won't you? For Teddy's sake, too, not just yours."
Arthur slams the door in her face, and Tedros scampers back to his room, bewildered and frightened in equal measure. From his window, peering through the tiniest gap in his curtains, he can see the woman leaving, her blue dress sticking to her skin as she heads to the car idling outside.
Just as she opens the door, though, she turns and looks up at the house, and Tedros can see two boys in the car behind her. For a second, he swears they're all staring right at him, and he ducks away.
When he looks back, they're gone.
Tedros jolts awake and slips off the sofa, landing on his hands and knees on the floor. Panting, he stares at his gloves, shocked he could have forgotten. He'd only been around 9 when that had happened, lonely and frightened after his mother's disappearance. He'd never mentioned it, and neither had Arthur, but he'd always wondered about it. Now, more than ever, it seemed significant. Who had the woman been? He'd never seen her again. And what of the boys? Who were they? Her sons?
Unsettled, he sits up, wondering how on earth they could be connected to his father.
The club is silent, he realises. The faint sounds of music and shouting from down the corridor are gone, and all that's left is the creaking of the pipes and faint sounds from the adjorning dressing rooms-- Kiko and Bastian.
He glances at the clock. He's been asleep for hours, and it's the small hours of the morning, now.
Grimacing, he stands up and makes to start taking off his stage clothes. It appears the stress of the last few weeks is starting to take a toll on him; he washes off his powder and catches sight of dark circles under his eyes, and a few spots clustered on his chin.
This does not improve his mood at all, and, as he fights with the buckles on his kitten heels, he realises he can hear someone clattering up and down the corridor. It's not one of the flappers, because the tread isn't heels, it's flat, but nonetheless loud, and rather uneven, as if the walker is stopping randomly.
He throws off his first heel, puts a hole in the wallpaper, curses, and tries to ignore the footsteps.
Up, down. Up… down. Up.
He stabs himself under the nail with the buckle. Tells the inventor of buckles to shove them somewhere unpleasant. Gets the second one open.
Down. Up. Up…
Nearly outside, in fact. It's 3am. What are they doing?
Tedros rips the second heel off, throws it to the floor, and flings open the door in six feet of chemise, stocking and garter-clad fury.
Whoever it is whirls, hand shooting to their pocket--
Lady A drops her hand. Very deliberately lifts her head and looks at his face instead.
"You make a habit of walkin' around in your lingerie at 3am?"
"Not usually." Says Tedros thinly, not particularly abashed. "You make a habit of stalkin' the flapper corridor at 3am?"
"Not usually." She repeats. Looking at her, though, Tedros thinks she looks even worse than the last time he'd seen her; she's lost weight, and her face is pinched. She's standing awkwardly, arm held at an odd angle, and swaying slightly.
"Thought even you would go to bed at some point." He says, but he's losing the venom. She looks ready to collapse.
"Yeah, I thought that too." she says grimly. "Ain't happenin' tonight, though."
Watching how stiffly she holds her arm, Tedros thinks he has an inkling as to why.
Considering the last time they'd seen each other, when she'd run away for no apparent reason, and now, after everyone but him was pulled up for some important meeting, he probably shouldn't be particularly worried about her.
Unfortunately, he was.
"If you're gonna bother me, you might as well do it inside." He mutters, stalking back into his dressing room. Lady A follows him silently, and settles sideways on his sofa, taking up almost the whole length. She's shed her suit jacket, gloves and tie, and is sitting in her shirtsleeves and cream trousers. Tedros, who has never seen her wear anything that flaunted her obvious wealth before (or, really, anything that wasn't black) eyes her suspiciously.
"Been meetin' with some big shots today." She says, as if reading his mind.
"Doing more of your findin' out the goods?" Even though there are other places he could sit, Tedros crams himself at the end of the sofa by her feet, not bothering to put on any more clothes.
"Uh huh." She leans back against the arm and closes her eyes, and doesn't give him anything more than that.
That surge of resentment roars back up in Tedros's chest. She really doesn't tell him anything, does she?
He stares at her down the sofa. He'd not been lying when he'd said he couldn't figure her out. There seems to be some kind of barrier between her and everyone else, and he's only seen it slip once; three nights ago, in the piano room--
" Why won't you ever tell me anything?" He blurts out. It comes out more desperate than angry.
Slowly, her eyes slide open, and she stares at him down the sofa. Tedros is forcibly reminded of her horrible cat, Reaper. He ought to ask for his earrings back.
"Cause it ain't safe." She says.
Tedros, startled by the direct answer, blinks at her.
"It ain't safe for any of us." She says. "Not for me, not for the flappers, or Sophie, or the Coven, but most of all, not for you ."
"Because if you knew, Meredith, you'd do somethin' rash. You'd do somethin' real rash."
Tedros colours furiously.
"How do you know I'd--"
"Because you followed us on that raid and nearly got yourself killed savin' Hester?"
Tedros clamps his mouth shut.
"I'm sure you'll find out at some point." She covers her eyes with her forearm, and it occurs to Tedros that she really is very young. No older than anyone else here.
"But why not now ?" He asks.
She doesn't answer. Stretches out her bad leg and puts it in Tedros's lap. She must be able to see his scowl, because she grins underneath her arm.
"I want my earrings back." Says Tedros, knowing that, tonight, the argument is a lost battle.
"Take the appeal to the cat, baby. I don't know where he's hidin' them."
"You said you did! At the café you said--"
"They ain't in his usual hidey holes. Must have taken a special interest in your jewellery."
Tedros huffs, but he's not really mad anymore. They sit in silence for a minute. Finally, Tedros says;
"I went to see my father today. He was completely out on the roof. Didn't even notice me. He's got more drink stockpiled, more than he's ever had. Beatrix said she thought you'd wanna know, maybe Foxwood was giving him more."
"Beatrix, as usual, was right." Says Lady A, dropping her arm. "That's real interestin'."
He looks at her in surprise. The expected I know hadn't come.
"You didn't know I went?"
It seemed very unlikely--
"I did." She says.
"--but I didn't think you wanted me to say so."
Tedros bites his cheek, because she's right.
"You know everythin' about me. I don't know anythin' about you." He says to his stockings.
"Don't know everythin'." She says. "For example, I had no idea that you didn't wear a corset 'til now. Heard Beatrix complain enough times that I assumed it was necessary for all the flappers."
Tedros groans. Of course she'd have no idea about fashion.
"I don't need to. All the girls want what I already have. Don't have any figure to flatten."
"Oh, ain't you mighty fine." Yawns Lady A. "You're a fella, it's cheatin'."
Tedros opens his mouth to argue, but she's still going;
"Fine, I'll tell you somethin' about me. What'd you wanna know? I'm not tellin' you anythin' weird, mind."
Tedros stares at her, totally caught off guard. For the first time it occurs to him that her swaying might not be completely down to her injured hip.
"Are you drunk again ?"
She eyes him.
"Yes." She says. "Not blotto , mind. Just a bit bent. It's my drink, ain't it? But I ain't got any painkillers, and I thought it'd help with--" she gestures vaguely to her hip and shoulder. "--all this."
"No, I'm just all stupid instead." She rubs her face. "I wasn't bent the other night, though."
"...You said you were." Says Tedros dumbly.
"Yeah, well, I wasn't, I lied. Was that your question?"
"No, it wasn't my--" Tedros cuts himself off, pretty sure she's mostly sober and just messing with him. " Why did you lie?"
"Because I thought you'd be confused if I said I was sober, Meredith. Was that your--"
"What's your real name?" Blurts out Tedros, discarding it for now and getting in before she can start winding him up again.
That catches her out, and for a second, he's worried he's done something wrong again, because her eyes flare. He almost expects her to repeat her bolt from the other night, but she doesn't. The mirth has slid from her face, but so has something else, something he hadn't realised was there until now-- there's a new absence of tension in her gaze. She doesn't say anything, though. Tedros backtracks quickly.
"You don't have to tell me, maybe that qualifies as weird, I don't know. I was just wondering because everyone else uses what I assume are their real names-- well, apart from me and my surname-- but I just wondered what yours was…" he trails off. He is embarrassed, now. He sort of wishes he'd put some clothes on, though he doesn't think he really feels exposed because he's sat in his garters--
"You didn't do anythin' wrong the other night, you know." She says.
Tedros has no idea what she's doing, so he stays quiet.
"I can't explain it without explainin' everythin', and I can't do that, but it wasn't your fault. I--" She stops. Exhales.
Tedros stares at the sharp line of her jaw and nose, matched by her severe haircut and flat, straight brows. She's not pretty, really, not in any of the ways that the flappers or Sophie or even Anadil are. She's plain, honestly. But for some reason, right now, Tedros can't take his eyes off her--
She shoots him an irritated look.
"My name, Tedros. It's Agatha."
Tedros blinks. She'd actually told him.
"Sophie calls me Aggie, but if you try it, I'll fire you on the spot."
Tedros frowns at her, untying her shoelace absently.
Lady A-- no, Agatha-- looks amused.
"She's my sister."
"Is she? You look nothing alike."
She smiles. Properly, for once.
"Well, maybe not biologically." She pauses, and, disappointingly, the smile slips away. "But sayin' so was the easiest way to keep her safe."
Tedros is silent--
"Same way I let Hort think we were neckin'."
"...huh? What do you--"
Tedros stops. Suddenly, everything makes sense. Her being overly touchy in front of Hort. Calling him baby constantly. Hort asking whether she'd be jealous about him and Dot… she'd probably been reinforcing it at their piano lessons, too.
"You're not mad about that, are you?" She peers over at him. "I thought I'd just let it run, so he didn't think it was okay to try and thump you again-- what?"
There's an agonised look on his face, probably, because he's just been reminded of something else.
"...Did you really hook up with Hester?"
Agatha stares, shocked.
Then she bursts out laughing.
Tedros waits for an answer as she cackles, not understanding how he seems to be the only one who sees a problem with it. She stops laughing long enough to cough out a;
"Yeah, we had a thing a while back, don't look so horrified."
"She can be very winnin' when she wants." Agatha wipes her eyes, still grinning.
"Dot said so too." Tedros grumbles. "I've yet to see it."
"Well, yeah, she's way too protective. She'll come around to you eventually, don't worry."
When hell freezes over , Tedros thinks, but he doesn't say it. Instead, he says;
"No wonder Hort's been avoidin' me."
"Consider it a present." Grins Agatha. She swings her legs off the sofa and turns to leave. "I'll try an' get a few hours of sleep, now. Thanks for your hospitality."
As she opens the door, Tedros realises that the door opposite is still cracked open, and the light is still on.
Tedros jumps up, shoves a hand through her hair, and pulls her collar down.
"The hell are you doing--" she hisses, trying to pull away--
Tedros ducks his head quickly, hoping she won't shoot him or something. (She's probably armed. She's almost always armed.)
"His door's open," he whispers. "He's probably gonna realise we're back out in a second, gotta look suitably dishevelled--"
She makes a weird sound, which Tedros realises later is a strangled sort of laugh.
"Oh, yeah. Yeah, alright--"
She stops trying to fix what he's done and undoes a few of her shirt buttons. Tedros peeks through the open door and notices movement in Hort's dressing room--
"Gotta go, boss."
Even though he knows her name now, he doesn't seem to be able to disentangle Agatha from Lady A--
Possibly because, as she breezes past him out of the door, he realises she's back. Whatever tension she'd dropped minutes before has been secured back in place. Whoever Agatha is, this certainly isn't her anymore, not completely. It's unsettling, that she can slide the persona on and off like a mask.
"Well," she says, loud enough for the shadow lurking in Hort's dressing room to hear. "Goodnight, Meredith."
Tedros, hanging out of his door, watches the door twitch, move just an inch.
Possessed with a sudden, hysterical urge to laugh, he looks down at Agatha--
Who grabs the front of his chemise, yanks him down, and plants a kiss on his cheek.
There's a thud from behind them. Tedros thinks Hort must have slipped and fallen into his door because it slams shut, but he has to admit, he's not paying attention-- he's watching… he's watching…
Agatha? Lady A?
He doesn't know who he's watching, but he watches her limp down the corridor, and catches sight of how flushed the back of her neck is before she turns the corridor and is gone.
Tedros turns back into his own room, heart pounding, head aching, and, most of all, painfully, painfully confused.
He ought to just go to bed. But as he turns to take off his earrings, he notices that her ring, the one she'd left with him three nights ago, is still on the vanity. He'd forgotten to hand it back to her.
Scowling-- even though there's no real reason to be doing so-- he snatches it off the table and shoves it on his finger.
This way, he won't forget to give it back.
Bearcat- a fierce woman
Yeah he will
That was interesting in more ways than one huh
The next night, Agatha is holding a brisk, grim court, using the roar of the club as a cover.
Whilst Tedros provides a convenient distraction by leaving a trail of swooning girls, his position marked by wherever people were currently hollering loudest, Sophie lays it out.
"We need to be subtler, I won't sugercoat it. We know they've got moles in our clubs, there ain't nothin' I can do about that--"
She sees Hester shift in her seat and shoots her a dark look.
"I know what you'd do about it, but you ain't in charge here."
"Neither are you." Says Hester thinly.
"You can go and be the spy, then come back and tell me it's still a good idea to gun down the people you agreed to let in whilst you were there--"
"Get back to the point." Interrupts Agatha, tonight mostly inconspicuous in one of her dresses, but not doing a good job of looking anything less than calculating. There was a tension surrounding them that it was impossible to ignore.
"Right." Sophie turns away from Hester with some difficulty. "Well, from what I can tell, they're beginnin' to try and find a way of gettin' you out into the open--"
"Me, specifically?" Interrupts her sister. "How charmin'."
Sophie glares at her.
"You're really gonna make a joke of this? After everythin' that happened last time? You know full well they wanna get rid of you because, without you, this whole thing will crumble. Ain't as if you've been trainin' up a successor, is it?"
Agatha's face darkens.
Behind her, someone else faints, and Tedros goes sauntering back through the bar. A low chant, repeating his name, had emerged during the last song, and it was slowly getting louder. More money tonight then, more drinks. She hoped he'd stay out longer. He could convince them to buy and buy and buy, unmatched in his conviction. He'd never let Sophie down yet, not even in the tension of these past months.
He wasn't just good, she realised vaguely.
He was their best. Maybe the best they'd ever had.
"No." Says Agatha simply. "I ain't anticipatin' dyin' any time soon, see."
"Well maybe you should consider it." Snaps Sophie. "If you'd heard what they were sayin'--"
"You're not makin' yourself sound real trustworthy right now, you know that?" Anadil interrupts.
Sophie stares at her, incredulous.
"You really think I'd betray everyone, after everythin' that's happened?"
"Well, word has it that they've been showerin' you with lots of lovely things--"
Sophie's voice is rising as she gets more riled, and Anadil is starting to tense.
"How dare you suggest I'd betray my sister for jewellery!"
"I'm not sayin' you're that shallow, what I'm sayin' is that you're lookin' real suspicious and it's hard to know what goes on when you're with them--"
"I tell you everything , all of you, and you think--"
She catches sight of Agatha's face and falls silent.
So does Anadil, who slowly sits back down.
"I'm perfectly aware of what's goin' on." Says Agatha. She seems calm, but they'd both seen that blank look.
She'd been weighing them up.
Sophie knew she'd never let her go-- nor Anadil-- but she got the unsettling impression that their pros and cons had been being laid out as they'd argued.
"I put Sophie up to it, and I wouldn't have done it if I wasn't certain. Would I?"
There's a scattered muttering of no over the table.
"So you ain't gotta worry 'bout it."
Sophie can see Kei out of the corner of her eye, in the next booth along. He raises his eyebrows at her. She shakes her head the tiniest bit. She's fine. It's fine. He doesn't need to know about this.
(Unless he can hear…?)
Anadil and Hester sit back, albeit reluctantly. Dot and Nicola are silent, but Sophie can practically see Nicola's brain working. Dot is gazing at Agatha, as if she's trying to work something out. Beatrix is fidgeting.
"So they want me out in the open." Agatha leans back, considering. "How are they plannin' to do that?"
"They haven't said, yet." Sophie murmurs. "Probably tryna provoke you."
The crowd erupts into bellowing as Tedros finishes his final song.
"How original." Agatha says.
"It's effective, though." Murmurs Nicola. "Always effective."
"What are they gonna do, kill one of my moles like I did to them?"
Sophie only knows of one mole in Foxwood, and they're not exactly dispensable. And they would be a perfect provocation for Agatha.
Because when it's personal, she does it herself.
Suddenly, she wishes everyone would talk quieter. She can't risk a glance at Kei, but he's undoubtedly trying to listen.
"I don't know ." She says. "All I'm sayin' is we need to keep a low profile, and be subtle about--"
"What are we talking about? Subtle about what?"
Sophie looks up to find Tedros stood at Agatha's elbow, sheened with sweat and draped in jewels that wink at her in the low light, kohl-lined eyes wide with curiosity.
She looks at Agatha, who's looking up at Tedros. That cold intensity is gone.
Sophie looks at Agatha.
"About everything ." She says, pointedly.
Tedros looks confused. He looks around at the group. No one provides an explanation. Agatha is gazing back at Sophie, now.
Sophie watches Tedros's jaw tense and his cheekbones stain a darker red-- anger, rather than exertion.
"Alright, I get it." He snaps, and turns on his heel to leave.
"Meredith." Says Agatha. "I told you--"
But he's already gone, marching off towards the bar. Hort's nearby, and Sophie anticipates a clash.
There's a pause.
"Had a screaming match with his old man last night." Says Beatrix, loud enough so that anyone curious would get an explanation. "Still a bit touchy. Came back swearin' he never wanted to see him again. He'll come around, but I don't think he'll be goin' back to their house for a good long time."
Some vague comments are made, legitimising the claim.
Sophie casts a look at Beatrix, questioning. Beatrix nods.
Not just a cover, then. True. She ought to look into that. Could meddle with his performance quality.
"I'll go and talk to him." She says brightly. "Make sure he's alright."
"You're just worried it'll affect his performance and you'll make less scratch." Mutters Agatha.
"And you ain't?"
"I didn't say that."
No, she didn't.
Agatha stands up. Sophie assumes she's going back to her apartment, and makes to move past her--
Agatha waits until Sophie passes her before she says it, leaning close to her.
"We're gonna go pay a visit to our…fellow industry professionals. Tomorrow night."
Sophie stops dead.
"... we ? To blatantly stake out Foxwood? You can't come."
Sophie spins back to face her.
"I ain't a princess in a tower, doll, I can go out when I want without catastrophe. Besides, you already knew this was coming, just not when--"
"Did you listen to anything I just said?" Demands Sophie, horrified. "They want you where they can get to you, and you're just gonna saunter right into their hands?"
"I limp, actually."
" Agatha ." Snarls Sophie, just low enough that they can't be heard. "You can't-- "
"They won't do anything." Agatha says calmly.
"How can you know that--"
"Because their flaw is their ego. They want to do it themselves, lure me in themselves. They ain't gonna stop me if I just wander in. Besides, with any luck, they won't even notice us. I only wanna get an idea of their supply lines and see who comes in and out--"
"Like Arthur ?"
"Based on the sound of that argument, I don't think he's goin' anywhere for a while. Passed out somewhere, no doubt."
If she hadn't spent so long on it, Sophie would be tearing her hair out. But she doesn't. She takes a deep breath, and smiles.
"Fine." She says. "Fine."
"Don't lie to me, you still don't want me to go."
"No." Says Sophie. "No. But I can't stop you."
"I'm going to see Teddy, now." Sophie tells her.
"You do that."
Agatha turns and heads for backstage and the connecting stairs beyond.
Sophie waits until she's gone.
She can still do it. It will still work.
Sometimes, for someone so clever, she misses the obvious.
"Heard you're doin' somethin' real stupid tomorrow."
Agatha looks up from her desk to find Tedros stood in the doorway, silhouetted by the hall light behind him.
"I'm going to see Teddy, now." Sophie had said.
Oh, for the love of God .
Agatha cycles through several uncomplimentary names for her incessantly meddling sister.
She doesn't bother denying it, though;
"How'd you know that?"
Tedros lifts a shoulder.
"Little birdie told me."
"Does the little birdie have a penchant for furs and pearls, and the tendency to meddle where she ain't welcome?" Snaps Agatha, shoving her papers into a haphazard pile.
"It ain't real important what the bird likes, boss."
Tedros steps inside and snaps the door shut.
"What are you gonna do, once you're there?"
"Mind your apples." Agatha slams the rest of her papers down.
It's the wrong thing to say, because Tedros's jaw tightens.
"I have told and told you--" begins Agatha, but Tedros cuts her off.
"You're treatin' me like a child."
"I'm treatin' you like someone who I don't want to get kidnapped for knowing valuable information!"
"Oh, so you send Hester off regularly to get snatched by the newest gang--?"
"You don't have a sufficient reputation to protect you." Growls Agatha. "What you do have is a father who invokes visions of massive ransom payouts. And I've known Hester for years, and I might have known you for almost as long, but it was never well--"
She realises what she's saying and stumbles to a halt.
Tedros stares at her.
"We have met before."
Agatha remains silent.
"You lied to me. Again . You said--"
"It was a half-lie! I wasn't under the Lady A persona, I was--"
"Agatha Graves." Says Tedros suddenly.
Agatha knew he would, eventually.
"You were at that party. You…"
"I was with my mother. Your father became… friends with my mother after your mother left, for obvious reasons."
"She was a bootlegger, as well?"
"Family business." Sneers Agatha.
There's a pause.
"Anythin' else you'd like to admit?" Says Tedros mock-sweetly. Agatha grinds her teeth.
"I haven't lied to you about anything else."
"No, you've just refused to tell me anythin'."
Tedros is getting irritated again, the flush returning to his face in a wave.
"Fancy tellin' me why? Or is that too dangerous, in case I'm stupid enough to leak it to someone or go runnin' off to do god knows what with some information I'll never get--"
"Sit down and I'll explain it to you." Says Agatha through clenched teeth. Tedros does not.
"You've already tried, and in my opinion it was a pretty shit explanation!"
"Would you prefer to know somethin' that could ruin your whole life, both here and with your father?" Barks Agatha.
"Sit down." Repeats Agatha.
"I'll stay standin'."
"Fine." Spits Agatha. "Fine. I told you I wanted to be a doctor, didn't I?"
"So why aren't you?"
"I was around 17 when my mother died." Says Agatha grimly. "It was massively unexpected. Wasn't supposed to happen at all."
"Got shot, didn't she?" Says Agatha impatiently.
"Yeah, but who--"
"Point is," says Agatha loudly, "After she died, it was assumed that I was gonna take her place. I didn't want to. But I didn't get to tell anyone so, because before I could, I walked in on my mother's old right-hand men plotting to… dispose of of the younger kids. At the time, it was only me, Sophie, Dot, and Beatrix, you know? Neither Dot not Sophie knew shit about the business, and were both scared stiff of the men and women my mother only barely kept in line."
Tedros has sat down, perched himself on her desk again.
"What did you do?"
"Snuck out, found Beatrix and Dot, stole my mother's old pistols. By the time we'd got back, they'd already sent one of them for Sophie."
"I shot him. They thought I wouldn't do it. I told the rest of them that the same would happen to them if they lifted a single finger against me, stole all my mother's documents, and we fled to Chicago. Most of my mother's clients were happy to accept that they were dealin' with me now. Turns out I was very good at it. Got new ones, too. Acquired new supply lines. Most of my mother's old cronies went to others. They're all dead now."
She catches the look on Tedros's face.
"Not my doing." She says quickly. "I did let the rumours that it was me spread, though. Reputation. Does most of the work for me."
"I don't understand how this is supposed to explain--"
"Use your brain, Meredith. Why am I still here?"
"Because you… have to be, because you were trying to protect Sophie, and now--"
"And now I'm stuck."
Tedros doesn't exactly look angry anymore, but he does look conflicted.
Agatha rubs her face, exhaustion and stress pricking at her eyes.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm not the victim here, I--"
"Have killed people?"
"Well. Yeah." Agatha removes her hands, but doesn't look back up. "Yeah. That. I won't try to pretend that it's all for the greater good but--"
"You don't have a choice."
"If I do, wish someone would tell me what it is." Murmurs Agatha. "There ain't a moral path that keeps everyone alive, far as I can see. I'm just trying to keep everyone safe , for fuck's sake--"
She cuts herself off.
A strained silence spreads between them.
"Why do you call me Meredith?" Says Tedros abruptly.
Agatha lifts her head wearily.
"Because it's your name."
"Except you know full well it's not ."
"The rest of the bar and the club don't."
Tedros eyes her, unconvinced.
"That would be a good excuse if you didn't call me that in private, too."
Agatha feels distinctly as if she's being backed into a corner, and she doesn't like it. Usually, she's the one doing the backing. She hadn't known Tedros was capable of it.
"You're making it sound like you know."
"I wouldn't have asked if I knew."
Agatha opens her mouth to dodge the question and realises that's all she ever does, with him. So she changes track. Pulls off her hat and fiddles with the brim.
"Same reason I let Sophie run the club. And let Beatrix keep the flappers in line. And send Dot to spy on high-society dinners. Trust. I trust you. So I'll use the identity you want me to use."
She hauls herself out of her chair, ignoring how her hip protests the decision, and sits on the desk next to him. Tedros picks at his gloves, and won't look at her. Agatha can see him going red, though. Apparently that wasn't the answer he was expecting.
"What did you think it was?"
"I… thought you were making fun of me." Admits Tedros.
Agatha stares at him, surprised.
"Because it was a bad cover?"
"It was only bad because I already knew who you were."
"Right. I forgot. We do know each other."
"We only met a couple of times, mostly at that party--"
Tedros isn't listening.
"You played the piano. Right at the end. When everyone was drunk and trying to find their coats."
"You heard that?"
"I was in the window alcove. Hiding from my father."
Now she thinks about it, there was someone there. She hadn't paid them much notice. Assumed they were drunk.
"I suppose…" she pauses. "I suppose there's another reason."
Tedros waits silently.
"I thought if I let you use Meredith, it would mean I could separate you now , from you then , and maybe I'd be able to--"
"To pretend we weren't connected, so I didn't have to know that my father's a dishonest, hypocritical drunkard?"
"...something like that."
"You were wasting your time, I already knew."
"...yeah. Suppose you did."
"She's just trying to protect you." Tedros says.
"I don't need protecting." Agatha tells her knees.
"Funny. I said that, but I seem to be being protected anyway."
Agatha looks up. Tedros is fiddling with the black pearl in his necklace.
"I don't get it." He says.
"Don't get what?"
"Why you've spent all this time and effort and money trying to keep everyone safe, but you somehow can't fathom that everyone is also trying to do the same for you."
"I can fathom it fine." Says Agatha testily. "But if Sophie had control of everything I did, I'd never leave the damn building."
"It's not just Sophie."
"I don't care if she sent a pretty messenger, Meredith, the fact remains that she told you to come and stop me."
"I would have refused to do it if I didn't agree." Says Tedros shortly.
"You're just going along with it, because she made it sound like it was going to be really dangerous. It's not."
Tedros frowns, still looking down.
"Well, with what I've heard-- which is not a lot--"
"For the love of God, Meredith, let that go for now--"
"There are plenty of people who are looking to lure you out of here--"
"Yeah, lure , they won't grab me if I go on my own--"
Tedros cuts her off.
"And she heavily implied it was somehow related to me."
Agatha stares at him. He won't look at her.
"Said it had something to do with me."
Agatha calls Sophie something that she probably would have hit her for, had she been there. Extremely loudly.
"That was her ace card, was it? Wait until I get my hands on her, she knew exactly how to make you do it, meddling little--"
" Is it?" Asks Tedros. He sounds suddenly anxious, and Agatha has to stop mentally strangling Sophie for a minute.
Sophie had somehow managed to convince Tedros that Agatha was putting herself in danger to sort out some kind of mess that he'd caused. Very technically it was sort of true. At the very least, it had a lot to do with him.
But how could she tell him that?
She takes a deep breath and smiles.
"No. It ain't got anythin' to do with you."
It's batted right back.
"Liar." Says Tedros, and Agatha can practically see his patience thinning. "She said it was to do with why Hester got mad at me, right back when I joined-- where are you going ?"
Agatha gets halfway to the door, fully intent on finding Sophie and thumping her, before Tedros hauls her back.
" Everything has something to do with that!" Barks Agatha as Tedros drags her back to her desk. "She's twisting it to get you to convince me not to go--"
"Then just don't go !" Snaps Tedros. She's winding him up, probably, but she doesn't have any intention of letting this go, right now.
Tedros lets go of her, now furious as well.
"How does everything have something to do with--"
"I CAN'T TELL YOU!" Agatha shouts.
"TELL ME!" Tedros is literally hounding her into the corner now, taller than her in heels.
"I TOLD YOU WHY! IT'S DANGEROUS!"
"EVERYONE ELSE IS IN DANGEROUS SITUATIONS EVERY DAMN DAY, AND YOU CAN'T TELL ME ONE THING-- "
"THERE'S OTHER REASONS!"
"GIVE ME ONE!"
Agatha sorts desperately through her reasoning, trying to find something, anything, that could convince him he's better off in ignorance. She can't find anything. Nothing she can tell him--
She says it anyway.
"Because I don't want to hurt you."
Her sudden change in volume throws Tedros off guard, and he stops, trying to work out what she's just said--
"So if I asked Hester, she'd tell me?"
Of course that was what he got out of it.
"No, 'cause I'd kill her." Says Agatha. "But if I wasn't there to enforce? Probably. It'd still be a stupid move, though."
"So it's partly what, a… personal thing?"
"Suppose so." Says Agatha gruffly. Had she been looking at him, rather than over his shoulder, she might have noticed his facial expression.
"And you can't tell me, 'cause it would upset me?"
"It'd do a hell of a lot more than that." Murmurs Agatha. "It would destroy you."
Tedros doesn't say anything for a minute. And then;
"Didn't know you cared so much." He mutters.
"I care." Agatha confirms quietly.
"Don't go out. Tomorrow."
Agatha looks sharply at him.
"I've just told you that I know some massively destructive information about you, and you're still worried about that ?"
"My mother ran off with my father's best friend, my father's a hypocritical drunkard who can't do his job properly, wanders around hungover, mixes with criminals--"
"-- you mix with criminals--"
"--and told me he wished my mother had taken me with her when she ran off. You think I can't handle a bit of destructive knowledge?"
"...he told you that last night?"
"I didn't know that."
"I know." Says Tedros. "You're slacking on keeping tabs on me."
She was. That was true.
"Yeah," she says. "I know."
"Don't go out." Tedros repeats.
"Because I'd rather you came back in one piece." Tedros tells her. "Or came back at all."
"Didn't know you cared so much." Says Agatha, parroting him on purpose.
Tedros looks at her, oddly intense.
She gets the impression he's not parroting her, though.
She leans back against the wall. They're still in the corner Tedros had backed her into. Neither of them have made a move to leave it.
"What if I promise that I won't go?" Asks Agatha, eyes slipping closed. She's so tired.
"I'll leave you alone." Comes Tedros's voice.
"What if I don't want you to leave me alone?"
"Then I won't."
"It's that simple?"
"It's always been that simple." Murmurs Tedros. "You've always been the one making it complicated."
He must have put it on hours ago, but she can still smell his infernal rose perfume.
"Then I'll make it less complicated." Says Agatha, eyes still closed. "I wanted to kiss you. That night in the club."
It doesn't appear that Tedros reacts-- he certainly doesn't say anything, not at first. But Agatha hears a small hitch in his breathing.
"Why didn't you?" He says.
"Because I didn't think you'd want to."
Tedros sounds slightly strangled when he responds;
"What if I had wanted to?"
"Then I was a fool to run, I suppose."
She can't give him the other reason. The reason that until so recently, she'd had to force herself to look him in the eye. Why she'd run after she'd done it.
Who she'd fought to separate him from.
"Yes." Says Tedros hoarsely. "You were."
Agatha opens her eyes.
"Maybe I should remedy it."
Tedros's eyes are different, see. She's noticed that, now. They're darker. Warmer. The sea, instead of the ice on the lake.
"Maybe you should." Murmurs Tedros.
There's half a beat.
Agatha curses herself, curses herself for a million reasons. For doing it. For not doing it. For not doing it sooner.
She grabs the strap of his dress, yanks him down, and kisses him.
Tedros tastes of the mints that he steals from her desk, and he kisses just like she hoped he would. He's pressed her into the corner, she's dug a hand into his hair, and--
The door slams open.
Tedros and Agatha rip apart from each other, and Agatha whirls to the door--
"Well, well, well." Says Hester savagely. "Ain't this interestin'?"
"Don't go backstage, don't go backstage--"
Hort stops, confused, as Beatrix comes rushing over and grabs his arm, yanking him away from the backstage door. He'd only been making his tipsy way back to his dressing room. Hardly illegal.
"Biiiiig fight, big big big fight--"
"Between who?" Splutters Hort, setting his drink unsteadily down on a nearby table.
"Boss. Hester." Beatrix glances at the door. "Nearly got physical, apparently."
Hort can barely believe his ears. Hester is Lady A's right-hand man, and yet they were ready to throw punches over something?
"What were they fighting about?"
"Tedros." Says Beatrix grimly.
"What about him?"
"Um… I think Hester caught them necking."
"Yeah. He's like, her moll, right? That's not that big a deal." He pauses. "Oh, is someone jealous or something? Weird, I thought Hester hated--"
He catches sight of Beatrix's incredulous expression.
"...nevermind. Anyway, it's pretty serious, don't go up."
She rushes off to a cluster of people stood in the corner-- Hort can see Dot, Nicola, Chaddick and several others all stood together, and he's pretty sure money is changing hands. As Beatrix approaches though, their smiles fade, and as she whispers to them, everyone's expressions sour.
Bewildered, Hort reclaims his drink and looks for somewhere to sit down. The only booth with seats available is one near the back, occupied by one guy sat on his own.
"Mind if I sit here?"
"Go ahead." The guy waves him to the seat opposite him. "What's eatin' you? You look mad."
Hort rolls his eyes. It makes him dizzy, so he stops.
"Just one of my stupid co-workers, causin' shit. As usual."
"One of the flappers?"
"Yeah, Tedros, the… one with good gams. The real popular one."
His seatmate eyes him.
"Yeah." Hort throws back the rest of his drink. "Should never have been a moll, he's way too dramatic."
"He's a moll ?" The guy leans forwards. "To who?"
"Boss." Yawns Hort. "And he's makin' everythin' really complicated. She seems to really like him, not that I have a clue why..."
The guy is looking straight at him, eyes narrowed.
"Yeah." It crosses Hort's mind to wonder how this guy knows who she is. Maybe he's one of her contacts.
"Hey, what's your name?"
"You know the boss, Kei?"
"In a manner of speakin'." Kei sets his glass down, and stands up. He looks suddenly purposeful.
"I'll leave you on your own, now. Thanks, Hort."
He tips his hat and disappears into the crowd. Hort stares after him, wondering how the hell he knew his name.
And what was he thanking him for?
"Well, I've done it." Sophie sweeps into Rhian's office the next evening, slamming the door behind her. "I got her not to come here. Hope you're happy."
"Very much." Says Rhian cheerfully. "Well done."
Sophie turns back to him.
"I don't understand why you wanted her to stay in so badly."
"Originally, it was nothing big." Smiles Rhian. "We just didn't want her poking around, she's so much sharper than the rest of you. Could've worked things out. Plus, what's the fun in letting her walk right to us? We want to draw her in."
"So she was right." Mutters Sophie.
"For better or worse, we know each other's methods a little too well." Concedes Rhian. "But last night, we got some… information. from Kei. And now we've got a rather nice opportunity, that she's not here to ruin."
He doesn't elaborate.
Sophie turns to Kei.
"What did you tell him?"
Kei shrugs at her.
"Just some things I observed."
There's a tense pause. Japeth's absence is conspicuous. Whatever the opportunity is, he's clearly been sent to do it.
"Well, what are you gonna do?" Says Sophie sweetly. "I know what you've been plotting. To use me to get to Agatha. Get on with it, whatever it is. What is it? Kidnap me? Truss me up like an animal and throw me in your basement?" Her voice starts rising. "Shoot me and dump me on Agatha's doorstep? Kill me right here, how about that--"
But Rhian's grinning, shaking his head.
"No, no. Not any of that, doll. You're far too pretty to give lead poisoning."
"...then what?" Asks Sophie, uncomfortable. "You've got me, haven't you?"
"Sure have." Rhian admits. "But you see, the trouble with you is that you know too much. We're not saps. We know you've been running to Agatha with stuff about us, and no doubt Agatha knows you've been running to us with stuff about her ."
Sophie struggles to keep her face neutral. So they did know. And the way they'd phrased it suggested Agatha knew more than Sophie told her, too.
They'd been using her to toy with each other.
"So?" She asks, trying to stop her voice trembling.
"So, you're a little too tricky for our tastes. You'd be a pain, always trying to manipulate us. Ain't no time for that. You don't know anything important enough to dethrone us, so we figured we might as well just change the password and send you scamperin' back to your puppetmaster. Killin' you would be too high profile."
Bewildered, Sophie looks between them.
"Then...what was the point? What did you get from me?"
"Well, we were gonna just go for it anyway, despite all the problems presented. Just kidnap you if you wouldn't go along with it." Admits Rhian. Sophie shudders. "But then, last night, you gave us somethin' better."
"... better ?"
"Information." Kei tells her. "Real important information, actually. You gave me the idea for what we're doing tonight."
They're building a trap, and she's given them some kind of vital piece. Sophie folds her hands in her lap to stop them shaking.
"Sure." Kei's face is neutral, which almost makes Sophie more anxious. " You didn't actually stop her, did you?"
"I know what you did." Dismisses Kei. "When you couldn't do what you wanted, you got someone else to do it. Someone who could. So when you weren't quite right for our plan… we got someone else."
Ambulance sirens wail in the distance.
"Right on time." Says Rhian, checking his watch. "Japeth just has to wait, now."
Sophie spins to him.
"What have you done? Who have you got?"
"No one, yet." Says Rhian. "But don't worry. He'll be on his way. News travels fast when someone important dies. Very fast."
Sophie's eyes fall to the bottles of wine on Rhian's desk. And something else; a smaller bottle, conspicuously unmarked.
"He'll have drunk most of it before he realises somethin' ain't right, and, by then, it'll be too late." Says Rhian nonchalantly. "Never could control his drinkin' after his wife died."
Sophie stares at him.
"Who are you talk--"
Her heart seizes.
They must see her face change, and Rhian grins.
" If it's personal, I do it myself , right?"
Horrified, Sophie lunges for the door. They don't move to stop her, and she knows before she reaches it--
Sure enough, it's locked.
"Let me out." She begs. "At least give me a chance to get there."
"No can do, darlin'." Rhian pours himself a drink, presumably untainted. "Gotta make sure there's no meddling from you."
"They'll know it's a trap." Says Sophie. "They'll stop…"
She trails off at the look on his face.
"Now, Sophie." Tuts Rhian. "Who's included in they ? Who knows things?"
He leaves it hanging, because they both know the answer.
Sophie's knees give out, and she slides down the door to sit on the floor.
"Backfired completely, that little tactic of Agatha's." Smiles Rhian. "Sometimes you've gotta be cruel to be kind, ever heard that?"
"She should've listened to you." Kei tells her dispassionately. "But even Hort knows about it. At first, I didn't know why you'd not done it yourself. But after talking to him… I realised."
That's where he'd gotten the idea from.
That's how he'd known for sure that it would work.
"He's very talkative once he's got a couple drinks in him." Muses Kei.
Sophie nearly sobs.
Across the city, in Avalon, a telephone rings backstage.
Gams- legs (Hort has a Gay Moment for Tedros there)
Lead poisoning- getting shot
Moll- a gangster's girl
Well that was FUN WASN'T IT
...Maybe not for you guys but I had lots of fun writing it
I deliberately made it look like it was gonna be Sophie in trouble and then VEERED OFF hhshsjs
Also I'm unreasonably proud of the romantic part of this chapter for some reason,,,, I'm getting there w romance!
Also I deliberately made Agatha (and Tedros) waver in and out of different ways of talking based on who had power/who was vulnerable etc etc,,,,, see I think about things
A furious, incessant, unfortunately familiar rapping on her bedroom door drags Agatha out of an uneasy half-sleep.
She stumbles out of bed and yanks open the door, intending to ask Sophie what the hell she thinks she's doing, banging on her door at six in the morning--
She catches sight of Sophie's face, and knows instantly that something is terribly, terribly wrong.
She's awake instantly.
Sophie can barely talk, chest heaving with half-suppressed sobs. There are great black streaks on her face where her eye-makeup has run, her clothes are wet, and she's carrying her shoes, as if she'd taken them off to run. It's raining. She must have just got back.
"Where have you been?" Demands Agatha, but as she asks it, she realises she already knows the answer. She saw her get in the car last night.
Dread settles in her stomach. Whatever this is, it won't be an easy fix.
Sophie fumbles wordlessly for her hand and drags her out of her apartment, into the corridor. Agatha lumbers after her, cursing her stiff leg, and they clatter down the stairs, into the eerily silent performer's corridor. Every door is tightly closed, early on a Sunday as it is--
Tedros's door stands open, lamp left on. Sophie rushes towards it, and Agatha follows, wondering what Tedros should want now--
Sophie flings the door open wide and flings herself inside. Agatha follows, confused as to why Tedros isn't objecting--
The room is empty.
Agatha stops just inside the doorway, scanning the scene. Sophie has stopped next to the sofa, clutching her skirts so tightly she's sure to rip them.
There's a glove without its pair thrown onto the sofa, his shoes are lying on their sides beneath the vanity, and his pearls are coiled in a tangled pile under the mirror, abandoned with none of his usual care. The wardrobe stands open, and there's shirts and ties scattered from a drawer at the bottom.
Every evidence of a hurried exit.
Slowly, Agatha follows Sophie's eyes to the mirror, where a message has been scrawled in lipstick.
Father found dead, poisoned, going home don't follow T x
Agatha stares at it.
"Poisoned? By what?"
Agatha turns to look at Sophie when she doesn't get an answer.
"You only just got back. Didn't you?"
"You… ran back? They didn't bring you?"
"They don't need me anymore." Croaks Sophie. "They never needed me ."
"Wine." Sophie whispers. "They poisoned his wine. Never could control his drinking after his wife died…"
Slowly, Agatha turns to look at the message again. She doesn't understand. Unthinkingly, she recaps the lipstick lying on the vanity.
They never needed me .
And then she understands.
She doesn't realise her bad leg has given out until Sophie lunges to catch her.
Dot stops in the doorway of Agatha's office, finding everyone else already there.
"We can't just go, the whole point is it's a trap!" Hester is barking. She's got an impressive black eye from where Agatha had hit her last night. Beatrix, who's obviously been crying at some point, shoots her a puffy-eyed glare.
" We can go on Agatha's behalf, they don't want us--"
"They'd kill you anyway!" Says Sophie shrilly. "They wouldn't even think twice, they'll whittle us down until Agatha has no choice but to go on her own or--"
"Won't they let him go once they realise he doesn't know anything?" Offers Nicola. Chaddick scoffs.
"Like hell they will, he's bait, they don't want information! They're relying on him not knowing stuff--"
Agatha is sat in the middle of the argument with her head in her hands, not contributing anything. Silently, Dot shuffles into the room and puts the coffee she's bought on her desk. No one notices her, as usual--
Apart from Agatha, who kicks out a chair at the side of her desk.
"Thank you." She says hoarsely. "Sit here, Dot."
Dot quietly sits down and listens to everyone fight.
"We ought to negotiate." Beatrix says. "We must have something they want--"
"Yeah, Agatha !" Snaps Anadil. "Not like we can hand her over--"
"But they want influence, maybe we can offer some supply routes?" Suggests Nicola. "Or suppliers."
"They won't take from us, they don't trust us." Sighs Sophie.
"Why don't we just leave him?" Barks Hester. "Why are we considerin' risking our lives for someone they're probably right at this minute tryin' to convince to join 'em--"
"Say that again and I'll make your eyes match, and this time he ain't here to stop me." Snarls Agatha without lifting her head.
Everyone falls silent, even Hester, who seems to know she's toeing the line.
"We could trade Hort for Tedros." Mutters Anadil.
"You can't be serious !" Barks Sophie. "He didn't tell Kei that on purpose !"
"I was joking !"
Suddenly, everyone is arguing again.
Dot turns to Agatha.
"Boss, I actually… came here to tell you that there's someone here to see you."
Agatha briefly lifts her head.
"Jesus, Dot, can't it wait?"
Dot chews her lip.
"Not… not really. See, it's your Chicago contact. He's sent Teddy's mother to us."
The noise levels drop again at the news.
There's a long pause. Everyone else has stopped to hear the verdict, but Agatha just stares at her desk. She's still ashen-faced, and Dot thinks that probably won't change for a while.
Then she sits back.
"Send her up. If you can't behave, get outta my office. And if you don't agree that we're going to get Meredith back… get outta my club ."
Slowly, everyone turns to look at Hester.
Hester is looking at Dot.
"Meredith's mother." She muses. "She the Rock of Ages sat downstairs lookin' ready to burst out cryin'? Saw her on my way up."
"She's only like, forty something." Mutters Dot. "But yeah."
Slowly, Hester stands up. Everyone waits with bated breath.
"I got a lotta problems with Meredith." She says simply. Dot sees Anadil bite her cheek, waiting on her decision--
"But I ain't callous enough let someone's son die."
Hester looks at Agatha as she says it.
Agatha considers her silently for a minute. Dot gets the impression she's not quite forgiven her, and Hester seems to see it, too. But they've got more important things to address right now.
"Not exactly noble, but I'll let you have it. Go and get my hat and coat. We gotta look respectable for the nice lady."
"You've got a bruise on your jaw. I've got a black eye. We look like thugs."
" You'll look like a thug. I'm going to look untouchable."
"Sophie's going to cover up any bruises." Says Agatha.
"Part of being respectable is being honest." Says Hester thinly.
"Sure is." Says Agatha easily, picking up the coffee Dot has bought her. "Not a part of it I tend to indulge, though. My hat and coat, Hester."
Hester rolls her eyes and does as she's bidden.
Guinevere Meredith looks painfully like her son.
She even sits like him; perched on the edge of her chair like she's ready to run off at any moment, hands clamped between her knees. It appears to Dot that the electric blue of Tedros's eyes come from both parents. Maybe the association with Arthur is unnecessary.
But the nose, jaw, eye shape, and most of the expressions that Dot has come to know on Tedros's face-- they've clearly all come from Guinevere.
Chaddick and Nicola have left to try and sort out the chaos of the corridor below, leaving the Coven, Beatrix, Sophie, and Agatha to meet Guinevere.
Like her son, she can’t conceal her emotions well; her face clearly shows her fear mingling with surprise and suspicion as she looks at each of them in turn. Dot smiles at her when she meets her eyes, and she's rewarded with a wobbly one in return, but it’s clear she’s not comfortable.
But her surprise also increases as she looks around each of them-- and it comes to a head as Agatha re-enters from her apartment.
She's made good on her promise-- Sophie has covered any evidence of her fight with Hester, she's managing to walk without any hint of limp, and she's changed into a new suit. She does, as promised, look utterly untouchable.
But apparently this isn't what Guinevere is surprised by.
"Ms Meredith, yeah?" Agatha offers Guinevere her hand.
"I… yes. How did you know I don't use Pendragon?"
"Lucky guess." Lies Agatha. "Won't you sit down?"
Guinevere does as she says.
"...you're Lady A?"
"That's right, ma'am."
"And these people…?"
"My sister, Sophie. Our… er, associates ."
Dot nearly snorts.
Guinevere casts another long look over them.
"You're so... young ." She says in surprise. "How old are you? Nineteen? Twenty?"
"I'm the same age as your son, ma'am, twenty. Most of us range from nineteen to about twenty-one. I was seventeen when I took control of the business."
" Seventeen ." Echoes Guinevere.
"We're still perfectly capable, ma'am."
"I don't doubt it." Says Guinevere slowly, eyeing Hester's bruised face. "Your contact told me you were my best hope, and you knew Tedros well. He didn't say why, though…"
She stares at the bottles of gin on Agatha's desk. Agatha clicks her tongue.
"He's not a bootlegger himself , if that's what you're worried about, ma'am. I, however, could be accused of bein' a snake-charmer."
" Accused ?" Mutters Beatrix. Dot smirks.
"Is that how you know Tedros? Through Arthur's drinking?"
"I don't sell to Mr Pendragon." Dismisses Agatha. "Well. I didn't."
Guinevere sighs. She does look genuinely remorseful, which surprises Dot. She wouldn't be that upset about an ex-husband.
"Poor Arthur." She hesitates. "How did he--"
"We'll get to that." Says Agatha quickly. "But no, Meredith came here on his own."
"Does he work for you?"
"He works in the club with me, ma'am." Contributes Beatrix. "We work directly for Sophie, but everyone's under the boss. He's a flapper. Sings. Dances."
Guinevere looks less surprised than they'd expected. More relieved, actually. Dot supposes it is a relief to know your son somehow managed to mostly avoid the illegal bits of a very illegal institution.
"Makes sense." She murmurs. "He was always musically talented…"#
She looks up.
"So why has he been kidnapped? What did he do wrong?"
Her voice wavers on the last syllable.
"He didn't do anything wrong." Says Dot firmly.
Not anything wrong in the eyes of normal people, anyway. Apart from being complicit in the illegal selling of alcohol, but that wasn't even remotely the problem.
"Perhaps you ought to tell us what you know so far." Says Agatha.
"I was in the city… I wanted to try and find Tedros again. I haven't seen him since he was in his early teens, and even then it was only fleetingly. I thought maybe he'd be more willing… more willing to see me, this time. But his flat was empty, and his neighbours said they haven't seen him for a few days. So I went to Arthur's house, and I got there to see all the ambulances and police-- and I was almost hit by another car, it left so quickly it had to have been modified--"
"A gangster's car, you mean." Says Agatha. "Souped up."
"Well. Yes. I knew something was wrong, so I hurried back to my hotel and found Merlin waiting for me."
"Always quick off the mark." Murmurs Agatha.
Dot and Beatrix look at each other, confused. They, having known Tedros best, have noticed a correlation.
"Wait… Merlin as in Tedros's childhood tutor, Merlin?"
"Yes." Agatha supplies. "I didn't know the connection for a while. He was friends with my mother and supplied her with information. Does the same for me."
"That's a bit of a leap in careers." Mutters Beatrix.
"Merlin told me that Arthur had been murdered to draw Tedros back so they could kidnap him. He'd gone to try and stop it himself, but had also been too late. I… I was horrified, obviously, I wanted to know why on earth he didn't follow. He told me you'd explain everything and sent me here no matter how much I tried to argue with him..."
"He'd have just been gunned down if he'd followed." Says Agatha grimly. "He was right to go and find you instead."
"Why didn't he come to you ?"
"Because we already knew." Sighs Sophie. "We were too late, as well."
Guinevere goes silent. Finally, she says;
"You still haven't told me why they wanted him. Or who they are."
Dot watches Agatha's composure waver, and readies herself to jump in on behalf of her--
Agatha steadies herself.
"If I tell you the names Rhian and Japeth--"
Guinevere jerks up.
"Yes. You know about--"
"Yes, I know Arthur had an affair with bootlegger Evelyn Sader." Says Guinevere impatiently. "Let me guess; they've taken over her business."
"Yes, and they sell to their father. Or sold. They poisoned him with the wine they were giving him."
"They took over upon her death the same way I took over Evelyn's rival's business." Continues Agatha.
" My mother, Callis. And, by some pathetic convention, we are now also rivals. They've been followin' me for years, tryna catch me and dispose of me."
" Kill you?"
"They've given it a good go before." Says Agatha grimly. "And by a series of mistakes made by Hort --our pianist-- Sophie, Tedros himself, and, chiefly, me, they realised that the easiest way to get to me was through Tedros. So they killed Arthur, to lure your son into the house where they could kidnap him."
"So… he's bait?"
"Right. So you can rest assured they ain't gonna hurt him. Yet."
"If I don't comply, they might get fed up and decide to try and hurry me along." Says Agatha calmly. But Dot watches her dry her hands on her trousers. She's jogging her bad leg, as well. A bad habit. A nervous habit. Trying to keep herself focused and her eyes on the prize.
"And… you're going to comply?" Asks Guinevere tentatively. Agatha shrugs.
"They're not going to get a chance to think one way or another."
Guinevere stares warily at her.
"So… you're going to get him back?"
Guinevere sits back slowly.
"And you think it'll work?"
"Should do, ma'am. Shouldn't take too long. I'll put you up in one of my hotels for now, and send Merlin back to you. Beatrix, if you'd get a car for Meredith's mother--"
Guinevere stands to go with her son's friend-- then stops.
"Can I trust you to do this?"
There's an awkward pause. Agatha is not the sort of person who inspires trust. Or she doesn't look like one, anyway. But the five people sat in the room with her-- and the one who isn't-- suggest otherwise.
"Yes." Says Agatha.
"Why this ?" Presses Guinevere.
Agatha stands up. As she heads to the door, Dot notices she's letting herself limp.
"Because, ma'am, I'd go to hell and back for your son." She opens the door. "And, unfortunately, I made the mistake of lettin' that be known."
Guinevere doesn't hesitate to leave, this time.
The second she's gone, Sophie looks sharply at Agatha. So does everyone else.
What kind of plan has she concocted?
But Dot knows.
Dot knows because she gave her the information she needed to make it possible.
She's an awfully good spy, see.
"Anybody want to go out drinkin' tonight?" Asks Agatha. "I hear Foxwood is real classy."
"They changed the password when they kicked me out." Says Sophie instantly. "We can't get in."
"Can't we?" Says Dot.
"No. Kei sets the passwords, probably months in advance, he'd never tell anyone--"
Sophie stops, staring at Dot's grin.
"He told you? You were there last night?"
"Sure was. Knew somethin' was wrong when you didn't come outta Rhian's office quickly-- and when you did, you were all upset-- so I went and coerced Kei into givin' me the passwords. I'm awful charmin' when I want to be. Think he was a little guilty about how he treated you, truth be told--"
"But he knows you work for Agatha!"
"He knows a Dot who wears suits and hangs around with Hester and Anadil and Tedros works for Agatha. But he doesn't know a Lucy who wears flapper dresses and talks shit about Avalon."
"Dot," says Anadil. "You're a genius."
"Which is why I give her precedence over the rest of you idiots." Says Agatha, suddenly looking tired again. "Go and get everythin' ready. We're flapper girls now."
"I don't think flapper girls carry guns." Sighs Sophie.
"Beatrix does." Points out Agatha.
Reluctantly, everyone shuffles out, and Dot can't ignore the anxiety squirming in her stomach.
This better work.
"And send Scourie up." Agatha calls after them. "I wanna talk to him."
Everyone exchanges glances.
"I'd hate to be him, right now." Sighs Beatrix, and goes to fetch him.
Hort has known this was coming all morning.
The second he'd found out what happened, from an irritable Nicola, he'd known.
It was his big mouth that had given Kei the key to unraveling everything. Somehow, he had been the first person to tell them about it. His drinking and big mouth and thoughtless disdain for Tedros had finally caught up with him.
So, as he climbs the stairs, there's a single thought that's dogging him.
It's my fault if Tedros dies.
It's my fault.
Hort knocks, probably too hard, and jerks back as Lady A opens the door herself.
"Scourie. Come and sit down."
Trying not to look as if he'd rather do literally anything else, Hort sits in the chair opposite hers. It's a crushingly familiar set-up to the last time he'd been here; but this time, the conspicuous absence of Tedros and Sophie, as well as Lady A's pinched, exhausted, appearance, reminds him that there's a lot more at stake.
It's my fault.
He opens his mouth, guilt burning a hole in his chest--
"First, don't flatter yourself into thinkin' that it's all your fault. It ain't."
Hort closes his mouth, stunned.
"It ain't even remotely your fault. All you did was give the final push. Probably would have happened eventually, anyway." She leans back in her chair, rubbing her face. "I could try and flatter myself, too, by sayin' it's all my fault, for all my missteps and refusal to tell Meredith anythin' and actually being the centre of all this in the first place. Still ain't quite true. The only people actually at fault are those bastards over in Foxwood."
Relieved, Hort sags in his chair--
Lady A fixes him with a black look.
"Having said that, you're an utterly stupid bastard and you should really drink less. And talk less."
"...Okay. I'll try."
"I'll hold you to that." Mutters Lady A. Hort has no doubt that she absolutely will. "But I didn't bring you up here for you to apologise to me. You can apologise to Tedros when we get him back, if you like."
"I think he'd try and kill me if he found out it was my fault-- er, partially my fault."
"Probably. And you'd deserve it, for all the shit you've done to him. But I ain't the one you were blackmailing."
Hort starts to protest the bringing up of that, again--
"I bought you up here so I could apologise to you ."
Hort stares at her, bewildered.
Apologise? For what ?
And why now?
"I… didn't think Lady A apologised to anyone." He admits.
"She doesn't." Says his boss shortly.
Hort waits, confused. Looking at her, he finds the feeling of familiarity that has been nagging him for months has risen back up again.
Lady A leans back in her chair.
"You used to work at the butcher's next to Bartleby's, yeah? Before we snapped you up."
"...yeah." says Hort, thinking we should probably be I. "Owned by my old man. You know that 'cause you own Bartleby's, right?"
"You ever seen me 'round there?"
"No. I prefer not to go down that end, for various reasons. Leave other people to run that club."
"But you go to Gavaldon and Avalon and Graves all the time--"
"Recently has been the exception, not the rule."
"Because of Tedros?"
Hort immediately regrets bringing him up, but Lady A makes a non-committal noise.
Hort suspects that's a yes . Lady A continues;
"But yeah, usually I stay holed up in my properties in Chicago, or further uptown."
"So if you're down here more… why not go to Bartleby's too? Check up on it?"
Lady A eyes him.
"I have a… specific aversion to it, shall we say?"
Hort must still look blank, because she sighs.
"Dot told me you said you like this job better than your old one. Remind me why."
"...cause it pays better? And I don't have to be opposite-- opposite--"
No, surely not.
Lady A leans down and unlocks a drawer at the bottom of the desk, producing a sheaf of papers, which she hands to him.
They're adoption papers from Gavaldon Orphanage. Signed by Callis Graves, for the legal guardianship of…
Of Agatha Woods.
Slowly, Hort looks back up.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier." Says his first-- and only-- childhood friend. "Unfortunately, any opportunity for that was removed when I threatened to shoot you."
When Hort was 10, his father had finally let him help in the shop. It wasn't as exciting as he'd thought it'd be. Mostly he'd just taken people's orders and handed it over when they came to pick it up, and even the customers had gotten boring when he realised they were all just regulars. Even the man with the immense mole on his nose had become background noise when he was stuck doing the same thing on his own every day, with no one to talk to besides his father's employees, who were all far older and cooler than Hort and barely glanced in his direction.
Then the lady from the orphanage, who went faintly green every time she entered, was replaced.
Hort had stared suspiciously at his new customer.
" You're not working at the orphanage."
The skinny, pasty, girl with a choppy wedge of black hair stared suspiciously back at him.
"No. I'm living there. Give me the order."
"The matron always comes to get it." Said Hort stubbornly.
"The matrons are all too squeamish, and the cook's busy, so they're sending me now. I'm 10, I’m the oldest. And you only have to cross one road."
"You're still just a kid."
"So are you."
Hort couldn't think of much of a response to that, so he gave her the order.
"Are your parents dead, then?"
She shrugged and handed him the money.
"Don't know. Suppose so."
Hort squinted at her.
"I've never seen you before."
"Never seen you before either."
Hort puffed out his chest.
"I'm working here now."
"Don't you have friends to go out with or something? What d'you need a job for?"
Hort did not have any friends, and technically didn't need a job at all. He also did not take kindly to being reminded so.
"Don't you have any friends?" He shot back.
"Not really." Said the girl coolly.
Taken aback by her simple admission, Hort stared at her.
"Mm." She turned to leave.
Hort scrambled from behind the counter.
" I'll be your friend. I'm Hort. Hort Scourie."
She didn't look particularly impressed.
"What kind of a name is Hort?"
"What's your name, then?" Demanded Hort.
"That's not much better."
"It is so much better. It's like Agatha Christie."
Hort stared blankly.
"Writer. She does murder mysteries."
Hort, who had never seen much point in books, was suddenly much more interested.
"Is it all gory deaths?"
"Sometimes. People get shot and poisoned and all sorts."
"No way the orphanage lets you read murder mysteries."
"They don't know." Said Agatha. "I put other book covers over them." She turned and headed for the door. "I'll bring one to show you next time."
Agatha eyed him.
"Friends are supposed to share stuff, right?"
And with that, she was gone.
"--and you threatened me with a gun ?"
"I didn't really have one, I was bluffing you."
"It doesn't matter!" Squawks Hort. "None of this matters! Why would you prioritise Tedros over me?"
Agatha slowly pours herself a gin. Hort winces at the idea of drinking it neat, but apparently she doesn't care.
"Because when I came back to try and visit you, you more or less ignored me, because you were in love with the pig farmer's niece and hoped I'd talk to her for you?"
Horrified, Hort stares at her.
"Forgotten about that? Yeah, I know. I didn't bother, after that."
Shamed, Hort sinks back into his chair.
"But I'm not here to try and guilt you." Mutters Agatha.
Hort eyes her.
"It seems like you're having a hard time rememberin' that."
"You owe me so many favours."
"And money, for all the free blackmail drinks?" Hort offers.
"Meredith paid it off." Says Agatha tightly. "Each night after you left."
"We're off topic, I said I was going to apologise to you." Says Agatha brusquely. Hort, sensing the don't mention Tedros signals, doesn't protest, but he does store the knowledge at the back of his mind.
Agatha sighs and slams her glass down.
"I'm sorry that I dragged you into this, Hort. I am. I should have just done something typical like… forced you to pay Meredith back, or something. Instead of strong-arming you into working for Sophie. I was mad about it at the time, both about Sophie and Meredith, so--"
"You wanted to make up something really damning." Sighs Hort.
"Basically." Agrees Agatha. "But I am sorry. So… here's the offer."
Hort, immediately transported back to the last offer she made him, must look horrified, because she snorts.
"Not like that. Look-- Hort, I'm giving you the option to walk away from everything. All of this. You can leave the club and your job and I'll make it so you're not connected to me. I'll make sure you're not bothered by anyone. You can go back to the butcher's or whatever you like. Use your new musical skills somewhere else."
Hort stares at her.
"I can just… leave ? Right now?"
"Yes. I think you'd prefer that--"
"No." Repeats Hort.
Agatha looks genuinely shocked. Hort thinks she probably hadn't prepared for this outcome. He suspects that if she'd been given the choice, she'd have left in a heartbeat.
"Look," he says hurriedly. "Thank you. Really. But you know that I prefer this to the butcher's. Even all the… dodgy morals."
Agatha stares warily at him.
"If this is about Sophie--"
"Sophie?" Hort blinks. He'd barely spared Sophie a thought this past week or so. "No. I… no, not Sophie."
He considers this.
"Maybe a month or so ago, it would have been. But I feel like… I feel as if I owe it to Tedros. I should help out."
"You don't like him." Protests Agatha.
"Which is partially why he's in this mess in the first place." Points out Hort. "I've gotta make it up to him. Somehow. And I want to help, now. I don't want to leave. I like this club. And… uh, most of the people in it. So, what can I do?"
He sits expectantly.
For a long moment, Agatha just looks at him, astounded. Then, finally, she tells him;
"I knew you'd pull through, eventually. But I thought it would take much longer."
Hort frowns. Pull through eventually ?
But before he can protest, she carries on:
"Can you drive?"
"I used to race Ravan down the back alleys."
"And you… won?"
"Only thing I ever win." Admits Hort. "Always coveted those cars you lot have got, the souped up ones that go really fast. Could have won by miles in them."
"Well, you're gonna get a chance to go for a spin in one."
Hort raises an eyebrow.
Agatha stands up.
"We're gonna need a getaway driver."
"This feels faintly disrespectful." Says Dot weakly, squinting at the jewels Sophie had dumped in her hands.
"He's not dead, is he?" Snaps Sophie, claiming Tedros's ruby earrings for herself-- a concession to her usual impeccable style, which tonight is being suffocated by a mousy brown wig, messily blended makeup, and an old, slightly outdated fringe dress. They can't afford for Sophie to be recognised by anyone, given Rhian and Japeth were very explicit about her not coming back. "He'll just be mad we stole his stuff."
"I was intending on giving it back." Mutters Dot, selecting a few bracelets and poking through headpieces. "Provided it stays in one piece."
Then she winces at the implication, even though they all know the risk of violence is astronomically high.
"I'll just buy him some more." Mutters Sophie. It's clear she's following Dot's train of thought, though, because she falls silent. Neither of them are really thinking about the jewellery being in one piece.
"Do you really think they won't hurt him?" Whispers Dot.
A gloved hand shoots in-between them and swipes Tedros's set of pearls.
"We're leavin' soon." Says Agatha tightly, slinging them around her neck. "Hort's drivin' us there. Dot, you're goin' ahead with Sophie, to make sure they don't recognise her comin' in on her own. Walk, so it looks less suspicious." She glances at Sophie. "Get the hell out if anyone recognises you, understand?"
Agatha's wearing long gloves and one of Sophie's coats to hide her tattoos, and someone-- probably Beatrix-- has managed to make her up so her scars aren't visible.
And, possibly, judging by the slightly too-heavy application in places and the fact that her eyes are red, to hide the fact she's been crying.
Sophie silently heads for the door, but Dot hesitates.
"Is there… another plan, running alongside this one?"
Agatha doesn't look up, sifting through Tedros's rings.
"You mean am I gonna try and kill Japeth and Rhian for takin' Tedros?"
Dot and Sophie shoot each other alarmed glances.
"No." Says Agatha. Sophie huffs in relief. "But I am hoping to cause enough of a ruckus that they'll get raided, at the very least, and if the opportunity presents itself I--"
She cuts herself off, staring in surprise at the vanity.
"...what?" Presses Dot. She doesn't get a response, but it doesn't matter. They know where her train of thought is going.
If they get the chance, they shoot.
"He never gave back my ring." Agatha murmurs to herself. "He was wearin' it. I saw him wearin' it."
Dot and Sophie stare at each other. It's clear they're not really being addressed.
There's a pause.
Agatha clears her throat a few times.
"You should go."
Dot and Sophie mumble vague responses and head for the door, both very aware that Agatha, hunched over the vanity, wearing Tedros's pearls, isn't following them.
rock of ages: any woman over 30
yeah more exposition and set-up sorry it's not very exciting :/ but hey, lots of answers!! not all though