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Stronger at the Broken Places

Chapter Text

Sleep is no longer a respite for Charlotte Wells. Even on nights when she falls into bed half-dead with fatigue, her mind never quite lets her rest. On the best of nights she is merely rendered sleepless. Cursed to stare at the ceiling of her room until the first rays of light pass through her windows.  On the worst of nights, her mind plays one of two awful tricks on her.  She either suffers nightmares of her mother’s possible fates, or she dreams of Isabella. And six months has been an insufficient amount of time to allow her to decide which is the worse torment, or to find a way to quell either.  Now, when she wakes in the mornings, cheeks wet with tears she has no memory of shedding, it comes as no surprise. It is a small mercy that she cannot always recall which of the near-hallucinations haunted her sleep. She merely dries her eyes and sets about getting ready for the day ahead. 

In the daylight, Charlotte deals with her near wreak of an emotional state in the only way she has ever known how.  By pressing it down as far as she can. Locking her real feelings in the back recesses of her heart, and focusing instead on what is immediately before her. On things she can actually affect. Business at Greek Street has been steadily improving since the first few hard weeks after she had learned that her mother lived, but was lost to her nevertheless. Her pain over her mother, at least, she can indulge with her family who shares it. But she keeps the pain of Isabella’s betrayal to herself.  And so she dreams, and wakes, and tries to cope as best she can.

And little by little, Charlotte Wells is coping.  Or at least doing something that outwardly resembles coping.  The emptiness she had confessed to Nancy the day Isabella had walked out of Greek Street has started to fill again. She has her sister safe and under the same roof as her.  She has a brothel that is succeeding better than she could have hoped.  She has the knowledge that her mother is not dead. And she has her Pa and Jacob and Nancy.  She has so many things to fill that emptiness.

But as the emptiness fills, the stone where her heart is begins, likewise, to crack.  And with it’s cracking comes the pain.  The hollowness would almost have been preferable to the weight of pain she now carries.  The sting of Isabella’s betrayal of everything they had achieved burns as wretchedly now as it had at her first realizing it upon finding Fallon gone from Nancy’s house.

The greatest spark of light that has risen from the ashes of the wreak, the one she clings to when all else seems in darkness, is that Lucy seems to have finally come into her own after the business with Fallon. With the extraction of his confession, however futile now, her sister had also drawn from him the independence of her own mind.  She is as free as Charlotte believes any of them can be.  And it gratifies her that, at least, Lucy has been saved. If the girl feels any sorrow at the news of her former keeper’s apparent suicide or the unsatisfactory ‘confession’ that had accompanied it, no doubt manipulated at the hands of the still-living Spartans, she hides it well. 


And so life on Greek Street continues.  Culls come, and pay, and are serviced. New girls of Charlotte’s choosing join the house. Little Kitty Lambert starts to crawl. Life moves ever forward. And Charlotte tries to think of Isabella less. 

~ ~ ~

“Charlotte.” Lucy comes into the drawing room late one morning as Charlotte is preparing for the girls to entertain prospective culls.

“What is it Luce.”

“Lady Fitz is here.  She asked to speak to you.”

Charlotte stops what she is doing and just stands there, processing what Lucy just said. 

“Charlotte?”

“Tell her where she can shove it Luce. I don’t want to see her.”  Except Charlotte does want to see her.  She very much wants to see her. She just doesn’t trust herself to.

“Charlotte.” Lucy scolds her. God, she sounds as tired as Charlotte feels. 

Lucy is perhaps the only person who has actually been witness to the real depths of Charlotte’s grief, even if she does not fully understand all its origins.  She had been the one to crawl into bed with Charlotte, as she had once done when they were small, and let Charlotte sob into her shoulder without even so much as a questioning look.

Charlotte sighs. 

“Fine. Where is she?”

“Upstairs parlor. I’ll finish up here keep charge of the culls and girls for you. Make sure they don’t go up ‘cept for what they’re paying for. Go.”

Charlotte goes. She climbs the stairs slowly and pauses for a long moment in front of the shut parlor doors before opening them, and going inside.  She closes the doors and then just stands there, her back to Isabella, unable to turn around and face the woman, though out of pain or spite she can’t exactly tell.

“Charlotte -” she hears the woman begin, and her heart breaks all over again. But beneath the pain is fire. The flames her mother had condemned and praised in turn. 

She cuts her off. “No. You do not get to talk first. You walked out with the last word. If you want to speak at all, I go first. ” She turns to lean her back on the closed doors and finds Isabella just staring at her hands.  When she manages to meet Charlotte’s eyes, she merely nods and returns to studying her hands. 

Charlotte tries to calm her breath before continuing.

“We had them. For God’s sake Isabella,” she doesn’t care if she has the right to be so informal, her anger makes her take that right, “We had all of them within our grasp. Fallon was going to sign a full confession.  The entire group would have crashed and burnt. We would have dragged the carcasses of their reputations through the mud.  We had our revenge.  Everything we risked was going to be worth it. My mother’s death -” she chokes up at this, tears welling in her eyes, threatening to fall.  The lack of full truth in the statement makes it more painful, not less.

Isabella takes a step forward, “I am so sorry Charlotte.”

“You’re sorry?! What makes you think that is even close to good enough?” Charlotte can feel herself starting to yell but she can’t calm the flames rising in her chest.  All the pain she has suppressed for the months since she last saw this woman is coming up as red-hot anger. She is either going to yell or she is going to break something. She can’t guarantee she won't do both.

“Do you even realize how many people risked so much for you?!  How many people could have been flogged for what we did? Could have been jailed? Could have hung? My friend got beat by Quigley’s men because she thought he had gone to fetch your daughter. That beating was meant for my Pa!” Her voice cracks and she takes a few slow breaths before continuing again, Nancy’s words at the wake of Kitty Carter coming to her mind.

“We are whores and we are poor. We risked everything to bring down a conspiracy of rape and murder far larger and more monstrous than just Quigley and her blackmail. We put our necks in view of the noose to save potentially hundreds of girls. To avenge our friends and innocents like Abigail.  To take back some power from men who rape and murder without compunction. To free you as well as ourselves! What if your brother had decided to let Fallon live?  He could have condemned my whole family!  I have lost so much in this damn fight. I put everything on the line to bring those bastards and Quigley down. And it worked!  We had gotten everything in our grasps and you betrayed us! Showed our entire hand to your brother! For God’s sake Isabella how could you?! How could you, after everything, protect him! What were you thinking!” She stops then, finding herself at the end of the rope her anger had been burning.  “Say something god damn it. I’m out of breath.”

There is a long pause before Isabella speaks again.

“How many days?” she asks, still looking down at her folded hands.

“What?”

“How many days do you think it would have taken for Lord Fallon to sign the confession? For you to bring it before a Justice, and for my brother to be arrested?  Provided that your plan actually worked.”

“Provided our plan actually worked? It would have worked, Isabella.” She can see that her using the lady’s name is causing some degree of pain.

“Please just answer me.” 

“I don’t - I can’t say exactly. Two? Maybe three?  He would have broken.”

“But it could have been a week to see your plan’s completion. Maybe more if my brother tired to run.  He had my daughter Charlotte.” There is an almost desperate look on the woman’s face as she says this. And Charlotte softens ever so slightly. 

“Whatever length of time it would have been,” Isabella continues,  “it would have been time that Sophia would have been alone in that house with him. Utterly alone and his mercy, of which you and I both know he has none.  That is the only thought that consumed me from the moment Lydia Quigley tore my daughter from me. When you told me you had Lord Fallon, I saw a bargaining chip to spare her damnation and I took it. I know you do not wish to hear it, but I am sorry for the pain that choice caused you in return.” 

Charlotte walks past where Isabella stands, wiping at her eyes, and sits on the couch behind her.

“It was all done to protect your daughter?” She asks, looking up.

“Yes.” There is a pleading look in her eyes. 

“Not to protect him.” 

“An unfortunate consequence.”

Charlotte looks up at her. “And what of the money you demanded of him? Your house?  You took much more than simple freedom from him.” 

Isabella sits down beside her.  Closer, but still keeping her distance.

“I believe we both forgot, for a while, how different our worlds really are.  I can see how my focuses seemed to you. Like trivial matters in the face of what you were dealing with.  I cannot ask you to accept my reasons, or understand how blood alone could not have assured me my freedom, but I can try to explain where my mind was.” she says, looking earnestly at Charlotte.  “Please let me try.”

Charlotte nods mutely. 

Isabella takes a deep breath, contemplating the best place to start.  After a moment, she begins. “I needed to ensure that my daughter was safe.  Not just from the immediate danger posed by my brother, but in her future as well.  In my world that means money. Money to see her educated.  To support her as a lady. To give her a dowry.” Isabella looks down at her hands again. “She is a bastard. And a bastard born out of the worst circumstances. In the end, I may not be able to make her respectable or accepted but I have to try. I owe her that much for abandoning her for so long.”

“And you were willing to serve the whims of the devil to do that?” Charlotte asks, the edge still in her voice, but no longer with the same force. 

“I finally knew how to play against him. And you had given me the strength to know that I could. His obsession for years has been the control of me. But I, at last, had the upper hand. I had found a weakness. He wanted Fallon silenced more than he wanted me. More than he wanted Sophia. And so I pressed.”

Isabella pauses then to collect her thoughts.  She has tried to put all of this into words so many times.  To write to Charlotte and explain it all to her. Each time tearing up the letter which always felt wretchedly flat and insufficient. Finally, she continues. 

“Quigley’s coming here that day to take my daughter assured me of two things.  That brother had bought my secret from her, and that he could reach me anywhere unless I freed myself and Sophia from him permanently.  And I am sorry, but I did not fully trust the success of your warpath. There were simply too many ways I could see my brother escaping the repercussions of the confession you drew from Lord Fallon.  And if he did that, he would have rained down unimaginable hell on everything I have ever cared for.  I sought to stop that. The law had not been our friend to that point.  You as well as anyone have seen how men can be corrupted, and how anyone can be bought.  I am sorry I did not explain my mind then, but I cannot regret my actions or think that I was ultimately wrong.”

Charlotte looks away.

“A mother will do almost anything to protect her child,” she says after a moment, some of her anger melting away in the knowledge that Isabella had acted for her daughter’s sake, and not for Harcourt’s.  “Mine gave up everything to save Lucy’s soul.  It was wrong of me to think that you would not act similarly.”

“I should not have asked you to tear your focus from your sister and your family that day.  I think we talked past one another without even thinking to talk to each other.  You had so much pain and I made a request of you instead of offering comfort.”

There is knock on the door and it opens a little as Lucy’s voice comes through. 

“Charlotte, are you okay?”

Charlotte had almost forgotten that she had been yelling only a few moments ago.  Gods of whoredom be praised if no culls had left on account of it.

“I’m fine Luce.  Mind the girls for me a bit longer would you.”

“Alright.”

The door shuts again.

“How is she? Your sister.”  Isabella cannot help but recall that it was Charlotte’s younger sister, a girl that reminded her so much of Sophia in looks, who had been manipulated by Lord Fallon. That she had been in peril at the hands of a monster too.

“She’s better. I’d liked to hope she is growing back stronger at the broken places.  But all I can say for sure is that she’s managing. We all are.”

“Managing seems to be a popular state of mind recently.” Isabella pauses. “I have tried to make myself come here more than once before today.  Something kept me from it each time and any letter I tried to write met flames for its failure to explain my mind, or my heart, at all.  The pain of knowing I had lost your friendship and your…affections, for what I did silenced me.”

“I don’t think you ever lost my affection,” Charlotte says, meeting Isabella’s eyes and bringing her hand to Isabella's cheek, thrilling more than she will ever admit to anyone when the lady closes her eyes at the touch. “Not really.  Not even in the moments when I hated you.”

Charlotte takes both of Isabella’s hands in hers then, and draws a breath.  “But my trust is going to take time.”  She feels Isabella about to say something but stops her. “Please, I need to say this much.  I have only trusted a handful of people in my entire life. One of them was you. You betrayed that. I can comprehend in my head and accept why you chose the way you did, but it still stings.  It still…broke me.” 

Charlotte had spent the greater part of her life being used and discarded by people. By men. And because of it, she had learned to be always on her guard. To build a wall around her heart and to become a perfectly carved imitation of a girl.  Beautiful on the surface, but never quite really there.  She had molded herself into the Queen of Pretend that could entice and break the heart of any cull. 

Daniel Marney had tried to scale that wall. His persistent and unguarded affections drawing from her some small glimmer of hope that she could, perhaps, be soft. But in loving him she had nearly gotten him killed, and no matter how much she treasured him, cherished the love he had given her, the experience only reenforced her belief that she was too far removed from softness to ever be really loved or to love in return. And so she had pushed him away. She had chosen her path of vengeance over his love.  She had built the wall around her heart higher, returned her mask to her face, and swore to never remove it again.

But then Lady Isabella Fitzwilliam had walked into her life, or rather, Charlotte had walked into hers.  And somewhere between her couriering veiled threats and demands from Quigley, their ally ship against the bitch, and the night Isabella had bared her soul to Charlotte in this very house, the woman and managed to simply walk through all of Charlotte’s walls and remove her mask before she had time to even recognize what was happening. And when it was Isabella who chose her own path, who did the pushing away, Charlotte had shattered into pieces that she is still trying desperately to put together again.

“Then I promise you I will do everything in my power to try and deserve your trust again.” Isabella says, and Charlotte feels another piece of herself fall back into place.

Charlotte kisses her then.  Softly, as she had the night Isabella had shared her secret. They are once again in uncharted waters, but the longing between them remains, and Charlotte will not lock it away again. Isabella deepens the kiss and it is ultimate Charlotte who pulls away to speak.

“I know you risk much in coming here, but I can’t take silence again.  Will you try again to write me?”

“I could take silence no better than you could.  I will write.” She kisses Charlotte’s hand. “Now I must go.  Sophia will expect me back after her piano lesson.”

Charlotte kisses Isabella once more, merely because she can, then she follows her down the stairs and to the door, watching her go with a calmer mind than she has had in months. 

“Nancy isn’t going to be happy with you,” Lucy says, coming up behind her, a smile in her voice.

Sneaking sprat had been listening at the door. 

“Nancy can fuck herself with her flogger. Besides, I don’t really intend on telling her.”  Charlotte says, turning to her sister and returning her grin.  “Come on Sprat,” she says, putting her arm around her sister,  “We have a brothel to run.”

To Be Continued.

Chapter Text

And run the brothel does. 

If her shouting that morning had scared off any culls, no one mentions it and by the afternoon the business of the house is in full swing.  Charlotte stands in the doorway to the house’s main parlor space downstairs watching as her girls entail the culls they will soon take to the rooms upstairs. With the fall of Lydia Quigley and with Charlie Quigley still fumbling his way around business at Golden Square, the Greek Street brothel has flourished under a new caliber of clientele.  The money the culls who had previously frequented Mrs. Quigley’s bring in is what had allowed Charlotte to take on two new girls, and with six harlots now under her roof, she feels quite certain she is equal to anything that can be foisted upon them from the ruins of Golden Square.

Sukey passes by her, cull in tow.

“Miss Wells,” she says, and deposits two guineas into Charlotte’s hand before leading the well dressed man up the stairs.  Our floors are kissing finer silks by the day, she thinks wryly.

Fanny comes up behind Charlotte and joins her standing in the doorway.  “Kitty’s down for a nap. Finally,” she says.

Charlotte nods.  Most days there is more like five harlots working since Kitty still needs so much attention.  If she’s not napping or feeding, she has to be kept entertained.  The child has a set of lungs that could rival any opera singer at the Playhouse. And with the advent of her crawling, there seems to be not a thing in the house she cannot manage to get into. But Charlotte doesn’t mind her not taking so many culls one bit.  Fanny is a good girl and a more than capable right hand in the business.  Motherhood has given her a steadiness that Charlotte values beyond anything she could have provided working more as a harlot.  Even when Charlotte had first been striving to gain the loyalty of the girls her mother had taken on, Sukey and Hannah would listen to Fanny. 

Content that everything is running smoothly, Charlotte reckons she out to attempt to get some work done of her own.  “Can you collect coin from this lot Fan?” she asks the Fanny. “Bring me up the total when their all decided.  I’m going to go have a look over our books.”

“Will do.  Do you want me working too or —”

“Not now.  Don’t know when Kitty might need you. Just mind them that are for me,” 
she says.

“Thank you, Charlotte.”

Upstairs, Charlotte sits in the small room that functions as an office of sorts for the brothel.  Before her lay account books and all manner of records that keep Greek Street running smoothly.  Keep her girls in the best dresses the house can afford, keep them stocked on condoms, keep them all well fed, and keep the culls returning time and time again.  Even if she does not fully share her mother’s views on money, she at least sees now how it can garner a freedom of sorts, loathe though she is to admit it.  Money gives her the ability to turn away culls that hurt her girls.  To refuse who she likes for whatever reason she sees.  Money means that they aren’t at the mercy of any man in want of a fuck.  They can choose their clientele. 

And those thoughts, thoughts of money and the protection it affords, bring her back to Isabella’s words that morning.  Charlotte had condemned her for acting on a sentiment that she herself could now understand. Of using money to shield herself and those who she cared about and who relied on her for care.  For Isabella, that means Sophia.  For Charlotte, it is every person under this roof.  To keep their lives afloat, they must have money. Stringing up a man and holding a knife to his throat may satisfy in the moment, but what could it do for the future? To protect against future threats, from other corners?  Very little, she now sees.  She still wants the Spartans to swing, yes. That is as true now as it ever was.  She wants the pack of hounds to be put down and she want’s Blayne’s guts for garters.  But she can see now how money is also an object. Her world now, and all those that rely on her will rise or fall on purse strings.

Charlotte leans back in her chair, running her hands over her face and exhaling hard. I still feel like I’m walking blind on the edge of a cliff, she thinks. The girls seem to finally see her as bawd in her own right and not merely a second hand replacement for her mother. But that is exactly what she feels like most days.  She had stopped taking culls in an effort to separate herself from the work of harlotry and be a bawd.  To run the house, rather than to be a part of it.  And really, the arrangement suits her just fine.  Charlotte Wells has had more than her share of harlotry. 

Lucy is now far and above the favorite.  Her time being kept by Fallon had made her widely desired.  If Charlotte is their mother’s heir, Lucy seems to be Charlotte’s.  She has changed so much from the scared virgin who had told Charlotte that she was not ready for life as a harlot while sat in a theatre box as her virginity was bid on by the basest of men.  Money and flesh. That is their world.

Charlotte looks again over the sums and figures in front of her and not for the first time, desperately wants for her mother, the pain of her absence digging into her like a knife. The whole house had been shaken to its foundations by Margaret Wells’ “death.” And while Sukey and Hannah had neither of them been there long enough for Charlotte to much care what they knew or did not know, it pained her to not be able to tell Fanny that she yet lived.  Fanny, who had already lost so much the past year and a half. From her best friend to the bawd she looked to almost as a mother.  But Pa and Nancy had insisted.  No one outside of them can know. 
And so Fanny is left mourn another death. 

To distract herself from thoughts of loss and mourning, Charlotte picks up the papers where the cost of Nicole and Elizabeth, the two girls she had chosen for the house, are calculated. They will no doubt earn back and more the cost of their keeping. Both girls bring something new for her culls.  Nicole is petite, with raven hair and bluest eyes Charlotte has ever seen. What’s more, she sounds like one of Quigley’s girls, all posh and proper. Though, if her fine accent is real or for show, Charlotte can not guess and neither, she imagines, can the culls. Elizabeth brings the house the ‘exoticism’ that Harriet once had.

Violet Cross had made a scene when Charlotte had taken on Elizabeth.

“If you’re hiring black whores now you should have come to me.” she had said, almost shouting at Charlotte in the tavern one night.

Charlotte wishes she could, but she can’t have a girl with a thief’s brand working in her house.  Not if she is to take the place of Arch Bawd of London.  But she tries to do what she can for her.  Pays her for errands and for information.  She sympathizes with her.  Violet had met with some of the worse paths of life for women of their kind while Charlotte now holds the epitome of power a harlot can hold.  What’s more she, had shared a pain Charlotte knew all too well and the two women had developed a camaraderie of sorts.

One evening, a month or so after her mother’s “death,” Charlotte had found herself in the tavern with a bottle of gin and nothing but her own thoughts, occasionally punctuated by the whining voice of Emily Lacey trying to sell herself to anyone who would take her.  The blonde girl had tried to convince Charlotte to take her into Greek Street but there was no chance she would have that two faced cunt in her house.  She was unaware of most of her surroundings until Violet Cross had sat across from her and held out a hand for the bottle and Charlotte had passed it to her.

“To Margaret Wells,” Violet had said, raising the bottle before taking a long drink. “And to our stupid broken hearts,” she had added, handing the bottle back to Charlotte who had mirrored the action in drinking.

Something in Violet’s look had said that she sympathized and she did so without asking a single word of explanation from Charlotte.  Charlotte had no idea what she knew or how she knew it but in that moment, it didn’t matter. She was glad for the understanding company.  Violet had been released from her indenture to Hunt who, in light of Quigley’s committal to Bedlam, had regained his position as Justice.  Her freedom is perhaps a parting gift from Amelia Scanwell as all seemed then set for the girl was to marry the man, through six months on the event still has not taken place. 

The two women had sat in the half-light of the tavern, sharing gin and a pain they could neither of them express as openly as they might wish to nor put satisfactory words to if they had tried.  But alcohol, Charlotte since learned, did nothing to dull her pain. It just clouded her head and that wasn’t something she could afford. Not now. Not with Greek Street relying on her.  Not with Lucy and Jacob and her Pa all needing her to be the strong one.  The level headed one in contrast to Nancy seeming eternal rage. And so she had stayed sober and done her best to push down her pain.  But now, somehow, miraculously, she sees a spark of hope that her own stupid broken heart can mend.

Charlotte’s reverie is interrupted when the door opens and Fanny brings in the culls’ payments.

“Everyone’s sorted,” she says.  “I’m off to suckle Kitty so she don’t scream her head off and ruin anyone’s fine time.”

After that, Charlotte doesn’t allow herself any more time for rambling introspection as she works the afternoon’s earnings into the records, sorting each girl’s pay, and making a rough go at sorting out the month's expenses before finally considering her work there complete.

In the evening, Charlotte finds herself again sitting on the sofa in the upstairs sitting room intent on allowing herself some time to ponder her morning. The sounds of moans from rooms down the hall are barely loud enough to reach her.  Lucy and Nicole had gone out earlier to pull culls from some of the fashionable coffee houses and she had seen them return earlier successful though if their culls are among those who remain in the house now she doesn’t know.

“You okay Charlotte?” Fanny asks, coming into the room, a sleeping Kitty in her arms.

“Why does everyone keep asking if I’m okay today?” Charlotte almost laughs.

“You did a fair bit of shouting at that fine lady earlier.”

So the entire house had heard her. 

“Do all my girls listen at doors, or does my sister simply relate all she hears?”

“Neither,” Fanny says, sitting on one of the chairs. “Your voice just carries. And we’re neither of us stupid.  Lucy and me I mean.  I don’t think Sukey or Hannah have half a notion of what all happened with you two and I’m sure I’m guessing at scraps myself.”

Charlotte smiles, glad that Fanny doesn’t seem to have the desire to press her for information and even more glad that she seems to have the status with the other girls to keep them from doing the same.

“I get it.  You know.” Fanny continues, after a stretch of silence.  “What she did.  I hate it, for the sake of Kitty Carter, but I get it for the sake of this one,” she says, looking down at the sleeping baby in her arms.  “I’d do anything for this one.  Especially if I thought she would be taken from me and put in harm's way.  My life has had so much pain in it.  She’s my second chance to be good and there is nothing I wouldn’t do to keep her with me. 
Keep her safe.”

Charlotte doesn’t say anything, but hopes her look encourages Fanny to continue.  Motherhood is something Charlotte knows little of, but Fanny is perhaps the closest to understanding its drives.

“You know, before your ma, rest her soul, assured me she wouldn’t dream of separating us, the first Kitty and I were planning to run away with, well, it was Mercy then, if it came to that.  We talked of setting up on our own.  Of getting her daughter and making ourselves a family,” she pauses, meeting Charlotte’s eyes before continuing. “You weren’t here when Quigley took Sophia from ‘er.  I’m still not sure what exactly you and Lucy and Nancy were doing, but you weren’t here to see that. 
It was horrible.”

“I know.  I did manage to do some talking and listening after the yelling.” Charlotte laughs, then sighs. “I don’t really know what I’m doing Fanny,” she says, looking at her lap.  To say she is conflicted seems but to half describe her emotional state. The pain of Isabella’s betrayal, however comprehensible, still weighs heavy on her mind. And yet, her desire to mend what had been broken between them weighs stronger still on her heart.

“Does it matter enough to try?” Fanny asks, interrupting her thoughts.

Charlotte looks up at her and nods. 

“Then it doesn’t matter if you know anything.  Lord knows I know nothing about being a mother. 
Just try.”

Chapter Text

The first letter from Isabella comes a little over a week later.

Charlotte is again in the office looking over the brothel’s accounts when her Pa brings it into her.

“From your Ladyship,” he says, setting it before her with a knowing smirk.

“Do not start.”

“Who says I was going to start anything? I’m the very picture of innocence.”

“Mind the door Pa,” Charlotte says, suppressing a grin.

He turns to go, muttering something that sounds to Charlotte suspiciously like: “Not your beloved my arse.”

Charlotte waits for the door to close behind him before picking the letter up and breaking the seal.

Charlotte,

I ought to apologize for the time that it has taken me to write. The truth is that I am not quite sure how to begin. I have not written letters since I was a girl. And those, I suspect, were very stupid. I shall then, for the sake of saying something to start off, tell you about the subject that takes up the majority of my days. Sophia. She is every bit the little lady and I only pray that I am able to give her a future worthy of her. I fear we are both of us hopelessly naive to the world. But I am learning, and learning in tandem with my daughter. We have at least our safety. Harcourt has honored the promises I drew from him and with Quigley gone I am tentatively hopeful. 

I fear I now recollect that I never once thanked you for actually securing the goal that first bound us together. The fate you condemned Quigley to is exactly the justice I could have hoped for. She cannot now harm anyone else. And there is an added benefit to her current predicament. It has given me an opening for Sophia I had not before dreamed of, though the lie of it pains me some. So few held knowledge of Sophia, and with my brother having gotten his information from Quigley and having been made to heel, I am able to, with very little fear of attracting doubt, pass Sophia off as the child of dead relatives, rather than as my own. In society, she is my ward. I am almost surprised at the willingness of people to accept that I chose to take her into society as an act of duty to bloodline. My leaving my brother’s house and taking up residence in St James with her can be so easily attributed to his well known perfect indifference to London society and to Sophia’s undeniable need to be in the midst of it if she is to marry.

The society I now find myself in is as new to me as Sophia’s is to her. I find myself now not a thing to be paraded about but as the one who must parade another. My last true interaction with London society is so far behind me and so many things about it have changed. I was only ever out in society for one season before, well, Sophia. 

She questions me about so many things I cannot answer her on. She still wishes to know of her father and I cannot imagine the pain it would cause her if she knew. She bears whatever shame she has at being a bastard well enough. But that last piece of knowledge I keep from her is one she can never have. And so you remain the only soul to have knowledge of it from me voluntarily. 

I now must apologize again for this letter being as short as it is late. I have just been reminded of the hour and I must go dress for yet another dinner party Sophia and I are to attend. 

Yours,

Isabella.

Charlotte reads the letter over again then draws a sheet of paper from the desk and begins her reply.

Isabella,

I am glad to hear that Sophia is doing so well. It is gratifying that, whatever our failures, one innocent was spared seeing the truly dark sides of the world. I think we share some of the same feeling at being thrown out of our depths in the roles we now find ourselves in. The opposites of our former lives. I have been a kept thing for much of my life and I find myself now a keeper. I am responsible for my girls as much as you are of your daughter. Though I can guess that our hopes for our charges vary wildly.

My mother used to say that men don’t respect whores, they respect property. That is why she aimed so high for Lucy and I. A wealthy keeper was our ticket to a safe life. Or so we believed. We know how well that turned out. The only hope I now have for my girls is that they are safe together. That they not rely on men but on each other for their security. I am trying to be the kind of bawd that Ma and Nancy once imagined it might be possible to be. To create a world for my girls where they protect and sustain each other. That’s what she said. “We protect and sustain each other.” But even in our success, there is a sense of unease. There is a hole where the power of Golden Square used to be. Quigley may be gone but her empire still stands, waiting for someone new to step into place. All I can do is wait, and try to play my hand best.

In devising Bedlam as the destination for Quigley, I allowed her idiot son a sentiment I had condemned you for. The inability to hang your own blood. I saw an alternative for the bitch and I didn’t think twice about letting Charles spare her the noose. But no more on that. It is done. There are too many things that are to worry about what has been. The Spartans, however, crippled bob Fallon’s death are still out there and though they are silent at present I do not believe they will remain that way for long. 

I too must end this letter short. Something has made a crashing sound downstairs and I need to go pretend I have much more control than I ever feel I do,

Charlotte

Over the next weeks, the letters between the two women become more frequent. At first, Charlotte had feared that without a common goal, they would grow weary of each other’s correspondence but it never comes to pass. She thinks that even the most boring detail shared is made significant by the mere fact that it is Isabella to whom the detail belonged. And Charlotte finds herself once again bearing her soul to the woman as easily as she had once done.

They exchange the common irritants of their lives, the fears they have for those closest to them, and the tentative hope that perhaps their worlds will not crash into flames again. Isabella confides that she fears her brother’s retaliation for her extortion, Charlotte, finally, talks of wanting her mother, though sparing particular details that Isabella cannot be given. The letters are sent and received and Charlotte takes a sort of comfort in the knowledge that, in Isabella, she has something that is not connected to her day to day life as a bawd. Something away from the never-ending demands her work and her family put on her. This is hers by no one's choice but her own.


In the last letter Charlotte had received, Isabella had remarked on how many roles Charlotte now seemed to play. That she had to play sister, and bawd, and harlot in her house. Now, she waits nervously for Isabella’s next letter because of what she had written in response. A letter that had taken more attempts to put down on paper than she will ever admit to.

Sometimes, s
he had written, I find myself almost lost in the number of roles I have had to take on. It is like I am trapped in a juggling act where if I stop, the entire world will collapse in on me. I must be an older sister to Lucy as well as a guiding force. I am a daughter and a commiserate ear to my Pa. I am practically a mother to Jacob. And on top of all that I must run a brothel. I must keep the lives of the girls in my house spinning on the needle's point that our lives do. But there is one hat I have set aside in all this. For the first time in my adult life, I can say that I, Charlotte Wells, am not a harlot. I keep telling myself that I did it to separate myself from my girls. To strengthen myself as bawd of the house. As a bawd, no one questions it if I don’t take culls. No one questions my apparent decision not to. But the truth is I just can’t do it anymore. I tried. When I was staring at this. I tried to slip back into the role I have played since I was twelve. And I found, rather alarmingly at first, that I just couldn’t.”

Charlotte had nearly ripped the letter in half as she had written it, her reasons for stopping harloting were something she hadn’t even fully admitted to herself until just then. But she had wanted this off her chest and at least this way she doesn’t have to do it while looking at Isabella. 

I used to tell Lucy that I was the Queen of Pretend. S
he had continued, And I was. I could make anyone believe anything. I could wrap any man around my finger and have him pour gold into my purse. It’s what catapulted me to the stars of whoredom. It’s what got me into Quigley’s lair. It is what sent me to you. I wore the perfectly painted mask of the courtesan. But I can no longer find it, the mask I clung to for so many years. But I suspect it shattered all over my bedroom floor the night you spent with me.”

Charlotte had folded and sealed the letter as soon as the ink had dried, sending it away before she could change her mind and burn it. Isabella hadn’t just removed her mask, she had destroyed it in a way Charlotte feels cannot be mended. It’s breaking hadn’t been entirely unwelcome, but it had been her secret. That Charlotte Wells was different. That the star of London’s firmament had gone out. Her secret. Even from herself. But now her confession is out and she alternates between relief and a deep wish she had destroyed the words instead of sending them. 

A commotion downstairs pulls her out of her panic and she goes down expecting to find culls as the evening’s clientele was due to begin driving at any minute. Instead, she finds Nancy. 

“Nancy. What brings you to Greek Street?” Charlotte is glad to see her, for about the span of a breath. 

Nancy turns around and Charlotte can see one of Isabella’s letters in her hand and Charlotte’s stomach drops.

“What is this?” Nancy asks, her tone stiff.

“A letter. Obviously.” Charlotte schools her expression into one she hopes looks unconcerned but she can feel her heart rate quicken as she presses down the urge to simply grab the letter from Nancy like a child and run.

“Obviously,” Nancy repeats. “How long?”

“How long what?”

“How long have you been writing her?”

Charlotte weighs her options. Keeping the correspondence from Nancy was one thing, lying to her face would be another entirely. 

“About a month.”

“Have you seen her.”

“…Yes.”

“You fuck her again?”

“Nancy!” 

“Well?”

“I do not own you an explanation of anything!” Charlotte knows she’s shouting. But quite frankly she’s too angry at Nancy right now to care.

“This woman,” Nancy says, waving the letter in front of Charlotte’s face, “Sold us to the wolves!”

“She protected her daughter.” Charlotte pauses as Lucy appears silently behind Nancy and leans against the doorframe. “Something this family knows a thing or two about might I remind you,” Charlotte adds.

“You cannot possibly forgive her.” 

Charlotte pauses, considering her feelings. Letter after letter had brought balm to her wounds. They no longer pain her. “Well I do,” Charlotte says finally. And she means it. She had forgiven her entirely, she realizes, weeks ago. Her trust too was mending and she had told Isabella something not even Lucy knew. That her mask was gone.

“If your ma were here she’d tell you you’re being foolish!” Nancy shouts.


“Well my Ma’s not here is she?! And she might not ever be!” Charlotte yells right back.


“Why are you two shouting in the entryway?!” her Pa shouts, coming inside from where he had been standing at the door and matching their volume.

Charlotte shuts her eyes and draws a few deep breaths, trying to control the rage that is burning inside her. She has never been properly angry with Nancy in her life. Never. Nancy has always been the one she had run to when she had been angry with her Ma or Lucy or some cull or life in general. She wants to yell again but she remembers Fanny’s words, that her voice carries. The last thing Charlotte needs is every person under this roof getting an earful. She searches for any way to explain herself to Nancy and finally settles on what it was about the letters brought her comfort and joy: that Isabella is hers by her own choice.

“I do everything for this place.” Charlotte says, still fighting for calm. “I do everything for this family. But I am tired of having to rip my heart out for the sake of my goals. So don’t you dare judge me for refusing to do it again just because you want to stay angry. Because I have been angry and hurt and ripped to shreds for six damn months and I am done Nance. I cannot keep that up. The one thing my Ma wanted for me was that I not inherit her hatred. So I will run the brothel for Ma and for these girls, and I will act as mother and sister and bawd and any other hat you or Pa want or need me to put on. But,” she takes another breath, and takes the letter from Nancy’s hand, holding it in front of Nancy’s face before she drives her point home. “I will be this too. For me.”

“You are being stupid Charlotte. End this or you will regret it.” Nancy retorts, pointing her flogger at Charlotte accusingly.

“You,” Charlotte says, the anger if not the volume back in her voice, “Are not my mother.” Then she turns and storms out of Greek Street before the guilt for what she has just said can settle on her.

“Charlotte!” her Pa yells, but she doesn’t heed him.

Chapter Text

Class wise, Golden Square seems miles away from Covent Garden or even Greek Street. But geographically, they aren't. I found a map of London from 1760 and I marked out some key locations if anyone is interested in seeing just how close all these places are.

The RED star is Covent Garden.
The GREEN star is Greek Street.
The GOLD star is Golden Square.
The BLUE star is St. James.

According to Google Maps (the streets are pretty much still the same):

  • Covent Garden --> Greek Street: 9 minute walk. 
  • Greek Street --> Golden Square: 9 minute walk.
  • Golden Square --> St. James: 10 minute walk.
  • St. James --> Greek Street: 14 minute walk.
  • Covent Garden --> Golden Square: 15 minute walk.
  • St. James --> Covent Garden: 15 minute walk.


St James is where the house that Isabella demands from her brother is.

It is also where Charlotte is living in Season 1 when Sir Foppwit is her keeper.

I made these guides because I think its a really cool visualization that we don't really get from the show. 

A zoomed-in look at the four locations:

Chapter 4 is coming soon...

Chapter Text

Charlotte walks without paying attention to where she is going. She doesn't have a destination in mind, just a feeling that she needs to put distance between herself and Greek Street.  She needs to move. To do something that's isn't simply screaming to let out the anger still raging inside her.  If she stays still, she thinks she might explode. Part of her feels bad for storming out and leaving Lucy to deal with the result of her outburst. Fighting with Nancy is not a territory she had been in before. She hadn't even thought to delegate responsibility in her absence. Granted, she hadn't intended to leave. She hadn't intended to argue. She takes assurance from the fact that both Lucy and Fanny are smart girls and they can manage without her for the time being.  They can manage the night without her if need be.

The familiar din of Covent Garden around her makes Charlotte stop in her tracks.  She shakes her head, almost laughing at herself.  Even when she is running from fighting with Nancy her mind involuntarily thinks to run to Nancy's. She had stormed away in anger from so many people and had always run to Nancy.  To the woman who had always felt like a second mother to her. And she is reminded again of her last words to her before storming out of the Greek Street brothel.  With a renewed sense of shame, she turns on her heel and heads in the opposite direction of Covent Garden.  To the parks of the wealthier side of the city.  Towards white brick houses and well-cobbled streets. Towards anything that might clear her mind of just how horrible she had been.

The sun is beginning to dip low in the sky by the time Charlotte has walked out her anger. The guilt over what she had said to Nancy still clings to her like the chill settling into the evening air. As she slows her pace, looking around to get a sense of just how far she has walked, Charlotte realizes that Isabella's letter is still in her hand. She turns off the street and into a small park, walking along the path before finding a bench and sitting.  The evening hour means that visitors to the park are few and far between. She is more or less alone.  Looking down at the letter, all the anxiety of the morning comes flooding back to her.  But the sun is setting in earnest now, and if she is going to read it, it has to be now. She breaks the seal on the letter and begins to read. 

 

Charlotte,

I am going to begin this letter by talking about Sophia again because if do not start somewhere I am used to putting words to thoughts, I am not going to start this letter. Or I will start it too many times to count and never actually complete it. 

I never knew that London's social season could be so hectic for those who arrange it. I told you in an earlier letter that I was only out for one season before everything else that happened. For the young and carefree, I suppose, they are swept up in the activity and everything is there for them to enjoy. Sophia, at least, appears to be right at home in the ebb and flow of conversation and dance. She seems to have shaken off much of her shyness and I am pleased in the observation that she appears to have made more than a few friends among the daughters of the families in our circle. 

For my part, I find myself not only with numerous new responsibilities but also with the unquestioned faith from my peers that I am actually competent to fulfill them. I am now to be the host of parties, rather than a prop. I find I rather enjoy the change. No one tells me I am stupid or thoughtless. No one thinks me in need of an overseer. And no one presumes to be one of me.

My brother controlled every aspect of my life since the moment of our father's death. And though he may have often filled the house with people and with parties, I was still eternally alone. He isolated me from anything and anyone that could ever come close to companionship. He kept me dependent on him for every aspect of my life. My mask was one of contentedness in company. Of feigning the return of friendship to those who were feigning it to me in the first place. 'A constant game of sham' were the words I believe I once used. For my life as much as for yours.   

And then you came. And suddenly I was not alone anymore. You made me drop the game and actually speak. For the first time in my life, I had someone who understood pain. Who actually saw through my game. You had a desire to see justice for that pain in ways I had not dared to consider possible. And you saw me as a competent ally in your quest for justice. For the first time in so many years, I was a person instead of a painted doll. You saved me long before that night.

Yours,

Isabella

 

The last line sticks in Charlotte's mind after she finishes reading through the letter a second time. It remains there, repeating as she stares into space, holding the letter as the world goes first orange, and then grey around her.

"You saved me long before that night."

Her mask and her charade were not the only ones that had broken. It is only when the sun dips beneath the horizon and she can no longer read the words on the page that Charlotte is truly aware of the hour. Evening customers will be arriving at the brothel now, but she doesn't give it more than a passing acknowledgment.  Isabella, she thinks. I want to see Isabella.  From her bench in the park, she's actually closer to St James than she is to Greek Street.  With that thought, she begins walking again.

There is no world in which a bawd showing up on the doorstep of a townhome in St James in the evening is respectable, but at the moment Charlotte cannot be bothered to respectability all that much thought. She's spent too much time these days playing at being respectable.  When she was kept by Sir Howard, she blended right into the society in that part of town. Even at Golden Square, she would not have been thought twice about by anyone passing her in the neighborhood of Isabella's home. But now, with her brightly colored gown and her lack of expensive ornaments, she is going to stick out.  The darkness, she hopes, will help obscure her identity. She might not care about respectability, but she does not wish to bring down society's censure on Isabella.

She knocks on the front door of the white stone townhome and is greeted by a footman in familiar livery.  She is reminded of the first night she met Isabella.  When she had gone to Blayne's estate on Quigley's orders to threaten and blackmail a woman whose face she did not even know. Time does funny things, she thinks. 

"Charlotte Wells," she tells the footman, who is looking at her expectantly. "To see the lady of the house."

She is led into a library room and told by the footman to wait there.  She walks along the long wall opposite the door, running her hand across the spines of the books.  Some she recognizes.  Others are in languages she cannot read. She lingers on the ones with broken spines, wondering who of the family had been their readers.  When she reaches the end of the wall, she casts her gaze around the room. To the high painted ceilings. To the furniture covered in rich fabrics with arms and legs intricately carved of dark wood.  The room has weight, she thinks.  It is a different kind of elegance from the airy lightness of Gold Square.  Charlotte decides she likes it better.

"Charlotte?"

Charlotte turns to see Isabella in the doorway.  Her dress is the color of a robins egg, making her stand out against the deep tones of the book-filled room.  How different she seems from that night they had first met.  When she had nearly blended into the wallpaper, looking more a part of the room than a part of the party within it.  Until she spoke, that was. Until she spoke and Charlotte felt as if she had not understood the world she trespassed in less, nor ever felt more desirous to stay in it, even for just a moment longer.

"I am not intruding, am I?" Charlotte asks.  She prays she isn't. She does not know if she could turn and leave just now.

"Not at all," Isabella replies. "Sophia is in the country for a few days, with the family of one of her friends. What is troubling you?"

Charlotte laughs.  "Do I really look that bad?" Silently, she curses herself for not even thinking about Sophia.  All she had considered was whether Isabella had guests.

"You look harrowed." 

The concern in Isabella's voice brings Charlotte out of her thoughts and back into the room.

She sighs. "I quarreled with Nancy. She thinks I'm an idiot. She told me as much." Charlotte shakes her head. "I ran out and when I stopped running, the only place I wanted to go, was here."

"Talk to me?" Isabella asks, coming into the room as the doors close shutting behind her.

She sits on the low couch and Charlotte joins her, considering where to begin. She suddenly feels the whole weight of just how tired she is.  Like she could sleep for a year if only the world would stop demanding things of her. But Isabella is here.  Demanding nothing.  Asking only for words. Charlotte can see the genuine concern in her face. 

"I shouldn't hold anger at her," she tells Isabella. "Nancy has lost as much as any of my family. She's the one who had to pick me up off the floor after you gave up Fallon to your brother. And I mean that literally. She'd kill for Lucy or me, she'd flog any person who so much as looked at us wrong. The woman started a riot for Kitty Carter and got lashed for her troubles. She understands protecting the people she cares about." Charlotte feels like she is rambling, but knows no other way to give Isabella some understanding of why a fight with Nancy weighs so heavily on her.  

"But she doesn't understand manipulating safety," Charlotte continues. "She doesn't understand playing the game instead of just upending the board. She just wants to protect me." Charlotte sighs and smiles a little. "She and my Ma ran from Quigley's together. When they were not much older than Lucy is now. Picked me up and left. Went to the law and everything. I was born in that cursed house. I spent my early childhood under Quigley's roof.  I barely remember it, but it's true. Nancy's helped care for me since I was born and I threw it in her face that she isn't my mother. But she's been as much to me all my life. I cannot do what she asks, but I shouldn't be so angry with her for wanting to protect me."

"What does she want you to do?"

Charlotte pauses, considering how to phrase her next sentence. She settles on her words, "She wants me to give you up."

"Oh." Isabella's voice is barely more than a whisper.

"I won't." 

"I do not wish to cause anger —"

"Stop." Charlotte interrupts her, taking both of her hands. "You are not doing anything. If Nancy wants to be angry at me that's on her. It's not the most comfortable situation, but she can learn to deal with it. I've spent my life being passed around, being used, being kept. I have been bought and sold so many times I have lost count. But I've never belonged to any of them. But I am yours. And I will not walk away."

Isabella raises her gaze from their hands to Charlotte's eyes. "Can you stay?" she asks, a small smile playing on her face.

Charlotte returns it, and nods.

Chapter Text

Posting this as a message that I edited and added to Chapter 4 quite a bit and wrote in Isabella's letter that Charlotte reads in the park.
So if you already saw Chapter 4, you may want to go back and re-read for the update.


All my love,
Charlie.

Chapter Text

Charlotte wakes early the next morning, just as the sun is beginning to creep through the gap between the heavy brocade curtains. The first sensation she is aware of as her senses crawl back to her from the realm of sleep is that she is warm and very comfortable.  The second is the weight Isabella's arm draped across her bare stomach. She closes her eyes again and just lets herself enjoy the both of these sensations and the rare pleasure of waking up without immediately being expected to do something or go somewhere.  Charlotte crosses her arm over Isabella's and smiles at the sight woman still fast asleep beside her.  It never fails to amaze her how beautiful Isabella is when all the worry and stress of her life is drained away from her face.  Last night she had feared awkwardness. Knowing she had no mask to fall back on if she faltered. But reopening her heart to this woman, falling into her instead of away, had been one of the most natural things he had ever done. 

Now she wishes more than anything in this moment that she could stay. Even just for a little while longer. But the slow brightening of the room tells her that she should be going. Not only does she not want to run into any of the house'e staff, or God-forbid Sophia, but no one at Greek Street has seen her since she walked out on them the evening prior. And she'd really rather not dwell on just what exactly her longing to stay means. Charlotte slips quietly out from the blankets, retrieving her chemise and wrapping herself in the large shawl that is draped over a nearby chair. There is a chill in the air and Charlotte shivers against it, glancing to the where the fire has long since burnt out. She doesn't relish trying to restart it, a task she has always been lousy at, and Isabella looks comfortable enough without it. Instead she sets about redressing herself, collecting the various parts of her gown which had been scattered across the floor the night before. Years of practice had allowed her to gain the rather tricky skill of lacing her stays behind her own back without assistance. She is sitting on the edge of the bed, pinning her stomacher to her stays when Isabella wakes up. 

"You're leaving?" she asks, sleep still heavy in her voice. 

"It's better I go before Sophia wakes." 

Isabella nods in response and is silent as Charlotte finishes pinning her gown into place.

"The sun's barely up, you should go back to sleep." Charlotte sits on the edge of the bed, leaning across the now vacant space and kissing her. 

Then before she can second guess her departure, she collects her cloak and slips down the stairs, thankful that unlike at Greek Street, the stairs here don't creak loudly.  Even the door makes barely a sound as she pulls it's slowly closed behind her. 

Charlotte braces herself against the morning chill as she walks quickly through the London streets back to her home. In the wealthy quarter of St. James, there is barely any human activity, a few servants are visible, but the wealthy, as a rule, are not up with the sun. Charlotte is grateful for this fact now as it means she moves through the streets in relative solitude. Crossing into the neighborhoods of her own people she is increasingly surrounded by busyness. Shops are opening along the merchant streets and the fruit stalls of Covent Garden would be selling their produce alongside sellers of a very different nature.

She opens the door to Greek Street as little as possible to slip inside. She'd really rather not have a conversation about where she has been just now.  She'd have to eventually explain herself. To her Pa and to Lucy if to no one else. As she heads towards her own room, she can hear movement behind many of the bedroom doors.  Drawers opening and closing, faint singing is coming from Fanny's room. The maid the Greek Street Brothel was now lucrative enough to hire is busy at the end of the hall.  

Charlotte gets her attention.

"Finish what you're doing and then come help me dress” she tells the girl. She may have been able to lace and pin and tie herself into her gown well enough to get from St James to here, but she’s really rather have help dressing properly for the day.

The girl nods in reply and Charlotte retreats into her own room at the end of the hall.  Inside, she sheds the top layers of yesterday's gown and drapes them across the end of her bed.  The water in her washbasin is almost icy, but she dips a cloth it and wipes away the remnants of yesterday's makeup, cringing as the cold wet fabric makes contact with her face.  Once finished, she selects a pale yellow dress from her wardrobe and then sits on the bed to wait for the maid to come in.  Her stays poke at her sides uncomfortably, a result of having been laced in a hurry and not tied with much care beyond simply getting dressed as quickly as she can and she can't quite get a good enough hold on the knot by reaching her arms around her back to release them. The maid comes quickly an before long Charlotte is dressed and back in front of her mirror.

Redressed and with hair and makeup in place, Charlotte returns downstairs to the kitchen in search of something to eat. She hadn't eaten dinner last night as a result of her abrupt departure and her stomach growls audibly.  The girls seem to have already come and gone from breakfast and only her Pa remains in the room, nursing’s coffee and reading a newspaper.  Instead of even attempting to offer a cheap explanation of her actions as she once had, she simply grabs a roll from the basket on the table and cuts it in halves.

"You should reconcile with Nancy," her Pa says once her back is turned to grab jam from a cupboard.

Charlotte sets the jam on the table, crosses her arms, and looks away. She had managed to forget some of her guilt while she was with Isabella but now it is back. She knows he is right but cannot even begin to see where she would begin.  She’d never fought with Nancy before so she had never had to reconcile. 

"How do I even do that Pa?" she asks.

"She just wants to protect you my girl."

"I know that. I know that Pa. But she's never going to change her mind."

"And you will not change yours." It's a statement, not a question.  Charlotte can hear that there is no accusation in it either. No rebuke.

"I can't have my whole life be this Pa. I care about these girls, I do. But I'm running this place for Ma. It's not mine. It's not what I wanted. I just need something that is..." she trails off, realizing what she was about to say and not quite comfortable with calling Isabella hers out loud. "I just need something that isn't this," she finishes.

"Nancy will come around. You both may be two of the most stubborn women I have even know, but she loves you and Lucy like her own. Just talk to her. We all need each other and I hate to see the two of you at odds."

Charlotte nods. She too hates being at odds with Nancy. 

"Meanwhile," he says, placing an arm around Charlotte's shoulders, "Regardless of what may be who's or who's may be what, you've got a brothel to run." He laughs and Charlotte laughs with him, grateful beyond measure for his ability to release the tension in a room with nothing but a few simple words and the silent assurance that he loves her.

~~~ 

"Hannah, I never got your charge from Mr. Rowlins this afternoon."

The household is gathered in the living room, enjoying the lull in activity before the evening’s clients come from the playhouses and the balls.

Hannah looks at the ground and away from Charlotte.

"Hannah?" Charlotte repeats the girls name in question.

Sukey speaks instead. "She didn't charge him."

Charlotte is saved from response by Nancy appearing in the doorway behind her. 

"Child has no one told ya that if they don't pay ya you have no power?" Nancy asks. "You don't fuck for free. You've got some control as long you're under this roof. Your protection is her. And is each other." She says, pointing at Charlotte and then around the room. "Once you start fucking 'em for free you're too too sentimental. You've forgotten what we are."

Hannah looks ready to cry. 

"Come now girl, I gave their ma the same speech when we were girls and she'd get sentimental. You're not the first whore to get yer feelings involved. But if you don't charge a man Hannah, You've got to be sure he feels same way as you. Or else you're just getting used."

"Whores like us don't get to get loved." Hannah sniffs.

Charlotte recognizes the sentiment. She'd once told Daniel Marney nearly those exact words. Believed it herself to the very core of her being. Once. Not now. Not anymore. She's been loved twice.

Charlotte watches Nancy's face soften into the same expression she had worn when Charlotte had sat crumpled in to doorway to the Greek Street brothel.

"Of course you do." Nancy sits beside Hannah on the couch, putting a comforting arm around the You're human. And even the hardest of us can be soft." Nancy says, looking at Charlotte.

It's an apology, Charlotte realizes. Or perhaps the closest to one that she's going to get. 

"What are we talking of?"

"Whore's woes."

"Oh is that all? I could have sworn I heard someone talking about their hearts."

"You leave these girls be Will. You know you're the only man Mags never made pay. These girls just want a dream of what she had."

Her words chastise, but her eyes are smiling.  In that moment Charlotte is overcome with a sense of deep affection for her strange little family.  Bound together by equal parts joy and pain. 

"You are correct. And I'm sorry to interrupt your tête-à-tête, but we have customers."

And with that, the business of the brothel resumes.

That night, after the revelry around that evening's clientelle settles down, Charlotte wanders back into the kitchen, needing tea.  There had been a more lively crowd than she had anticipated. A party of men come direct from the theatre. Though stressful in the moment, the evenings whirlwind had made Charlotte realize that she was going to have to start keeping a better eye on the social calendars of the beau monde.

Nancy looks up at the sound of Charlotte's walking into the kitchen.  She's seated at the table holding little Kitty Lambert who seems to be fast asleep. Jacob sits a chair to her right, playing quietly.  Neither woman says anything, and Charlotte quickly sets herself about making tea. Instinctually she makes two. One for her and one for Nancy. 

Jacob, only momentarily distracted, by his sister's presence, goes back to playing with his wooden horses. 

"Go play in another room, Nancy instructs Jacob as Charlotte sets one of the cups in front of Nancy.

Jacob gathers his toys and leaves.  

Charlotte sits across from Nancy

"Who's running Golden Square Nancy?"

"Dunno.  Emily Lacy's out on her arse.  She's lost Charles. Soft-minded git."

"He put his Ma in Bedlam.  He may yet grow guts."

"You should drop by."

"Nance."

"I mean it. Stop in and see what they're about. Any reason you can think of to go?"

Charlotte thinks.  She had been back only once after the night they had convinced Charlie Quigley to sign his mother's soul to Bedlam. Charles had still been a bit in shock and had let her in without question an stood mutely by while she took whatever of her Golden Square wardrobe she had wanted.  But now?  Now that she has set herself securely against them in business? Now she did not know.

She shakes her head.

"Think girl. Anything you left? Anything they owe you?"

"I kept all my wages, Nance. And I've already taken a good many of my gowns. There's nothing I..." she pauses.  The one time Quigley had taken payment for her time. Isabella's earring. It likely still sat somewhere in Quigley's rooms.

"What are you thinking's of?"

Charlotte chooses her worlds carefully, she does not want to restart yesterday's argument. "Something Quigley took that ain't her's."

"So go and  get it." Nancy grins, leaning back in her chair.

Charlotte returns it and the world feels a little closer to righted.