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unknown, it burns

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Violet’s dreams are filled with fire .

She comes awake with a strangled scream, slamming herself upright and clawing at the air. It’s hot, too hot, her legs are pinned, and the room is dark dark dark and airless as a tomb. No matter how she tries, her lungs won’t work, won’t draw in air - panic drives an icy fist into her gut, tangles her fists in the sheets at her side as her chest heaves uselessly.

Mother , she thinks, mouths, would cry aloud if she could manage to say anything. But Mother is gone, and Violet is alone, and the world is filled with smoke and ash and shiny, shiny eyes.

The lamp on her side table clicks on, instantly banishing the shadows from her bedroom and her brain. A voice cuts through the terror, steady and gentle and dependable as the tide.

“Breathe, Violet,” says Olivia, leaning over her with a concerned, grave expression. Her hair is wild and her glasses are slightly askew, but her hands are steady where they grip Violet’s on the bed, tensing and relaxing over top of hers in an attempt to help her loosen her hold on the blankets.

Olivia gets one of Violet’s hands free and brings it to her own chest, letting her feel the even rise and fall of her breaths, the slightly-elevated pace of her heartbeat. “Just like this, Violet. You’re alright, sweet girl. Just breathe.”

S-sorry ,” Violet manages to rasp, but Olivia shakes her head, tightens her grip on her hand.

“There’s nothing to apologize for, sweetheart. I just need you to breathe with me, okay?” Olivia’s heart picks up speed under Violet’s palm, belying the calm expression on her face.

Violet closes her eyes, focuses on that heartbeat, tries to focus on breathing as her guardian continues to murmur encouragements.

Safe-safe , safe-safe , beats Olivia’s heart. The sheets are soft and warm beneath her, and rain pitter-patters faintly against the window. The room smells like cinnamon from the candle she’d burned earlier that evening, layered over the scent of oil and paste from one of the inventions on her work desk in the far corner of the room, the reason she’d lit the candle in the first place.

Her inventions - she turns her thoughts there, to the memory of metal and grease under her fingertips, to the whir and click of gears, to the bright burn of satisfaction in her chest whenever she steps back to watch them work.

Safe-safe . Safe-safe . Safe-safe .

Violet is not rowing through a lake full of leeches (in a hurricane) or falling down an elevator shaft (pushed by her guardian) or strapped to a hospital bed (to be decapitated). Olaf is dead and Esme is in prison and all of their enemies have been defeated. She is alive, and safe, and so are her siblings, sleeping peacefully in the bedrooms on either side of her with the Quagmires just beyond.

Air returns to her in a rush, filling her lungs and expanding her chest with a gasp that sounds rather dramatic, even to her own ears. Olivia’s heartbeat begins to level off almost immediately.

“That’s it,” her guardian says, relief thick in her voice as she reaches up to brush sweat-damp hair from her brow, “there you go. You’re alright, Violet. Just keep breathing, okay?”

“I’m sorry,” Violet says long moments later, as soon as she can manage to speak coherently. “I didn’t mean to wake anyone.”

“Violet Baudelaire, if you don’t stop apologizing for things you can’t control you’re going to turn me grey,” Olivia says on a sigh, leaning in to press a kiss to her forehead. The touch warms her down to her toes, relieves the ache in her chest and the burning behind her eyes. Too late, she realizes she’s crying, and reaches up with the hand that isn’t still cupped in both of Olivia’s own to wipe at her face.

A handkerchief appears - Violet has to blink a few times to understand in her daze that someone is offering it to her, and that that someone is Jacques, standing over her bed with the same concerned expression Olivia had worn earlier. She takes it gratefully, if not slightly bashfully - she’s fifteen, for heaven’s sake, even Sunny doesn’t carry on like this - and dries her eyes before handing it back. He trades it for the cup of cold water he’s got in his other hand.

“Thank you,” Violet says, sipping at it slowly. The burning in her throat fades, as does the trembling in her hands.

Safe-safe , beats her own heart, safe-safe .

“Alright now?” Jacques asks, watching her carefully. She nods, face burning. She can’t imagine how loudly she must have been thrashing in her sleep to wake him an entire floor away. It’s a wonder Klaus and Sunny hadn’t beaten him in here - although, she reflects, they do both tend to sleep on the heavy side, nowadays.

Lucky them.

Olivia squeezes her hand gently. “Would you like to talk about it?”

Violet can think of literally nothing she’d like to do less, except maybe face the man the nightmares feature in the flesh once more.

“No, thank you,” Violet says. “I know it was only a dream.”

“Yes, but your fear was real,” Olivia says quietly. “Talking can help, sometimes. I know it does for me.”

Violet wonders if she’s still reading those books on child trauma she’d picked up when they first moved into the manor, or indeed if she’d ever stopped.

“I’m fine,” Violet says, and it’s true. She’s happy, really happy , in a way she hasn’t been since her parents died. Nightmares when she sleeps are nothing compared to the nightmare that used to be her life.

Olivia gets that look on her face, that crease between her brows, the one that says she very badly wants to push the issue. But she won’t, Violet knows - Olivia never pushes, always gives her and her siblings and the Quagmires the space they need to deal with their problems, always a call away should they need her.

It had startled her, the first time Violet truly understood the extent of how much Olivia cares for them all. It still startles her, sometimes. Not even poor Uncle Monty, who had been so very kind to her and her siblings in the brief time she’d been allowed to know him, had looked at them with the open, steady devotion on his face that Olivia is wearing right now.

Olivia Caliban (well, Snicket, now) loves them, and Violet wonders what it says about her life that that frightens her, just a little bit. In Violet’s experience, people who love them, especially as much as Olivia does, don’t tend to survive very long.

Olivia shifts on the bed, drawing Violet from her maudlin thoughts. “If something…” Olivia frowns, bites her lip, glances back at the doorway, keeps going, “if something was bothering you, you know you can always come to me or Jacques about it, right?”

Violet understands what she isn’t saying, and who she isn’t saying it about, and instantly feels about a thousand times worse. “I do know that,” she says, “but I promise I’m alright.” It’s not really even a lie. Slight discomfort is not the same as being bothered .

The voice in her head that always sounds like Klaus disagrees, but even Klaus can't possibly know everything .

“If you’re sure,” Olivia says, but she looks conflicted. The expression mirrors the one on Jacques’ face - not for the first time, Violet wonders if they’re keeping something from her. Wonders if they would tell her if she asked.

“I am sure,” Violet says, and tries to smile. Jacques is still watching her though, and he reads people better than anyone she knows, so she doubts he’s fooled.

But, like Olivia, he doesn’t press. “Would you like to try to sleep again, Violet? Or would you rather us sit and talk with you for a while? You could tell us about the projects you’re working on,” he says with a nod in the direction of her desk, like he knows her inventions are the one thing guaranteed to settle her. He probably does know that, actually.

The second startling realization Violet had made about her guardians was that Jacques Snicket loves his wards every bit as much as Olivia does. It had been duty, she suspects, that had first made him seek them out, take them in, offer them his home - duty and loyalty to her parents, and that would have been more than enough, because he is kind and brave and well-read and would never ever strike her brother or lock her sister in a birdcage. But Violet knows that somewhere along the line, what began as duty had shifted to affection, which slowly but surely shifted to love.

“Thank you,” Violet says, willing him to hear how much his offer touches her, because she knows it’s very late and he has to drive the taxi in the morning, “but I think I’d like to try to go back to sleep, if I can.”

He nods. “Would you like us to stay with you until you do?”

Violet has a flash of memory, then, of her parents doing the same thing for her when she was much younger and frightened, and suddenly wants it so desperately she aches . The idea of lying here alone, trying to convince herself the shadows aren’t reaching out to grab her, is all at once unbearable. She doesn’t know how to agree, though, because she’s so much older now than she was when she once cried for her mother in the dark, and has dealt with so much worse than a nightmare on her own without making half as much of a fuss.

Olivia must see something of her internal war on her face, because she only nods with a gentle smile before reaching over to click off the lamp, dousing the room in darkness once more.

“You don’t have to,” Violet blurts, desperate not to be more of an inconvenience than she already has been, but Olivia only tuts at her.

“Just try to sleep, Violet,” she says, planting another kiss on her forehead. “We’ll stay until you drift off.”

Violet doesn’t know how to thank them for this kindness, can only nod silently as she eases herself back under the blankets. Through the hall light spilling in from her open bedroom door, she can see Jacques take a seat in the armchair by her bed, apparently perfectly content to be keeping watch over her instead of sleeping. Olivia fusses for an instant longer, tucking the blankets around her before shifting over to rest at her side, her back against the headboard.

For a moment it’s awkward, perhaps because deep down, it’s her parents she really wants. Violet knows a brief moment of regret for not just sending her guardians back to bed. But Olivia is warm beside her, and so is the weight of Jacques’ protective gaze on them both, and exhaustion soon wins out. Even if they aren’t her biological parents, Violet knows that real-life monsters have flinched from Jacques and Olivia the way imaginary monsters once flinched from Beatrice and Bertrand.

Safe-safe , beats Violet’s heart. Safe-safe .

The knowledge wraps her in warmth and drags her down, down, down. Oblivion follows swiftly, and she knows nothing more until she’s brought to semi-awareness an indeterminable amount of time later by the stirring of her guardians as they make to return to their own room, apparently assured she will have no more troubled dreams tonight.

There’s tug on the blankets, a stroke of fingertips against her cheekbone, the scent of a library, tea and old books. The warm, calloused press of a broad palm against her brow follows after, a touch so paternally affectionate she knows that if she opens her eyes, she’ll see her father standing there, smiling down at her. Something about that is wrong, doesn’t fit, but she can’t think why when she’s so very warm and safe and drowsy, floating somewhere between awake and asleep.

A shadow flickers behind her closed eyelids. “Is she alright?”

Violet goes cold, full consciousness returning in a rush so sharp it makes her heart kick in her chest. She fights to keep from jerking, to keep her breathing even, to keep from giving any sign that her rest has been disturbed.

Her guardians’ footsteps slip away from the bed and towards the door. “Don’t wake her, Lemony,” Jacques murmurs. “She’s fine.”

“Thank you for coming to get us,” Olivia says. “She was terribly frightened.”

“It certainly sounded like it,” comes the voice of Jacques’ younger brother, his dry baritone touched with concern. She knows his eyes are on her without having to open her own - she doesn’t dare move a muscle.

Mercifully, she doesn’t have to keep the act up for very long; the rest of the conversation is lost to her as someone pulls her bedroom door gently shut.

Her eyes fly open almost at once, exhaustion forgotten. Violet lays awake, staring at the canopy over her bed, for long after their voices and footsteps have disappeared down the hall. Her bedside clock tick-tick-ticks away the seconds until daylight.

Here’s the thing: Lemony Snicket has been living in the manor for just under a month now and it’s… fine. It is. She’s fine with it. More than fine, really, given how happy his decision to move in had made Jacques. And it’s not as though he’s a stranger; Lemony has been a semi-frequent face around the manor ever since Jacques and Olivia’s wedding six months ago.

It’s just that while he isn’t quite the strangest person Violet has ever met - a title probably held by Aunt Josephine or Vice Principal Nero - he’s very, very close.

Quiet, wry, and unfailingly polite, almost rigidly so, Lemony spends most of his time shut up in his room, where the clickity-ding of his typewriter can be heard at any given time during the day or night. He comes and goes like a shadow, keeps bizarre hours, and sends communiques to unknown recipients almost exclusively via carrier bat.

He’s also, unless she’d missed her guess, the thing Olivia had been subtly attempting to make sure wasn’t bothering her.

And he isn’t , not really. He’s just… he watches her when he thinks she’s not looking, that’s all. Oh, not in a scary way, and not anything at all like the way Olaf had once watched her, the way that made her stomach bottom out with fear and her skin crawl. No, Lemony watches her like he’s not quite sure she’s real, or like he expects her to lunge at him, or sometimes both at once. He doesn’t, to her knowledge, look at her siblings or the Quagmires that way, and that’s almost more bewildering than the look itself.

There are other things, too - she’d caught him weeping to himself in the backyard once, hunched over on a bench with his forearms on his knees, trembling like he might collapse at any moment. It had struck her heart strangely, and she’d run back inside before he could catch her watching him. Olivia had mentioned, in the same conversation she and Jacques had with them all about whether or not it would be alright for Lemony to move into the manor for a while, that Lemony was grieving the loss of someone very dear to him, and that he might continue to do so for some time. The other children, more intimately acquainted with grief than perhaps anyone else their age, had nodded along in understanding, and even though Violet had done the same, she was - and still is - desperately curious about who, in fact, could make a man like him mourn so terribly.

A thought surfaces in the dark: his name, and what her mother had once told her about her own.

“We named you Violet because it’s an old family name,” Mother had said, curled up next to her in their library with an open book of the Baudelaire family tree on her lap, gesturing to a portrait of an austere-looking woman several generations back. “But if you’d been a boy, we would have named you Lemony.”

That name hadn’t been anywhere on the tree, and six-year-old Violet had wrinkled her nose, believing her mother to be joking. “That’s a silly name.”

Her mother had laughed, but there was something sad about it, about the look in her eyes when she turned them back on Violet. “I suppose it is,” she’d said, and that had been the end of it.

There’s a suspicion there, but it’s complicated and just a little bit scary, and Violet clamps down on the memory viciously, attempting to turn her thoughts elsewhere. She knows she won’t fall asleep again, no matter how physically and emotionally exhausted she is, but she doesn’t want to just lie here idly, either.

She could always fiddle with the toaster again, she supposes - she’s done it so often she could probably take it apart and reassemble it blindfolded by now. The appliance now toasts bread to even perfection in ten seconds flat, although she thinks she can get it to work as quickly as six.

Violet sits up, rubbing at her eyes, and reaches for the hair ribbon on her side table. Clarity returns like a light switching on the moment her hair goes up, her mental fog of sleep and fear and bewilderment lifting at once.

What had Lemony been doing outside her bedroom door just now, anyway? And how had he heard her nightmare when his room is on the third floor, when Olivia and Jacques, a room away, apparently hadn’t heard a thing?

Had he been lurking on the second floor? For what reason? A strange chill goes up her spine, an old suspicion tugging at the back of her brain. Her siblings are on this floor, and the Quagmires on the other side - what if he’s not so noble as Jacques claims?

He’d been missing for years before he turned up at the manor six months ago, or so Olivia had said; he hadn’t been in contact with anyone on the firefighting side of VFD in ages. What if that was because he isn’t on their side at all? The fire-starters have to have more people on their side of the schism than just Olaf, so Lemony could conceivably be working for them. What if this, his moving into the manor, reconnecting with his siblings, is all just a ruse to snatch their fortunes and make another grab for the sugar bowl? The timing would fit - his arrival lines up with Olaf’s death and Esme’s imprisonment.

Jacques trusts him, she knows, otherwise he would never have let him stay here, and Kit must too, but what if they’re blinded by the fact that he’s family? Certainly Violet would never be able to suspect Klaus or Sunny of treachery. But if the Denouement brothers have been divided by their ideals, who’s to say the same thing hadn’t happened to the Snickets?

Of course, if he had been lurking for nefarious reasons tonight, alerting Jacques and Olivia to her nightmare was a surefire way to oust himself… but perhaps he was only covering his tracks, trying to win himself the benefit of the doubt before making his move.

He might seem trustworthy upon first glance, but then, so had Esme - however briefly - before she’d pushed Violet and her siblings down an elevator shaft and abducted her friends.

The longer she thinks on this, on the odd hours he keeps and the way he looks at her and the events of this evening, the more certain she is that something about Lemony Snicket doesn’t fit. He’s hiding something, something that could potentially endanger her family and the house and the peace that they’ve found here.

Determination wells up through her, settling her spirit into an icy kind of clarity.

Well, Violet thinks as she leans over to her side table, opening the drawer to reveal her parents’ battered spyglass, we’ll just see about that.

In all past cases when subterfuge became necessary for their continued survival, Klaus and Sunny were, for obvious reasons, always the first people Violet consulted on how to move forward. They never kept one another in the dark, not about anything, because for so long they were all the others had, and it made no sense to go it alone.

Now, however, everything is different, and Violet has no intention whatsoever of involving her brother and sister in her plans to oust Lemony Snicket. She has no wish to worry them, not when they’re both so happy, not when they sleep so soundly at night, believing they’re safe. She’ll simply have to handle it on her own, which is fine - she’s done more difficult things with much higher stakes. Searching a man’s room for evidence of treachery while he’s out of the house should be a piece of cake.

That, however, appears to be the single, shining flaw in her plan: Lemony’s hours are so strange that there’s no way to plan in advance for when he’s going to be out, or know how long he’ll be away. Sometimes he leaves the manor only to return in minutes, and once he disappeared for almost a week with no warning or indication he’d planned to return at all. His comings and goings are simply too inconsistent to track.

Violet considers herself something of an expert in illicit searches by now, having spent the last year of her life searching for murder weapons and the Quagmires and VFD and always, always answers. She knows from personal experience what a bad idea it is to conduct a search if you can’t account for the whereabouts of the person whose things you’re searching at all times, which is why she doesn’t dare make any kind of move without a better plan in place.

She spends a few days puzzling over this problem, working at it the way she would a stuck gear or a rusty hinge, trying to think of a solution that would get Lemony out of her way long enough to figure out what he’s hiding without also drawing suspicion to herself.

As it turns out, the issue is resolved for her when one evening at dinner, Jacques invites Lemony to ride in the taxi with him the following day, stating the need for a partner on a day trip collecting intel for Jacquelyn.

“Olivia is your partner,” Lemony had pointed out. When he’d turned to look at the woman in question, she’d cut a startled glance at Jacques before giving a single, delicate cough.

“I… think I’m coming down with a cold,” she’d said, eyes wide. Violet had nearly wanted to laugh, despite herself - Olivia is normally a better actress than that. It seems a cold is what she always defaults to when she’s put on the spot, if this and the Quagmires’ birthday is any indication.

Lemony had plainly not believed her, but had eventually conceded anyway to what was clearly a transparent attempt at getting him to spend time with his brother.

It’s the perfect opportunity, and it takes everything she has not to smile too widely for the rest of the night. A scheduled day trip will give her plenty of time to look through his things and be out of his room with him none the wiser. Now the only remaining issue is that they’re going to be out of the house while she’s supposed to be at school .

This, however, has a much easier solution, and one that Olivia had practically handed her on a silver platter.

It’s a wicked thing to do, and Violet feels terribly guilty before she even attempts it, but she’s done far more morally-dubious things for the greater good before - poor Hal springs immediately to mind - and she sees no reason to stop now, especially when she stands to lose so much.

The next morning, Violet stays in bed far past the time she’d normally be up to get ready for school, listening to the sound of the house bustling around her, and only making a vague noise of acknowledgement at Klaus when he knocks on her door to remind her to wake up. She waits until she’s heard Jacques and Lemony leave before springing from the bed and tiptoeing across the hall to the bathroom she shares with Sunny. A rag soaked in near-scalding water gives her face a warm, fevered flush, and she dabs it on her throat and hairline to give the appearance of sweat. The rest is acting, mostly - she practices arranging her features into an expression of longsuffering discomfort in the mirror.

By the time Olivia comes up to check on why she isn’t downstairs with the other children, about to walk out the door to catch the trolley to take them into the city, Violet is already tucked back into bed, trying to look as pitiful as possible. Her guardian takes one look at her and blinks in shock, before quickly crossing the room to lay a hand to her forehead.

“You’re burning up, poor thing,” Olivia tuts, worry creasing her brow. “You must be miserable.”

“I’m fine,” Violet tries to rasp, affecting a sore throat. “I just wanted to lie down a few extra minutes before I went to school.”

Olivia frowns. “You’re not going anywhere in this condition. I’ll call the school, and let them know you won’t be in today and maybe not tomorrow, either.”

There’s that guilt again, sinking like a stone in her stomach - that had been almost too easy. While Olivia’s immediate trust that she wouldn’t lie to get out of school is something she’d banked on, it doesn’t actually make her feel any better about herself or the situation in general.

In truth, normally she wouldn’t even consider lying about this. Returning to the same school she and Klaus had been forced to abandon after the fire had been, by far, one of the more bizarre things that happened in the last several months - their old teachers and classmates and friends they’d lost contact with almost seem like ghosts to Violet now, or automatons, or any other sort of thing that isn’t quite… real. But she really does like school, especially math and science, and she likes the routine of taking the trolley with Klaus and the Quagmires into the city every morning. She likes knowing that it’s safe to step outside the manor, and likes knowing that Olaf isn’t going to show up at the school dressed as a janitor or a lunch lady or stars, even a student and try to abduct them all. But the thing she likes most of all is the normalcy of it, the return to something of what they’d had before the world had ended, no matter how strange or uncomfortable it can occasionally be.

So no, Violet is not normally given to playing hooky, and even if she was, she wouldn’t feel the need to lie about it - if she’d simply asked , Olivia no doubt would have let her stay home. Her strong opinions that children should have a solid, steady education are matched only by her strong opinions that, after everything they’ve been through, the children in her care should never be forced to do anything they don’t want to do.

But faking sick is integral to Violet’s plan - she needs to be left alone in order to search Lemony’s room, and her “illness” will provide some deniability. It does not, however, make lying to Olivia any easier.

She tries to take some comfort in the fact that she’s behaving like a perfect Volunteer, and manages a weak smile.

“Will you tell Klaus not to worry?”

The concerned frown on Olivia’s face softens into something gently affectionate. “Of course, sweetheart,” she says. “I’ll be back in a minute with some tea.”

She sweeps out the door, and Violet listens as her footsteps track up the hall and down the stairs to the first floor. After a few moments, the front door opens and closes, presumably to let Klaus and the Quagmires out. Sunny will sleep for a while yet, Violet knows, and the dogs spend most of their days lazing about in whatever part of the house Olivia is in until the rest of the family comes home, so for right now the manor is quiet, void of its usual bustle of voices and bodies. If she listens very hard, she can hear the faint, familiar sounds of Olivia making what is likely the second or third kettle of tea just this morning in the kitchen. It’s difficult to wait, to sit here and breathe and not fidget when she knows Lemony’s room is lying completely unguarded and likely full of secrets a floor above her.

But Violet is by nature a patient person, and so she can wait for Olivia to finish her fussing. It’s the least she can do after misleading her so terribly.

Long moments later, she can hear Olivia making her way back up the stairs. When her guardian steps back into the bedroom with a tea tray in her hands, Violet blinks heavily as though she’d just been woken from a light doze.

Olivia sets the tray down on her side table and pours her a cup, and perches on the edge of her bed while she waits for Violet to sit up to take it from her. Violet does, the scent of honey and lemon wafting up to curl around her face. The sickness blend, then - the mixture for sore throats and clogged sinuses and fever chills. Her mother used to make something similar for her and her siblings, what feels like a lifetime ago.

There’s a strange burning behind her eyes, and she scrubs at them until it goes away.

“I’ll leave the kettle,” Olivia says, pressing the backs of her fingers to Violet’s cheeks, her brow bone. The warmth she no doubt feels is probably less to do with the washcloth now and more to do with the peculiar pain in Violet’s chest, the lead-heavy guilt that’s making her face flame and her stomach churn. She sips at the tea again to settle it.

“Thank you, Olivia,” Violet says, meaning it for more than just the tea. The look Olivia gives her makes her wonder whether she knows that.

“I’ll be back in a few hours to check on you, and see if you feel up to eating anything.” Olivia continues. “If you need me, just call - I plan to be in the library for most of the day, sorting through Quigley’s new inventory. I swear, between that boy and your brother it’s a wonder there’s any room left on the shelves at all.”

Stars, Violet thinks, trying not to flinch at the statement, I forgot about that. The library is directly next to Lemony’s room, something she forgot to account for in her plan. Olivia will be a wall away from her the entire time she’s conducting her search.

Violet swallows down her unease. It’s too late to alter the plan now - she’ll just have to make it work.

Olivia takes the teacup back and waits for her to lie back down before giving her a small, sympathetic smile. “Try to rest, Violet. I’ll be back in a while, okay?”

Violet only nods, watching her leave through heavy eyes. She waits for what seems like a small eternity until Olivia’s footsteps retreat out of her hearing range.

And then she springs from the bed and all but lunges for her closet. She dresses in record time, settling on a pair of dark blue overalls over a simple white blouse, and digs in the drawer of her work desk for her lockpicks. Jacques had gotten her a set after she’d expressed interest in them, since lockpicking is a skill that would have been useful no fewer than a half-dozen times at least during their time on the run from Olaf, and he’d spent hours teaching her, seeming delighted at how quickly she’d picked up the skill.

She remembers how his praise of her had felt, even now, how it had lit up in her chest like a match striking, warming her from the inside out. Violet knows her own skill with mechanics, and has never doubted her abilities in that area, but for someone as generally skilled and intelligent as Jacques Snicket to acknowledge it too had been… it had just been really nice, that’s all.

So Violet tucks the kit in her pocket and tries, very hard, not to feel like she’s betraying him by doing this. Jacques could be seeing through rose-colored glasses, a phrase which her mother had once told her meant “seeing things how one wants to see them” but in this case means “unable to fathom his brother potentially being a treacherous villain who probably enjoys starting fires”.

She grabs her tool belt too, not because she thinks she’ll need it but more because she feels several times more confident just having it nearby, and takes care that none of the heavier tools are positioned side-by-side so they won’t clink together while she carries out her mission.

Her parents’ spyglass goes into her pocket for luck, and a maroon ribbon pulls her hair away from her face, and it’s only then that she feels ready to go on.  

Carefully, she creeps across the room to the door, listening for any sounds in the hallway. There’s nothing. She pokes her head out, checking up and down the hall, before stepping into the corridor. The staircase at her back leads directly to the third floor, but she’d have to pass the library from that end to get to Lemony’s room, and since she doesn’t know if Olivia is already inside, doesn’t want to chance it.

Instead, she makes for the Quagmire’s hallway, aiming for their staircase to the third floor - only to bite back a very bad word she learned from Jacques when she almost trips over Charybdis, who is lying in her favorite spot at the entrance to the common room.

The dog chuffs at her and rolls over for pats, wagging her tail excitedly. Violet obliges her for only a moment before sending her off to find Olivia with a murmured command. She doesn’t want the dog following her to Lemony’s room and potentially giving anything away.

She quickly makes her way through the common room and down the Quagmire’s hallway and to their stairwell, grateful for the afternoons they’d all spent memorizing the creaky spots on the steps for fun. Quigley is the best at avoiding them, but Violet’s not bad at it herself, and soundlessly scales the steps in record time.

The corridors on the third floor are carpeted, so she doesn’t have to be as careful - she passes Jacques and Olivia’s sprawling master suite and the empty guest bedroom and the rec room before she finally comes to a stop in front of Lemony’s door. Down the hall, the library door is open, but the gramophone is quiet and she can’t hear Olivia murmuring absently to herself as she shelves new inventory, which means she isn’t inside yet.

Swallowing, Violet turns her attention to the door in front of her. There are answers behind it, she knows - all she has to do is open it.

For Klaus and Sunny , she thinks, kneeling down, for the Quagmires and Jacques and Olivia and VFD.

This in mind, she withdraws her lockpicks and inserts them into the keyhole beneath the doorknob - only to blink in surprise when she realizes the tumblers are out of place.

He left it unlocked? Violet thinks, stunned. He’s certainly confident in Jacques’ trust in him, then, to hide his secrets behind a door that anyone could just walk through - the idea makes something angry flare to life inside of her.

How dare he take advantage of his own brother’s trust like this. This thought ringing like a battle cry in her ears, she gets to her feet, closes a fist around the doorknob, and flings the door open without ceremony. She has to catch it an instant later to keep it from banging against the wall, of course, but the swift, decisive action had been cathartic in the moment.

More determined than ever, now, Violet steps across the threshold and shuts the door behind her silently before turning back to survey the room around her.

At first glance, it’s all markedly underwhelming - the four-poster bed at the back of the far wall, set between a pair of windows that stretch from floor to ceiling, is made immaculately, and she can see nothing on either nightstand except the lamps and what looks from here to be a thin layer of undisturbed dust. She wonders, given the state of the bed, if he even sleeps in it.

There are books piled high next to one of the armchairs by the fireplace set into the wall at her left, ranging from every subject and size. From here, she thinks she can make out the cover of The History of Lucky Smells Lumbermill , of all things, as well as a very worn, heavily-bookmarked Incomplete History of Secret Organizations . And is that… the rulebook from the Village of Fowl Devotees? She makes a mental note to flip through them all, if she has time.

But where to start?

Her gaze lands on the work space in the back corner of the room. She knows it’s a work space only because the layout of this room is so similar to her own - the area here is closed off by a pair of cream-white curtains, concealing the desk, bay windows, and built-in bookshelves she knows lie beyond it. He must have left one of his windows open, because the curtains shift slightly in the breeze, and she can hear the gentle rustling of papers somewhere behind them.

For some reason, the sight makes her heart shift to her throat. She’d bet her family’s fortune that she’ll find the answers she’s looking for, the answers to questions she doesn’t even fully understand yet, just on the other side.

The courage that had driven her up here in the first place, that had lead her to lie to her guardian and sneak into the room of a man she barely knows and doesn’t trust, fails her in an instant.

What if he’s involved in something horrible?

Stars, what if he isn’t , and this whole thing has been a massive overreaction?

Swallowing, she turns away, deciding on a dime - and without thinking about it too much - to begin her search in the most obvious spots first and work her way around. She starts by looking under the bed, frowning when she finds only dust bunnies and a discarded sock.

Alright, so possibly that’s a little too obvious. She keeps going.

The armoire across the room contains only suits in various shades of grey, and in various states of wear, as well as carefully-folded ties in deep blues and blacks. She’d already known that Lemony is a man given to fading into the background, and his wardrobe only confirms it. There aren’t any interesting secret compartments though, and no figurative or literal skeletons jump out at her, so she moves on.

A quick search of his dresser reveals nothing of interest, and while his closet is full of odd and assorted items, rather than clothes - cracked picture frames containing blurry photos of unknown people, a set of costume dragonfly wings, an empty pickle jar, a faded menu from a place called Black Cat Coffee, three rusted swords, and several rolls of film with bizarre titles, one of which, curiously, is Hypnotists in the Forest - there’s nothing important here, either. The only thing her search has accomplished so far is confirm her belief that Lemony is strange .

Frowning, she sits back on her heels, her gaze slipping back to the work space on the far side of the room. A shiver runs up her spine, and she scowls.

This is ridiculous , she thinks, irritated with herself for hesitating for so long. I came up here to find answers, didn’t I?

A little fear had never stopped her before, so why is she faltering now? Slowly, she gets to her feet and makes her way across the room.

Get scared later , she thinks, and with a bracing inhale, throws the curtains back.  

For a long moment, she doesn’t understand what she’s seeing. Papers and curios are scattered seemingly haphazardly over every available surface: the desk, the bookshelves, the floor, the window seat. It’s all arranged carefully around the typewriter on the desk, as though it had been the point from which this chaos had exploded. The walls are lined with paper too: pictures with threads of string connecting them, handwritten notes and newspaper clippings and pages torn from books. Scattered throughout are various strange odds and ends - feathers, ribbons, thumbtacks, magnets, a snakeskin, part of a wig, and a hundred other objects she can’t make out from here, and all of it annotated with a spiky scrawl that must be Lemony’s own handwriting.

And at the center of it all are pictures of herself and Klaus and Sunny, pictures of each of their past guardians, pictures of the places they’d lived, and everywhere, everywhere, Olaf .

The sight of his face even after so long, even just on paper, makes her breath catch in her chest, makes her fingers ball into fists, makes the blood rush to her legs with the instinctive urge to flee-flee-flee.

She staggers back and back and back until she hits one of the bedposts, slams her eyes closed and tries desperately to remember how to breathe.

He’s dead , she reminds herself, trying to blink away the afterimage of him leering over her in that hospital bed, of him striking her brother, of him shoving Aunt Josephine over the side of his boat. He can’t hurt me or Klaus or Sunny ever, ever again.

It takes her long moments to reopen her eyes, and longer still to fight the panic down, and longer still than that to settle her heartbeat in her chest.

Safe-safe. Safe-safe. Safe-safe.

“Ridiculous,” she murmurs several minutes later, when she has regained a little more control. “Some Volunteer.”

She’s only a little unsteady on her feet when she moves back into the work space, trying to make sense of what all this is. Research, clearly, but why? And for what? Who would be so invested in the unfortunate events of the lives of the Baudelaire orphans?

And it is just her family he appears to be investigating - the only mentions of the Quagmires, of anyone , she sees now, appear to be addressed in connection with her own family’s lives and no further. The weight in her chest sinks and sinks until it settles in her stomach, heavy and hard like a stone.

But who is he reporting to? she thinks, a trifle desperately. A quick rummage through the papers on the desk reveals no answers to this question, only a handful of increasingly bewildering directions to someone only referred to as the Kind Editor.

Stars , Violet thinks, biting her lip. She was supposed to get answers , not more questions. Things are supposed to be easy now, she’s not supposed to be scared and suspicious and frustrated anymore, not when they’re all supposed to be safe .

The only thing she can think to do from here is go get Olivia - Olivia who always figures out the right thing to do, Olivia who will help her work this out, and even if she might be a little upset at first for the lying and the sneaking around, it will be worth it to just get this horrible fear out in the open, to cut off whatever Lemony is trying to do at the knees.

This plan in place, she turns to leave - but then her eyes catch on the suitcase under the desk, tucked almost completely out of sight.

It’s probably empty, Violet thinks, even as she turns back, kneels down, drags it closer. It’s not heavy, but she can hear something shift inside. Like the door, it isn’t locked; it’s just an ordinary suitcase in a plain, faded brown, fastened both with clasps and leather buckles. She undoes both with her heart in her mouth before gingerly flipping the lid.

The only thing inside is a book of some kind, but not bound in the traditional sense - the two-hundred-or-so pages are held together by a faded red ribbon, and nothing else. The edges are wrinkled and tattered with age, yellowing just slightly in the creases and curling at the corners, and there are curious splotches here and there, staining the paper and smudging the ink - tear stains, she notes with surprise.

But the thing about it, the thing that nearly stops her heart, is that it’s handwritten, and the flowing, dramatic scrawl belongs to her mother . She’d recognize it even in the dark.

My Dearest Darling, it begins, the spaces between the words looped with enormous, curling hearts that flow so naturally with her script they appear to have been drawn almost absently, as though the words themselves weren’t intimate enough, couldn’t contain the depth of the emotion her mother had been trying to convey.

And they are intimate, Violet realizes as she skims down the page, only comprehending about every other word in her shock - but what little she does pick up paints a vivid, completely undeniable picture.

Mother was in love with Lemony Snicket.

The thought drives the breath from her lungs. A series of memories spring to mind, then: Lemony weeping in the garden, the way Olivia couldn’t meet their eyes when she carefully talked around the subject of who he was mourning, the way her mother had looked the one and only time Violet had ever heard her say his name.

The way he’d looked at her , the very first time she’d met him behind the greenhouse, the way the sight of her had seemed to cause him physical pain.

Stars , Violet thinks, and nothing else. Stars .

Violet has always known, has always been told, how very much she looks like her mother, but it’s never seemed more poignant than it does now.

That’s why he watches me , she thinks, instantly feeling more foolish than she ever has in her life. Because I look like someone he loved.

But… when had he loved her? And why had they separated? Her mother had clearly adored Lemony, a thought which makes her mildly uncomfortable, so why hadn’t it lasted? Was it something to do with Violet’s father? And where does he fit into all of this? Her mother had talked about her father with this same language, or similar, more than once - her parents had used to make a game of making their children gag at the breakfast table over their exaggerated but sincere affection for one other.

Violet frowns, shaking her head - the sheer number of questions flying at her is starting to give her a headache. Suspicion returns the second she looks back up at the papers lining the walls - her mother’s love doesn’t explain the research, or who he’s writing to, or to what end. That is still very much the most important question on the table; the… letter? Book? in her hands will have to be set on the backburner until it gets answered.

She shifts, about to rise, when something slips between the papers in her hands to land on her lap.

Upon first glance, it appears to be a simple square of white paper, with the words Violet loves your cat! written at the top in her mother’s handwriting. Frowning, she flips it over, only to blink in shock when she sees her own baby picture staring back at her.

In it, she’s wearing a simple white dress with a yellow sweater that was later passed down to Sunny, and holding a stuffed black cat she remembers very well. It had been a raggedy old thing, even back then, but Violet had loved it more than any other toy, even the mechanical ones she was more prone to dissecting than actually playing with. She’d named it Hedy, after one of her favorite female inventors, and had slept with it every night for years.

She’d taken to keeping it in a place of prominence on her dresser as she grew older, unable to pass it along to Klaus or Sunny, wanting to retain that piece of her childhood for as long as she could.

It had burned, of course, along with everything else she’d ever owned or loved, and she’s stunned to realize how much she misses it, of all things. It takes her long moments to blink away the sting of tears from her eyes.

She tries to focus. Lemony had given her the cat? And the note says “ your cat”... had he given her his own childhood toy? Why on earth would he have done a thing like that?

She tries to order the facts she’s discovered so far. One: Lemony and her mother had, at one point, been very deeply in love. Two: something had made them split up. Three: Lemony had given her a toy that had probably been very precious to him, since based on what Jacques says, the Snickets hadn’t retained much more from their childhoods than she herself had.

It all adds up to… nothing. At least, nothing she can see. She needs more data before she can come up with a coherent hypothesis.

Violet looks down at the letter, then at the door, then the letter again.

I came up here for answers , she reminds herself. This could be the only way to get them.

She swallows, and starts to read.

It’s not an easy task, working her way through the pages in her hands. For one thing, the letter is dripping, running over with the kind of soul-deep, passionate love Violet has only read about in stories almost too dramatic to be taken seriously, which is unsettling, because she knows her parents had loved each other too. But this, this thing that had once connected Lemony Snicket and her mother… this is something else. Not better, maybe, but definitely just… more.

For another thing, in-between the declarations of love and the laments about why they can’t marry - something she has yet to actually parse out a clear answer for twenty-two pages in - there are entire paragraphs so bulky and out of place they can only be in code, and she hasn’t spent near the amount of time in the cryptography section of The Incomplete History of Secret Organizations as Klaus has. The only cipher she can clearly identify and understand here is Sebald Code, and she only recognizes that much because she and Isadora have spent several afternoons trying to figure out how to work it into poetry for fun.

It’s arguably the simplest of the VFD codes - all a person has to do is look for the mention of the ringing of a bell, and then note the first word after that, and then count off ten more words until they reach the eleventh, which is the next word in the code. This pattern continues until the word “ring” is mentioned again, signaling the end of the secret message.

She tries to decipher as she goes, which makes the entire task take longer, but she can’t quite bring herself to stop. She knows she ought to make her way back to her room before Olivia realizes she’s missing, but this, what’s here in her hands, it’s a piece of her mother, something she’d once touched and labored over with her own hands. The handwriting, the ink, the papers, the words, even the ribbon - they all came from her mother. If she closes her eyes and breathes deeply, she thinks she can even catch a strain of her perfume, still lingering after all this time.

It makes her want to cry again, but the feeling is familiar by now and so is swallowing it down.

She presses on. The codes are mostly warnings: beware of O, we are being watched, can we trust G, the eagles are circling. Threats long since dealt with or expired or carried out.

But nowhere, either in or out of code, does her mother ever give a clear answer as to why she is ending her tension-filled relationship with Lemony Snicket - nothing is explicitly stated except the same line, over and over again: we can’t, we can’t, we can’t .

I want to, but we can’t.

I promised, but we can’t.

I love you, but we can’t.

Violet has no idea how long she spends pouring over her mother’s words, ignoring the passage of time and the shift of the sun in the windows or the hunger in her stomach or the ache in her body from sitting in the same position for so long, desperate as she is for answers, answers, answers.

On the one-hundred-and-eighty-sixth page, she encounters the seventeenth instance of Sebald Code so far, and rifles through what few blank papers she’s been able to liberate from Lemony’s desk to make notes on. She’s already filled them all up with translations - she could kick herself for not bringing her commonplace book along with her, which she mostly uses these days for notes on her experiments. Frowning, she picks up the fountain pen and decides to just write on her forearm instead.

But this code is different from all the other codes, because the first word in the line is her own name.

She blinks, double checks, goes over her other notes to make sure she’s been doing it right this whole time, triple checks. But no, she’s right - Violet is the first word in the code. Her hand trembles strangely when she goes to write it down on her arm, starting at the top of her wrist in case it’s a long message. She sort of hopes it isn’t, considering.

Violet .

She counts off ten words and stops at the eleventh, as usual.

Is .

Another ten words.

Your .

Violet freezes, her breath caught in her chest, her blood chilling, the pen poised over the skin of her wrist.

It comes to her then that she doesn’t have to keep going. She can leave, right now. She can stuff the pages of this letter back in that suitcase and flee the room and pretend she never saw it, and no one will ever be the wiser. She doesn’t have to do this. She doesn’t have to finish the code.

She can just… stop.

We would have named you Lemony , Mother had said. But why would she have wanted to name her child after an ex-romantic partner when she was married to another man, and why would she not have named Klaus that when he was born, unless -

Violet counts off ten more words. Lets out a sound somewhere between a gasp and a sob. Counts them off again. Restarts at the beginning of the paragraph, counts again. Four times. Six. Ten.

The last word does not change. The code remains exactly the same no matter how many times she counts, no matter which way she looks at it, no matter how much she wants it very much to not say what it says.

Violet is your -

“Shouldn’t you be in school?”

Moving with a speed only someone accustomed to being ambushed can possess, Violet leaps to her feet and whips around in the same movement, heart both in her throat and in her stomach at once, braced back against the desk.

Lemony Snicket stands in the doorway, watching her with an expression that Violet couldn’t name if she had a hundred years to work it out. It’s not sadness, or anger, or confusion, or pain. It’s all of them at once and none of them at all, and stars, he’s going to kill her or she’s going to be sick or the world is going to end.

He was supposed to be gone all day. It’s the only coherent thought that makes it through the sheer, pulsing panic in her skull. It’s followed swiftly by: Why did he come back early? And again: He’s going to kill me.

She tries to say something, to make an excuse, to demand an explanation, maybe just to open her mouth and scream , but nothing happens. The room tilts oddly, and her arms have gone numb to the elbows. She’s still holding the letter.

Lemony’s eyes are briefly fixated on it, like he’d very much like to snatch it away from her, but then his gaze shifts to her face and his eyes go wide, like he’s startled by whatever he sees there. He blinks several times, opening and closing his mouth like a fish, before settling into something like resignation. His shoulders drop from their previous tense position, and he seems to fold in on himself, no easy feat for a man as tall as he is.

Then, very slowly, he raises his hands and spreads them out by his sides, keeping them clearly in her line of sight. And then he carefully and deliberately moves away from the door and keeps moving until he’s past the fireplace, far away from her and well clear of the only exit in the room.

It takes her long, stupid seconds to realize he’s giving her space to flee.

Trap-trap, trap-trap, trap-trap. The rhythm of her heartbeat changes, alters to something so hard and quick it’s almost painful. He’s a Snicket, he’s clever, he’s going to lunge for her the second she bolts, he’s going to kill her, stars , he’s her -

“It’s alright, Violet,” he says, very softly. The expression on his face is so incredibly sad she thinks he might start weeping on the spot.

It’s too much to bear, all at once. She takes her chances and sprints for the door, moving faster than she ever has in her life. She’s out of the room and down the hall in what feels like milliseconds, not even sure where she’s running to besides away, away, away. Lemony makes no move to chase her, and she doesn’t hear him following - she doesn’t stop to wonder why.

She runs directly into Jacques as he’s coming out of the library, colliding with him so hard it almost knocks her to the ground. Her mother’s letter goes flying from her hands in a dramatic rustle of paper.

Jacques catches her by the shoulders in an instant, steadies her seemingly on reflex. “Violet, what on earth - ?”

He takes a second to look at her, then, and his eyes go grave with concern as he reaches up to feel her forehead. “You’re white as a ghost,” he says. “What are you doing out of bed? Olivia said you were ill.”

Violet jerks away from his touch, finding her voice in a hot rush of anger. “Did you know?” It comes out in some kind of strangled half-yell, and Jacques blinks at her in surprise. She’s never raised her voice to him or anyone else in this house before.

Olivia pokes her head out of the library at the sound, and her eyes go wide when she sees Violet. “Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”  

“Did you know? ” Violet repeats, unsure why she’s unable to elaborate, to say anything else. Her ears ring strangely, and the numbness in her arms has spread nearly to her shoulders, now.

Olivia’s brow furrows for only a moment, but then something seems to connect in her head, and her face drains of all color so quickly Violet almost thinks she’s going to swoon. Instead, she locks eyes with Jacques, whose shoulders have gone so stiff it looks almost painful, and Violet has her answer.

“You did ,” Violet says, almost unable to breathe beneath the weight of the realization, “you knew he was my - that I was his -” She can’t complete the sentence, can’t force the words over her tongue.

“Violet,” Olivia tries softly, taking a half-step towards her as though afraid she might spook. Her eyes are filled with tears. “Violet, sweetheart, please listen -”

“You knew,” Violet says again, backing away, and she thinks her voice might be getting louder but she’s not sure, “you knew , and you never said a word.”

“Violet -” Jacques tries, but no, no , she doesn’t want to hear it, doesn’t want him to explain.

“You’re just like everybody else,” she says, and watches the words hit home, watches them both flinch as though she’d struck them. And then she turns and flees in the other direction, ignoring the calls of her guardians and Lemony standing in his doorway and everything but the urge to just run and run and run.

She bolts down the stairwell to the Quagmires’ hallway and keeps going until she reaches the common room, the steps to the first floor, the kitchen, the backyard. Her feet carry her as though they’re moving on autopilot all the way into the greenhouse, where she slams and locks the door and finally stops moving, only to sink down to the floor to bury her face in her knees.

It’s then, and only then, that she allows herself to cry.


Chapter Text

Violet has never been one to wallow. She’s never really had the time , especially in the last year when she was running for her life and her guardians were dropping left and right. It’s not really something she knows how to do, or wants to learn, so she doesn’t try now. She simply cries until the tears stop coming, wipes her face, and then gets up again.

That she does know how to do, and very well.

That’s why when the knock on the door finally comes, Violet is bent under the industrial sink, wrench in hand to fix the steady, incessant dripping that’s been plaguing her since she came in, dealing with her problems the only way she knows how - pretending she can fix them by fixing something else.

She has no idea how long she’s been here, only that the rainbow colors cast through the stained-glass VFD eyes above the doors have slipped several feet across the floor since she arrived, and that she’s ravenously hungry.

She peers out from under the sink to see a tall, broad shadow through the fogged glass at the front of the greenhouse - either Jacques or Lemony, she’s not sure which as the brothers are indistinguishable from their general shape.

Before she can decide what kind of reception to give, the knock sounds again, accompanied this time by a dry, quiet voice. “May I come in, Violet?”

Lemony, then. She swallows. It would be rude to tell him no, but she doesn’t want to say yes, either, so she turns back to the pipes without saying anything at all.

“I brought you something to eat - Olivia said you haven’t had anything all day.” He sounds quieter now, more hesitant, like he’ll leave at the slightest signal that she wants him to.

She still doesn’t reply, but she does put the wrench down, and instead leans back against the wall under the sink, feeling young and small and ridiculous. The polite thing to do would be to let him in, let him explain himself - certainly it’s not in her nature to be as rude to anyone as she has been to him today.

She doesn’t want to be polite. She wants to hide in here, and ignore him, and maybe cry a little more.

There’s a sigh from the Lemony-shape, and then she watches his shadow shift strangely. It takes her a moment to understand that he’s taking a seat outside, seemingly with his back resting against the glass beside the door.

Such a strange man, is Lemony Snicket. She thinks about the way he’d backed away from the door, when he’d had her cornered in his room - thinks about the way he would have been right to yell, to demand answers, to rip his stolen property from her hands. Thinks about the way he could have snarled in her face, threatened her, struck her. Olaf had done worse for less.  

But Lemony hadn’t, and that’s the thing of it.

Slowly, she emerges from under the sink and quietly crosses the room to stand in front of the door. It would be a simple thing to open it. She stretches out a trembling hand to the doorknob, only to catch sight of the ink on her wrist at the last second, smudged and illegible by now but still present, still a reminder of what she’d written there, what she’d discovered.

Violet is your -

She snatches her hand back in an instant. Instead, she lowers herself to the ground, her back to the glass the way Lemony’s is on the other end of the door. Neither one of them speaks. Violet wouldn’t know what to say if she tried, and she gets the sense that he might be in a similar situation.

She turns the wrench over and over in her hands, taking comfort in its familiar weight, in the grit of the worn metal under her fingers, in the knowledge that she can use it to dissect and create. In knowing she’s not helpless as long as she has it with her. Whenever she has it, things are clear .

It’s minutes or hours when a question finally bubbles out of her, so quiet and unexpected that she’s not surprised when Lemony has to ask her to repeat herself.

She swallows, tries again. “What do you want from me?”

Because that’s it, isn’t it? Everyone always wants something . She can’t imagine what he’ll demand of her now that she knows what they are to each other.

A horrible thought occurs to her then, sudden like a slap: he probably has a claim to her fortune . He could do what Olaf did - stars , he could take her away from her siblings , from Olivia and Jacques. If he brought up the fact that he was her - that she was his - if this new information came to light in the High Court, would he even need to wait until she was of age to get his hands on her family’s money? And what would he do with her once he had it?

She’s busy working herself up into another proper panic, but Lemony’s reply jars her back to the present. “That’s the wrong question.”

She blinks. “What’s the right one?”

“The question isn’t what I want from you, Violet. It’s what I want for you.”

Jacques had once mentioned his brother had issues with directness. Violet is starting to understand what he’d meant by that. “And what’s that?”

“I want you to be safe,” Lemony says without hesitating, “and happy, and to have the life you deserve.”

She’s not quite sure what she’d expected him to say, but it hadn’t been that. She mulls this over for a while. “And where are you supposed to fit in to that?”

“I’m not.”

That…  makes no sense. “Then why are you here? ” She means for the question to sound demanding, but it comes out nearly plaintive instead.

He does seem to hesitate, now, or at least there’s a few beats of silence before he replies that feels vaguely contemplative. “I don’t know,” he says, finally.

It’s not the answer she’d wanted, but it’s honest, or it feels like it is, and for whatever reason it fills her with relief. Possibly it’s because an answer like that means he isn’t actively scheming against her.  

“How long have Jacques and Olivia known about… about this? Does anyone else know?” She can’t imagine any of her past guardians had, and Olaf certainly hadn’t - he wouldn’t have been able to resist the urge to torment her with it if he’d known.

“Olivia worked it out the first time I came here. I have no idea how,” he confesses, “but she’s among the cleverest women I’ve ever met, so I can’t say I’m surprised. As for whether anyone else knows, no. Only my brother and Olivia, and us. Not even Kit is aware, although she might suspect.”

Another question comes to her then, one so painful even asking it makes her tear up again. “Did my father - did my real… did Bertrand -” Stars, what is she supposed to call him now?

“I don’t know if your father knew,” Lemony says, with a touch of firmness on the word father that makes something in her relax instantly. “I do know it wouldn’t have mattered to him.”

Violet sniffles, dashing unshed tears from her eyes, and outside the Lemony-shape shifts uncomfortably as if in response - or maybe it’s just because he’s sitting on bare concrete.

“Will you please come out and eat something, Violet?”

She can’t say no, and won’t say yes, so instead she says, “So you loved my mother.” It’s not a question and she doesn’t phrase it like one, but after several long, heavy moments Lemony answers anyway.

“Yes.” Simple, like she’d asked him if he had ten fingers or a heartbeat.

“And she loved you.”

“Yes.” Softer this time, like she’d asked him a great secret, or like she’d slipped a knife between his ribs.

“Why didn’t you stay together?”

He sighs. “You read the letter.”

“I’m not sure what I read,” Violet says, “besides a lot of pretty words and secret codes and sad poetry, but I never read a reason.” She hadn’t finished it, of course, but if her mother hadn’t gotten to the point one-hundred-and-eighty pages in, Violet doubts she ever did.

He’s quiet for a long, long time, so long Violet almost thinks he isn’t going to answer. When he does, he’s so quiet she has to strain to hear him through the door.

“Your mother only ever did what she thought was right,” Lemony says, “no matter what you hear about her in the future, no matter what else you discover, you need to know that everything your mother did, she did for what she believed was a noble reason.”

That’s not an answer, and she’s not going to let him get away with pretending that it is. “Which was?”

“Protection, both mine and hers… and yours, as well.”

Protection from what? Or whom? Violet leans her head back against the glass, half-closing her eyes as she tries to make sense of what little she knows about the timeline of the events of the schism and the letter and her own birth, about what Jacques had told them the morning after he’d made his miraculous return from the dead and got them to safety at Headquarters. She thinks about what very, very little he had told them all about the infamous night at the opera when the hairline fracture in VFD had exploded into a chasm too wide to mend, about the theft of a sugar bowl, about a poison dart that missed its intended target only to strike an innocent party. He’d given them only the vaguest details, and implied her mother was involved, but hadn’t elaborated much beyond that.

The reason why comes to her in a flash. “Did my mother kill Olaf’s parents?”

It would explain everything - why Olaf had been so fixated on their fortune in particular, why the sugar bowl never mattered to him as much as hurting them did. Why the news of her mother’s survival would have kept him at Caligari Carnival for as long as Olivia wanted him there.

She half-expects Lemony to dissemble again, but instead he laughs, startling her completely. It’s a hollow, mirthless thing, but a laugh all the same, and the first one she’s ever heard from him. “You’ve always been so clever, Violet.”

She’d have taken it as the compliment it was clearly intended to be if she hadn’t wanted so desperately to not be right about that. “So she did.”

“Only Olaf’s father died that night,” Lemony says, grave again, “and your mother never intended to hurt him.”

“But she intended to hurt someone .”

“In defense of VFD and myself, yes. It was a bad thing done for a noble reason. Like most people, your mother was a chef’s salad.”

Violet had been about to ask a completely different question, but that statement throws her off the rails. “ What?

“Full of good and bad things, all mixed together. No one is entirely good or entirely wicked, Violet.”

Violet thinks that’s not true only because she knows Olivia, who doesn’t have a wicked bone in her body, and is about to say as much before remembering that Olivia had deliberately kept a rather enormous secret from her. She changes the subject.

“So Mother left you because of Olaf?”

“I left her.”

Violet frowns. “But the letter -”

“Olaf originally believed I had been the one to throw the dart at his father, and I had to flee the city that same hour. Your mother begged me to stay, but I couldn’t bear to endanger her, so I did what I believed was the noble thing, and left.”

Fascinated despite herself, Violet turns to look in the direction of his shadow. “And then what happened?”

There’s a note of something wry and self-deprecating in his answer. “I regretted leaving her the instant she was out of my sight. I sent her countless telegrams, asking her to run away with me - I was much younger then, and I suppose I thought it was all very romantic.” He sighs, pauses, continues. “But Olaf went on a warpath around the same time, lighting fire after fire in my name, until I was being hunted by both him and the authorities. Your mother saw the logic in our separation.”

“That’s when she sent the letter.”

He hmms . “She was already engaged to Bertrand by that time, and her pregnancy with you was common knowledge. Everyone believed he was your father, and she was desperate to keep it that way, as he had… markedly fewer enemies than I did. He was the best, and safest, option for both of you.” He pauses again, seems to shift. “He was the only man on earth I would have wanted for the job.”

“My mother loved him.” Violet’s not sure why she says it, but it’s suddenly very important to her that he knows , that he understands.

“She did,” Lemony confirms, “and he loved her.”

She frowns. “But didn’t that… didn’t it hurt? Weren’t you angry?”  

The question seems to confuse him, but she can’t imagine why. “Of course it hurt,” he says, “but I was never angry. I wanted her to be happy.” He sighs. “Even if it wasn’t with me.”

She’d think he was lying, because she’s never even heard of love like that, not even in storybooks, except he sounds so painfully sincere it makes the breath catch in her throat. There’s no possible reply she can give that would accurately convey how she feels right now.

They sit in heavy, thoughtful silence for a long time.

“Why are you researching me and my siblings?” she asks a while later. The light on the floor has shifted even farther, but Lemony hasn’t moved an inch.

His shadow jerks like she’d startled him - she wonders if he’d dozed off. He grunts, shifting in place. When he speaks, there’s a fragment of wry conspiracy in his voice. “I’ll make you a deal,” he says, and she instinctively goes tense, “I’ll tell you what you want to know, but you have to come out and eat while we talk.”

Violet has a sneaking suspicion that he’d still answer her questions even if she refused, but he’s been nothing but accommodating so far, so she thinks she can give him this - and anyway, she’s starving . She gets to her feet and opens the door, stepping over the threshold with rather more confidence than she actually feels.

Lemony looks up at her from his position on the ground, his gaze flicking over her face like he’s startled to actually see her standing there. He looks vaguely like he expects her to bite him, which is patently ridiculous, because Violet is not given to her baby sister’s proclivities and has never bitten a single person in her life, not even when they deserved it.

He gestures to a covered tray beside him, and she carefully takes a seat on the other side of it, just out of his reach.

She doesn’t actually think he’ll try anything. She’d just… rather not chance it, that’s all.

The look he gives her makes her think he knows what she’s doing, but he doesn’t say anything about it, just removes the cover from the tray to reveal a plate of finger sandwiches and a pair of empty cups, which he pours tea into from a thermos at his side. She tucks into a sandwich as politely as she can despite the fact that she’s so hungry it feels like her stomach is in knots.

“I started the research because I was looking for you,” Lemony begins without preamble, startling her for what feels like the millionth time today. “For all three of you.”

She blinks at him, unable to ask the question she wants to with food in her mouth, but he seems to know what she means.

“When I heard about the fire, about what happened to... your parents,” Lemony begins, pausing for a moment to stare off into the middle distance as though lost, and then shakes himself and continues, “I was in such a remote location that it took me quite some time to make my way back here, to confirm what I had heard, to ensure that the three of you were in good hands. By the time I realized that you weren’t, that Olaf’s wickedness had already touched your lives, you had already been accused of his murder in the Village of Fowl Devotees. A murder of which, by the way, I believed my brother was the true victim.”

“And then we ran away, and not even the Volunteers could find us,” Violet finishes, reaching for another sandwich.

He hmms again, watching her. “No matter how much research I did, or how closely I retraced your journey, I was always several steps behind you. I had just started looking into your time at Prufrock Preparatory School when the news reached me that not only was my brother still alive, but that he had also gotten you safely to VFD Headquarters after Caligari Carnival burned down.”

Violet frowns, taking a sip of her tea. “But you didn’t show up at the manor for ages after that. If you wanted to know we were safe, why didn’t you come sooner?”

He looks at her, looks through her. “I am a coward, Violet,” he says. “I always have been. I knew you were safe with my brother. For a while, that was enough for me. I didn’t want to show up in your life without a reasonable excuse - I didn’t want to endanger you, any of you, for any less.”

“And when you heard that Olaf had followed us back to the city, you had one,” Violet says, still frowning. “I don’t see how you could have endangered us, though.”

“Olaf wasn’t - isn’t - the only fire-starter in the world, Violet,” Lemony says gently, reminding her of the thought that had driven her to search his room in the first place, and she looks away. “I’ve been a volunteer since I was younger than Klaus. That’s more than enough time to accumulate countless dangerous enemies.”

“So why are you here now?” she asks again, going back to the question she’d had at the beginning of this conversation. “If it’s so dangerous, why did you agree to stay?”

He looks away again. A muscle jumps in his jaw, the same one that jumps in Jacques’ whenever he’s distressed. She wonders if Lemony genuinely doesn’t know the answer to her question, or if he doesn’t want to tell her. She wonders if she really wants to know.

She changes tack. “Why are you still doing the research, now that you’ve found us?”

Lemony frowns, seeming to try to order his thoughts. “You suffered more tragedies than just Olaf,” he says quietly. “I wanted to put the injustice on display, to show the world how badly you were mistreated. I’m only a writer,” he says with a shrug, “my influence is limited. But I thought if I could just… shine a light on it, something could be done. Maybe future orphans wouldn’t be sent to live in crab-infested shacks, maybe an entire town wouldn’t be allowed to have collective custody of children, maybe inheritance laws could be changed, maybe people would just… pay more attention.”

“Maybe Mr. Poe could lose his job,” Violet says hopefully, even though it’s wicked. Lemony lets out an almost startled laugh in response, and this time it’s real, full of genuine amusement. She wishes he’d do it more - he looks so much kinder when he smiles.

“I’ll stop, if you’d like me to,” he says once he sobers - all too quickly, in Violet’s opinion. There’s an odd note in his voice, a gravity beyond his words, like he’s trying to tell her something else.

But Violet is tired, and she has a headache, so she doesn’t try to parse it out. All she says is, “You don’t have to.”

When he raises a curious eyebrow at her, she shrugs, picking at another sandwich as she looks back at the house. “It’s a good idea. I could… I could even help you, if you wanted. Primary sources are important for this kind of research, right? To fill in the gaps?”

He looks at her for a long, long time. She’s about to open her mouth to apologize, to take it back, when he gives a small, quiet smile. “I would like that very much, Violet.”

She nods, and keeps picking at her sandwich. “Why did you give me Hedy?” she says, trying for a change of subject.

He blinks at her, brow furrowed in confusion. “The stuffed cat,” she clarifies, “the one in the picture.”

“I always called it Hemingway,” he says, which makes her smile despite herself, but then he continues. “Bertrand Baudelaire is your father,” he murmurs, meeting her eyes like he wants her to hear what he’s saying. “He loved you. But the cat…”

He sighs, stares into his cup of tea. “I sent it to you because I couldn’t be with you. I suppose I wanted you to have something Snicket.” He smiles fractionally. “Even if it was only a toy.”

She doesn’t know what to say to this, to the weight behind the gesture that had brought her so much comfort as a child. He doesn’t look like he expects anything of her, though, in this or in general, and that’s the most bewildering thing about the conversation so far.

It comes to her then, slowly, that he really never would have told her if she hadn’t worked all this out on her own. He never would have taken the shelter of Bertrand Baudelaire away from her if she hadn’t torn it down herself.

She wonders if that’s cowardice, or kindness. She wonders if it can’t be both.

“Are you frightened of me, Violet?” Lemony asks, drawing from her reverie. She realizes she’s been staring blankly at him and quickly looks away.

“No,” she says, carefully.

He watches her. “But you were before.”

“Why were you outside my room, the night I had the nightmare?” she asks instead of answering. It’s rude to do that, but if he’s allowed to dodge questions then so is she.

His brow furrows as though he’s trying to follow her train of thought. “I was concerned for you.”

“No, I mean,” she huffs, ties to articulate herself better, “why were you on the second floor at all?”

His expression settles. “I was on my way to the library, and I passed your room to get to the staircase. You sounded distressed, so I woke Jacques.”

That… that makes a lot of sense, actually. She could kick herself for not reasoning that out before - in her suspicion and panic it had only seemed logical that he’d been lurking, rather than going about his own business.

Stars, I should have listened to Olivia. I should have just told her I was worried about him.

“Is that what today was about?” Lemony asks.

“I didn’t trust you,” Violet says. “I’m still not sure if I do.”

“That’s reasonable,” he says, watching her carefully. “But I would never hurt you, Violet.”

She wants to believe him. Part of her, the part of her that’s always wanted to see the best in people, already does. But there’s another part that recoils from his words, the part that had looked to Justice Strauss and Jerome Squalor for help only to be ignored or abandoned. Well-intentioned people can do as much damage as treacherous ones, she knows, so for the moment she’ll reserve judgement on the man before her, the man her mother loved, until she can get a better measure of his character now that she’s not determined to see him as a threat.

“Alright,” Violet says. It’s the only response she can manage.

They don’t speak again after that, but they no longer need to. They simply sit, and share their sandwiches and tea, and let the threads connecting them lie where they are.

And, for now, it’s enough.


She finds her guardians in the kitchen, after, seated at the table with their heads bent towards one another, murmuring lowly. Both of them snap to look at her as she enters, and Olivia is on her feet at once, seeming equal parts relieved and wary. Violet can’t blame her, after the way she’d acted today.

Stars, when she thinks about what she’d said, how they’d flinched - tears spring to her eyes before she can stop them.

“I’m sorry ,” she says, lurching towards Olivia before she can stop herself.

Olivia meets her halfway and sweeps her up into a hug that makes every single awful thing about the day disappear into smoke.

“Oh sweetheart, it’s alright,” Olivia says, pressing a kiss into her hair, “it’s alright.”

It is very much not alright, but she doesn’t know how to say it, doesn’t know how to articulate the depth of how very stupid and childish she feels. She can’t bear to meet their eyes.

Olivia is having none of that, though, and pulls back from her enough to cup a hand under her chin, to examine her face for any kind of injury or distress.

“Are you alright? Did you eat? Can I get you anything?”

“No, I’m fine,” Violet says. “I... ate with Lemony.”

Over Olivia’s shoulder, she watches Jacques go oddly tense. “Where is he?” he asks, expression inscrutable.

“He’s still outside. I think he might have wanted some time to himself.”

Jacques only nods, seeming distracted.

Violet bites her lip. “He’s not leaving,” she says quietly, unsure why she feels the need to reassure him, only knowing that she does.

Jacques turns back to look at her then, brow furrowing in concern. “He can,” he says, then pauses, hesitates, working his jaw contemplatively. She wonders if he knows how much he looks like his brother when he does that. “He doesn’t have to stay, Violet. We can make other arrangements.”

Violet blinks at him. Jacques had walked around the house whistling for weeks after Lemony had moved into the manor, had been quicker to laugh, for once seemed to not remember whatever burdens perpetually dragged his shoulders down. Lemony’s dour disposition hadn’t appeared to bother him - he’d just been pleased to know that his brother was safe and nearby.

So the fact that he would be willing to send him away, for her … it’s almost too much to comprehend.

“No,” Violet says. “No, he’s fine. I’m fine.”

Beside her, Olivia makes an exasperated noise. “You don’t have to be fine , Violet,” she says, grabbing her gently by the shoulders and bending down to meet her at eye level, like it’s important to her that Violet understand her. “That’s not your job. Your job is to tell us when something isn’t fine so we can help you through it.”

Violet swallows, nods. “I’m sorry,” she says, wondering for a moment whether she’s ever going to be able to stop apologizing. “For everything. For lying about being sick, and for what I said to you both, because it’s not true. You’re not like everyone else, you never have been.”

Olivia sighs, and leads her over to the table, gesturing for her to take a seat. Violet does so, and Olivia takes the one beside her, pushing her chair back to face her more directly. “We aren’t upset with you, Violet,” she says, “not for any of it. You were obviously very worried about Lemony, if you felt you needed to take matters into your own hands like this. The only thing I am upset about is that you didn’t trust us enough to tell us, to let us explain.”

Would you have explained? Would you have told me the truth?” Violet doesn’t mean to be difficult, but this - she’s been lied to her whole life, first by her parents, then by just about every guardian she’s ever had since then, and she’d thought, really, honestly believed, that Jacques and Olivia would never hide anything from her.

Olivia sighs and looks up at Jacques, who takes a seat on Violet’s other side. “Olivia wanted to tell you the moment she figured it out,” he says, and his eyes are dark and soft and serious. “I was the one who told her we ought to wait.”

“But why? ” Violet demands. “Why wouldn’t you have told me?”

Jacques looks at her for a long moment. “How do you feel, now that you know?”

Violet couldn’t give an answer to that if she had a week to figure it out, but one thing she definitely doesn’t feel is good .

“You were protecting me,” she acknowledges softly, reluctantly. But honestly, when hasn’t he protected her, protected all of them, from the moment he came into their lives? Everything he’s done since he first walked into that courtroom in the Village of Fowl Devotees, and maybe even earlier, he’s done in an attempt to help them, to keep them safe.

He nods. “I was trying to spare you from something that would put you through a great deal of pain for no reason.”

Violet looks down at her lap, fiddles with the buckle of her tool belt. “I still deserved to know,” she says, “regardless of how I feel about it. I deserved to know.” She swallows, looks back up. “But I know… I know it wasn’t a secret you were supposed to have to keep. Lemony explained everything, about why my mother lied to everyone, even me. I know it was a hard choice for you both, and I know you would never hurt me on purpose.”

Never ,” Olivia says solemnly. “We should have told you, you’re right. I suppose we wanted to wait until you’d been with us a little longer, until you really felt like you could trust us.”

“I do trust you,” Violet says, remembering in that moment the first time she’d ever said it, shivering and filthy and exhausted in VFD Headquarters the night they’d been rescued. She had barely believed her own words at the time, but they’ve come such a long way since then. “You did a bad thing for a noble reason,” she says, “because people are like chef’s salads.”

At this, Olivia gives a quiet laugh, but Jacques’ face takes on a strange, nearly exasperated expression. “You’ve already been spending too much time around my brother,” he says. “Only he uses those kinds of ridiculous metaphors.”

“I like it,” Violet says, “he was very helpful, actually.”

“I meant what I said, Violet,” Jacques says. “Kit and Dewey can put him up in Hotel Denouement. He doesn’t have to stay here.”

Violet looks at him, studies his face, tries to understand. “But he’s your brother.”

He nods. “Yes, he is. But you’re my ward, and you come first. And if him being here would make you uncomfortable, then he’ll go.”

“Oh,” Violet says. She considers this, considers what she’s learned about him today, not just from what he’d told her or what she’d read in the letter but how he’d acted , how he’d handled the entire situation. A lesser man, Olaf for example, would have responded with violence, threats, a scheme for her fortune. Violet knows now that’s what she’s been expecting of Lemony all along: another Olaf to sweep into her life and burn everything to the ground.

But Lemony isn’t Olaf. He’s Jacques and Kit’s brother, and a quiet, lonely writer, and the man her mother once loved, and her... well. That .

“He can stay,” Violet says, picking at a groove in the table.  

“Are you sure, Violet?” Olivia asks.

No , Violet wants to say. “Yes,” she says instead.  

Jacques watches her for a moment, studying her face. “Alright,” he finally says, “he’ll stay, then. But if you change your mind, I’d like you to promise that you’ll come to me immediately, alright?”

Violet is careful to meet his eyes. “I promise.”

He nods once, sharply, before standing and excusing himself. He rests his hand on her head for a single, warm beat, sapping the last of the tension from her shoulders, before exiting out the back door. Violet thinks he’s going to go make some kind of fuss at Lemony, and she doesn’t know why. She sort of hopes he hides until Jacques has cooled off a little. He seems like he’d be good at that.

Olivia’s gaze rests on the door for long moments after Jacques disappears through it, a pensive frown on her face. But then she seems to shake herself, and turns back to Violet with a quiet, tired smile.

“Tea, then?” It’s Olivia’s solution to everything, Violet knows by now - and for good reason. She smiles back.

“Yes, please.”

Violet has taken refuge on the second floor balcony by the time Klaus gets home, leaned up against the railing and peering out over the backyard.

She’s not looking for Lemony, so the fact that she can’t see him or Jacques anywhere on the grounds is both irrelevant and not at all worrisome. Oh, mother, she thinks, prays, please don’t let me have ruined this for them.

Klaus brings Sunny with him when he comes to her, presumably having made a beeline to find her the second he got home. He must have been worried about her “illness”, she thinks with a mirthless smile. She wonders how Olivia even managed to get him out the door this morning without her.

“Violet,” Klaus greets the moment he steps through the balcony doors, “are you feeling better?”

Sunny trails behind him, walking entirely on her own the way she almost always does, now. Her hair has grown and so has she, and while she’s not quite speaking in full sentences yet, neither Violet nor Klaus have needed to translate for her in some time. Olivia had told her that her sister had been entertaining herself with the dogs and her collection of interesting things to bite in the library for most of the day, for which Violet is privately grateful - she can’t imagine what would have happened had she seen her sister in the direct aftermath of her discovery.

It’s not much easier to bear now. A modifier has been added to that title, to her brother’s, too: half . She is now - and in truth, always has been - only fractionally related to these two people she loves best in all the world, has been reduced to less of herself than she has ever been. The one relationship she thought she’d understood completely, the one thing she would never, ever have doubted, has now been sliced neatly in two by a simple fact of biology and that single, ugly adjective.

Stars, no wonder Jacques hadn’t wanted to tell her. She wishes, the second she sees their faces, that she didn’t know, regardless of what she’d told her guardians downstairs. For a wretched instant, she hates her mother and Lemony Snicket and VFD and the entire stupid, wicked world for putting her in this position.

“I’m not sure,” Violet says, and only realizes she’s started to cry again when Klaus’ eyes go wide in alarm.

He takes several quick steps to her side, Sunny on his heels. This close, it’s easy to see how much taller he’s grown, too, with nearly half a head of height over her, now. Somehow, this only makes her want to cry harder.

“You’re not really sick, are you?” Klaus says, brow furrowed in concern, voice low with conspiracy. “What’s wrong, Violet? What do you need?”

Stars, where does she even start?

“No,” she says, wiping her face with her sleeve and trying to pull herself together. “I’m not sick. I’m sorry if I worried you.”

“You’re worrying me now ,” Klaus says.

“What’s wrong?” Sunny demands, tugging at her trousers. Klaus picks her up so they can all be at eye-level.

Get scared later , Violet thinks, even as she’s instantly filled with terror. But she takes a breath, and reaches for the wrench on her toolbelt, and then it pours out of her, the whole, awful story: how her suspicion of Lemony had started, what she’d planned, why she’d kept them both in the dark. And then she tells them what she’d discovered, down to the very last detail, and as she does she thinks about all the times in her life she’s been the most frightened - when she saw Sunny dangling from that tower window, when Olaf had shown up at Uncle Monty’s, when her brother had been hypnotized, when Olaf had caught hold of her in the Library of Records and she’d thought he was going to murder her on the spot. And in all that time, in all that she’s seen and experienced and lost, she has never in her life been more terrified than she is in this moment.

If she loses them, she really will have nothing left.

Klaus and Sunny wait politely, without saying a word, until she’s finished, until the whole thing is laid out before them, thrown at their feet like a gauntlet.

And then Klaus very casually steps over it and hugs her so tightly she can hardly breathe, and Sunny latches her little arms around Violet’s neck and refuses to let go. Violet’s heart instantly shatters into a billion little pieces.

It takes her long moments to realize that her siblings are crying too, now, and she’s started back up again. They all just huddle there, crying and not saying anything, for what seems like an eternity. Violet doesn’t mind - she doesn’t care if they never move again.

“I’m sorry,” Klaus mumbles eventually, sniffling, and Violet recoils so fast she almost bruises her back against the balcony railing. Sunny has yet to let her go, though, so she quite effectively and accidentally rips her out of her brother’s arms and almost drops her in the process.

“For what , Klaus?” she demands once she regains herself, totally bewildered.

Klaus removes his glasses to scrub at his eyes. “I’m sorry you found out alone. I should have stayed with you when I heard you were sick, I could have helped -”

Violet wonders if this is what hysteria feels like. “Stop, Klaus,” she says, almost wanting to laugh, because if anyone would take the blame for what happened here today while simultaneously having absolutely nothing at all to do with it, it would be him. “If you had stayed it would have ruined my plan and I would have waited for another day when you were out of the house,” she says. “I chose to do this alone, and that’s not your fault.”

“I wish you had told us what you were planning,” Klaus says, and in her arms, Sunny nods along in agreement. “We’ve never done this kind of thing alone.”

“I thought Lemony might have been dangerous,” Violet says. It’s a weak excuse and she knows what Klaus will say in response even before she’s finished speaking.

Klaus, as usual, doesn’t disappoint. “All the more reason we should have been there.”

“Trust?” Sunny says, blinking at her sadly, and something kicks in Violet’s chest.

“Of course I trust you,” she says - stars, after today they’re just about the only people she does trust. “I wanted to protect you.”

Klaus frowns. “Promise us you won’t do anything like this again without us, Violet. It’s not like it was before. You aren’t alone. None of us are.”

If anything like today ever happens again, it will probably be the death of her, but she nods anyway. “I promise.”

He nods, then rubs at his eyes again. “How are you… feeling, about all this?”

“Horrible,” Violet answers honestly, the first time she’s been able to identify a single thread out of the ball of emotion that’s knotted itself up in her chest since she found out.

Klaus looks at her then, really looks, the way he sometimes does when he’s trying to read her like a book in his collection, like she’s a word he understands only vaguely and he’s trying to make sense of it from context alone.

“You’re afraid,” he says, and she flinches.

“I’m not afraid.”

“Yes you are. What are you afraid of? Is it Lemony? Did he do something? Have you told Jacques and Olivia?”

“He didn’t do anything to me, Klaus, and I’m not afraid.”

Afraid ,” Sunny insists.

Violet looks away, but Klaus’ gaze never wavers. “You’re worried about us , aren’t you?” he says with an air of grave realization. “That’s it, isn’t it? You’re worried this is going to change things with us.”

“No, I’m -”

“You are ,” Klaus says, stepping closer. “You’re my sister, and I know you. You’re actually afraid of us .”

“I’m barely your sister,” Violet says, and then turns sharply back towards the grounds before she can start crying again. She still can’t see either of the Snicket brothers.

To her surprise, Klaus genuinely sounds… confused? “Why?” he asks. “Because we don’t… because our fathers aren’t the same?”

She doesn’t say anything - can’t, probably - so he continues. “Violet, that’s ridiculous and you know it. You’d be our sister even if you discovered that we don’t share either of our parents.”

“It’s not the same.”

“Why not?” Klaus demands. “Family is whatever we decide it is, and biology is only a small part of that. We’re not related to the Quagmires, and they’re family.”

“Olivia,” Sunny says, patting her face. “Jacques.”

“So it’s not strange to you at all that I’m only your half-sister?” Violet challenges, but hugs her closer.

“You’re not our half anything, Violet,” Klaus says, and when she turns back to look at him he’s in the middle of an eye-roll. “And of course it’s strange. But everything is strange now. We’re orphans who live in a mansion with a taxi driver and a librarian and a set of clever triplets and dogs that only bark when they smell smoke. We’re safe and Olaf is gone and we have different fathers.” He frowns, resolute. “You’re still my sister. And Sunny is still my sister. We’re family - we’re Baudelaires . Nothing has changed.”

Violet looks at him for what feels like a long time. Something warm blooms in her chest, in the back of her throat, and it tastes a little like hope. She doesn’t know how to reply to him, but Klaus seems to sense this because he moves on.

“Do you want to tell the Quagmires?”

Violet looks down at the railing, runs her hands across it, over and back, over and back. “Yes,” she says eventually, “but not today.”

She can see Klaus nod in the corner of her eye. Sunny hugs her neck again, and Klaus steps closer until he’s right next to her on the railing, at her side the way he always has been.

He’s staying. They’re staying. She hasn’t lost them.

Violet closes her eyes in relief, and breathes, and breathes, and breathes.

Lemony doesn’t leave.

Despite what Violet had told Jacques, it had surprised her that he’d chosen to stay - Lemony is a self-proclaimed coward, after all, and based on what little she knows about him she can tell he’s not the kind of man to stick around when things get dramatic.

But still, he stays, even if he does remain shut up in his room a little more than he had before, and skips more meals with the family, and looks tired all the time. Jacques hadn’t said what they’d discussed, that day he’d gone out after his brother, but the pair of them had stayed out for hours and returned with a strange, singing tension between them. It’s faded, in the weeks since, but sometimes Violet will catch Jacques giving Lemony sharp looks when he thinks she’s not looking, or sometimes Lemony will just up and leave whatever room she’s in a few moments after she enters. He rarely speaks to her, and he’s long since stopped watching her in the way that had once been so confusing.

Lemony is avoiding her, probably at Jacques’ insistence, and that’s… it’s unnecessary and she doesn’t like it, that’s all.

But it’s not just Lemony who’s being strange. Violet can’t stand the way everyone in the house seems to be walking on eggshells around her now, like they expect her to fall apart if the wind blows too harshly. Her siblings almost never leave her side, now, and Olivia must ask her how she’s feeling at least three times a day. Even the Quagmires, who had taken the news of her parentage in stride, are being extra cautious in everything they say and do. (Quigley, she had noted, had seemed marginally less surprised than the others to hear the news, but sometimes his research on the history of VFD leads him to strange and unexpected discoveries, and if anyone could have worked it out without any kind of prior indication or involvement, it would be him. He hasn’t actually said one way or another, but Violet gets a feeling, sometimes.)

It’s all very annoying, honestly, and she’s sick of it, which is why one night after dinner, she gathers Klaus and Sunny and marches up to Lemony’s bedroom with no ceremony and only a little trepidation.

“Good evening,” she greets once he opens the door, like they hadn’t just sat across the dinner table avoiding one another’s eyes half an hour earlier. “My siblings and I were wondering if you still wanted help on your research.”

For his part, he looks completely stunned to see her there, like she’s a total stranger peddling a product he’s never heard of. He blinks several times before opening his door only slightly wider, almost like he doesn’t mean to do it.

“Yes,” he finally says, so quietly she has to strain to hear him. “Yes, please come in.”

They do. It’s awkward, at first, both because of the situation and the fact that he’s researching the darkest period of their lives, and talking about it, unpacking it in this kind of detail, is strained and emotional and very, very difficult.

But it’s important , and even Klaus and Sunny agree that it needs to be done, that their story - the real story, not the nonsense in the Punctilio - needs to be told. Nothing they do will have any bearing on the past and the horrors they all suffered in it, but it could have a significant impact on the future of others, and it’s for that reason that they drag themselves to his room night after night, and answer question after question, tell story after story. Lemony, for his part, does the same, fills them in on what little information Jacques and Olivia hadn’t already provided about what had gone on in the background, about the sheer number of people who had been looking out for them, trying to keep them from Olaf’s clutches. They’d mostly failed, at least until Jacques and Olivia came on the scene, but the important thing - to Violet, anyway, she thinks Klaus might be more skeptical - is that they’d kept failing, kept getting up, kept trying, until she and her siblings and the Quagmires were finally safe.

Violet knows better than anyone that VFD wasn’t - isn’t - anywhere near perfect. But they’d tried, and tried, and tried some more, and isn’t that all anyone can really do?

Gradually, very gradually, everyone in the manor starts to relax . It takes another few weeks until Lemony stops being so weird around her - weirder than he had been before she’d made the discovery, anyway - and a few more after that until Jacques stops looking at her like he’s waiting for her to have some kind of breakdown. She suspects Olivia had been a big help with that part, since she’d been the first to back off, to come around to the idea that Violet really is fine - or at least feeling much calmer about the whole thing.

The first time Violet goes up to talk with Lemony without one of her siblings in tow, she almost can’t make herself do it. She climbs up and down the staircase to the third floor four times before she finally gets ahold of herself and makes it all the way to his room. She’s oddly gratified to find that he seems just as nervous as she is about the change in their unspoken protocol, and also that he leaves the door wide open and takes the seat farthest away from it. He never says anything about it directly, but she knows he’s doing what he’d done that first time - always giving her an exit, always silently telling her I’m not going to hurt you.

Those visits become more and more frequent until they’re expected - her siblings and the Quagmires know that three nights a week, like clockwork, she’ll carry a tea tray to Lemony’s room after dinner and talk with him about his research until Jacques and Olivia start herding them all to bed. It’s not even always the research they talk about - sometimes he tells her stories about her parents, about his training days at Prufrock, about his siblings, about his apprenticeship in the tiny, derelict town of Stain’d-by-the-Sea. He’s seen so much, and done so much, and he’s a brilliant storyteller - Violet catches herself hanging on every word he says. Lately she has begun to dread bedtime on those nights because she enjoys their conversations so much.

She still tries to invite Klaus and Sunny, sometimes, but strangely they always seem to have other things to do. She has her own private suspicions about why they’re really declining to accompany her, but keeps them to herself.

Violet discovers after about a month of this routine that she really, genuinely likes Lemony Snicket. It sort of frightens her, and she has to take apart the toaster and her gramophone and the grandfather clock in the hall to deal with it, but she doesn’t stop visiting him and the world doesn’t end, so it’s probably fine.

She still has nightmares. Sometimes she’s able to go back to sleep, sometimes she wakes to Olivia’s warm hands on her shoulders, sometimes Klaus and Sunny slip into bed beside her, sometimes she just gets up and tinkers until morning.

Lemony is never around again to witness them when they happen. She wonders what that means, and if it should bother her. Probably not.

It sort of does anyway.

When Lemony announces one morning at breakfast that he’s leaving, it startles Violet so badly she knocks her fork off the table.

“Only for a few days,” he’s quick to clarify, “for research.” He’s looking at his brother, who had gone stiff at his announcement, but he glances over at her when she bends to pick her fork up off the floor, an unreadable expression on his face. Violet doesn’t meet his eyes.

“How long is ‘a few days’?” Jacques asks this casually, but there’s a note in his voice that suggests he doesn’t expect he’s going to like the answer he gets.

“A week,” Lemony says, “maybe longer.”

“Will you send a telegram, if you plan on being away longer?” asks Olivia, very casually. She phrases it like a question, but Violet thinks it’s probably meant to be an order.

It takes Lemony a beat too long to nod, probably because he’s not used to having someone to miss him, or else because he’s simply the kind of man who doesn’t like his movements tracked. But he agrees, and Violet can breathe again.

When she returns home from school later that day, he’s already gone, and it doesn’t bother her. Why should it? She barely knows him, after all, and aside from the fact that they’re doing research together they don’t have much of a relationship to speak of.

She doesn’t miss him, she tells herself as she rewires her bedside lamp long after she’s supposed to be asleep that night. She doesn’t . She’s just sort of… bored, now that he’s not here and she doesn’t have their talks to look forward to.

The week drags on, interminably long, and her nightmares are full of fire. It has nothing to do with him being gone, though, she tells herself as she tinkers with a portable fire extinguisher that volunteers could theoretically keep on their belts during missions. He’s not that important to her, really - they’re barely friends .

On the evening Lemony is supposed to return home, Jacques gets a telegram on the machine in his study, stating that his brother will be away for another fortnight due to complications with his visa and a few unsavory characters who tried to sabotage his passage back from Peru.

This news doesn’t bother Violet in the slightest. The fact that she doesn’t sleep for almost a week after that is completely unrelated.

Olivia has started to give her those looks again, her gaze lingering on the shadows Violet knows have appeared under her eyes. Her restraint is admirable, especially given that Violet almost falls asleep at the breakfast table one morning before school, but catches herself just in time to avoid falling out of her chair. Olivia doesn’t press - she only sighs and sends Violet back to bed, gently stating that she wasn’t going to be able to learn anything if she could barely keep her eyes open.

Violet tries to protest, because she’s fine , but Olivia doesn’t budge, standing her ground in a way she rarely does with any of them. Violet goes back to bed and doesn’t sleep.

She can hear her guardians lingering in the common room outside her hallway that night, no doubt in an attempt to make themselves available in case she should need them. So Violet doesn’t tinker or read or organize her closet again or do any of the other things she normally does when she can’t sleep - she just stares at the canopy above her bed until morning. She dozes, a little, but always snaps awake in moments, certain she can smell smoke, certain she can hear her mother calling for her.

Another week passes. Klaus and Sunny and the Quagmires are showing signs of concern, now, attempting to push where Olivia won’t. But Violet is fine, the not-sleeping thing will pass and it’s got nothing to do with Lemony Snicket whatsoever, and she tells them this. They plainly don’t believe her, but she doesn’t waste her time trying to convince them.

Jacques doesn’t receive another telegram updating him on Lemony’s status one way or another. He doesn’t seem as concerned about this as Violet thinks he ought to be, but Olivia only says - when Violet brings it up, very casually because she isn’t worried about it - that Jacques trusts his brother and is long used to his radio silence by now.

“He’ll come back, Violet,” Olivia says softly, which is an odd thing for her to say since Violet hadn’t prompted her and doesn’t care. “He hasn’t sent another message, which means he should be home tonight.”

Violet nods, but for whatever reason her stomach is in knots. She drinks some tea and retreats into the garage to tinker until the feeling goes away.  

Lemony has not returned, or sent any kind of word that he will, by the time the inhabitants of the manor settle in for bed. Violet lays awake in the dark, staring at her clock and listening for the sound of Lemony’s arrival for so long she thinks she might actually go insane.

Huffing to herself in exasperation, she throws the coverlet off and slips into her house shoes before quietly stealing out her bedroom door. She avoids tripping over Charybdis or waking anyone as she makes her way down to the sitting room on the first floor. If she can’t sleep, she can at least wait up for Lemony to make sure he comes home - for Jacques’ sake, obviously.

She settles herself on the couch with her lockpicks and box of padlocks and lets the rhythmic clicking of tumblers settle her racing heart.

She doesn’t remember drifting off, or what she dreams about, only that there’s smoke, and that the manor collapses around her, and that she is completely alone.

No, wait - she’s not alone. A voice calls to her through the fire, coming from a shadow like a dragonfly, and for a strange moment she thinks it’s her mother, trying to show her the way out.

But then the voice changes to a rumbling baritone, familiar and foreign at once, and the dragonfly flits away. She cries out, trying to reach for it, feeling as though it takes something from her when it goes.

“Violet,” says Lemony, “it’s alright. You’re safe.”

She opens her eyes, or thinks she does - it’s hard to tell when one is dreaming - and wonders if that’s true. It looks like she’s safe, now that she’s focusing; there’s no fire anymore, and the manor is still standing, quiet and dark and still. But she must still be asleep, because Lemony is here even though she knows he’s never coming back.

She’s not sure why she’d dream up him being thinner than before, or why he’d have those bruises on his face, but it’s hardly the weirdest thing her brain has ever come up with, and she doesn’t question it overmuch.

“Lemony,” she says, and nothing else. Stars, she’s so very tired - and isn’t that odd, to be tired even when she’s asleep?

“What are you doing down here?” He sounds almost as exhausted as she feels, but also faintly amused.

It’s a funny sort of question. Can’t she go where she likes, in her own dreams?

“Waiting,” she says, and that’s important but she can’t quite remember why.

“For me?” There’s that amusement again, stronger now. It sounds right, but she doesn’t want to admit to it, because it’s silly to wait for someone you know isn’t going to come back. How many times had she lain awake in the dark in Olaf’s house, waiting for her parents to kick down the door, waiting for them to return from wherever they’d disappeared to - because surely they couldn’t really be dead - and take them all to safety?

But her parents aren’t coming back, and Lemony isn’t either. She’s not sure why the thought makes her so sad. She ought to be used to it by now.

The Dream-Lemony at her side peers down at her as though she’s an utter mystery. “You ought to return to bed, Violet,” he says, much softer than before.

Violet thinks maybe if she ignores him, he’ll go away. She doesn’t want to dream about him if he can’t bother to come back in real life - and anyway, she’s already in bed, or else how could she be dreaming?

“Violet,” he tries again, only to sigh when she doesn’t answer him. She’s not technically being rude since he isn’t really here.

For a few moments, there’s nothing, and the world slips back into the darkness and solitude and oblivion of before, and Violet thinks he’s finally left her alone. But then she hears something like another sigh, and the world spins gently, gives way beneath her save for two iron bars that hold her fast to something warm and solid. She opens her eyes again, finding her cheek pressed against the smooth, dark fabric of a dingy suit jacket.

Now she knows she’s dreaming - Lemony Snicket would never carry her anywhere, both because he still seems so terrified of her, and also because he’s not coming back.

The heartbeat confuses her, though, thumping even and low in his chest - she didn’t think dreams had heartbeats. She closes her eyes, trying to listen.

Safe-safe. Safe-safe. Safe-safe.

Oh , Violet realizes, clarity dawning, I’m not dreaming at all.

She should be uncomfortable with the situation, probably, or at the very least demand that he put her down, because she’s fifteen years old, not a child, and also she’s upset with him. But he’s so warm, and she’s so very tired, and he’s holding her so carefully, like she’s something precious, like the sugar bowl or her mother’s letter or someone he wants to protect.

“You came back,” she murmurs. She doesn’t open her eyes, doesn’t dare.

“Yes,” he murmurs, so softly it’s almost lost to the darkness.


He’s quiet for so long Violet almost drifts off again, lulled by the steady rhythm of his heart and the sway of his steps as he climbs the stairs. “I told you I would,” he finally says, and something warm and bright melts through her. She latches a hand around the lapel of his jacket and just holds on.

“Don’t leave again,” she says.

It’s been an unspoken rule in her life for so long that people don’t come back once she loses them, not ever. Not her parents, not Justice Strauss, not Uncle Monty or Aunt Josephine or Jerome Squalor. She’d always thought Jacques’ return from the dead had been some kind of fluke, an accident when the universe wasn’t looking, and she still wakes up some days forgetting that the Quagmires are safe down the hall, still expecting them to be lost.

Maybe Lemony… maybe she can make him stick around, after all. Maybe she can find a way to keep him.

He doesn’t reply to her demand, but within his chest his heartbeat picks up, thrumming fiercely against her ear. She thinks she imagines the way his arm tightens around her back.

Violet can hear the promise in those things as clearly as though he’d spoken aloud.

A treacherous, thread-thin hope sparks in her chest, and she holds onto it tightly as the world slips back into nothingness for what could be minutes or years. When she comes back to herself, she’s on her bed, and Lemony has pulled off her house shoes and is in the process of drawing her comforter tightly up to her chin. A warm hand brushes a stray strand of hair from her face, feather-light, hesitant, almost trembling.

She only cracks her eyes open when she hears him turn away, start to leave. “I’m glad you came back,” she says.

He’s quiet for a beat. “So am I,” he replies. There’s a part of her that thinks he sounds almost surprised.

She can’t help but smile then, just a little. “Goodnight, Lemony.”  

He pauses in the doorway, hovering for long moments, a tall, dark shadow. She wonders, still tangled in the spiderwebs of sleep, how she could have ever been afraid of him, this sad, strange man who loved her mother and who very probably loves her.

Curiously, the thought doesn’t frighten her at all.

Lemony Snicket will never be her father, not in the way that Bertrand was. He will never be able to replace the man who had raised her, who had given her her first toolkit, who had been there for every birthday and scraped knee and nightmare. He will never be her father the way Jacques will never be her father, the way none of her past guardians had been able to fill that role.

But maybe he can just... be near her, occupying roughly the same space. Maybe he can be a friend and an ally and a listening ear. Maybe that can be enough.

“Goodnight, Violet,” he says.

He leaves, then, but Violet isn’t worried - she knows he won’t go far. She closes her eyes, and finally, finally allows herself to sleep.

That night, and for many nights after, Violet’s dreams are quiet.