The Driver’s doctor resides in an elegant town-home in the seemlier part of New Winchester. The only announcement of its business is a quiet silver plaque by the door. It is stately. Discreet. Exclusive.
Nonetheless, the door opens for them at the Driver’s request. The foyer is at once both a cold and cozy affair: it is tiled, black on white on black, lined with polished bronzewood paneling, commendably clean, and occupied by a herd of obscenely-stuffed armchairs crouched along the walls. From nothing, a harried assistant manifests, taking their name, their information, waving the two of them to a seat before promptly dematerializing.
They sit. They wait.
The quiet settles like a cloak about her, comfortable and easily-borne. It is punctuated only by the Driver’s perpetual fidgeting. They tap their toes. They rap tuneless beats into the chair. They crane their neck every which way, staring into the shadows of the cross beams, as if something unpleasantly parental might come crawling out.
“Haven’t been here in ages,” they say. “Hasn’t changed.”
“Hmm.” She turns just enough to eye their scars, stark red against their jaw. “You come less frequently now?” That might explain quite a bit, actually.
The Driver scoffs. “Mother brought me here incessantly. I sneezed, she brought me here. I stubbed a toe, she brought me here. I slept in that chair,” they stab a finger at the one nearest the stair, “because I coughed in my sleep once, and she wanted me ‘near as possible’ to medical attention should I start to choke.”
She pulls the quiet closer, saying nothing. Her face remains an impassive mask as she watches the words bleed out of them.
“I was already choking.” They deflate with a sigh, curling in on themself. Their voice falls as soft as Avon rain. “Hasn’t changed.”
She waits until it is clear they have nothing more to say. “She wanted to protect you,” she tells them, even though she really hasn’t the first idea what their mother wanted. The Driver doesn’t respond, not at first. The words wallow in the silence a little.
“She wanted to keep me,” they say at length, as if the declaration was previously simmering inside them. “Put me on a shelf, like a thing. A pretty piece of china.” They sit hunched over on the cushioned office chair, mouth pressed into a grim line, stretching at their scars. Their hand raises to scratch at one. “Can’t have any cracks, now, can we?” The glare they’re giving the tile has a heat that the Clockwork Sun couldn’t hope to match.
It occurs to her, then, that she’s never seen the Driver well and proper angry before. Indeed, they seem to only oscillate between the same two moods: inadvisable joy (When everything is going marvellously wrong.) and morose boredom (When everything is not.) Anger is new. Venom is new. The pain is…
Well, she thinks the pain might be very old, in fact. Old and, until now, carefully concealed.
The Driver’s name is called. A door in the lobby swings open, and in steps a stately woman in a fastidious tweed suit. She waves them forward, dour and dead-eyed.
“Well.” The Driver snaps to their feet, their thunderous mood gone as quickly as morning mist. The grin they throw her is cocky and crooked. Her hands itch with the urge to straighten it out. “Back out in a jif. Nothing bad, I bet.”
“I bet,” she echoes, hollow. The Driver and the doctor disappear back through the door, and it’s then she notices the assistant scuttling about the room still. They approach, passing a rickety clipboard into her hands. She expects a bill. She finds -
“Paperwork?” She asks. The sheet is lined with endless boxes and fields and personal information that she’s sure she has no business seeing. “Pardon, paperwork? Do I have the legal authority to fill this, even?”
The assistant doesn’t spare her time to shrug, scuttling on further. “You see anyone else here who can?”
No. No, she does not. Despite the Driver eyeing every shadow like their mother might come striding out, their parents are not here. She feels the absence like a bruise.
So she takes the paperwork and looks it over, commitment to privacy overcome by her insatiable need to know. There is a delightful wealth of information on her equally delightful Driver: their full name, their age (Young, too young, she thinks, though she was younger when she fell into this life. Younger and hungrier, too.), their date of birth (Quickly copied into her own datebook.), some work and health and travel history.
Their former address of residence.
She reads it, once.
One eyebrow arches up her forehead.
She reads it again.
The other eyebrow joins the first.
She’s faintly familiar with it, of course. Ten Sovereigns says that near everyone in New Winchester is. It’s one of the prettiest streets in port, lined with tall, ornate townhouses that, come to think of it, do strike her as looking something like china cabinets.
My. How glamorous. How proper.
She takes her pen, and draws one smooth stroke through the address. Precise, clean, clinical. There.
She moves back, and makes a second.
A third. A fourth. A fifth.
She cuts with the pen until the paper is bleeding black with ink. Then she moves down, and primly writes on the line beneath: The Orphean.
The name is stark and right against the paper. She nods, once. Good. Good.
She slips the pen into the clip at the top, and folds her hands upon the completed paperwork. The blacked-out former address is illegible now, but she thinks she can still read the scar of it in the paper. Perhaps she will make a house-call, later.
But not now. Now, she wraps up once again in quiet, she perches on that bloated chair, she considers, hazily, every offhand comment and mention the Driver has made of their family in these past months.
And she waits.